Who is Radharani?

To go to Vraja is to know Srimati Radharani, for it is here that she reigns queen. A glance around at trees and walls in Vraja reveals Her decorated name. Everywhere the vocative form of Her name, “Radhe” is ornately painted. Everywhere it is continually chanted. “Hello” and “goodbye” are expressed with a slight head tilt, a smile, and a friendly “Radhe Radhe.” The drivers of cycle rickshaws announce the barreling of their bicycles through traffic with an urgent warning cry of “Radhe! Radhe!” Street beggars stretch their hands forward with a piteous plea of “Radhe Radhe.” Pilgrims doing parikrama (circumambulation) of Govardhana Hill, stride forth with a repeated chant of “Radhe Radhe!” Devotees celebrating at the many temples raise their hands to sky with exulting exclamations of “Radhe Radhe!”

Radha (meaning “the highest pinnacle of worship”) is Her name. Rani (queen) is Her position. And Krishna is Her eternal lover.

The Gaudiya Vaishnava spiritual tradition which is the predominant form of worship practiced in Vraja, describes God as both male and female. God is both Radha and Krishna. The ancient treatise, Caitanya-caritamrita, (Adi-lila, 4.55-56) explains that they are one, but Krishna expands into two, himself and Radharani, for the sake of divine loving pastimes. If they remained as one, then there would be no relationship, no pastimes, and there would be no dynamic exchange of love.

Sri Krishna enchants the world with His beauty and charm, and Sri Radha enchants him. Therefore she is the Supreme Goddess. Sri Radha is the full power and Krishna is the possessor of full power. (Cc.Adi-lila, 4.82, 84, 87-96) Thus, the two are non-different, as the sunshine is non-different from the sun, or as the energy is non-different from the energetic or source of energy.

Srimati Radharani is the source of the other goddesses. Just as Sri Krishna is the source of all other manifestations and incarnations of God, Radharani is the source of all expansions of the energies of God – the shaktis, or other goddesses. Thus, Vishnu, Rama, even Shiva are all expansions of the one Supreme Being, Krishna, and similarly Lakshmi, Sita, and even Durga are all expansions of this Supreme Feminine form of God, Radharani.

Without Radha there is no meaning to Krishna and without Krishna there is no meaning to Radha. Because of this, in the Vaishnava tradition, one always pays respects first to the Lord’s internal energy in the form of Radha, and then to the Lord. Thus they are referred to as Radha-Krishna, or in other names as Sita-Rama, Lakshmi-Narayana, and so on.

Indeed, not only does Her name precede Krishna’s, but often the residents of Vraja prefer to chant Her name singularly without Krishna’s, hence the all-pervading calls of “Radhe Radhe!” They know that Krishna can be influenced through Radharani. They know that Radha can bring one to Krishna. She is the compassionate nature of God, and thus more easily approached than trying to reach Sri Krishna directly. Radha is the queen, not only of the Vraja Vasis (residents of Vraja), but of Krishna too. She rules Krishna through her selfless love and worship. Indeed, she is the ultimate epitome of selfless love.

Though Her merciful and beautiful qualities are unlimited in number, there are twenty-five that are considered primary.

1) She is very sweet.
2) She is always freshly youthful.
3) Her eyes are restless.
4) She smiles brightly.
5) She has beautiful, auspicious lines.
6) She makes Krishna happy with Her bodily aroma.
7) She is very expert in singing.
8) Her speech is charming.
9) She is very expert in joking and speaking pleasantly.
10) She is very humble and meek.
11) She is always full of mercy.
12) She is cunning.
13) She is expert in executing Her duties.
14) She is shy.
15) She is always respectful.
16) She is always calm.
17) She is always grave.
18) She is expert in enjoying life.
19) She is situated in the topmost level of ecstatic love.
20) She is the reservoir of loving affairs in Gokula.
21) She is the most famous of submissive devotees.
22) She is very affectionate to elderly people.
23) She is very submissive to the love of Her friends.
24) She is the chief gopi (cowherd girl).
25) She always keeps Krishna under Her control.

Rupa Goswami, a worshiper of Radha who resided in Vraja some 500 years ago describes Srimati Radharani’s beauty in his famous poetic drama the Vidagdha-madhava (1.32), “The beauty of Srimati Radharani’s eyes forcibly devours the beauty of newly grown blue lotus flowers, and the beauty of Her face surpasses that of an entire forest of fully blossomed lotuses. Her bodily luster seems to place even gold in a painful situation. Thus the wonderful, unprecedented beauty of Srimati Radharani is awakening Vraja.”

“Although the effulgence of the moon is brilliant initially at night, in the daytime it fades away. Similarly, although the lotus is beautiful during the daytime, at night it closes. But, oh my friend, the face of my most dear Srimati Radharani is always bright and beautiful, both day and night. Therefore, to what can Her face be compared?” (Vidagdha-madhava 5.20)

“When Srimati Radharani smiles, waves of joy overtake Her cheeks, and Her arched eyebrows dance like the bow of Cupid. Her glance is so enchanting that it is like a dancing bumblebee, moving unsteadily due to intoxication. That bee has bitten the whorl of my heart.” (Vidagdha-madhava 2.51)

Enchanted by Srimati Radharani and marveling at Her love for him, Krishna adopts Her mood and emotion in His manifestation as Sri Chaitanya in order to savor Her love. Thus Chaitanya is Krishna and Radha combined into one form. Appearing 500 years ago in Bengal, India, Sri Chaitanya experienced Radha’s love and taught that we can discover Her love also by chanting the Hare Krishna Mantra.

The Hare Krishna mantra directs one’s attention and devotion to Radha as well as Krishna. Radha is also known as “Hara,” which is the name “Hare” in the vocative form within the mantra. Along with the ever-present calls of “Radhe!” one also hears this Hare Krishna mantra chanted in Vraja both as a congregational, joyous song, and as a private meditation.

Whether they are calling out the name “Radhe!” or quietly murmuring the Hare Krishna Mantra, the Vraja Vasi’s collective goal is to discover and experience Srimati Radharani’s sublimely selfless love. She rules the land of Vraja and the hearts of the Vraja Vasis. Jai Jai Sri Radhe!

Adapted from an article by Stephen Knapp

The top image of Srimati Radharani and the side image of Sri Chaitanya are from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, ©1988
The other images are by Vrindavan Das.