In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rādhāvallabha

  • Introduction
  • Hindi Language and Literature
  • Bhakti
  • Comparative Studies of Other Vaishnava Traditions
  • Digital Resources on Rādhāvallabha Sampradāya

Hinduism Rādhāvallabha
Guy Beck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0172


The name “Rādhāvallabha” (Rādhā-vallabha) in Sanskrit refers to the Hindu god Krishna, who is known as the lover of Rādhā, his eternal divine consort. This epithet combines “Rādhā” with “vallabha” to signify “Dearest of Rādhā.” Most Hindu gods and goddesses possess multiple epithets that relate to their images, associations, or divine pastimes. The name of Rādhāvallabha also refers to a Vaishnava lineage and community known as the Rādhāvallabha Sampradāya (Rādhāvallabha “lineage” or “tradition”) that is part of the Bhakti movement. Differing from other Vaishnava denominations that place Krishna as the central divinity, the Rādhāvallabha Sampradāya places the deity of Rādhā as primary in the theological hierarchy. The sect also withdraws from traditional Sanskrit scholarship and Vaishnava preoccupations in favor of a simple yet exclusive devotion to Rādhā and Krishna with literary expression primarily in the vernacular. The Rādhāvallabha Sampradāya was founded in c. 1535 CE by the poet-saint Hita Harivaṁśa (1502–1552 CE) in Vrindāban (cf. Vrindāvan, Vrindāvana), the small forest area in Braj near Gokula where Krishna is believed to have spent his childhood some 5,000 years ago. Harivaṁśa established the worship of the deity of Rādhāvallabha in a grove near the Yamunā River in Vrindāban in c. 1545 CE. Hita Harivaṁśa’s principal work in Braj Bhasha (a dialect of Hindi) is the Caurāsi-Pada, consisting of eighty-four verses describing the erotic love pastimes of Rādhā and Krishna. There is also a work in Sanskrit glorifying Rādhā as supreme. Additional poet-saints contributed to what became an extremely rich corpus of song-texts composed for singing in Rādhāvallabha worship. The Sevā or worship consists of daily routines of offerings and seasonal festivals. The songs or hymns are sung in the style of Samāj-Gāyan, a special interactive manner of vocal music that is unique to Braj yet related to Dhrupad, a form of early Hindustani music. The main temple is crowded during festivals like Holi and Annakut. Still a vibrant living tradition, the beautiful style of musical worship and veneration of Krishna as Rādhāvallabha is one of the treasures of the Bhakti tradition. Areas not represented here and still in need of research include the growth of the religious community, the history of the various temples both in Braj and in India including Rajasthan and Calcutta, records of patronage from local and regional business interests, and issues of gender and class structure involving disciples and lay followers.

Hindi Language and Literature

The greatest literary outpouring in India is associated with the devotional movement known as the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement or movements took shape in rural areas of India after the fifth century CE, and comprised poet-saints who promoted a new vision of religion that broke away from the priestly Sanskrit tradition by composing devotional verses in vernacular languages, derived from, or related to, what is known as Prakrit or Apabhraṁśa. The Āḻvār saints of South India composed songs in Tamil and Telugu languages, the Haridāsa Kuṭa saints of Karnataka composed songs in Kannada, and northern saints wrote in Marathi, Gujarati, Braj Bhasha, Hindi, and Bengali. In this emerging literary corpus, the childhood and adolescent pastimes of Krishna took precedence, especially in the poetic literature of Braj Bhasha, an early dialect of Hindi, the principal language of the Rādhāvallabha Sampradāya. Good introductions to Hindi literature are Keay 1920 and Jindal 1993, but especially McGregor 1984. For a closer examination of the language and grammar, Snell 1991 provides sample poems in original Hindi script with English translation. To understand the broader political and sociological scope of what is known as the period of “classical Hindi” or Braj Bhasha and its influence, Busch 2011 and Hawley 2015 describe the nature, rise, and development of lyrical poetry in the north Indian heartlands as the core of the Bhakti movement in the north, and in the secular Mughal courts before, during, and after the period of the establishment of the Rādhāvallabha religious sect in the sixteenth century CE. Of these authors, Snell 1991 provides analysis of selected poems and verses of important poets in Braj Bhasha with commentary and vocabulary.

  • Busch, Allison. Poetry of Kings: The Classical Hindi Literature of Mughal India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199765928.001.0001

    This work describes the political and social context surrounding the rise and development of classical Hindi lyrical poetry in the Indian heartlands and in the secular Mughal courts around the period of the establishment of the Rādhāvallabha religious sect in the sixteenth century CE. This includes what is known as Rīti literature, stylized courtly and secular poetic expression.

  • Hawley, John Stratton. A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674425262

    The author’s expertise in the poet Sūr Dās is showcased along with his understanding of political and social tensions on the subcontinent. While there are references to Hita Harivaṁśa and the Rādhāvallabha tradition, the book’s main thrust is to provide a wider context for the political use of “Bhakti Hinduism” as a unifying factor in identity politics of modern Hinduism.

  • Jindal, K. B. A History of Hindi Literature. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1993.

    A more extensive treatment than Keay 1920 of Hindi language and literature extending back to the medieval kingdoms, Bardic chronicles, and Sufism, and providing much more historical context. Also contains many citations in Hindi script with context and commentary. In chapter 6, labeled “Kṛṣṇa-Cult” (pp. 86–133), the “Rādhā-Vallabhis” (p. 128) are described in similar detail to Keay 1920, except that the date of the founding of the Rādhāvallabha Sampradāya is given as 1583 CE.

  • Keay, F. E. A History of Hindi Literature. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1920.

    Beginning with an overview of Hindi language and its dialects, the text contains some English translations. In chapter 8, the “Rādhā-Vallabhis” are discussed (p. 76) with mention of “Hari Vaṁśa.” His Caurāsi-Pada is given great praise: “Hari Vamsa possesses great skill as a poet and holds a high place in Hind literature.” Also mentions Nagari Dās, Dhruv Dās, and Śrī Hit Brindaban Dās Ji Chāchā.

  • McGregor, R. S. Hindi Literature from Its Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Harrassowitz, 1984.

    A comprehensive guide to the history of Hindi literature by a distinguished expert. His brief discussion of Rādhāvallabha tradition and literature begins on page 88, in which he describes the poetry of Hit Harivaṁśa as being highly Sanskritic, more than Sūr Dās. He also states, “New departures in form and style are visible in this poetry, which is at once popular and learned in character” (p. 88).

  • Snell, Rupert. The Hindi Classical Tradition: A Braj Bhasha Reader. SOAS South Asia Series. London: Routledge, 1991.

    For the linguist and scholar of Braj Bhasha language, this reader is invaluable as it outlines the basic grammar and vocabulary of the medieval dialect as necessary to understand the Rādhāvallabha poetry and other literature. Text provides sample poems in original Hindi script with English translation and analysis, including a useful wordlist.

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