Studying any devotional tradition requires one to look at what practitioners themselves have written describing their tradition and the elements within it. I’ve been looking for a nice introduction to the Vaishnava perspective on Radha for some time; many other books provide very little insight into Her or Her character. Though I’ve found a handful of books detailing Radha’s character from a non-Vaishnava and non-Hindu academic standpoint I’ve been after something a little different. In many ways, The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani is just what I’ve been looking for. Though I wouldn’t give this book my wholehearted recommendation to the novice bhakti student there are many things that might make it worth your attention.
This book t is a little larger than a standard hardcover, about an inch thick with 250 pages.. It has a full color dust jacket with lovely artwork by Annapurna Devi Dasi (look for more of her artwork online). There are a handful of color plates in the middle of the book and a few line drawings throughout. The text is printed in a novel rusty brown color that actually makes it quite attractive. Though I’m not fond of books with newsprint, especially not the super thin newsprint that is sometimes included in Indian publications, its use results in a book that’s surprisingly lightweight for its size. This makes it great for carrying around and reading at the bus stop.
The book contains short chapters detailing various narrative incident’ of Radha’s existence in celestial and material settings, including some of the backstory about the machinations of devas and demons that set the stage for Vraja-lila. It’s all told in a vaunted way which can be an obstacle to someone not accustomed to this particular style of prose; it’s common in bhakti literature but is pretty much the direct opposite from detailed academia and from straightforward fable-style storytelling.
Many of Radha’s sacred pastimes are included in this volume so this book is an excellent introduction to narratives that get left out of short tellings of Vraja-lila; reading it has definitely increased my fluency in this particular sacred cycle. Someone looking for a short telling of Radha-Krishna’s life in Vrindavan will probably not find what they’re looking, however. This book is better suited for someone who wants a more detailed picture.
Because this book was intended for Gaudiya Vaishnava insiders, an effort to explain each incidence of Sanskrit terminology has not been made; though a few footnotes occur and brief parenthetical explanations are used throughout, the book will not guide you through many of its central philosophical concepts. Many Sanskrit verses are found in the book and a direct translation is not made of each one. This book may not, therefore, be suitable for particular research efforts.
Overall, I had a positive experience with this book. It’s very well designed and a pleasure to hold and carry around. It’s nice having a single volume of narrative retellings of so many sacred pastimes and I like the pictures. While I think it would be an enjoyable read for people without a background in bhakti philosophy though it’s likely to be somewhat confusing. I wouldn’t strongly recommend this book for someone wishing to study bhakti with the aim of enriching their own practice but I’d certainly suggest it to someone wishing to dig a little deeper into the Vrindavan cycle. The copy I bought was marked at $25 – not a super bargain but not outrageous. I’m sure you can find it only for quite a bit less.