In This Article Rādhā

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • State of Scholarship
  • Rādhā in Art

Hinduism Rādhā
by
Heidi Pauwels
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 October 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0074

Introduction

Rādhā is the foremost of the gopīs, or milkmaids, of Braj (Vraja), where Krishna (Kṛṣṇa) is believed to have grown up incognito. As Krishna’s childhood and teenage sweetheart, her foremost characteristic is her fervent innocent love, which moved him deeply. The intensity of their secret erotic encounters in the bowers of bucolic Vrindāban, known as (ni)kuñja-līlā (“bower dalliance”), is celebrated in literature and art and figures importantly in the Indian imagination. Rādhā is passion incarnate; metaphorically, she stands for the human soul and its longing for God. Her love for Krishna is usually understood as not sanctioned by marriage and all the stronger for it. Her willingness to break the rules of dharma for her love makes her exemplary for the devotee (bhakta). Several groups in the bhakti movement see her selfless, intimate, mutually passionate relationship with Krishna as the highest achievement of love, called mādhurya bhāva. Yet, Rādhā’s intense love is not always happy: it inspires fits of jealousy due to Krishna’s infidelities, and when Krishna leaves her to take up his royal responsibilities in Mathurā and later Dvārakā, she is left pining for him. This suffering is seen as emblematic of the human condition: ever longing for, but never able to realize more than fleeting moments of unity with God. Rādhā, the ideal subject of devotion, becomes an object of devotion herself, and she is venerated as a goddess in her own right, sometimes even being elevated above Krishna. While she is not mentioned in the influential 9th-century Bhāgavata Purāṇa, her love for Krishna is celebrated in the 12th-century Sanskrit Gīta Govinda and in vernacular poetry from Bengal and Mithilā. She may also have links with the South Indian Nappiṉṉāi. She is celebrated especially in devotional literature in Old Hindi (Braj Bhaṣā) from the 16th century onward. In iconography, Rādhā is most often represented as intimately entwined with Krishna, and sometimes in temples there is not even a separate image for her, because it is said that she is one in body with Krishna. In miniatures, she is portrayed romantically, as the embodiment of ideal Indian feminine beauty, and again often in intimate embrace with Krishna. Rādhā is very much alive today, especially in the pilgrimage center of Braj, and songs celebrating her love for Krishna are sung and performed in temples as well as on the international concert stage and in popular movies.

Overviews

There is no easy overview history of the worship of this goddess available. The only article directly addressing the history of worship of Rādhā, though now a bit dated, is Majumdar 1955. This can be supplemented with Vaudeville 1982 and more recent encyclopedia articles, such as Wulff 2005. For a quick overview, the most handy source to assign to students is still the entry on Rādhā in David Kinsley’s volume on Hindu goddesses (Kinsley 1986), or perhaps the short but lucid section about her in Dehejia 1999, which features nice illustrations and is more recent. A good lively sketch of the meaning of Rādhā for an ordinary Indian against a historical overview, but with a Freudian slant, is Kakar 1985.

  • Dehejia, Vidya, ed. Devi: The Great Goddess: Female Divinity in South Asian Art. Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    Gorgeous volume, published on the occasion of an exhibition on the theme in the Sackler Gallery. Mostly interesting for depictions of the Mahādevī and Kali, as well as tribal goddesses, but with a short section on Rādhā with gorgeous illustrations.

  • Kakar, Sudhir. “Erotic Fantasy: The Secret Passion of Radha and Krishna.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 19.1 (1985): 75–94.

    DOI: 10.1177/006996685019001006E-mail Citation »

    Starts out in an accessible way, introducing some historical background. Since he is a psychoanalyst, Kakar uses Freudian methodology. If discussed in a classroom, such Freudian interpretations may be opposed by anti-Freudians and held offensive by believers.

  • Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

    E-mail Citation »

    Excellent place to start reading about different Hindu goddesses, including Rādhā. Good basic information, very readable for students, although not much historical detail, and more religious studies type of information.

  • Majumdar, A. K. “A Note on the Development of the Rādhā Cult.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 36 (1955): 231–257.

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    Seminal article with informative historical overview of Rādhā devotion, though somewhat speculative ending, attributing her adaptation by Caitanya to her appropriation in tantric milieus emancipating from Buddhism.

  • Majumdar, Bimanbehari. Kṛṣṇa in History and Legend. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1969.

    E-mail Citation »

    Search for the historical Krishna; contains a chapter on Rādhā and an appendix, in which the author elaborates on Majumdar 1955 but counters the tantric theory in that volume.

  • Vaudeville, Charlotte. “Krishna Gopāla, Rādhā, and the Great Goddess.” In The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India. Edited by John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 1–12. Boston: Beacon, 1982.

    E-mail Citation »

    Gives an overview of the complex symbolism of the goddess in festivals, texts, and temple iconography to draw out parallels between Rādhā and Mahādevī.

  • Wulff, Donna M. “Rādhā.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. 2d ed. Vol. 11. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 7593–7595. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes recent research linking Rādhā with Durgā and Ekānamśā, and pays special attention to Bengali traditions of worshipping this goddess.

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