Krishna allowed women to play out the fantasy of being in control, of being able to bend the will of men to their commands. In the Gitagovinda, Radha compelled Krishna to repent and, when they made love, Radha took the man’s position of being on top. After they had made love, she commanded him to plait her hair and attend to her toiletries. Mana or the pride between lovers became, with Krishna, a two-way street. If he on occasion had to be cajoled out of a sulk, he too was prepared to make the effort to persuade his beloved to relent. The Rasikapriya, Keshav Das’s celebrated treatise on erotica, describes how Krishna would arrange to send to an angry Radha flowers longing to become fragrant by a touch of her breasts, or an ivory necklace, yearning to fulfill its destiny by going on a pilgrimage to her bosom, the seat of holiness.
Even in its post-Vrindavan phase, the Krishna myth retained its special porousness to the sensitivities of the opposite sex. Soon after his arrival in Mathura, Krishna found time, in spite of his preoccupations with the looming battle with Karnsa, to have a liaison with Kubja, a deformed and hunch-backed woman, whom he miraculously restored to her original beauty. According to the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna knew of Kubja’s secret longing for him. He therefore visited her house. ‘She offered seats covered with .costly silks to [him]—they sat for a while and Krishna looked at her who was feeling shy even to look at him. He knew how much she wanted him and according to his promise, he took her by the hand and led her to the inner chambers, and pleased her.
Rukmini, the lovely daughter of the king of Kundalpur, was secretly in love with Krishna, having heard of his exploits from some wandering mendicants. But she was being forcibly married off by her wicked brother Rukma to Sisupala, prince of another kingdom. Krishna, on hearing of this, boldly abducted Rukmini and made her his queen, defeating Rukma and Sisupala in battle. In the course of several colourful adventures, he acquired more wives, the more notable among them being Jambhavati, Satyabhama and Kalindi. The Bhagavata Purana erred a trifle towards the excessive when it recounted that Krishna, defeating the demon king Naraka, rescued 16,000 virgins enslaved by him and married them all. The Bhagavata maintained however that he bestowed equal love on all his queens, ever responsive to their every wish. When Satyabhama wished to have the Kalpavriksha, the heavenly wishing tree owned by Indra himself, Krishna promptly set out to obtain it; when Indra refused to part with it, he took it away forcibly. Such was his legendary prowess in keeping all his wives satisfied and pleased that the sage Narada, so the Bhagavata says, once went to see for himself how Krishna managed it all. He was stunned to see that Krishna was individually and simultaneously available to all his wives.
The cumulative myth sustained one basic point: for women, Krishna was a personal god, always accessible and unfailingly responsive. This was in stark contrast with the real world where their husbands were shared disproportionately by the larger joint family, were hierarchically remote and, more often than not, found an outlet for romance outside the home. Krishna was the avenue to bridge this great hiatus between reality and fantasy in the Indian woman’s life. He seemed to tell them that he understood their deep-seated desires; and to reassure them that though their behaviour might seem an aberration by conventional standards, these standards did not apply to him. He gave them the ‘permission for joy*. He was theirs to be moulded for whatever fantasy they wanted. He urged them—as the incident of stealing the clothes of the gopis demonstrated—to shed their inhibitions in his presence. He stood for the promise of passion and romance in their otherwise staid social world; equally importantly, and this is where complex psychological elements enter, he was prepared to be possessed and controlled by them in a manner profoundly fulfilling, both as lover and son.