Volume 15 - Issue 10
October 2017
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Posted on: Oct 01, 2017


by Ms. Radhika Brahmanandam

Was Radha fair or dark? Was she older to Krishna or younger? Was she stunningly beautiful or average looking? Why was Krishna so madly in love with Radha? What made Radha Radha?

The author beautifully explores these dimensions through her lovely creativity to offer clarity to young minds in a lucid manner.


Sheela put her brush down and looked at her painting. She had sketched the outline of a beautiful riverbank that had trees with drooping branches bent into the waters. The sand dunes on the banks reflected the heat of the setting sun. She now slowly sketched into it Radha, the beloved of Lord Krishna, and then crinkled her eyes and thought: “Was Radha dark or fair?”

Her friend Chitra's voice wafted up the stairs. Sighing gently, she put down her brush. It was time for music class…


Sheela and Chitra hurried through the street towards their music teacher Smitha's residence.

“Do you know that Smitha auntie's cousin Nirmala auntie has come from her village?” asked Chitra. “My mother said that whenever she visits, all the pictures of Swami in the house are suddenly covered with vibhuti…”

“Wow! Really?” exclaimed Sheela. “Must be a great devotee…”

“Hmmm… yeah,” agreed Chitra. “Amma (mother) told me that when Nirmala Auntie was very young, she was married to a tailor in the village. He left to work in the Gulf and she was left alone with her young daughter, mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law. I believe the in-laws were pretty cruel to her and would keep her locked up in the house, with just enough food to sustain her.”

“Hey, that's terrible!” cried Sheela.

“Yeah. That's when the leelas started. Swami used to appear before the weeping and forlorn Nirmala auntie. He would play with her young daughter and keep both mother and child happy. This went on not just for days or months but for years till tailor uncle came back and found out about auntie's predicament with his family. They moved house but the vibhuti still comes at all times in her house, and whenever and wherever she visits.”

“Wow!” cried Sheela, “How wonderful! I can't wait to see her. She must be very beautiful, like our Smitha auntie.”

“Yes. Smitha auntie is so beautiful, right?” agreed Chitra. ”She is so fair, slim and tall…”

“Hmm yes. How I wish I was as fair as her!” sighed Sheela. She had a ‘thing’ about being dark-skinned.

The ring of the doorbell brought Smitha Auntie to the door. With a welcoming smile, she led them on to the puja room where she conducted music lessons.

The two girls caught their breath in awe. Every picture and every idol was covered in vibhuti.

“Wow auntie!”, cried Chitra. “This is… this is… just wow!!”

Sheela wordlessly fell to her knees and closed her eyes in rapture.

Turning to Smitha, she asked in a hushed tone, “Does this happen every time Nirmala Auntie visits?”

“Every time and everywhere”, Smitha assented. Just then, a slim dark woman entered with some flowers from the garden.

“Nirmala, meet my students Sheela and Chitra”, Smitha introduced her students to her cousin. The girls looked up eagerly. They saw before them not a fair-skinned delicate beauty but a dark, thin woman whose hollow cheeks and gaunt frame reflected years of poverty and neglect patiently endured.

“Girls,” continued Smitha, unaware of the disappointed looks her two teenage students shared. “This is the woman whom Swami loves so much that He follows her wherever she goes.”

Nirmala looked down bashfully and for a fleeting second, her whole being seemed to be filled with a soft glow that irradiated her weak, neglected body. Then with a shy smile that revealed a few missing teeth, Nirmala left the room as silently as she had entered it, leaving the girls to their music lesson.

“Today, girls, I will teach you a very beautiful ashtapadi of Jayadeva. Here Krishna addresses Radha as ‘Priye, Charusheele!’ - ‘Oh beloved, oh virtuous woman!’ This poem is particularly famous because there is a beautiful story attached to its composition…” started Smitha.

The girls pricked up their ears. They loved the way their teacher taught them music, teaching them not just the lyrics and the meaning but also the background stories of the song and the composer. As she passionately detailed each song, the mood and emotion of the song would deeply get embedded in the minds of her students, even before the first line was taught to tune and beat.

Smitha continued, “Krishna tries to coax an angry Radha to peace and praising her beauty, He begs her to be kind to Him. As the poet continued his composition, the next line which sprang to his heart was one where Krishna begs Radha to place her feet on His head.”

“What! Really?” cried the shocked girls.

Smitha smiled gently and continued, “Jayadeva too was disturbed and to clear his mind, he told his wife to prepare his lunch while he went to the river for his customary bath.

“While he was gone, the Lord Himself in Jayadeva's form entered his house. Picking up the palm leaves, He inscribed therein the very words that Jayadeva had in his mind. On seeing this later, Jayadeva understood that the Lord had authenticated the image that he had hesitated to pen down.”

“Wow!” breathed the girls.

As Smitha concluded her narration, there was a deep silence in the room. The girls bent their heads in awe at the great love that Krishna had for His Radha, a love so great that He was willing to place her feet on His head.

Smitha gently strummed the tambura. The plaintive strains of the raga Mukhari filled the air as teacher and students reverentially savoured the beautiful song.

Sheela walked into the kitchen humming the addictive tune of Priye Charusheele under her breath.

Amma, Radha must have been very beautiful. She must have been very fair like you, right?” she asked her mother.

“Hmm, what?” her mother replied distractedly. “I don't know dear. You must ask your grandfather. Today Girija Akka (elder sister) is coming over to drop off the photos of Thaathaa's (grandfather's) sadabhishekam (80th birthday celebrations) and I am just preparing her favourite sweet, gulab jamun.”

“Oh, lovely, Akka is coming!” cried Sheela excitedly.

Girija was her elder sister who had recently been married. She lived in the same city, about an hour away, and would favour them with lightning visits off and on. The entire family eagerly awaited her trips.

As though on cue, Girija's voice floated down the hallway into the kitchen as she chattered to her grandparents, “Paatti (grandmother), Thaathaa, how are you? Paatti, do your legs hurt a little less? Thaathaa, I hope you have cut down on your coffee! Look, these are the pictures of your 80th birthday, Thaathaa. You and Paatti look so lovely in this picture.”

Sheela and her mother rushed to the living room and found the bubbly Girija kneeling next to Grandmother's wheelchair as she showed her the photos she had collected on the way to their home.

Sheela hugged her sister so tightly that she was almost smothered. Hanging on to her neck, she looked over her sister's shoulder at the pictures.

“Hey, look! In this picture, Paatti looks so much like Thaathaa! Isn't that amazing?”

“Haha, that's right!” Girija agreed, looking deeply at the photo. “Paatti, were you related to Thaathaa before marrying him?”

“No!” scoffed her grandmother, blushing gently. “I met him just the day before our marriage. I was 18 and he was 20. It has been… hmm… 60 years now that we have lived together. When you live so long and closely with someone, you start to think like him, act like him, look like him…” She blushed some more and stopped.

Girija's mother smilingly pushed a cup with gulab jamun into her daughter's hands and gently caressed her head. Delighted, Girija took up a spoonful of the sweet.

Amma, please can you teach me how to make Mysorepak?” she said naming another sweet dish.

“Why kannaa (dear), don't you like this sweet anymore?” asked her mother.

“No, no, of course I do. This is awesome, as always! It's... it's just that Mukund likes Mysorepak and I would like to make it for him for his birthday next month.”

“Ha! Look at that,” teased her grandmother. “My tomboy granddaughter who used to roam around in jeans and T-shirt is now wearing a salwar kameez just because her husband gifted it to her. She wants to learn to make Mysorepak... Hmm! Wonders will never cease.”

Paatti,” cried Girija shyly, giving her grandmother a little affectionate shove and running into the kitchen. Her mother followed her quietly with a knowing smile on her lips.

Thaathaa,” asked Sheela, suddenly remembering her question. “Was Lord Krishna's Radha very beautiful?”

“Hmm... why do you ask my dear?” countered her grandfather, peering at her with wise, kind eyes.

“We learnt a marvellous song at music class today where Krishna pleads with Radha to forgive Him and describes her matchless beauty in an effort to appease her. He must have loved her very much…but... but...” Sheela paused in confusion.

“But...?” prodded her grandfather gently.

“But wasn't he married to another?” she blurted out with the simple honesty of a pure mind.

Thaathaa put down his spectacles and drew her to him.

“You know, Sheela, Swami says that Radha was nine years old when the new-born Krishna was brought to Gokulam by His father Vasudeva and left in the house of Nanda, her cousin brother. From the time Krishna arrived, Radha could think of nothing else and continuously yearned for Him. When He left Brindavan for Mathura after the Rasalila with the gopikas and Radha, He was 11 years old.”

“But...” interjected Sheela drawing her eyebrows together in puzzlement. “But that means that this was not a romantic man-woman relationship as is made out...”

“Hmm, you are beginning to understand!” Grandfather smiled approvingly. “I have a little exercise for you. Take the letters of the name RADHA, and see what they read cyclically starting from each of the letters,” he coaxed.

“Ok, here I go,” said Sheela. “RADHA, ADHAR, DHARA, ARADH.”


Aradh is the adhar (basis) for Radha and dhara. The aradhana of dhara is Radha. My dear, Radha is dhara or creation. One who continuously chants the name (aradh) is Radha,” said grandfather.

“Wow, that's awesome,” breathed Sheela. “Anyone who constantly yearns for Him is Radha.”

Thinking over it a bit, she then looked up. “Thaathaa, tell me more about Radha, please. Did people around understand her love for Krishna?”

Grandfather smiled. “Well, some people did and some didn't. Once Yashoda was looking for Krishna and couldn't find Him. She called on Radha to help her. Radha closed her eyes and thought of Krishna. Almost immediately, Krishna came running to where she was.

“Yashoda then confessed to Radha that she realised that her own love for Krishna was tainted with egoism, since it had the strong roots of motherly identification. That is why she had to search for Krishna whereas He came running in answer to Radha's totally egoless love for Him.”

“Wow!” said Girija softly. She had also come in quietly along with Mother and Grandmother.

“The Gopikas were intoxicated with love for Krishna so much so that they did only what would please their Krishna,” said Grandfather and looking naughtily at Girija added, “Like your Girija Akka does things for her Mukund.”

Sheela looked up with growing understanding. “The relationship is not the same but the intensity of love that the Gopikas had was just the same. Right, Thaathaa?”

“Very good, kannaa,” smiled Thaathaa approvingly. “The gopikas would often search for His footprints among all other footprints in the sand. But, to Radha, every footprint, including her own, seemed like that of Krishna...”

“Once the elders in the village gave Radha a mud pot with many holes and asked her to fill water in it from the river, as a test of her devotion. Oblivious to the holes in the mud pot, Radha did as she was told chanting Krishna's name.

“With each chant, one hole of the pot miraculously covered up in such a manner that she was able to fill the pot with water from the river and bring it back without any leak,” continued Grandfather. “However, the atheists in the village continued their persecution, locked her up in a room and put her through lots of trouble.”

“Oh my God! Poor Radha,” said Mother.


“Swami has said that Radha would often be on the banks of the Yamuna, oblivious of heat and cold, thinking only of her Krishna.

“One day Krishna did appear before her and told her He had come. Lost in self-absorption, she replied that He had always been present with her. Having never left her, how could He come now? She could see Him in the wind, in the water droplets and in the leaves of the trees around. Extremely pleased, Krishna bade her to ask for a boon.

“She refused saying that she had no desires left, not even for His love because her love for Him would exist irrespective of whether He loved her or not. Krishna sank to His knees in joy and bowed down to a love so great that it sought nothing, not even the love of the beloved - a love so full and complete in itself that all distinctions between love, lover and beloved were obliterated.”

“Place your feet on My head, Priye, My beloved; Charusheele, oh virtuous woman,” quoted Sheela softly, tears springing to her eyes. How much better she understood now!

“Radha said softly that she was tired of the many earthly roles she had played and that she wished the drama of her life to end. Listening to the music of the flute of her Muralidhara, she gave up her life and merged in Him. Krishna threw away the flute, never again to play on it for the rest of His life!” Grandfather ended the tale softly.

The entire room was very quiet as all closed their eyes in reverence while tears of devotion rolled down their cheeks.

Thaathaa turned to Sheela. “Now you tell me! Was Radha very beautiful?” he twinkled.

Mother cleared her throat gently. “So Sheela, would you be painting Radha as dark or fair?”

Sheela looked up. “It does not matter at all, does it? Swami's love for Nirmala auntie is like His love for Radha. Just as I was feeling so disappointed that Nirmala auntie was nowhere near as beautiful as I thought she would be, she seemed to light up from within when she heard Swami's name.


“At that moment, I swear there was none more beautiful than her in the whole world! Beauty is not defined by colour of skin or gender or status in life. All of creation or dhara is always beautiful!”

Her mother smiled. At last, her young one had understood.

Amma,” Sheela continued seriously. “I will paint not one but a series of paintings of Radha. In one, I will paint her as dark as Nirmala Auntie and myself. In another she will be fair, like you and Smitha auntie. I will paint her as Radha, a woman and as Gauranga, a man. I will paint her as Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas and as Andal, the maiden bride of the Lord. I will paint her as Meera, the queen, and as Sakkubai, the commoner…” she paused.

“...because anyone who continuously adores the Lord is Radha!” completed Girija.

“Yes Akka. And Thaathaa, Radha will always be beautiful however I paint her,” said Sheela, answering her grandfather's question.

“...because she is Krishna's Radha,” said Grandmother with a smile.

“Yes Paatti,” agreed Sheela. “But, not just that. Just as you have begun to resemble Thaathaa because of your unbroken service to him, Radha too is beautiful, not just because she is Krishna's Radha or even because she is dhara or creation but because…,” Sheela looked up, her eyes shining with the light of understanding and her voice dropping down a few notches in awe.

“...because she is Krishna!”

- Illustrations: Ms Sri Vidya, Kuwait
- Radio Sai Team

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