Râdhâ is one of the most popular figures in Hindu mythology and is even understood by some to be a manifestation of the Supreme. Râdhâ has many personas and a complex mythology. Râdhâ is the young, innocent maiden coming into the forest at night in response to Krishna’s magical flute.
Râdhâ is the favorite wife of Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) from his many wives among the cowherds of Vrindâvana (Gokula). And Râdhâ is the wife of Adhiratha (or Kalâvati) and the foster mother of Karna (the divine son of Kuntî and Sûrya).
Which of Râdhâ’s many faces appears in a story is said to be caused by the listener to her myths—she takes the aspects of the listeners’ own mâyâ and is born from their projections—carnal for the carnally minded, innocent as a virgin for the pure, and so on. Râdhâ began to emerge toward the end of the epic period.
Songs to Râdhâ may have come from a cow-herding community in northern India, the Abhirs. And it was poetry and song, not mythology per se, that fueled her amazing rise to supreme importance in Hindu mythology. Although some poems and songs extolled her as a shy maiden, most presupposed that she was married.
As her association with Krishna grew, Vaishnava theologians accounted for the fact that she belonged to another man (parakiya) in several ways: Râdhâ was the incarnation of Lakshmî; Râdhâ, like Krishna’s other lovers, was eternally married to him, incarnating in this lifetime to be near him. Râdhâ could be seen in some myths as the personification of loving devotion to the Supreme (prema bhakti).
However, Râdhâ also began to appropriate the characteristics and attributes of Lakshmî and even Durgâ: power (s´haktî), nature (prakritî), creation (mâyâ). Râdhâ assumed the role of Lakshmî, wife of Vishnu, as the intercessor between God (appearing as Krishna) and humanity.
In spite of all her religious importance, however, Râdhâ’s complete surrender to love of Krishna in every mood, rehearsed constantly for each generation in songs, plays, art, and now films, has made her stories eternal.