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Why Radha Is Not Mentioned in Bhagavata Purana

By Satyanarayana Dasa

I am asked many times why Rādhā is not mentioned in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the supreme pramāna for Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, whose supreme worshipable deities (iṣṭa-devatā) are Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, it is expected that Bhāgavata Purāṇa would give many details about Them. However, one may be surprised that although the major portion of Bhāgavata Purāṇa is devoted to Kṛṣṇa, there is no explicit mention of Rādhā. Thus, the above question naturally comes to mind.

Some scholars allege that Rādhā is a very late development in the religious history of India and that Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas have popularized Her. The reasoning behind this allegation is that Rādhā has not been explicitly mentioned in Gopāla Tāpanī Upaniṣad, Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Mahābhārata, Harivaṁśa Purāṇa, or Gautamīya Tantra—the primary scriptures dealing with Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, personality, and worship.

First of all, it may be noted that Rādhā’s name is found in Purāṇas such as Padma Purāṇa, Brahma-vaivarta, Brahmāṇḍa, Skanda, and Devī Bhāgavata, to name a few. Some do not believe in the authenticity of the Purānās because they may contain interpolations. Still, Rādhā’s name can be traced to other books that have no taint of interpolation. For example, Rādhā is mentioned in the Pañcatantra, written in the fifth century. The Pañcatantra contains stories written to instruct students, especially princes, in the science of statecraft. Aesop’s Fable is supposed to be based on this book. In the fifth story of the Mitrabheda chapter of the Pañcatantra, Rādhā is mentioned as a cowherdess and wife of Kṛṣṇa—rādhā nāma me bhāryā gopa-kula-prasūtā prathamam āsīt. Her mention is not part of any story or philosophical discussion related to Her or Kṛṣṇa. Rather, a weaver wanted to enjoy with a princess, so with the help of a carpenter, he got two extra hands attached to his body and flew on a wooden Garuḍa to the princess’s quarters, posing as Nārāyaṇa. He tells the princess that in the past, she was Rādhā, his wife. Rādhā must have been a well-known figure to be mentioned, even incidentally, in the Pañcatantra.

There is an anthology in prākṛta language called Gāthā Saptaśati (Gāhā Sattasaī in prākṛta) by king Śālivāhana, also known as Hāla, of Pratiṣṭhānapura (present-day Jhūsī on the bank of Gaṅgā near Allahabad in the state of Uttar Pradeśa). It is a well-known work cited by great authors on the subject of dhvani. This book contains verses that describe Kṛṣṇa’s Vraja pastimes. Rādhā is mentioned in one of the verses: “O Kṛṣṇa, you are blowing away the dust from the face of Rādhā by blowing air from your mouth. By this act, you are diminishing the greatness of other gopīs (1.89).” King Śālivāhana’s period is ascertained to have been between the first and fourth centuries AD. This shows that Rādhā was well-known to poets like Śālivāhana. 

There is a famous play entitled Bāla-caritam by Bhāsa that describes the childhood pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. It was written between the third century BC and the third century AD. It contains no direct mention of Rādhā, but there is a description of the Rāsa-līlā. It can be assumed that Rādhā must be one of the participants in this pastime of Rāsa-līlā. 

Later, the most famous works that mention Rādhā are the Gīta-govinda of Jayadeva and Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛtam of Bilvamaṅgala Thākura. They were supposedly written in the 12th century AD. From these references, it is clear that Rādhā is not a recent invention of Vaiṣṇava writers.

Then why is she not mentioned in works like the Bhāgavata Purāna? There are different answers given by devotees, some of which are stated below:

1.     Some devotees explain that Rādhā is the guru of Śukadeva. Therefore, he does not utter Her name out of respect. In Vedic culture, speaking the name of one’s guru is forbidden unless necessary. I do not know a reference to Rādhā being the guru of Śukadeva. Therefore, I do not know the basis of this explanation.

2.     Some explain that Śukadeva would enter the state of samādhi if he uttered the name of Rādhā. This would undoubtedly delay the recitation of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Parīkṣit had only seven days to live. Keeping this in mind, Śukadeva avoided uttering Rādhā’s name. For this explanation also, I do not have a source reference, although it is possible that Śukadeva would have entered into samādhi had he uttered Rādhā’s name. However, I would think that to avoid uttering Rādhā’s name, he had to think of Her consciously, which would have also sent him into a state of samādhi. Furthermore, why did he not mention any other gopī’s name?

Various commentators of the Bhāgavata, such as Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī, and Dhanapata Sūri trace Rādhā’s name to verse 10.30.28 of the Bhāgavata:

anayārādhito nūnaṁ bhagavān harirīśvaraḥ
yan-no vihāya govindaḥ prīto yām anyad rahaḥ

“Bhagavān Hari, the Iśvara, has been certainly worshiped by this gopī because leaving us aside, Govinda, being pleased, has taken her to a secluded place.”  

This is a verse spoken by the gopīs who Kṛṣṇa deserted in the Rāsa-līlā at the height of their bliss. While searching for Him, from seeing the footprints, they realized He had not left alone but with another gopī. They wondered who this special gopī was. Different commentators have offered other explanations for not explicitly mentioning Rādhā’s name while commenting on the above-mentioned verse. Some of them are given below.

1.     Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī says that the gopīs who spoke the verse were able to recognize the gopī as Rādhā because of Her distinctive footmarks. However, they did not explicitly name Her because the group of gopīs included gopīs from a rival group, i.e., that of Candrāvalī. If they had spoken Her name explicitly, this would have caused more disturbance to the rival gopīs, who were already in grief due to separation from Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, they spoke as if they did not recognize who this special gopī was but still happily praised Her great fortune. Padacihnaireva tā vṛṣabhānunandinī. Paricitya antarāśvāstā bahuvidhagopījanasaṅghaṭṭe tatra bahiraparicaymivabhnayaynyaḥ tasyāḥ suhṛda tannāmanirujtidvārā tasyāḥ saubhāgyam saharṣamāhuḥ.

2.     Kiśorīprasāda, the author of the Viśuddharasadīpikā commentary, writes that according to the Varāha-tantra, the presiding deity of Vṛndāvan is Govinda. One who has controlled this Govinda by Her devotion is none other than Vṛndāvaneśvarī Rādhā because only She can control Him by Her love. He takes this meaning by considering anayā and rādhitaḥ as two separate words instead of anayā ārādhitaḥ. Rādhitaḥ means vaśikṛtaḥ or controlled. According to him, not only Rādhā’s name is indicated in this verse, but also Her greatness. (sa ca anayā saha yātāyā rādhitaḥ vaśikṛtaḥ san govindaḥ śrīvṛndāvaneśvarītvād asyāḥ tasya ca vṛndāvaneśvaratvāditi bhāvaḥ, vṛndāvane to govindmiti varāhatabtreokteḥ).

He says that according to Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.2.2)—prokṣapriyāiva hi devāḥ pratyakṣadviṣaḥ, “The devas and sages like indirect descriptions and dislike an explicit one.” This is also stated in SB 11.3.44, 4.28.65, and 11.21.35. Therefore, Śukadeva indirectly refers to Rādhā.

He gives another explanation. Śrī Rādhā is the ātmā of Kṛṣṇa. She is Herself Para Brahman, which is beyond mind and speech, as it is said—yato vācaḥ nivartante aprāpya manasā saha (Taittrīya Upaniṣad 2.9). Therefore, She cannot be described in words. It is said that Baṣkali Ṛṣi asked Vādhva Muni about Brahman, but Vādhva Muni remained silent. Bāṣkali asked him again, and still, there was no reply. Then he asked a third time. Finally, Vādhva Muni said, “I have replied each time, but you do not understand. (sa hovāca adhīhi bhagavo brahma itis a tūṣṇī babhūva taṁ ha dvītīye vā tṛtīye vā vacanaṁ uvāca brūmaḥ khalu tvam tu na vijānāsi, upaṣānto’yamātmā, cited in Śāṅkara Bhāṣya 3.2.17).

3.     Śukadeva Ācārya, the author of the Siddhānta-pradīpa commentary, says that the word rādhita in the verse means “along with Rādhā.” He comments that Kṛṣṇa’s play is incomplete without Rādhā, and this verse is indicative of their līlā in nikuñja, or a bower. This līlā is extremely confidential. Even other gopīs are not allowed in this līlā. Therefore, Śukadeva Gosvāmī has kept Rādhā’s name secret. (rādhā saha jātā asya tathā “tārakādibhya itac”. rādhākṛṣṇavihāre hetubhūteyamityarthaḥ tayā saha vahāro’tigopyatvānnoktaḥ.)

4.     Sanātana Gosvāmi writes in his Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam that while Śukadeva was describing the separation of the gopīs from Kṛṣṇa, he became overwhelmed by feelings of separation from Kṛṣṇa and thus lost external awareness. In such a state of mind, he could not pronounce Rādhā’s or any other gopī’s name. 

gopīnāṁ vitatadbhut-sphuṭatara-premānalārcicchatā
dagdhānāṁ kila nāmakīrtanakṛtāt tāsāṁ viśeṣāt smṛteh
tattīkṣaṇojjalancchikhāgrakaṇikāspaśena sadyo mahā
vaikalya sa bhajan kadāpi na mukhe nāmāni kartuḥ prabhuḥ

5.     Harirāma Vyāsa writes that it is a well-known fact that people hide what is most valuable. Rādhā is the most valuable wealth for rasikas like Śukadeva. He gives the example of firing a raw clay pot. To fire a raw clay pot, it needs to be covered entirely. If any part remains uncovered, it will not fire thoroughly and thus remain weak. In the same way, something that is valuable must be kept hidden; otherwise, it loses its importance. Therefore, he did not reveal Her name. 

gopānād iṣṭa-sampatti sarvathā parisidhyati
kulālapurake pātram antar-bāṣpatayā tathā 

(Cited in Bhārtīya Vāṅmaya Me Śrī Rādhā, page 29, by Baladeva Upādhyaya, published by Bihar Rastrabhasha Parishad, Patna, 1963).

6.     Some scholars say that keeping Rādhā concealed is Śukadeva’s genius. They compare other pastimes of Kṛṣṇa to a flow of a river, but the intimate pastimes of the Rāsa-līlā between Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs are like a well. 

līlā-śukasya līleyaṁ līlā-nyāsopavarṇitā
kallolinī-svarūpeṇa rāsaṁ kūpa-jalopamam

Anyone can take water from a river but getting water from a well requires a rope and a bucket. Therefore, only a person who has the rope of deep faith (niṣṭhā) and a bucket in the form of prema can drink the nectar of these pastimes, which are compared to a well. Others will have no clue about them. Therefore, not only Rādhā’s name but the names of all the other gopis are concealed. Rasikas can understand this.

7.     Śrī Gaṅgāsahāya, the author of the Anvitārtha-prakāśikā commentary, writes that just as Gopāla Tāpinī Upaniṣad, Gautamīya Tantra, Viṣṇu Purāṇa, and Harivaṁśa Purāṇa do not mention Rādhā’s name, similarly, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa does not mention Rādhā’s name. It is a particular type of style of writing. (vastutastu yathā gopāla-tāpinyāṁ tadanusāriṇī gautamīya-tantre viṣṇupurāṇe harivaṁśe ca rādhā-nāma-akathanaṁ tathā tāpiyanusāriṇī śribhāgavate’pi tad akathanaṁ śailī-viśrṣa eva.) 

8.     [My explanation] In the Sanskrit language, the meaning of sentences can be divided into three categories, called vācya (primary meaning), lakṣya (secondary or indicated meaning), and vyaṅgya (implied meaning). It is not that every sentence has all three meanings. The primary or direct meaning is the most common usage; it comes from the direct meaning of the words in a sentence. When the primary meaning fails to make sense or convey the intended meaning, then the indicated meaning is taken. Vyaṅgya is the implied sense and may not be related to the words. The poetry that gives meaning by vyaṅgya is considered the best. This is the opinion of great authorities on poetics, such as Mammaṭācārya (damuttamamatiśāyini vyaṅgye vācyād dvanir budhaiḥ kathitaih, Kāvya-prakāśa 1.4). 

Śrīmad Bhāgavata is the topmost work of Vyāsadeva. He himself says that it is meant for rasikas or those who are connoisseurs of rasa (SB1.1.3). Thus, it follows the principles of rasa-śāstra. He has also stated that the description of Reality in this book makes use of all three types of meanings, śrytena artthenacāñjasā (SB 2.10.2). The highest subject of the Bhāgavata is Kṛṣṇa-prema, and Rādhā is the very personification of that prema. Therefore, She has been described only by vyañjanā and not directly. This is also applicable to the other gopīs. There is no name mentioned for any of the gopīs who were beloved of Kṛṣṇa. A popular saying amongst Sanskrit scholars is, “O Maker of Fate, please, please, please let it not be my ill fate that I have to recite my poetry to those who have no sense of rasa.”

Similarly, one can consider that Śri Śuka did not want to reveal Rādhā’s name to nondevotees. Devotees will figure it out anyway. In the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa of Sanātana Gosvāmi (2.147), there is a quote from the Sammohana-tantra:

gopayed devatām iṣṭāṁ
gopayed gurum ātmanaḥ
gopayec ca nijaṁ mantraṁ
gopayen nija-mālikām

“Hide your beloved deity.
Hide your guru
Hide your mantra
Hide your mālā.”

 

Śrī Rādhā in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 

Question: Why is Rādhā’s name not mentioned in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa?

Answer: This is a big mystery. Śrīmad Bhāgavata is primarily a book about Śrī Kṛṣṇa. There is no other book that describes Kṛṣṇa-līlā in such detail. Out of 335 chapters, the Tenth Canto contains 90 chapters that are only about Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The Eleventh Canto contains 31 chapters related to Him or spoken by Him. Similarly, the First Canto includes 18 chapters that are directly or indirectly related to Him. There is also a reference to Kṛṣṇa in a dialogue between the sage Nārada and King Yudhiṣṭhira in the Seventh Canto and the last chapter of the Ninth Canto while describing the dynasty of King Yadu. Thus, we see that about 45 percent of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is about Kṛṣṇa. Rādhā is the hlādinī-śakti of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, She is never separated from Him. Śakti and śaktimān cannot be separated. Kṛṣṇa is not separate from Rādhā, and Rādhā is not separate from Kṛṣṇa, but for the sake of līlā, they become separate. Therefore, a description of Kṛṣṇa is also a description of Rādhā. Yet, surprisingly, Śrīmatī Rādhā’s name is not mentioned even once.

One of the common explanations given is that the speaker of Bhāgavata Purāṇa, in his previous life, was a parrot in the palace of Śrī Rādhā. Therefore, he was very much attached to her. As the speaker of the Bhāgavata, he did not utter Rādhā’s name because he would go into a state of samādhi for six months merely by speaking her name. King Parīkṣit had only seven days to live. Śukadeva was conscious of this and wanted him to hear the complete Bhāgavata. Therefore, he did not utter Rādhā’s name directly but mentioned her only indirectly. There is a verse from an unknown source to this effect: 

śrī-rādhā-nāma-mātreṇa mūrcchā ṣāṇmāsikī bhavet
noccāritam ataḥ spaṣṭaṁ prīkṣid-hit-kṛn-muniḥ

“Some also explain that Rādhā was the guru of Śukadeva, and according to smṛti-śāstra, it is improper for a disciple to pronounce the guru’s name. Thus, he referred to Rādhā indirectly.”

That Rādhā’s name is not mentioned can also be understood from the rasa point of view. At the very beginning of the book (SB 1.1.3), Vyāsa exhorts rasikas to drink or relish the rasa of the Bhāgavata for the rest of their lives, pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayam. The basis of relishing rasa is the sthāyi-bhāva of a rasikasahṛdaya or sāmājika. Sthāyi-bhāva combined with vibhāva, anubhāva, and sañcāri-bhāvas becomes rasavibhāvanubhāva-sañcāri-saṁyogād rasa-niṣpattih. Therefore, the key factor in rasa is the bhāva. The highest state of bhāva is called mahā-bhāva. Śrī Rādhā is mahā-bhāva-svarūpiṇī i.e., Her essential nature is mahā-bhāva. She is made of love for Kṛṣṇa. 

The emphasis of the Bhāgavata, therefore, is not on the name or form of Rādhā but on Her bhāva, which is Her svarūpa. The true description of Rādhā is to describe Her bhāva. Therefore, Vyāsa did not mention Her name. Not only Her name, but he did not mention the name of any other gopī. He wants the reader first to understand the bhāva. He did not want to divert attention away from the bhāva. Once the bhāva is understood, then the reader can search for the name, which is found in other Purāṇas such as the Padma, Brahma-vaivarta, Brahmāṇda, Nārada, Ādi, etc. 

On the basis of bhāva, our ācāryas have traced Śrī Rādhā in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Here are a few examples. Verses 7 to 18 of the twenty-second Chapter of the Tenth Canto are called the Veṇu Gītam and are sung by different gopīs in praise of Kṛṣṇa’s flute. According to Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti, verse seventeen is spoken by Śrī Rādhā. The verse is as follows: 

pūrṇāḥ pulindya urugāya-padābja-rāga-śrī-kuṅkumena dayitā-stana-maṇḍitena
tad-darśana-smara-rujastṛṇa-rūṣitena limpantya ānana-kuceṣujahustadādhim

“The Pulindī women attained perfection because they were smitten with pangs of love at the sight of the kuṅkuma from the bosom of Kṛṣṇa’s beloved, which contacted the reddish hue of His lotus feet and was transferred to the blades of grass, and they relieved themselves of their suffering by smearing their faces and breasts with it. “(SB 10.21.17)

RadharaniŚrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti comments that this verse describes the intimate union between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa because only Radhā’s feet have the power to transport a person who comes in contact with them, even indirectly, to the seventh state of prema, called mādana. Śri Rūpa Gosvāmī has cited this verse in Ujjvala Nīlamaṇi as an example of an anubhāva of mādana mahābhāva. The characteristic of this anubhāva is that although Śri Rādhā always relishes the sweetness of Kṛṣṇa, if She even gets a little whiff of this relish in anyone else, then She praises that person. Therefore, this verse has been spoken only by Śrī Rādhā and not by any other gopī because such a state of mahābhāva is experienced only by Her. 

Another mention of Rādhā in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is in the words of the queens of Kṛṣṇa when they met Draupadī at Kurukṣetra. They said:

“O saintly lady, we do not hanker after sovereignty over earth, dominion over heaven or the pleasures available in them, the eight yogic perfections, the position of Brahmā, infinitude, or even Bhagavān Śrī Hari’s abode. We simply desire to carry on our heads the glorious dust of the feet of Kṛṣṇa, the Wielder of the disc, which are enriched by the fragrance of kuṅkuma from the bosom of Śrī. The gopīs, the gopas, the Pulinda women, and even the creepers and grass, all craved for the touch of the feet of that great soul while He tended the cows, and we too yearn for the same.” (SB 10.83.41–43) 

Krishna and Radha looking into a mirror.While commenting on these verses, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes that it is the husband of Śrī, whose feet are smeared with the kuṅkuma of Śrī. If the word Śrī is taken here to mean Rukmiṇī, then that is already available to the queens as she is their co-wife. Therefore, it is understood that this dust is enriched by the fragrance of kuṅkuma of some other Śrī.  To clarify who this Śrī is, the queens give Her a distinctive feature. She is the Śrī whose dust is desired by Vraja women (vraja-striyo yad vāñchanti). Therefore, the Śrī referred to by the queens of Kṛṣṇa is none other than Śrī Rādhā. Rukmiṇī was not present in Vraja, nor did the Vraja women have knowledge or contact with her. Moreover, Śrī herself did penance to be part of the Vraja-līlā of Kṛṣṇa, as stated by Nāgapatnīs in 10.16.36. Furthermore, it is not reasonable for the Vraja damsels to crave a relation with Śrī or Rukmiṇī because they have already been described as superior to Śrī in SB 10.47.60. 

Another reference to Rādhā in the Bhāgavata is the well-known verse spoken by the gopīs who were searching for Kṛṣṇa after He left the Rāsa dance. The gopīs said:

“Surely the all-powerful Bhagavān Govinda Hari has been perfectly worshiped by this [particular gopī]. He must have been pleased with Her, for He left us behind and took Her to a secluded place.” (SB 10.30.28) 

In this verse, the etymological meaning of Rādhā’s name is included in the first sentence, anayā ārādhitaḥ. The gopīs further speak about Rādhā in two verses cited below:

“O friend, lady deer, did Acyuta come here along with His sweetheart while spreading bliss to your eyes with His bodily limbs? [We infer this] from the wafting fragrance of the garland of kunda flowers, which was smeared with the kuṅkuma from the breasts of His sweetheart when He embraced Her.

O trees, did Kṛṣṇa, the younger brother of Balarāma, respond to your obeisances with His love-laden glances while wandering here, holding a lotus in one hand, and keeping the other on the shoulder of His sweetheart, being followed by a swarm of bees who were attracted and maddened by the Tulasī [in His garland]?” (SB 10.30.1112)

When Kṛṣna disappeared from the Rāsa dance along with Rādhā, then Rādhā felt very special and asked Kṛṣṇa to carry her. Kṛṣṇa agreed and bent low to Rādhā. But when She tried to climb onto Kṛṣṇa’s shoulder, He disappeared. Not seeing Him, Rādhā wailed in separation, “O My Lord, O My beloved, O the Dearmost with long arms, where are you? Where are you? I am your humble servant. Please be present here.” (SB 10.30.40)

A further reference to Rādhā is found in the following verse that describes her māna towards Kṛṣṇa after He rejoined them in Rāsa dance:

“Some gopī, being agitated with anger out of love, looked at Kṛṣṇa as though to kill Him with an array of Her sidelong glances while straining Her eyebrows and biting Her lower lip.” (SB 10.32.6)

In verses 10.32.4 through 10.32.8, Śri Jīva Gosvāmī identifies the eight principal gopīs on the basis of their bhāva. The important point to be noted is the description of the bhāva of the various gopīs; there is no mention of their names.

The Bhramara Gītam, in verses 10.47.12 through 10.4721, is sung by Śrī Rādhā Herself in a state of love-frenzy out of separation.

In this way, we see that although in Bhāgavata Purāṇa Śrī Rādhā is not mentioned by name, She is referred to by Her bhāva. Not only that, even Her own words are included in the text, such as in Bhramara Gītam and early in the rāsa-pañcādhyāya, Her calling out for Kṛṣṇa when He left Her alone.