Radha: Krishna’s Lover & Small-town Scandal-maker
Radha is the mythological milkmaid from Braj, the childhood friend of Krishna, and in later myths—his lover. The myth of Radha and Krishna is often interpreted as a symbolic story about the soul’s (Radha) quest for union with the God (Krishna).
Many Indian kirtan and songs sing of the glory of Radha’s intoxicating love for Krishna and his for her. And, most people know that their love was illicit and frowned upon by the members of their society. But, few speak about the myths where the villagers—the sweet and charming people of Braj, turn on Radha and call for her death.
In Nigel Frith’s The Legend of Krishna, a priest catches Radha and Krishna in the forest. Radha is deemed to be unfaithful and deceitful because she has been seeing Krishna against her brother’s knowledge. (How dare she have a life outside of her brother’s control and the nosy town’s gaze!)
“We are not her friends. She is an outcast.” They say.
And the priest asks what to do with her:
And the townsfolk cry, “Death” for they were all
jealous of what they had heard, and the envy
of happiness is hard to bear.
That story haunts me. It is one of the darkest love stories I’ve ever read. Of course, Radha and Krishna are wonderful symbols for the individual’s quest for union with god/or the Divine, and the priest is a great symbol for the ego attempting to overthrow the Divine.
But what if we read the story more literally? What if it played out in modern life?
So I asked myself: What if someone I knew did something I didn’t understand or approve of? What if someone I knew loved someone I found inappropriate? How would I treat them?
Which character in the story am I? Would I have the strength to be like Radha? Or would I be one of the simple, sweet milkmaids condemning her?
What I take from this myth is that it isn’t merely an analogy for the individual soul (Radha) to unite with God (Krishna). I take it as a warning that thoughtful people should do their best to never condemn another person’s path – even if we don’t understand it.
Quotes from: The Legend of Krishna. Nigel Frith. Schocken Books, NY 1976.