In theGitagovinda, Jayadeva succeeded eminently in his purpose. Indeed, the profile of Radha as Raseshvari emerged so strongly that Jayadeva appears to have been daunted by his own effort. Stories of Jayadeva’s life recount that the poet was hesitant to complete his work, afraid that he had gone too far in the portrayal of Krishna abashed at the bower of Radha. One day, so the story goes, Jayadeva had gone to the river for his bath, when Krishna, assuming his form, completed the last couplet of the work and ate the food prepared by Padmavati. When Jayadeva discovered the stanza completed and his food eaten, he interpreted it as divine sanction for the content of his work. This little story is interesting in reinforcing the point made earlier that Jayadeva*s exaltation of Radha was in such measure a new step that it needed the projection of divine approval to ensure acceptability in the audience of that time.
The story of the Gitagovinda is both simple and complex. It is simple because the essential plot is structured, as in the rasa leela of the Bhagavata, on the unitary theme of separation (vipralambhasringara) and union (sambhogsringara) of love. The theme is complex because of the qualitatively new emotions it unleashes. The joy of union with Krishna and the unbearable pangs of separation from him—the story of the Bhagavata— are subsumed in a startling array of sentiments that accompany the amplification of this theme. Krishna is no longer the detached lover, reciprocating the passion of the gopis with consummate equanimity. He suffers and agonizes like Radha, who emerges as the unquestioned central concern of his amours. Her portrayal goes far beyond the plaintive, desire-besotted gopis of the Bhagavata. The new heroine in Krishna’s life is a strikingly compelling woman: beautiful, aloof, proud, sensitive, brooding, wilful and passionate.
The Gitagovinda begins with Nandalal, Krishna’s foster-father, asking Radha to take Krishna home since night was falling and dark clouds were threatening the sky. Radha obeys, but on the way home disappears into a thicket of trees with her ward, and the two make love. The secret, illicit character of the relationship is established ab initio. Jayadeva’s Radha is not Krishna’s wife. According to tradition—probably oral and textually scattered—but of which Jayadeva was aware, Radha was several years older than Krishna. She was the daughter of Vrishbhanu, a clan chief like Nandalal, and belonged to Barsana, a settlement not far from Gokula. The residents of Barsana migrated to Vrindavan before those of Gokula. On the way to Vrindavan, they passed Gokula, and it was then that Radha first saw Krishna. He was but a toddler then; Radha, a young girl, took him into her arms as a mother would her child. The Oedipal undercurrent in the Radha-Krishna liaison is plausible.
The concept of the Mother-Goddess existed in India since prehistoric times and had been assimilated into Hindu mythology. In several sects the devi, or goddess, was not merely the consort of a male god but a supreme power in her own right, pursuing her own purpose and nurturing her followers in a protective and possessive manner. Perhaps it was the echo of such a tradition that prompted the necessity to give Radha at one level a mother-image vis-a-vis Krishna. The concept of purusha and prakriti could also provide a metaphysical explanation for Radha’s greater years. According to the Samkhya-Yoga school of Indian philosophy, all of creation consists of purusha and prakriti. Prakriti is the all-embracing material substratum of things. Purusha is sentience personified. Prakriti, which has always existed, remains in a state of dissolution (pralaya) until the mere presence of purusha (purusha-samnidhi) disturbs the state of its latent equilibrium, and evolution (sarga) is set in motion. For evolutionary activity, therefore, the presence of purusha is crucial, but prakriti in its state of dissolution exists even without it. Radha, the cosmic symbol of prakriti, had thus to exist prior to the arrival of Krishna, purusha incarnate.