“If one asks about the origin of love of Krishna, the answer is that the origin is in Shrimati Radharani alone. Who is the most dear friend of Krishna? The answer again is Shrimati Radharani alone. No one else…” (Krishnadas Kaviraja Gosvami, Shri-Govinda-Lilamrita, 11.122)
When worship of Lord Krishna is performed in a temple or any other formal gathering, the deity or picture that is offered obeisances usually contains two entities. Surely Krishna is always there, either holding His flute, dipping His hand into a butter pot, or lifting a gigantic hill. Each one of these poses represents a particular activity performed by the Lord during His time on earth. In fact, we know from the Shrimad Bhagavatam that these pastimes continue to take place all the time throughout the millions of universes in existence. At this precise moment somewhere in the universe, Lord Krishna is appearing from the womb of Mother Yashoda, lifting Govardhana Hill, stealing butter and yogurt from the neighbors, and even dancing with His beloved. This eternal companion brings the greatest pleasure to the Lord and therefore she is always with Krishna in mind, body, or spirit. The devotees understand that since this divine entity represents the height of unadulterated love for God, she is equally worthy of worship. Her name is Shrimati Radharani and her appearance day is celebrated as the occasion of Radhashtami.
Normally we think of God as a singular entity. Those who believe in multiple gods are often viewed as pagans or people who make up their own religion. In fact, the very existence of multiple gods utterly contradicts the notion of a Supreme Controller. In Vedic terminology, the Supreme Lord is known by thousands of names such as Parameshvara, Bhagavan, Achyuta, and Aja. These names point to His supremacy in the areas of power, opulence, infallibility, and transcending birth. Since only one entity can possess all of these qualities at the same time, there can only be one God. If there are multiple gods, it means that more than one entity is deemed as Supreme. Therefore the concept of God loses its value.
In the Vedic tradition, there are certainly many god-like entities. They are known as devas, and they have extraordinary powers in their ability to create, maintain, and destroy in the material world. This distinction between material and spiritual worlds is what separates the devas from the devah-varah, or chief divine entity. The chief is known by the name of Krishna and He is the original form of Godhead. Due to His kind mercy, this singular divine entity is known by other forms and expansions such as Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, Vamana, and Chaitanya. These forms are non-different from the original, so they are equally as worshipable as Krishna Himself.
Yet there are also separated entities which are not exactly direct expansions of the Lord, but which are still treated on the same level. The Vedas inform us that Krishna, or God, is the energetic. The living entities, separated expansions of the Supreme Lord, serve as Krishna’s energy. Since these expansions are separated, they are not equally as potent as the original. In this way, the living entities, we human beings and other forms of life, are similar to God in quality, but vastly inferior in quantitative powers. Krishna is the reservoir of energy, and as tiny sparks emanating from the gigantic fire, we are meant to be in association with that powerhouse of energy. When the energy becomes separated from the energetic in terms of consciousness, the energy becomes subject to delusion, bewilderment, and the loss of intelligence. The greatest delusion, the nadir of material existence, arises when the energy thinks itself to be the energetic. This is represented by the idea of “I am God” or “I am Brahman”, with Brahman taken to be the ultimate feature of the divine. This is the mindset adopted by the class of transcendentalists known as Mayavadis or impersonalists.
The living entities, as Krishna’s energy, are certainly equal parts of the transcendental effulgence known as Brahman. At the same time, they can never be an on equal footing with the Lord. In order to realize one’s true relationship to the Supreme Energetic, one must see past the effulgence of Brahman and stare directly at the transcendental, blissful, and sweet form of the Lord. Those who are able to do so achieve a heightened state of consciousness, a mindset where they are always thinking of Krishna in various moods of love. Those who are at the highest level of transcendental love are thus considered the representation of the perfected energy of the Lord. The one entity who best embodies this mindset of Krishna consciousness is, not surprisingly, Krishna’s eternal consort, Shrimati Radharani.
Radharani, often referred to as Radha, is more than just God’s wife. They say that the wife is the better half of man, meaning she is the energy behind the husband. Behind every great man is a powerful woman, someone who stands by her man and makes sure he is always acting properly and is well cared for. This woman is usually either the mother or the wife. The terms “husband” and “wife” refer to the system of marriage, something which involves rules, regulations, and dharma, or occupational duty. Certainly other non-different forms of Godhead take one or many different spouses, but with Krishna’s case, His relationship with Radha is much greater than that shared between a husband and a wife. With Radha and Krishna, there are no rules. There are no occupational duties or regulations guiding their relationship. Krishna is always with Radha and Radha is always with Krishna. In this way, they are equal. They represent the fusion of the energy and the energetic, the most powerful synergistic relationship.
Shrimati Radharani’s love and devotion towards Krishna is so strong that she even takes to chastising Him on certain occasions. Normally taking to criticism is an act of the miser, someone who is outside the bonds of affection. Love and devotion usually equates to forgiveness and the overlooking of short-comings. Yet with Radharani, her love for Krishna is so strong that even her acts of criticizing are considered praiseworthy. An example of this was seen when Krishna’s cousin Uddhava once visited Vrindavana. When Lord Krishna advented on this earth five thousand years ago, He spent His childhood years in a village called Vrindavana. This town still exists in India and is actually a replica of the same realm that can be found in the spiritual world. Krishna grew up in a family of cowherds, so all the neighbors were involved in similar occupations. At night, Krishna would engage in romantic escapades with Radha and the other neighboring cowherd girls known as the gopis. Unscrupulous commentators and non-devotees will never be able to understand these intimate dealings, for they transgress all the rules and mores of society. This is the beauty of the relationship between Radha and Krishna. The divine couple is the object of piety and virtue. One who takes to the path of righteousness but doesn’t eventually come to the stage of loving God has essentially wasted their time.
As with any other activity in this world, Krishna’s dealings with the gopis and Radha had to come to an end eventually. As He grew up, Krishna had other affairs to tend to in neighboring towns such as Mathura and Dvaraka. The day He left Vrindavana was a very sad one for all the residents, but especially so for the gopis. They cried and cried and couldn’t understand why their beloved Krishna was leaving them. Shortly after His departure, Krishna sent His dear friend and cousin Uddhava to relay some information to the residents of Vrindavana, and especially the gopis, all of whom were suffering greatly in Krishna’s absence.
Uddhava was almost identical to Krishna in appearance, so when he first approached the gopis, they thought that maybe he was Krishna. But upon closer examination, they could tell that he wasn’t. Shrimati Radharani wasn’t really interested in Uddhava’s words, for she was still upset with Krishna for leaving them. The gopis took Uddhava to the forest since they knew he had a message for them from Krishna. Radharani, who was quite upset, stepped away from the group and began talking to a bumblebee that was buzzing around her. Radha thought maybe the bee was sent by Krishna to deliver a message. Thus she took the opportunity to let the bumblebee know just what she was feeling towards her prana-natha, or the Lord of her life, Krishna.
“You do not know much about Krishna, how ungrateful and hardhearted He has been, not only in this life, but in His previous lives also. We have all heard this from our grandmother, Paurnamasi.” (Radha speaking to a bumblebee, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 46)
Radha took to criticizing Krishna, telling the bumblebee that the Lord was not very reliable, nor was He very righteous. She said that the Lord had enjoyed with the gopis intimately in the forest and then abruptly left to go live as a king in Mathura. She essentially compared Him to a person who takes advantage of a woman and then leaves her without protection. She then continued with her criticisms by referencing activities performed by Krishna’s previous incarnations. The Sanskrit term avatara refers to one who descends, thus it deals solely with Krishna or Vishnu. The Vedas tell us that as many waves as there are in the ocean are how many avataras of Vishnu exist. Nevertheless, the list of the primary avataras is mentioned in books like the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Radha made reference to incidents pertaining to some of these incarnations.
Shrimati Radharani criticized several activities performed by Krishna’s previous incarnation of Lord Ramachandra. In the Treta Yuga, Lord Vishnu appeared on earth in the guise of a valiant warrior prince named Rama, a descendant of the Raghu dynasty. On one occasion, the Lord was residing in the forest of Dandaka with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. A Rakshasi, a female demon, came and propositioned Rama. According to the etiquette established for the warrior caste, a prince should never refuse the advances of a woman. A warrior is to provide protection after all, so if a woman wants to enjoy conjugal love, the warrior is essentially tasked with providing that love and giving protection at the same time. Lord Rama, however, loved Sita, who ironically was the same Radharani, very much, so He refused Shurpanakha’s advances. He jokingly said that Lakshmana wasn’t married and that she should cavort with him instead. Not heeding His advice, Shurpanakha dashed at Sita in hopes of eliminating the competition. Lakshmana couldn’t stand for this, so he immediately stepped in and disfigured the female demon. Her nose having been cut off, she ran home to tell her brother, the King of Lanka, Ravana. Radharani mentions this incident to support her claim that Krishna has always been an enemy to the rules of propriety, for He allowed an innocent woman to be disfigured because of His love for Sita.
Radharani wasn’t finished talking to the bumblebee. She next mentioned another incident from Lord Rama’s life, where He killed a monkey king named Vali. After Shurpanakha went crying to Ravana, the demon devised a plan where he was able to kidnap Sita and take her back to his kingdom. In His subsequent search for His missing wife, Rama ended up forming an alliance with a monkey king named Sugriva. Vali was Sugriva’s brother, and the two were mortal enemies due to a dispute over the right to rule a kingdom. Lord Rama agreed to help Sugriva defeat Vali and regain his kingdom. Yet the nature of Vali’s defeat and death weren’t exactly ideal. Since Vali was stronger, there was no way for Sugriva to defeat him. Lord Rama devised a plan where Sugriva would first engage Vali in battle, leaving the door open for Rama to attack. This is precisely what would happen, as Rama would shoot and kill Vali from behind while the monkey was engaged in a fight with his brother. According to the rules of fighting established for the kshatriya order, an enemy is never to be attacked while he is engaged in a fair fight with the opposition. Yet since Rama was God Himself, such rules and regulations never apply to Him. In fact, if one is devoted to the Lord in thought, word, and deed, the Lord will take whatever action is needed to secure the devotee’s happiness. This also explains Krishna’s dealings with the gopis. As pure lovers of God, the gopis wanted association with Krishna and nothing else. Though they weren’t His wives or even unmarried girls, the Lord enjoyed with them simply to satisfy their pure desires. Nevertheless, Radharani mentioned Rama’s killing of Vali as another example of Krishna’s impious nature.
So it may seem strange that Radharani is worthy of worship even though she openly takes to criticizing Krishna from time to time. But in reality, such displays of emotion are mere symptoms of pure love for God. Being a surrendered soul means you always think of and rely on Krishna no matter what, through the good times and the bad. After speaking this way about Krishna to the bumblebee, Radharani immediately lamented and was hoping that the bumblebee wouldn’t tell Krishna what she had said. The reality of the situation was that she was completely devoted to Krishna, so through feelings of separation, she took to criticizing Him. Only the devotees can criticize the Lord in this way. Others, who are competing with God for the title of greatest enjoyer, can never take issue with the Lord and still be considered pure and worthy of worship. Only the greatest devotees, those who worship in separation, can be worthy of love and adoration for their behavior.
What is the difference between worship in separation and worship in person? Worship of Krishna in separation is considered superior because it is more conducive towards Krishna consciousness. There are other famous expressions such as “don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” which convey a similar message. When this separation is applied to spiritual life, it evokes a certain type of bliss which is unmatched. When appearing on earth, Shrimati Radharani and her various expansions deal with great separation from the Lord precisely to taste the bliss that arises from separation. Sita Devi also spent much time away from Lord Rama.
Goswami Tulsidas, the great devotee of Lord Rama, remarks in his poetry that he hopes to be just like the Chatak bird. This bird is known for staring at the dark blue raincloud, a cloud which has the exact same complexion as Rama’s [Krishna/Vishnu] body. Yet Tulsidas also prays that no matter how long this bird looks at the cloud, it is better for it not to rain, for if it did, then the bird would maybe become lax in its devotion and love for the cloud. In this way, the great poet is asking to always worship Rama in separation, for that evokes the greatest transcendental love and maintains the firm link in consciousness between the devotee and the Divine. Tulsidas asks that even if the bird dies, one should not turn its beak away from the raincloud during the performance of the last rites. In the Vedic tradition, last rites are usually performed in the sacred Ganges River so as to facilitate the liberation of the departed from the cycle of birth and death. In this way, the great saint tells us that worship of God in His personal, original form through love and devotion is far superior to any other reward, including that of liberation.
This worship in separation is seen in perfected form with Shrimati Radharani. In fact, Lord Krishna was so enamored by Radha’s devotion to Him that He decided to appear on earth in a dual incarnation of Radha-Krishna to see exactly what this devotion was like. Appearing as Shri Krishna Chaitanya some five hundred years ago, the Lord played the role of a devotee of Krishna, experiencing many of the same separation pains felt by Radha. Lord Chaitanya taught us by example to always remain attached to the Supreme Lord and His pleasure potency in a mood of loving separation. This mood can be adopted through the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Therefore we should all hang on to this most sacred of mantras as our lifeline. On Radhashtami Day, we celebrate the greatest devotee of Krishna, Shrimati Radharani. As much as she loves Krishna, she does not keep Him to herself. She is so kind that she allows others to also taste the sweet transcendental mellows of bhakti. Worship of Radha is as good as worship of Krishna, therefore the two are always seen together for the pure-hearted to love and adore.