The Vaishnava festival of Radhastami recently ended. This holy day honors the advent of Sri Radha on the earth and her special role in Krishna lila is celebrated.
Radha is many things at once. She is a mortal woman, a goddess incarnate, the shared essence of Sri Krishna, the utmost devotee, the queen of Vrindavan. Some aspects of Vaishnava doctrine state that Sri Radha is the power behind her Lord because he will appear when she longs for him. Radha’s worship summons the Lord and he is most pleased by receiving her selfless adoration and affection. The complex and nuanced expression of this deep relationship can be said to illustrate the many ways that worshiper and worshiped might interact with one another.
Radha is a very special figure to me because she gracefully illustrates what it means to love the divine, by whatever face we most readily relate to. The devotee is a nexus connecting many worlds – the interior and exterior, the emotive and expressive, the manifest and unmanifest, the present and the anticipated future. The devotee also strongly connects the spiritual and material worlds. (Though one can easily say that there is no fundamental separation between the two, the devotee can help demonstrate just how intertwined these two facets of reality are.) Via the worshiper’s power of expression and self-directed manifestation, they bring the presence of the Gods into their immediate space. Radha makes Krishna more present through her unceasing affection. By the same token, he becomes increasingly entwined with the collective of human worshipers through her intercession.
Though Radha is most certainly a distinctly fervent devotee, the connective power that she is emblematic of is something that polytheistic worshipers can also take part in. We each help summon our respective Beloveds through our affection. Our emotions surge and recede, responding to the perceived closeness of the Gods and finding more detailed and nuanced sensation each time. Thus we manifest the presence of our Gods. They create through us, first through our emotional responses and then through our expressions within this world. Thereby are the Gods made immediately present within this world.
Spending time in the company of fellow worshipers or simply among others who share a reverence and affection for your chosen and preferred is rather like being surrounded by a gallery of distinctive glimpses of the divine. Sometimes this can be a deeply moving experience. Other times it is less satisfying; you might feel repelled by these various manifestations or simply ill-suited to the company.
Polytheistic practitioners worship deities and Powers that share their worldview. Thus it can be said that the Gods themselves are, in their way, polytheist. They surround themselves by myriad worshipers in order to experience myriad different forms of connection, innumerable opportunities for relationship, and a plentitude of possible avenues for manifestation. Radha is unique in her dedication but within the renowned circle dance (rasa lila) Krishna multiplied his forms so that each dancer would have her very own partner, oblivious to all others. So it is with us. We are each singular, solitary points of connection resounding to the vibration of the divine but we are not alone in our intimacy.