- Radha is a popular female figure in Hindu mythol-ogy and literature. She is usually presented as the primary consort of KRISHNA; their passionate love has served as a spiritual model and inspiration in Indian culture.Radha appears in association with Krishna in textual fragments dated as early as the third cen-tury C.E., although she is not mentioned by name in the authoritative Vishnu Purana (c. fifth century C.E.) or in the equally important BHAGAVATA PURANA (10th century C.E.). By the 12th century, however, her role as Krishna’s consort was assured, as in the magnificent GITAGOVINDA of Jayadeva.The more Krishna became associated in the devotional literature with a divine “sweetness,” the more his sweet, poignant love of the cowherd woman Radha and her reciprocal love became the guide for devotees to the god everywhere in India. As the Gitagovinda describes Radha’s shifting moods of love, anticipation, pique, disappoint-ment, and eventual union, the writer evokes a passion that seems to extend to the elements of nature, the trees, the wind, and the Moon. Radha is love incarnate.Theologically, the Gitagovinda presents Radha as an energy, a SHAKTI (the Hladini Shakti), of Krishna himself. In the Bengali Vaishnavite tradi-tion, which eventually extended its influence to BRINDAVAN and beyond, one has the sense that Krishna too cannot exist without the love of his counterpart. The devotee becomes, in effect, essential to God. Sometimes the tradition goes so far as to say (in devotional hyperbole) that it is better to worship the devotee than God himself.Occasionally, in the Vaishnavite tradition, Radha is actually portrayed as Krishna’s wife and partner. This attempt to sanitize their relation-ship distorts it: the power of their attraction is theologically understood to reside in her unavail-ability: she is married to someone else. Krishna and Radha are eternal paramours and not spouses. It should not go unsaid that Radha is not just a cowherd woman, but the goddess herself. Some elements of the great GODDESS (Mahadevi) can be found in her literary image.Further reading: Edward C. Dimock, The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava Sajiya Cult of Bengal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966); Lee Siegel, Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in the Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva (London: Oxford University Press, 1978); John Stratton Hawley, The Divine Consort: the Goddesses of India (Berkeley: Religious Studies Series and Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982); Donna Marie Wulff, “Radha, Consort and Conqueror of Krishna,” in John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, eds., Devi: The Goddesses of India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.