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.”


6 thoughts on “Why Radha Is Not Mentioned in Bhagavata Purana”

  1. Very satisfying to have a thorough treatment of this question. Thank you so much.

  2. As a non-devotee, I may then ask: what makes it okay to discuss Shrimati Radharani openly now? If anything, one would assume current times are more degenerate than when the Bhagavata was originally spoken, and I, as a committed Buddhist, much more misguided and depraved than anybody Vyasadeva may have wanted to keep Radha’s name hidden from?

  3. Radhapad das (Gainesville Florida) was reading your commentary in Radha Ras Suddhaniddhi on a zoom program. There you define ‘ajna’ as more than just ‘ignorance.’ Ajna is also meant as a command or to give an order. How can one know the two meanings?

    1. These are two separate words.
      ajña = ignorance
      ājñā (long “a” at the beginning and at the end) = order

  4. Relished the post! Vyāsa is too subtle a writer. The beautiful and often surprising juxtapositions of letters and words he weaves in his non-linear and yet sequential narrative in SB is what generates rasa. The multilayered expressions intensify the taste of the reader.

    As a proclaimed movie director had once said that the most intimate scenes in a movie are best left to the imagination of the viewers, as their depiction is subjective and impossible to capture on a film; Vyāsa, the greatest writer of all time, does the same. He teases by revealing the peripheral, concealing the heart. The reader is left anticipating and guessing until the grand finale of Revealation.

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