Radha was supposedly betrothed to one Ayana (or Rayana) while still a child. Ayana, who was much older than her, is said to have been the brother of Yasoda, Krishna’s foster-mother. On marriage, Radha would be Krishna’s aunt. In some accounts, Radha is already married to Ayana when she meets Krishna, and this adds a somewhat surprisingly incestuous dimension to the relationship. The tradition has had a not insignificant following and has persisted over the centuries. One example is the highly sensitive writings of Muddupalani (1730-90), a courtesan in the court of the Nayaka kings ofThanjavur. In Radhika Santlvanam, a Telugu text consisting of 584 poems, she describes Radha as Krishna’s aunt. Krishna is to marry Ila Devi, a girl brought up by Radha, and Radha even advises Krishna on how to behave with her on the wedding night.
Given the seminal importance of the Gitagovinda in the evolution of the Krishna cult, it is useful to dwell on it a little longer. After their night of love in the thicket on that darkening eve, Krishna deserts Radha, and she, delirious in separation, imagines a love tryst with him.
Krishna soon abandons the other cowherd girls, and is deeply remorseful. He asks for forgiveness but Radha is unrelenting. She in her agony imagines how another woman must have made love to Krishna. (Extracts from the Gitagovinda unless otherwise indicated are from the excellent translation by Durgadas Mukhopadhyay, In Praise of Krishna.)
Dressed suitably for the sport of love
her hair loosened
with flowers disarrayed,
some other woman excelling me in charm
revels with the enemy of Madhu . . .
She looks at her lover
and blushes with a smile.
She murmurs softly
in all the many ways of love
lost in its bliss.
Her body shudders and trembles
Her passion blossoms
with sighs and eyes closing.
Krishna appears abashed before Radha but she taunts him angrily.
Your drowsy red eyes
for being awake through the night
betray the intensity of passion
that you cherish for that other woman.
Alas! Alas! Go Madhava! Go Kesava! leave me!
Do not try to deceive me with your artful words.
Go after her, you lotus-eyed one
she who soothes your grief.
Krishna now uses a combination of remorse and flattery to break Radha’s pride. He praises her moonlike face and the nectar of her lips, describes her as the very ornament of his life, professes that only she can arouse passion in him, and assures her that a rival to her has no place in his life.
0 anxious one,
abandon fear, imagining
me devoted to other women,
You alone entirely occupy my heart
with your voluptuous breasts and hips.
None other than the god of love—
the bodiless one, is blessed
to enter my heart.
0 my beloved, be content in this
and allow me to embrace you.
Crush me with your hard breasts,
entwine me in your vine-like arms
bite me with your merciless teeth
inflict upon me, 0 beautiful one,
any punishment that you wish and be happy.
Let my life not end
under the blows of Love
the five-arrowed one,
the undignified one.
Radha’s friend again urges her to meet Krishna’s mood without shame. The moment and the mood, she says, are ripe for love. Finally, Radha relents.