“Shrimati Radharani is most dear to Lord Krishna, and Her lake known as Radha-kunda is also very dear to Him. Of all the gopis, Shrimati Radharani is certainly the most beloved.” (Padma Purana)
Radhashtami is the anniversary of the appearance day of Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The thrill felt by lovers courting one another, playing jokes and enjoying each other’s company, is found in its purified form in the intimate dealings between Radha and Krishna. To understand the transcendental nature of their interactions and derive the full benefit from hearing about them, one must be very fortunate. Without a properly situated consciousness, the conditioned mind will take Radha and Krishna’s interactions to be similar to the boyfriend and girlfriend dealings we are accustomed to seeing. Yet, just like the expensive antiques in the living room of the house, the pastimes between Radha and Krishna are meant to be enjoyed by those who understand its value. Put the priceless vase in the hands of children and they are liable to break it, not understanding its importance. With the benediction of wonderful holidays like Radhashtami on the Vaishnava calendar, any person can become familiar with Shrimati Radharani and her important position as Krishna’s most beloved.
If you are God and you have someone who makes you extremely happy, it would make sense that your devotees would love her very much as well. We can just imagine the divine character of that pleasure-giving person, how many wonderful qualities they have. The Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami lists some of Radharani’s most important qualities. She appeared on this earth as the daughter of King Vrishabhanu and Mother Kirtida. The exact sequence of events relating to her appearance can vary by creation. The variations found in Vedic literature do not give evidence to the theory that the information is just mythology or hyped up stories. On the contrary, as the creation and destruction of the earth and other material planets go through repeating cycles, the exact sequence of events pertaining to the pastimes of Lord Krishna and His associates isn’t always the same.
This also reveals why there are sometimes variations in the telling of the Ramayana, which describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most famous incarnations. Indeed, even Goswami Tulsidas, who is sometimes criticized for having differences in his Ramacharitamanasa, provides a few different details in his other shorter poem on the same subject matter called the Gitavali. Was he not aware that he contradicted himself? Was he not aware that his versions of the events of Rama’s life differed slightly from what was found in the original Ramayana composed by Maharishi Valmiki? Obviously not, as the Lord doesn’t follow exactly the same behavior every single day. Just as our day is measured by the movement of the sun, the length of the creation is equated to one day of Lord Brahma, who is the creator. In each day of Brahma, there are cycles of the different yugas, with the sun that is Krishna appearing at similar times in each cycle. Though the spiritual sun that is Krishna doesn’t always follow the same path through the sky, the majority of the events relating to His pastimes occurs at similar times and follows similar patterns.
“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma's one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.17)
With Shrimati Radharani’s appearance, the earth was graced with the lotus feet of Krishna’s beloved. Around five thousand years ago the two roamed the sacred land of Vrajabhumi, performing wonderful pastimes together, many of which are documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature. That the heartwarming tale of Radha and Krishna is included in this sacred work is enough to give it superior status. Though Vedic literature is quite vast and comprehensive, one needn’t study every single scriptural work to find full enlightenment. Rather, just lending an ear to the Bhagavatam and having an open mind when learning about Krishna, His beauty, His pastimes and the glories of His associates are enough to attain all the knowledge necessary in life.
Even if one isn’t given to hearing about Krishna, by visiting a place of pilgrimage, a tirtha, and taking bath in its sacred waters so many sins accumulated over many past lifetimes in the material world can be washed away. The soul is eternal, but the bodies it occupies are not. Just as our clothes get worn out and dirty over time, the dwellings occupied by the soul undergo development and decay. The sins accumulated are rooted in desire, with the consciousness not wanting to return to its constitutional position of pure loving devotion to the Supreme Lord. The inkling towards love is always there; but in the absence of bhakti, or pure devotion, it manifests in so many other forms. Only in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, does the loving propensity find a tangible outlet, a recipient who can never be smothered, a person who will never scorn the lover, a person who will instead find ways to increase the devotee’s attachment.
One of the most famous tirthas for devotees of Krishna is Radha-kunda. Adjacent to this is Shyama-kunda. These are the famous ponds dear to Radha and Krishna, and the story of how they came about is quite heartwarming. When Krishna appeared in Mathura in the prison cell of King Kamsa, He was immediately transferred to the neighboring farm community of Vrindavana, where He would be safe from the king’s wicked plots. A prophecy had warned Kamsa that his sister Devaki’s eighth son would kill him. Not taking any chances, the king locked up his sister and her husband Vasudeva in prison. With each son they produced, Kamsa came and threw the infant against a stone wall. He was anxiously awaiting Devaki’s eighth son to appear so that he could keep the tradition going.
Lord Krishna had arranged everything perfectly, so the prophecy was real and could not be reversed. Krishna decided to grow up in Vrindavana, though, to grace the residents there with His presence, for His childhood form and activities are the most attractive. Just imagine how much joy we get from watching our young sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren play around the house and try to learn to walk and talk. Add the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His immediate expansion Lord Balarama to the mix, and what you get is the unmatched pleasure felt by the residents of Vrajabhumi.
To increase the transcendental satisfaction felt, there were many episodes involving danger, with Krishna able to save the day every time. Kamsa found out that Devaki’s child had made it to Vrindavana, so he sent demon after demon there to try to kill Him. One took the form of a bull and was named Arishtasura. He was killed easily by Krishna, but the Lord’s gopi friends were a little concerned with the manner of the slaying. The cowherd girls of the town were especially devoted to Krishna. Among the gopis, Shrimati Radharani was the chief, as she enjoyed Krishna’s company the most and had captured His heart.
A unique aspect of the mood of devotion practiced by the gopis is that they fly pass the stage of having reverence for God. For celebrity athletes and movie stars, it’s nice having adoring fans, but having peers and equals is more enjoyable because they allow for the exchanges of emotion to be more real. In devotional service, the transcendental mellows followed by the gopis are the topmost because they are more intimate than the reverential spirit usually reserved for God, who is the supreme powerful. It is not that one should just casually address Krishna and treat Him as an equal without cause. Rather, when the love is so strong, the attachment will be there no matter what, so there is no need to fear Krishna’s punishments, for He is like the dearest family member.
After Krishna killed the bull demon, the gopis were concerned that His sin of killing a bull would spread to the rest of the residents. Therefore they started thinking of a way to become absolved of this sin. While they were walking about, they ran into Shri Krishna, who was very happy about having saved the town from Arishtasura. When they saw Him, the gopis immediately chided Him. Shrimati Radharani told Him to stay away because He was contaminated by sin. Can we imagine saying such a thing? Krishna is the embodiment of purity. Sin only gets introduced when one is not tied to Krishna. The root cause of the material creation is forgetfulness of God, which thus forms the original sin. Since Krishna is the object of worship, He is incapable of behaving impiously.
The sentiments from Radharani were rooted in the most heartfelt emotions though. These sorts of insults gave great pleasure to Krishna, as it allowed Him to fire back with His own witty retorts. He told Radha that what He had killed was not actually a bull, but a demon in the guise of a bull. Therefore there could not be any sin attached to the demon’s slaying. Radharani, ever the wise Vedic scholar, quickly responded by referencing King Indra’s slaying of Vritrasura. Vritrasura was also a demon, but by birth he was a brahmana. Therefore Indra, the king of heaven, had to suffer the sin of having killed a brahmana, which is actually one of the most grievous transgressions one can make.
Radharani thus won this short, playful debate. When Krishna wanted to know how He could become absolved of the “sin”, Radha informed Him that He had to take a bath in all the sacred rivers. At this point Krishna gave up His fake humility and scoffed at her suggestion. Why would He need to visit any holy places? He is the Supreme Lord after all, so He can bring the sacred waters of the world to wherever He goes. Kicking the ground, the Lord was able to make a small ditch that soon filled up with Ganga water. Then the most sacred tirtha waters from around the world poured into the hole as well. Krishna then took His bath in front of the gopis, as if to show them He was now pure. After Radha downplayed this by saying that it was simply a display of Krishna’s illusion, to remove any doubt, the Lord then summoned the sacred rivers to reveal themselves.
As the pastimes of Radha and Krishna completely delight the mind, it’s not surprising what happened next. Rather than accept that Krishna had now been purified and agree to His invitation to enter His newly created pond, Radha and the gopis claimed that the water had become contaminated by Krishna’s sins. Therefore if they were to step into His kunda, or pond, they would be infected with His sin. Radha then saw a hole in the ground nearby which had been created by the hoof print of Arishtasura. Taking her bangles, she started digging her own hole to be used as a bathing place. The many gopis that were there followed suit by using their bangles for digging as well. After the hole was made, they needed to fill it with water. The gopis were ready to travel far and wide to bring water from all the sacred places. Seeing their steady resolve, Krishna Himself summoned the same sacred rivers to come and fill Radha’s ditch.
With her kunda now built, Shri Krishna used His flute to break the dam separating the two ponds. The Lord then took a swim in the new Radha-kunda and declared its water to be sacred. These two bathing places still exist in Vrindavana, and devotees take tremendous delight in bathing in them, as there are tremendous spiritual merits accumulated from contact with these waters. Just as Radha is dear to Krishna, so is her bathing place of Radha-kunda. And Shyama-kunda is right next to it, so just by mentally taking a dip in both waters one can keep the image of Shri Shri Radha and Krishna in their minds for a long time. The aim of human life is to always remember the Lord and His dearmost associates. Among the devotees, none are dearer to Krishna than the gopis. And among the gopis, Shrimati Radharani is the best, for she gives so much pleasure to Krishna that He is fully surrendered to her. On Radhashtami we remember Krishna’s beloved, and we pray that she may have mercy on us and give us the boon of Krishna-bhakti, so that we may never forget the divine pastimes of Kishora-kishori and their sacred land of Vrajabhumi.
Shrimati Radharani to Krishna is most dear,
Her pastimes with the Lord pleasing to the ear.
On her appearance day her divine nature we remember,
Krishna’s spiritual senses enthralled just by seeing her.
One time after killing bull demon did Krishna walk,
On the way He saw the gopis, with whom did He talk.
Radha chastised Him, saying He was now contaminated,
For killing a bull, injunction of shastras He had violated.
“In holy waters Your body You must dip,
To become free of the sin, to tirthas take a trip.”
Instead, Shri Krishna made a hole in the ground with His heel,
Filling it with sacred waters, thrill of victory did He feel.
But Radha was not impressed, hoof print of Arishtasura she found,
Using their bangles to dig, by gopis large hole was made in the ground.
Krishna then summoned sacred rivers to fill Radha’s kunda,
New pond was loved by Him, found next to His Shyama-kunda.
On Radhashtami we remember Radharani and her beloved pond,
Of hearing of her love for Shri Krishna we are forever fond.