Do you know why I stamped the snake Kaliya

Articles, Indian Mythology 13 Comments

Published in Speaking  Tree, September 23, 2012


“Do you know why I stamped the snake Kaliya?
Because he dared rival his tail with your braid of hair.
Do you know why I broke Kamsa’s bow?
Because it tried to rival your eyebrows.
Do you know why I uprooted Mount Govardhan with my little finger?
Because he dared rival his peak with your breast.
Do you know why I hurt the elephant Kuvalyapeeda?
Because he dared rival your comely gait.”

These words written in Telugu narrated to Radha, attributed to Krishna, are part of a collection called Radhika Santvanamu (appeasement of Radha) in the 18th century by one Muddupalani, granddaughter of Tanjanayaki, an extremely talented courtesan (devadasi or ganika) belonging to the illustrious Tanjavur court of the Maratha King Pratapsingh.

They were republished in the early 20th century by another illustrious courtesan, Bangalore Nagaratnamma, founder of the now famous Carnatic music festival in honor of the musician-saint Tyagaraja. Her edition was banned for the explicit sexual content, especially since they were written by women deemed ‘loose of character’ by the men of that time.  Editions that contained non-erotic devotional and love poetry were preferred.

And yet works on the story of Radha and Krishna have always been a combination of love, romance, devotion and clandestine eroticism. The story that Muddupallani narrates is very different from what most people in the Gangetic plains are familiar with.

In this collection of songs, Radha, now middle-aged, prepares her niece Ila-devi, to be Krishna’s bride and even gives her erotic advise. She even advises Krishna on how to be gentle with a young virgin. She is clearly the more experienced one. While Ila and Krishna are together, Radha pines for her beloved who she knows will soon forget her in favor of a younger woman. This pain of separation is made worse by betrayal. A parrot informs her of how Ila is trying to make Krishna forget Radha. Radha is heartbroken, feels abandoned and cast aside. But Krishna returns to Radha and appeases her, declaring that he loves her and only her truly.

These poems give insights into the inner workings of the women’s section of a royal household. Perhaps through the triad of Krishna, Ila and Radha, the poet was describing the relationship between the king, herself and her grandmother, who continued to be the royal favorite, her advanced age, not withstanding. We will never know.

Ever since the writing of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda in the 12th century, there have been debates on the relationship of Radha and Krishna. There were two major schools: the svakiya, which believes Radha is the wife of Krishna and the parkiya, which believes that Radha is not his wife. The parkiya line of thought was often patronized by poets like Chandidas and Vidyapati who believed that love, that was unbound by law or custom or convention was true love. Hence songs constantly allude to Radha being married to someone else as she steps out of the house to meet Krishna in secret.

While the more suggestive schools became part of the mainstream, eventually stripping Radha-Krishna songs of all clandestine eroticism, the more explicit schools became part of underground and peripheral movements like Baul and Sahajiya which held Radha in high esteem for her independence. Like Krishna, who  is tied to Radha outside marriage and Rukmini inside marriage, they saw Radha as a Goddess who is tied to Krishna outside marriage and to Ayana (name varies in various writings) inside marriage. Here, marriage can be seen literally, and this can rankle our puritanical spirit. Or it can be seen as a metaphor for social mores that compel us to behave in a particular way and prevent us from being spontaneous and true to our inner spirit.

Every devotee has a choice of how he wants to see Radha: as Muddupalani did, as the svaykiyas do, as the parakiyas do or as the Sahajiyas do. It says nothing about Radha, but more about our attitude towards life and society.

  • We have never read the different variations of prose as you had. They really have different perspectives of their own and these helps us in opening up. When u referred ‘baul’ songs i recall a bengali movie ‘Moner Manus’ which have shown so many conflicts of a human heart within and without. I would really like to read something on Baul movement in your style of writing.

  • Radhika

    I always wondered why Krishna didn’t keep it simple and just married Radha..it seems circumstances of life and directions of Universe do not bend even for God.. : )

    P.S. I loved seeing my name cropping up in this BEAUTIFUL article :)

    • rahulthinks

      You can ask some writers to write that this marriage had happened. Facts have been lost amongst folklore. Radha is merely a fictitious literary character and hence there is no question of Krishna actually marrying her.

  • Khitish

    Great Read !! works for pluralism, much needed.

  • rahulthinks

    Well, fact of the matter is that Radha is not a historical figure but a fictitious figure made by bhakti marg devotees and poet saints. There is no mention of any lady called Radha in the Mahabharata or any ancient scripture. We all know that poets can write on anything. When it comes to gods, it becomes controversial but in general India and Hindus have always tolerated and allowed such creativity to flourish…

    I don’t think we can learn anything about relationship between Krishna and so called Radha by reading erotic or nonerotic poems by creative poets. These are simply products of imagination.

    Radha is a symbol of perfect Bhakta – or devotee. Therefore we worship Radha along with Bhagwan, because ultimately the difference between bhakta and bhagwan goes away and both at one and the same…

    • rahulthinks

      It is debatable if such creativity should be allowed, particularly even today…

  • Ashim

    Krishna had a wife and a mistress. Both were devoted to him. However, one wonders about the relation between Radha and Rukmini. Are there any stories about their personal relationship?

  • gaurav jhalani

    sir again reminds me of shrimad bhagwat gita in which the said eroticism has been said and defined as radha prem. radha prem is a sign for unconditional love and has no meaning for borders. she calls the krishna as “lampaat” in awadh style which means man having relations with more than one woman. but also says about the “milaan” and “vigrahha”. yet the sexuality quotient was always there even the radha asks to break the pearls garland which she wores because the pearls act as “mountains” between their union, to open her hairs etc etc. but these were the symbols of boundations which i take them as . she just asks to remove all the boundations of heart and then be united with your work. it is a long debate but interesting part is vigraha which radha ji explains beautifully which makes it different from a erotic version.

    agreed with rahul because bhagwad identifies radha krishna as nayak nayikaa but these were the scriptures written as siad and agreed by mr devdutt sir and me to teach the life and books has always influence of the time when they were written be it ramayana or anything. ramayana also has a date for it and the others may also have.


    It has always been simple….it always will be.Freud aptly put it in one word—-‘Hunger’………be it for money,power,land,sex………..whatever.The winner takes it all.Krishna indulges in lust-He becomes the subject of poems…………Kamsa has multitude of women—he is vilaasi read it as a villain. Abhimanyu dies on the battlefield outnumbered…he becomes a metaphor of unparalleled bravery and treachery on the enemy’s part….not so for Bhishma,Drona,Karna,Duryodhana….Life is simple———Winners write history………Losers are villains……


    Krishna’s relations with Radha was indicative of the growing strength of the ‘lower’ castes of masses..(dark in complexion)….who had clout enough now to have relations with ‘higher'(fair complexion) women……who could mediate between Kings(Mahabharat)……..This ,of course after a King was decimated in open ie..Kamsa by him.The winner takes it all……..Land,women,power,and of course History

  • What a beautiful way to deal with this subject. That right and wrong are constructs of the mind. That while our impulses inspire motion, our constructs enable movement. The choice of construct remains ours, while the impulses are here to stay!

  • Irshad gardezi Multan

    It open the door to think what life is.

  • Its very amazing to see a whole discussion room focussed on the relationship between Sri Krsna and Srimati Radharani. Is anyone so close to either of Them, to discuss this? Does anyone really love Sri Krsna or Sri Radhika ? Love means to able to please Them, to be able to act exactly as They want, to be able to live and die for Them. Love means to serve. Is anyone serving Sri Krsna ? Is anyone serving Sri Radha ? Only a true and pure devotee of the Lordships can understand Sri Radha and Sri Krsna. And Krsna reveals Himself only to a devotee. Its an aparadh to conduct any mental speculation of the SUpreme Lord, and above all that try to equate His activities with the mundane material activities of an animal called human being. For any information on Sri Krsna and Sri Radha, knock the door of the devotee following a bonafide Vaisnava Sampradaya. Only a bonafide teacher should be speaking and those who wish to learn should be looking for such a bonafide teacher from a Vaisnaa Sampradaya. As you seek knowledge of Engineering from a bonafide institute called IIT not any institute at the corner of a street. Hear from the right source, and you shall get the right knowledge, provided your attitude is humble and unmotivated. Best Wishes.