Another tale from Legends and Myths for you to enjoy, the love story of Krishna & Radha.
“By the time Krishna and Balarama appeared at the wrestling contest at which Kamsa was killed, they were handsome young men – no longer boys. And Krishna was already a highly experienced lover.
“With his graceful features, his alluring dark complexion (derived from the single black hair that Vishnu had plucked) and his mastery of the flute, Krishna appealed greatly to the Gopis, the herd-girls and milk-maids who were married to the cow-herds with whom Krishna and Balarama lived, in the beautiful region of Vrindavan – also known as Vraj.
“The Gopis started to perform rituals to the mother-goddess Devi, praying that Krishna might become their Lord. One day, as part of their puja to Devi, they were bathing in a loney part of the river Yamuna, having left their clothes on the bank. As they gamboled in the water, they sang songs in praise of Krishna, and he heard them from afar. Hiding behind trees and bushes, he crept closer, whipped away their clothes, and climbed with them into a kadamba-tree. Then he called them cheerfully to come out and fetch their clothes.
“Bashfully, they hid themselves under the water, and were very reluctant to emerge naked in front of him. But he said, ‘If it is in honor of me that you come down to the river to bathe and to sing songs, you should not be ashamed to show yourselves to me! Hold hands and come out of the river together, and I’ll give you your clothes.’
“They had no option but to do so, and maybe – smitten as they were with love for Krishna – they didn’t feel so bad about, whatever their show of modesty.
“Krishna’s dalliance with the Gopis developed into moonlit meetings when he would play his flute, and the Gopis danced in a ring. If he was a god, what harm was their in being his lover, even if they were married? Their ecstasy when they were with him was an expression of divine love for mankind, and human love for the divine. Krishna turned himself into hundreds of Krishnas, so that each Gopi had him to dance with, and the spectacle was so enchanting that the gods came down from heaven to watch, and wind and water stood still to listen to the melodies he played and the Gopis sang.
“One of the Gopis – Radha – became Krishna’s special favorite, and their love spawned not only numerous songs and poems but the whole Vaishnava form of Hinduism that is based on the love of Radha and Krishna, and on the longing of devotees to match their spiritual ecstasy.
“In the popular tellings of their love-affair, however, it was often made much more human and down-to-earth. Here is just one episode, in which Krishna’s methods of seduction are not quite what one expects of his supposed divine perfection.
“Radha was the wife of Abhimanyu, and Krishna found her more beautiful than any of the other Gopis. He enlisted the support of her great-aunt – called Barayi by the story-tellers, which means ‘Granny’. While seeming always to have Radha’s best interests at heart, the old lady in fact gave Krishna every encouragement in his seductive designs, and gave him practical advice as to how to achieve them.
“Radha had to make regular trips to the market in Mathura, to sell butter and curds, and Barayi advised Krishna to pose as a tax-collector. Insisting on taxes that Radha said she could not pay was one way of getting what he wanted from her! But an even better method was suggested by her need to cross the river Yamuna. She would need a boat, so Krishna posed as a boatman.
“One morning Radha set off to Mathura with the other Gopis, and when they reached the bank of the Yamuna they were surprised to find only one ferry-boat their that was also exceedingly small. There was no way in which they could cross together. Krishna was there as the boatman, and they had no option but to let him take them across one by one.
‘Let him take the others first,’ said Barayi, ‘and I’ll wait here with you.’
“Krishna took the Gopis across, till only Radha and Barayi were left waiting.
‘The boat is too small for me to come with you,’ said Barayi. ‘Let Krishna take me first, and then he can come back for you.’
“Trusting in her great-aunt’s advice, Radha waited, and then, when Krishna returned, boarded the boat alone with him.
“In the middle of the crossing a storm blew up. This was unlikely to be mere coincidence: as a god, Krishna had a way of organizing such things! But it made Radha even more helpless and vulnerable.
‘The boat is too heavily weighted,’ yelled Krishna, as the small vessel heaved and tossed in the frenzied waves. ‘Throw your pails of milk and pots of butter into the water!’
“Alarmed by the storm, Radha did as he commanded.
“But the wind grew even stronger and Krishna said, ‘The boat is still too heavy, and it will sink unless you throw your ornaments into the water – and your clothes too: your sari is wet and heavy from the rain and spray, and you and the boat would be lighter without it!’
“So terrified now was Radha,, that she obeyed him again, removing her golden waistband, her heavy necklace and earrings, and even her clothes.
“But this was still not enough, and the boat started to capsize and fill with water. She found herself clinging to Krishna, and as they twisted and thrashed in the water she became, willy-nilly, his lover, and found the experience surprisingly pleasurable and prolonged.
“When the storm died down and they managed to scramble ashore, Barayi looked knowingly at Radha’s disheveled hair and the love-bites and scratches on her body, and said, ‘Thank God you were not drowned. But is it just because of the storm that you look like t his, and have lost all your clothes and ornaments?’
‘It as Krishna’s wisdom that saved me,’ said Radha, with a sweet and innocent smile. ‘If he hadn’t told me to discard my ornaments and clothes, I would indeed have drowned! How can I ever repay him! But can you help me find some clothes now? Alas, I won’t be much use at the market, as all the curds and butter I was carrying were lost in the storm.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Barayi. ‘The other Gopis will help you out – won’t you, my dears?’
“The other Gopis merrily dressed Radha with what spare clothes they could muster, and also shared their produce with her, so that she didn’t have to go empty-handed to market.
“When they reached the river again on the way back, they were relieved to find that this time Krishna was waiting with a much bigger boat. He was able to take them all across together. As he paddled the boat with his single oar, Radha said to him softly, ‘You got what you wanted, and in the end it was what I wanted too. But what about my ornaments? If you’re a god, you should be able to return them to me.’
‘I’ve got them right here,’ said Krishna, and he handed back to Radha all
the ornaments she had thrown into the water.
Krishna was to cause Radha vexation many times again after that, and her love for him brought her suffering and loneliness as well as ecstasy. But there was never a love like it, all the same, and perhaps a true lover has to be maddening, even if he is a god.