The gopis became jivatmas (individual souls) seeking merger with the paramatma (the absolute). Physical passion became an aspect of bhakti (devotion). The erotic was sanctified; the spiritual was sexualized, and once the sacred and the profane were so bridged, all worrying superimpositions of guilt with reference to conventional moral standards could be discarded, opening the floodgates for the fullest ‘humanization’ of Krishna, the lover. The imagination would now not rest at seeking him only as an impersonal if accomplished lover, available to all the gopis. He had to have a preference.
His personality was now free to be embellished with the entire gamut of emotions in the spectrum of love—desire, jealousy, pride, anger, remorse, self-pity, ecstasy, union and fulfillment. His eroticism now had unfettered social sanction.His love play could therefore legitimately be a canvas for infinite themes, themes in which human emotion and sentiment would be uninhibited participants. Krishna, the lover, was now ready for acceptance as an absolute theme in itself. The Puranic lover was ready to be replaced by the myriad nuances of the romantic hero.
The Sanskrit classic, Gitagovinda (Songs of Govinda) written by Jayadeva in the twelfth century AD, became a powerfully evocative landmark in this process. Jayadeva was the court-poet of King Lakshmanasena (AD 1179-1205) of Bengal. Born in a Brahmin family, he was in early life an ascetic. But, marriage to Padmavati, a dancing girl in the temple of Lord Jagannath (another name for Krishna) of Puri, transmuted the ascetic into a wonderfully lyrical exponent of the relevance of human love. Apart from its intrinsic literary merit which is of an exceptionally high order, the Gitagovinda is of special importance for its path-breaking deification of Radha, Krishna’s consort.
Radha finds no mention in the Mahabharata and the Harivarnsa, or in the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana. The Bhagavata does mention one gopi who appeared to have temporarily won special attention from Krishna, but she is not mentioned by name and later efforts by Vaishnava theologists to derive the name Radha from ‘aradhita’—the term used for the gopi in the Bhagavata—are hardly convincing.
Starting from the second century AD, Radha does find mention in one or two Prakrit texts. The most notable of these is the Satasai of Hala, variously dated to a period between the first to seventh century AD. In Sanskrit literature, she is mentioned for the first time in the inscriptions of the Paramara king, Vakpati Munja of Malwa (AD 97394). In Tamil Aalvaar poetry there is the mention of Pinnai or Nappinai as the wife of Krishna, but there is not enough ground to postulate that she was the same as Radha, or even that this lady was the inspiration for the scattered references to a Radha in Prakrit and Sanskrit literature.
The truth appears to be that Jayadeva intentionally elevated Radha from a somewhat obscure, even peripheral, personage to a central deity of worship. In doing so he was making a conscious break with the past. The author of the Bhagavata must also have known of the existence in earlier literature of Radha. But the intention in the Bhagavata was to portray the non-exclusivity of Krishna’s erotic energy. Its theological imperative was solely to essay Krishna’s love play as an aspect of his divinity. Jayadeva’s purpose went beyond.
He wanted to create an appropriate foil for Krishna’s erotic personality. His aim was to give to his love play the dramatic content of a duet, in which Krishna’s passion would have an individual focus worthy of its intensity. His goal was to bring the rasa leela down from its pedestal of powerful but diffused intent to a stage where all the emotional props were drawn from an emphatically human idiom. Thus, Jayadeva’s Radha had to be created. If Krishna was Sringaramurtirnam, Radha, the object of his love, had to be Raseshvari—the very goddess of that mood. If Krishna was the God of Love, Radha had to be Rati (Rati is also the wife of Kaamadeva in Hindu mythology), passion personified. Krishna could not be portrayed as cosmically aloof. He had to be portrayed as symbolizing, in the tradition of Hindu mythology, the cosmic unity of purusha and prakriti. Together with his consort, Krishna was complete. Alone he was devoid of rasa (nirasa). Each was the object of the other’s love. And both were the subject of each other’s passion