The Website for Book Lovers

Book Lover >> Loves of Krishna



(i) The Triumph of Radha

During the next two hundred years, from the tenth to the twelfth century, the Krishna story completely alters. It is not that the facts as given in the Bhagavata Purana are disputed. It is rather that the emphasis and view-point are changed. Krishna the prince and his consort Rukmini are relegated to the background and Krishna the cowherd lover brought sharply to the fore. Krishna is no longer regarded as having been born solely to kill a tyrant and rid the world of demons. His chief function now is to vindicate passion as the symbol of final union with God. We have already seen that to Indians this final union was the sole purpose of life and only one experience was at all comparable to it. It was the mutual ecstasy of impassioned lovers. 'In the embrace of his beloved, a man forgets the whole world—everything both within and without; in the same way, he who embraces the Self knows neither within nor without.'[46] The function of the new Krishna was to defend these two premises—that romantic love was the most exalted experience in life and secondly, that of all the roads to salvation, the impassioned adoration of God was the one most valid. God must be adored. Krishna himself was God and since he had shown divine love in passionately possessing the cowgirls, he was best adored by recalling these very encounters. As a result, Krishna's relations with the cowgirls were now enormously magnified and as part of this fresh appraisal, a particular married cowgirl, Radha, enters the story as the enchanting object of his passions. We have seen how on one occasion in the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna disappears taking with him a single girl, how they then make love together in a forest bower and how when the girl tires and begs Krishna to carry her, he abruptly leaves her. The girl's name is not mentioned but enough is said to suggest that she is Krishna's favourite. This hint is now developed. Radha, for this is the girl's name, is recognized as the loveliest of all the cowgirls. She is the daughter of the cowherd Vrishabhanu and his wife, Kamalavati, and is married to Ayana, a brother of Yasoda. Like other cowgirls, her love for Krishna is all-consuming and compels her to ignore her family honour and disregard her husband. Krishna, for his part, regards her as his first love. In place, therefore, of courtly adventures and battles with demons, Krishna's adulterous romance is now presented as all in all.[47] It is the moods, feelings and emotions of a great love-affair which are the essence of the story and this, in turn, is to serve as a sublime allegory expressing and affirming the love of God for the soul. With this dramatic revolution in the story, we begin to approach the Krishna of Indian painting.

Such a change can hardly have come about without historical reasons and although the exact circumstances must perhaps remain obscure, we can see in this sharp reversal of roles a clear response to certain Indian needs. From early times, romantic love had been keenly valued, Sanskrit poets such as Kalidasa, Amaru and Bhartrihari celebrating the charms of womanly physique and the raptures of sex. What, in fact, in other cultures had been viewed with suspicion or disquiet was here invested with nobility and grandeur. Although fidelity had been demanded in marriage, romantic liaisons had not been entirely excluded and thus there was a sense in which the love-poetry of the early Indian middle ages had been partly paralleled by actual courtly or village practice. From the tenth century onwards, however, a tightening of domestic morals had set in, a tightening which was further intensified by the Muslim invasions of the twelfth and thirteen centuries. Romance as an actual experience became more difficult of attainment and this was exacerbated by standard views of marriage. In early India, marriage had been regarded as a contract between families and romantic love between husband and wife as an accidental, even an unexpected product of what was basically a utilitarian agreement. With the seclusion of women and the laying of even greater stress on wifely chastity, romantic love was increasingly denied. Yet the need for romance remained and we can see in the prevalence of love-poetry a substitute for wishes repressed in actual life.[48] It is precisely this role which the story of Krishna the cowherd lover now came to perform. Krishna, being God, had been beyond morals and hence had practised conduct which, if indulged in by men, might well have been wrong. He had given practical expression to romantic longings and had behaved with all the passionate freedom normally stifled by social duty, conjugal ethics and family morals. From this point of view, Krishna the prince was a mere pillar of boring respectability. Nothing in his conduct could arouse delight for everything he did was correct and proper. Krishna the cowherd on the other hand, was spontaneous, irresponsible and free. His love for the cowgirls had had a lively freedom. The love between them was nothing if not voluntary. His whole life among the cowherds was simple, natural and pleasing and as their rapturous lover nothing was more obvious than that the cowgirls should adore him. In dwelling, then, on Krishna, it was natural that the worshipper should tend to disregard the prince and should concentrate instead on the cowherd. The prince had revered Brahmans and supported established institutions. The cowherd had shamed the Brahmans of Mathura and discredited ceremonies and festivals. He had loved and been loved and in his contemplation lay nothing but joy. The loves of Krishna, in fact, were an intimate fulfilment of Indian desires, an exact sublimation of intense romantic needs and while other factors must certainly have played their part, this is perhaps the chief reason why, at this juncture, they now enchanted village and courtly India.

The results of this new approach are apparent in two distinct ways. The Bhagavata Purana continues to be the chief chronicle of Krishna's acts but the last half of Book Ten and all of Book Eleven fall into neglect.[49] In their place, the story of Krishna's relations with the cowgirls is given new poignancy and precision. Radha is constantly mentioned and in all the incidents in the Purana involving cowgirls, it is she who is given pride of place. At the river Jumna, when Krishna removes the cowgirls' clothes, Radha begs him to restore them. At the circular dance in which he joins with all the cowgirls, Radha receives his first attentions, dancing with him in the centre. When Krishna is about to leave for Mathura, it is Radha who heads the cowgirls and strives to detain him. She serves, in fact, as a symbol of all the cowgirls' love. At the same time, she is very far from being merely their spokesman or leader and while the later texts dwell constantly on her rapturous love-making with Krishna, they also describe her jealousy when Krishna makes love to other girls. Indeed the essence of their romance is that it includes a temporary estrangement and only after Krishna has neglected Radha, flirted with other cowgirls and then returned to her is their understanding complete.

The second result is the allegorical interpretation which Krishna's romances now received. In Christian literature, the longing of the soul for God was occasionally expressed in terms of sexual imagery—the works of the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, including 'songs of the soul in rapture at having arrived at the height of perfection which is union with God.'

Oh night that was my guide!

Oh darkness dearer than the morning's pride,

Oh night that joined the lover

To the beloved bride

Transfiguring them each into the other.

Within my flowering breast

Which only for himself entire I save

He sank into his rest

And all my gifts I gave

Lulled by the airs with which the cedars wave.[50]

This same approach was now to clarify Radha's romance with Krishna. Radha, it was held, was the soul while Krishna was God. Radha's sexual passion for Krishna symbolized the soul's intense longing and her willingness to commit adultery expressed the utter priority which must be accorded to love for God. If ultimate union was symbolized by romantic love, then clearly nothing could approach such love in ultimate significance. In deserting their husbands and homes and wilfully committing adultery, Radha and the cowgirls were therefore illustrating a profound religious truth. Not only was their adultery proof of Krishna's charm, it was vital to the whole story. By worldly standards, they were committing the gravest of offences but they were doing it for Krishna who was God himself. They were therefore setting God above home and duty, they were leaving everything for love of God and in surrendering their honour, were providing the most potent symbol of what devotion meant. This approach explained other details. Krishna's flute was the call of God which caused the souls of men, the cowgirls, to forsake their worldly attachments and rush to love him. In removing the clothes of the cowgirls and requiring them to come before him naked, he was demonstrating the innocent purity with which the soul should wait on God. In himself neglecting Radha and toying with the cowgirls, he was proving, on one level, the power of worldly pleasures to seduce the soul but on another level, the power of God to love every soul irrespective of its character and status. From this point of view, the cowgirls were as much the souls of men as Radha herself and to demonstrate God's all-pervasive love, Krishna must therefore love not only Radha but every cowgirl. Equally, in the circular dance, by inducing every cowgirl to think that she and she alone was his partner, Krishna was proving how God is available to all. Finally it was realized that even those portions of the story which, at first sight, seemed cruel and callous were also susceptible of religious interpretation. When Radha has been loved in the forest and then is suddenly deserted, the reason is her pride—pride that because Krishna has loved her, she can assert herself by asking to be carried. Such assertiveness is incompatible with the kind of humble adoration necessary for communion with God. To prove this, therefore, Radha's pride must be destroyed and Krishna resorts to this seemingly brusque desertion. Action, in fact, which by human standards would be reprehensible is once again a means for imparting spiritual wisdom. In a similar way, Krishna's departure for Mathura and final abandonment of the cowgirls was accorded a religious interpretation. At one level, his departure symbolized 'the dark night of the soul,' the experience which comes to every devotee when, despite the most ardent longing, the vision fades. At another level, it illustrated how life must be lived when God or Vishnu was no longer on earth. If Krishna's love-making was intended to symbolize the ultimate rapture, his physical absence corresponded to conditions as they normally existed. In instructing the cowgirls to meditate upon him in their minds, Krishna was only attuning them to life as it must necessarily appear after he has left the human stage.

It was these conceptions which governed the cult of Krishna from the twelfth century onwards and, as we shall shortly see, informed the poems which were now to celebrate his love for Radha.


Note 15.


Note 16.


Note 17.


I.e. the whole of Krishna's career after his destruction of the tyrant.


Roy Campbell, The Poems of St. John of the Cross (London, 1951), 11-12.

(ii) The Gita Govinda

The first poem to express this changed conception is the Gita Govinda—the Song of the Cowherd—a Sanskrit poem written by the Bengali poet, Jayadeva, towards the close of the twelfth century. Its subject is the estrangement of Radha and Krishna caused by Krishna's love for other cowgirls, Radha's anguish at Krishna's neglect and lastly the rapture which attends their final reunion. Jayadeva describes Radha's longing and Krishna's love-making with glowing sensuality yet the poem reverts continually to praise of Krishna as God.

If in recalling Krishna to mind there is flavour

Or if there is interest in love's art

Then to this necklace of words—sweetness,tenderness, brightness—

The words of Jayadeva, listen.

He aims, in fact, at inducing 'recollection of Krishna in the minds of the good' and adds a description of the forest in springtime solely, he says, in order once again to recall Krishna.[51] When, at last, the poem has come triumphantly to its close, Jayadeva again exhorts people to adore Krishna and 'place him for ever in their hearts, Krishna the source of all merit.'

The poem begins with a preface of four lines describing how Krishna's romance with Radha first began. The sky, it says, was dark with clouds. All around lay the vast forest. Night was coming up and Nanda who had taken the youthful Krishna with him is alarmed lest in the gathering gloom the boy should get lost. Radha, who is somewhat older, is with them, so Nanda desires her to take Krishna home. Radha leads him away but as they wander by the river, passion mounts in their hearts. They forget that Nanda has told them to hurry home. Radha ignores the motherly character of her mission and loitering in the trees, the two commence their dalliance.[52] In this way the love of Radha and Krishna arises—the love which is to dominate their hearts with ever-growing fervour.

The poem then leaps a period of time and when the drama opens, a crisis has occurred. Radha, after long enjoying Krishna's passionate embraces, finds herself abruptly neglected. Charming but faithless, Krishna is now pursuing other girls and the jilted Radha wanders alone. Meanwhile spring has come to the forest and the thought that others are enjoying Krishna's love tortures her to the point of madness. As she broods on her lost joys, a friend describes to her what is happening.[53]

Sandal and garment of yellow and lotus garlands upon his body of blue,

In his dance the jewels of his ears in movement dangling over his smiling cheeks,

Krishna here disports himself with charming women given to love.

He embraces one woman, he kisses another, and fondles another beautiful one.

He looks at another one lovely with smiles, and starts in pursuit of another woman.

Krishna here disports himself with charming women given to love.[54]

Suddenly Radha sees Krishna[55] and going into the midst of the cowgirls, she kisses him violently and clasps him to her; but Krishna is so inflamed by the other girls that he abandons her in a thicket.

As Radha broods on his behaviour, she is filled with bitter sadness.[56] Yet her love is still so strong that she cannot bring herself to blame him and instead calls to mind his charm.

I remember Krishna, the jests he made, who placed his sport in the pastoral dance,

The sweet of whose nectar of lips kept flowing with notes of his luring melodious flute,

With the play of whose eyes and the toss of whose head the earrings kept dangling upon his cheeks.

I remember Krishna, the jests he made, who placed his sport in the pastoral dance,

Whose brow had a perfect sandal spot, as among dark clouds the disc of the moon,

Whose door-like heart was without pity when crushing the bosoms of swelling breasts.

Desire even now in my foolish mind for Krishna,

For Krishna—without me—lusting still for the herd-girls.

Seeing only the good in his nature, what shall I do?

Agitated I feel no anger. Pleased without cause, I acquit him.

And she continues:

O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,

I who am shy like a girl on her way to the first of her trysts of love,

He who is charming with flattering words, I who am tender

In speech and smiling, he on whose hip the garment lies loosely worn.

O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,

Me who sweated and moistened all over my body with love's exertion,

That Krishna whose cheeks were lovely with down all standing on end as he thrilled,

Whose half-closed eyes were languid, and restless with brimming desire.

O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,

Me whose masses of curls were like loose-slipping flowers, whose amorous words

Were vague as of doves, that Krishna whose bosom is marked

With scratches, surpassing all in his love that the science of love could teach.

O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,

To whose act of desire accomplished the anklets upon my feet bejewelled

Vibrated sounding, who gave his kisses seizing the hair of the head,

And to whom in his passionate love my girdle sounded in eloquence sweet.

As Radha sits longing for him in lonely sadness, Krishna suddenly repents, is filled with remorse and abruptly goes in quest of her. He does not know, however, where to find her and as he wanders, he expresses his sorrow.

Radha so deeply wronged, troubled to see me surrounded by women,

She went, and I, in fear of my guilt, made no attempt to stop her,

Alas, alas, she is gone in anger, her love destroyed.

O my slender one, I imagine your heart is dejected,

I cannot console you kneeling in homage, I know not where to find you.

If you pardon me now I shall never repeat this neglect of you ever—

O beautiful, give me your pleasure again. I burn with desire.

As Krishna searches unavailingly, Radha's friend lights upon him and conveys news of her love-tormented state.

Armour she makes of tender lotus garlands to hide her bosom from you,

Large garlands, as if to protect you from heavy showers of shafts from the god of love.

She fears an attack of Love upon you, and lies away hidden;

She wastes away, Krishna, parted from you.

As he hears this, Krishna is torn with longing. He does not, however, go immediately to Radha but instead asks the friend to bring Radha to him. The girl departs, meets Radha and gives her Krishna's message. She then describes Krishna's love-lorn state:

When he hears the noise of swarms of bees, he covers his ears from their humming;

Pain he feels, night after night, of a heart in love that is parted.

He droops, separated from you, O friend, the wearer of garlands.

The girl assures Radha that Krishna is contrite and urges her to delay no longer.

He has gone into the trysting place, full of all desired bliss, O you with lovely hips delay no more

O go forth now and seek him out, him the master of your heart, him endowed with passion's lovely form.

On fallen feathers of the birds, on leaves about the forest floor, he lies excited making there his bed,

And he gazes out upon the path, looks about with trembling eyes, anxious, looking out for your approach.

There on that bed of tender leaves, O lotus-eyed, embrace his hips, his naked hips from whence the girdle drops,

Those hips from whence the garment falls, those loins which are a treasure heap, the fountain and the source of all delight.

Radha would willingly go but she is now so sick with love that she can no longer move. The girl has, therefore, to go once more to Krishna and describe Radha's state.

In secret on every side she sees you

Drinking the honied sweet of her lips.

Where Radha stays now she wilts away,

She may live no longer without your skill,

Again and again she keeps telling her friend,

'O why must Krishna delay to come?'

Of her jewels abundant her limbs she adorns and spreads out her bed—

Imagining you on her fluttering couch of leaves—

And so to indulge, in a hundred ways, in the sport of love

She is fully resolved, arranging her bed with every adornment;

Not another night may that beautiful girl endure without you.

Why so much apathy, Krishna, beside the fig tree?

O brother, why not go to the pasture of eyes, the abode of bliss?

Despite this message, however, Krishna still delays and Radha, who has half expected him, endures still greater anguish.

My lover has failed to come to the trysting place,

It is perhaps that his mind is dazed, or perhaps that he went to another woman

Or lured perhaps by festive folk, that he delays,

Or perhaps along the dark fringe of the forest he wanders lost.

She imagines him toying with another cowgirl.

A certain girl, excelling in her charms unrivalled, dallies with the sportive Krishna

Her face, a moon, is fondled by the fluttering petals in her hair,

The exciting moisture of his lips induces langour in her limbs,

Her earrings bruise her cheeks while dancing with the motion of her head,

Her girdle by the tremor of her moving hips is made to tinkle,

She utters senseless sounds, through fever of her love,

He decorates with crimson flowers her curly tresses, curls which are upon her lively face a mass of clouds,

Flowers with crimson flashings lovely in the forest of her tresses, haunt of that wild creature love's desire.

And thinking of her own hapless state, Radha contrasts it bitterly with that of the fortunate girl.

She who with the wearer of the garland lies in dalliance.

With him whose lovely mouth is like a lotus that is opening,

With him whose words are nectar in their sweetness and their tenderness,

With him who wears a garment streaked with gold, all white and beautiful

Not made to sigh is she, my friend, derided by her girls!

Next morning Radha is standing with her girls when Krishna tries to approach her. Now, however, he has come too late. Radha has suffered too greatly. Her patience is at an end and although Krishna implores her to forgive him, she rounds on him in anger, ordering him to return to the other girl whom he has just left.[57]

Your mouth, O Krishna, darkened, enhances the crimson beauty of your lovely body,

Enhances with a, darkness, a blackness that arises from the kissing of eyes coloured with black unguent.

Go, Krishna, go. Desist from uttering these deceitful words.

Follow her, you lotus-eyed, she who can dispel your trouble, go to her.

I who follow you devoted—how can you deceive me, so tortured by love's fever as I am?

O Krishna, like the look of you, your body which appears so black, that heart of yours a blackness shall assume.

Follow her, you lotus-eyed, she who can dispel your trouble, go to her.

Faced with these reproaches, Krishna slinks away. Radha's friend knows, however, that despite her bitter anger, Radha desires nothing more than his love. She attempts, therefore, to instil in her a calmer frame of mind, urging her to end her pride and take Krishna back. She goes to look for Krishna and while she is absent, Krishna returns. Standing before Radha, he implores her once again to end her anger.

If you speak but a little the moon-like gleam of your teeth will destroy the darkness frightful, so very terrible, come over me;

Your moon of a face which glitters upon my eye, the moon-bird's eye, now makes me long for the sweet of your lips.

O loved one, O beautiful, give up that baseless pride against me,

My heart is burnt by the fire of longing; give me that drink so sweet of your lotus face.

O you with beautiful teeth, if you are in anger against me, strike me then with your finger nails, sharp and like arrows,

Bind me, entwining, with the cords of your arms, and bite me then with your teeth, and feel happy punishing.

O loved one, O beautiful, give up that baseless pride against me.

At these words, Radha's anger leave her; and when Krishna withdraws, it is to go to the forest and await her coming. Radha's joy returns. She decks herself in the loveliest of her ornaments and then, accompanied by her maids, moves slowly to the tryst.[58] As they reach the bower which Krishna has constructed, her friend urges her to enter.

O you who bear on your face the smile that comes of the ardour of passion

Sport with him whose love-abode is the floor of the beautiful bower.

Radha approaches and their love strains to its height.

She looked at Krishna who desired only her, on him who for long wanted dalliance,

Whose face with his pleasure was overwhelmed and who was possessed with desire

After embracing her long and ardently, Krishna with his necklace of pearls

Krishna like the Jumna in a mighty flood with its necklace of specks of foam.[59]

The cowgirls go and Krishna speaks to Radha.

O woman with desire, place on this patch of flower-strewn floor your lotus foot,

And let your foot through beauty win,

To me who am the Lord of All, O be attached, now always yours.

O follow me, my little Radha.

O lovely woman, give me now the nectar of your lips, infuse new life into this slave of yours, so dead,

This slave, whose heart is placed in you, whose body burned in separation, this slave denied the pleasure of your love.

Radha yields and as the night passes they achieve height upon height of sexual bliss.

Their love play grown great was very delightful, the love play where thrills were a hindrance to firm embraces,

Where their helpless closing of eyes was a hindrance to longing looks at each other, and their secret talk to their drinking of each the other's nectar of lips, and where the skill of their love was hindered by boundless delight.

She loved as never before throughout the course of the conflict of love, to win, lying over his beautiful body, to triumph over her lover;

And so through taking the active part her thighs grew lifeless, and languid her vine-like arms, and her heart beat fast, and her eyes grew heavy and closed.

In the morning most wondrous, the heart of her lord was smitten with arrows of Love, arrows which went through his eyes,

Arrows which were her nailed-scratched bosom, her reddened sleep-denied eyes, her crimson lips from a bath of kisses, her hair disarranged with the flowers awry, and her girdle all loose and slipping.

With hair knot loosened and stray locks waving, her cheeks perspiring, her glitter of lips impaired,

And the necklace of pearls not appearing fair because of her jar-shaped breast being denuded,

And her belt, her glittering girdle, dimmed in beauty,

The happy one drank of the face where the lips were washed with the juice of his mouth,

His mouth half open uttering amorous noises, vague and delirious, the rows of teeth in the breath of an indrawn sigh delightedly chattering.

Drank of the face of that deer-eyed woman whose body lay helpless, released of excessive delight, the thrilling delight of embraces.

When their passion is at last ended, Radha begs Krishna to help her with her toilet.

She said to the joy of her heart,

Adorn the curl on my brow which puts the lotus to shame, my spotless brow,

Make a beautiful spot on my forehead, a spot with the paste of the sandal,

O giver of pride, on my tresses, untidy now on account of desire, place flowers,

Place on my hips the girdle, the clothes and the jewels,

Cover my beautiful loins, luscious and firm, the cavern of Love to be feared.

Make a pattern upon my breasts and a picture on my cheeks and fasten over my loins a girdle,

Bind my masses of hair with a beautiful garland and place many bracelets upon my hands and jewelled anklets upon my feet.

Krishna does so and with a final celebration of Krishna as God and of the song itself—its words 'sweeter than sugar, like love's own glorious flavour'—the poem ends.


Note 18.


Plate 20.


Plates 21 and 22.


Note 19.


Plate 23.


Plate 24.


Plate 25.


Plate 26.


Plate 27.

(iii) Later Poetry

Jayadeva's poem quickly achieved renown in Northern and Western India and from the early thirteenth century became a leading model for all poets who were enthralled by Krishna as God and lover. In Western India, Bilvamangala, a poet of Malabar, composed a whole galaxy of Krishna songs, his poem, the Balagopala Stuti (The Childhood of Krishna) earning for him the title 'the Jayadeva of the South.' But it is during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that the most important developments occurred. In Bengal, the poets Vidyapati and Chandi Das flourished in about the year 1420, while in Western India, Mira Bai, a local princess, began a wide-spread popular movement. Mira Bai was followed by Vallabhacharya (born 1478) who in turn inspired four poet disciples—Krishna Das, Sur Das, Parmanand Das and Kumbhan Das. All these were at their height in the middle of the sixteenth century, writing Hindi poems in which Radha's adventures with Krishna and their rapturous love-making were devotedly described.[60]

The work of Sur Das was of special importance for in one of his compositions he took each of the thirty-six traditional modes of Indian music-the Ragas and Raginis—but instead of celebrating them as separate 'musical characters,' appended to each a love-poem about Krishna. Sur Das was followed by Keshav Das of Orchha (fl. 1580), Govind Das (fl. 1590), Bihari Lai (fl. 1650) and Kali Das (fl. 1700)—all poets in whom religious ecstasy was blended with a feeling for passionate romance. Of these poets Bihari Lai is famous for the Sat Sai in which he celebrated Krishna's romance in seven hundred verses.

All this later poetry differed from the Gita Govinda in one important respect. Instead of dwelling on the temporary rupture in Radha and Krishna's relationship, it roved freely over the many phases of their love-making, subjecting every incident to delighted analysis. A poet thought and felt himself into Radha's mind when as a young girl about to become a woman she discovered for the first time the exquisite sensations of awakening love. Or he imagined he was Krishna stumbling on Radha by accident and being stirred to ecstasy by his first glimpse of her glowing charms. Sometimes he even became the unseen viewer of their rapturous exchanges, comforting Radha with sage remarks or egging her on to appease her hungry lover. In this way many incidents not recorded of any cowgirl in the Bhagavata Purana, though possibly preserved in oral tradition, came gradually into prominence, thereby confirming Radha as Krishna's greatest love.

The following incidents will illustrate this process. Radha would be described as one day taking her curds and milk to a village the farther side of the river Jumma. Krishna hears of her expedition and along with other cowherd boys waylays Radha and her friends and claims a toll. Radha refuses to pay but at last offers to make a token gift provided he ferries them over. Meanwhile a cowherd boy has hidden the boat and night is coming on. It is now too late to return so the girls have no alternative but to stay with Krishna. They lie down by the bank but in the darkness give Krishna not only the toll but also their souls and bodies.

In another poem, Krishna is shown pestering the cowgirls for curds. Radha decides to stand this no longer and partly in jest dresses herself up as a constable. When Krishna next teases the girls, she descends upon him, catches him by the wrist and 'arrests' him as a thief.[61]

It is in the poems of Chandi Das, however, that Krishna's most daring ruses are described. Having once gained admittance to Radha's house by dressing himself as a cowgirl, he is shown pretending to be a flower-seller. He strings some flowers into a bunch of garlands, dangles them on his arm and strolls blandly down the village street. When he reaches Radha's house, he goes boldly in and is taken by Radha into a corner where she starts to bargain. Krishna asks her to let him first adorn her with a garland and then she can pay him. Radha agrees and as he slips a garland over her head, Krishna kisses her. Radha suddenly sees who it is and holds his hand.

On another occasion, Radha is ill from love and is lying at home on her bed. Krishna thereupon becomes a doctor and goes from house to house curing the sick. So successful are his cures that Radha also is tempted to consult the new doctor and sends a maid to call him, Krishna comes but before entering adopts a wild disguise— putting his clothes on inside out, matting his hair with mud, and slinging a bag of roots and plants over his shoulder. As he enters, he sits on Radha's bed, lifts her veil, gazes intently at her face and declares that certainly she is very ill indeed. He then takes her pulse and says, 'it is the water of love that is rotting her heart like a poison.' Radha is elated at this diagnosis, rouses herself and stretches her limbs. 'You have understood my trouble,' she says. 'Now tell me what I am to do.' 'I feel somewhat diffident at explaining my remedy,' replies the doctor, 'But if I had the time and place, I could ease your fever and cure you utterly.' As he says this, Radha knows that he is Krishna and this is only another of his reckless wiles designed to bring him near her.

But it was less in the recording of new incidents than in lyrical descriptions of Radha and Krishna, their physical charms and ecstatic meetings, that the poets excelled.


Krishna is dancing in a medley of moods and poses.

His crown sways, his eye-brows move,

Displaying the arts of a clever dancer.

The swing of his waist makes his girdle sing

And the anklets jingle.

One fancies one is listening to the sweet voice of a pair of geese as they touch each other in dalliance.

The bangles glitter and the rings and armlets shoot their rays.

When with passion he moves his arms, what grace the movements bless!

Now he dances after the gait of ladies and now in a manner of his own.

The poet's lord is the jewel of the passionate

And builds his dance in the depths of ecstasy.[62]

(Sur Das)


With Krishna in their midst the cowherds come to their homes.

The calves and cows are ahead, frisking and playing as they go.

All the pipes and horns go forth, each his own notes playing.

The sound of the flute moves the cows to low as they raise a cloud of dust.

The crown of peacocks' feathers glistens on the head like a young moon.

The cowherd boys frolic on the path and Krishna in the centre sings his song.

Ravished by the sight, the cowgirls pour out their minds and bodies,

Gazing on Krishna, quenching their heart's desire.

(Sur Das)


Radha's glances dart from side to side.

Her restless body and clothes are heavy with dust.

Her glistening smile shines again and again.

Shy, she raises her skirt to her lips.

Startled, she stirs and once again is calm,

As now she enters the ways of love.

Sometimes she gazes at her blossoming breasts

Hiding them quickly, then forgetting they are there.

Childhood and girlhood melt in one

And young and old are both forgotten.

Says Vidyapati: O Lord of life,

Do you not know the signs of youth?[63]



Each day the breasts of Radha swelled.

Her hips grew shapely, her waist more slender.

Love's secrets stole upon her eyes.

Startled her childhood sought escape.

Her plum-like breasts grew large,

Harder and crisper, aching for love.

Krishna soon saw her as she bathed

Her filmy dress still clinging to her breasts,

Her tangled tresses falling on her heart,

A golden image swathed in yak's tail plumes.

Says Vidyapati: O wonder of women,

Only a handsome man can long for her.



There was a shudder in her whispering voice.

She was shy to frame her words.

What has happened tonight to lovely Radha?

Now she consents, now she is scared.

When asked for love, she closes up her eyes,

Eager to reach the ocean of desire.

He begs her for a kiss.

She turns her mouth away

And then, like a night lily, the moon seized her.

She felt his touch startling her girdle.

She knew her love treasure was being robbed.

With her dress she covered up her breasts.

The treasure was left uncovered.

Vidyapati wonders at the neglected bed.

Lovers are busy in each other's arms.



Awake, Radha, awake

Calls the parrot and its love

For how long must you sleep,

Clasped to the heart of your Dark-stone?

Listen. The dawn has come

And the red shafts of the sun

Are making us shudder.



Startled, the parrot calls.

See those young lovers are still asleep.

On a bed of tender leaves

His dark figure is lying still.

She, the fair one,

Looks like a piece of jewelled gold.

They have emptied their quivers.

All their flower-arrows are discharged,

Drowning each other in the joy of love.

O lovely Radha, awake.

Your friends are going to the temple.

Asks Govind Das:

Whose business is it

To interrupt the ways of love?

(Govind Das)

In another kind of poem, Radha and Krishna are themselves made to speak—Krishna, for example, describing his first glimpses of Radha and Radha struggling to evoke in words the ecstasies of their love.


Like stilled lightning her fair face.

I saw her by the river,

Her hair dressed with jasmine,

Plaited like a coiled snake.

O friend, I will tell you

The secret of my heart.

With her darting glances

And gentle smiles

She made me wild with love.

Throwing and catching a ball of flowers,

She showed me to the full

Her youthful form.

Uptilted breasts

Peeped from her dress.

Her face was bright

With taunting smiles.

With anklet bells

Her feet shone red.

Says Chandi Das:

Will you see her again?

(Chandi Das)


Listen, O lovely darling,

Cease your anger.

I promise by the golden pitchers of your breasts

And by your necklace-snake,

Which now I gather in my hands,

If ever I touch anyone but you

May your necklace-snake bite me;

And if my words do not ring true,

Punish me as I deserve.

Bind me in your arms, hit me with your thighs,

Choke my heart with your milk-swollen breasts,

Lock me day and night in the prison of your heart.



Never have I seen such love nor heard of it.

Even the eyelids' flutter

Holds eternity.

Clasped to my breasts, you are far from me.

I would keep you as a veil close to my face.

I shudder with fright when you turn your eyes away,

As one body, we spend the night,

Sinking in the deeps of delight.

As dawn comes, we see with anxious hearts

Life desert us.

The very thought breaks my heart.

Says Chandi Das:

O sweet girl, how I understand.

(Chandi Das)


O friend, I cannot tell you

Whether he was near or far, real or a dream.

Like a vine of lightning,

As I chained the dark one,

I felt a river flooding in my heart.

Like a shining moon,

I devoured that liquid face.

I felt stars shooting around me.

The sky fell with my dress

Leaving my ravished breasts.

I was rocking like the earth.

In my storming breath

I could hear my ankle-bells,

Sounding like bees.

Drowned in the last-waters of dissolution

I knew that this was not the end.

Says Vidyapati:

How can I possibly believe such nonsense?



Plate 29.


Plate 35.


Note 20.


Note 20.

(iv) The Rasika Priya

It is a third development, however, which reveals the insistent attractions of Krishna the divine lover. From about the seventh century onwards Indian thinkers had been fascinated by the great variety of possible romantic experiences. Writers had classified feminine beauty and codified the different situations which might arise in the course of a romance. A woman, for example, would be catalogued according as she was 'one's own, another's or anyone's' and whether she was young, adolescent or adult. Beauties with adult physiques were divided into unmarried and married, while cutting across such divisions was yet another based on the particular circumstances in which a woman might find herself. Such circumstances were normally eight in number—when her husband or lover was on the point of coming and she was ready to receive him; when she was parted from him and was filled with longing; when he was constant and she was thus enjoying the calm happiness of stable love; when, for the time being, she was estranged due to some quarrel or tiff; when she had been deceived; when she had gone to meet her lover but had waited in vain, thereby being jilted; when her husband or lover had gone abroad and she was faced with days of lonely waiting; and finally, when she had left the house and gone to meet him. Ladies in situations such as these were known as nayikas and the text embodying the standard classification was the Sanskrit treatise, the Bharatiya Natya Sastra. A similar analysis was made of men—lovers or nayakas being sometimes divided into fourteen different types.

Until the fourteenth century, such writings were studies in erotics rather than in literature—the actual situations rather than their literary treatment being the authors' prime concern. During the fourteenth century, however, questions of literary taste began to be discussed and there arose a new type of Sanskrit treatise, showing how different kinds of lover should be treated in poetry and illustrating the correct attitudes by carefully chosen verses. In all these writings the standard of reference was human passion. The lovers of poetry might bear only a slight relation to lovers in real life. Many of the situations envisaged might rarely, if ever, occur. It was sufficient that granted some favourable accident, some chance suspension of normal circumstances, lovers could be imagined as acting in these special ways.

It is out of this critical literature that our new development springs. As vernacular languages were used for poetry, problems of Hindi composition began to dwarf those of Sanskrit. It was necessary to discuss how best to treat each nayika and nayaka not only in Sanskrit but in Hindi poetry also, and to meet this situation Keshav Das, the poet of Orchha in Bundelkhand, produced in 1591 his Rasika Priya. Here all the standard situations were once again examined, nayikas and nayakas were newly distinguished and verses illustrating their appropriate treatments were systematically included. The book differed, however, in two important ways from any of its predecessors. It was written in Hindi, Keshav Das himself supplying both poems and commentary and what was even more significant, the nayaka or lover was portrayed not as any ordinary well-bred young man but as Krishna himself.[64] As a girl waits at the tryst it is not for an ordinary lover but for Krishna that Keshav Das depicts her as longing.

'Is he detained by work? Is he loath to leave his friends? Has he had a quarrel? Is his body uneasy? Is he afraid when he sees the rainy dark? O Krishna, Giver of Bliss, why do you not come?'[65]

As a girl waits by her bed looking out through her door, it is the prospect of Krishna's arrival—not of an ordinary lover's—that makes her happy.

'As she runs, her blue dress hides her limbs. She hears the wind ruffling the trees and the birds shifting in the night. She thinks it must be he. How she longs for love, watching for Krishna like a bird in a cage.'

When the lover arrives at dawn, having failed to come in the night, the girl (another nayika, 'one who has been deceived') upbraids Krishna for wandering about like a crow, picking up worthless grains of rice, wasting his hours in bad company and ruining houses by squatting in them like an owl.

Similarly when a married girl sits longing for her husband's return, her companion comments not on an ordinary husband's conduct but on that of Krishna. 'He said he would not be long. "I shall be back," he said, "as soon as I have had my meal." But now it is hours since he went. Why does he sit beside them and no one urge him to go? Does he know that her eyes are wet with tears, that she is crying her heart out because he does not come?'

Krishna, in fact, is here regarded as resuming in himself all possible romantic experiences. He is no longer merely the cowherd lover or the hero prince, the central figure of a sacred narrative. Neither is he merely or only the lover of Radha. He is deemed to know love from every angle and thus to sanctify all modes of passionate behaviour. He is love itself.

Such a development concludes the varied phases through which the character of Krishna has passed. The cowherd lover supersedes the hero prince. Radha becomes all in all, yet touches of Krishna's princely majesty remain throughout. Even as a cowherd Krishna shows an elegance and poise which betrays his different origin. And in the Rasika Priya it is once again his courtly aura which determines his new role. A blend of prince and cowherd, Krishna ousts from poetry the courtly lovers who previously had seemed the acme of romance. Adoration of God acquires the grace and charm of courtly loving, passionate sensuality all the refinement and nobility of a spiritual religion. It is out of all these varied texts that the Krishna of Indian painting now emerges.


Plate 28.


Note 21.

The Heptameron: The Very Naughty Book By Margueritte de Navarre

Princess Belle Etoile
The Beautiful Illustrations of a Dark Fairy Tale

WW1 Poster
World War One Propaganda Posters

Charles Dickens Mistress
A Victorian Scandal: Charles Dickens and The Actress

Art of Albrecht Durer
The Art of Albrecht Durer