Namita Gokhale On “Finding Radha” And The Quest For The Self
- IWB Post
- July 6, 2019
“The madness of Love—God-intoxicated man
The allegory of Radha—misunderstood…”
Call her a figure either mythological or historical, Radha is the one who remains an anomaly no matter what. Recently when Malashri Lal and Namita Gokhale, co-editors of Finding Radha: The Quest for Love, sat together for an interactive discussion on their book, we all got acquainted with many facets of Radha, the one who went on being celebrated generation after generation despite transcending all social conventions (perhaps because of that).
With the effervescence of a lover who has newly fallen in love and the joyous detachment of someone who knows nothing but the platonic, Radha is indeed one of those figures who has kept us enamored since forever. Be it the poetry or the poet, both have been affected and we can’t be more thankful.
Like Namita shares, “I feel that Radha is the strongest of all the goddesses. She is nobody’s consort, she is her own figure whether she is historical or she is not, it doesn’t matter. All that matters to me is what she symbolizes.”
Speaking on her fascination with mythology, she shares, “I have always had a religious inclination and a love for mythology, a lot of which comes from my recognition that all these strong goddesses represent some aspect of feminine strength each.”
She adds, “In Sita, I felt that there was a great injustice done to her and there was a collective wounding of all women within that story. I mean you could be Sikh, you could be Muslim, you could be a Christian but within India that hurt which was done to Sita has continued in the Lakshman Rekhas and in the Agni Parikshas.”
It was a little suhaag pitaari that Namita received during one of her trips to Vrindavan which started her tryst with Radha. She shares, “I was just moved and I said someday I will work on a book on Radha and it has been a great learning experience to work on this. Manushri Lal and I have co-edited the book and what we have discovered in it is that there are so many aspects of Radha.”
She adds, “Radha is reflected in the dance and iconography, the art, the music, the poetry of our culture, and the greatest thing is that she is just herself. I think that is why women yearn for her because most other women lose their identity between their duties, their responsibilities, their husbands, their brothers, their sisters, their patriarchal lives, their children, they are caught up in that web of family and duty but to find and celebrate your innermost self is what they need to do and that is what one can learn from Radha.”
Namita also feels that while a varied type of discourse has been created around Hindu goddesses, Radha is someone rather different. “I think that she is a very subversive goddess, everybody is trying to tell us that Hindu women are very this very that but if you look at Radha you see exactly what our culture celebrates i.e. is beauty and strength and joy and nurturing.”
When asked if there is a need of reinterpreting the character of Radha as per the contemporary discourse, Namita says, “I think Indian mythology has always been reinterpreted. There is something about Indian myth, specially Ramayana and Mahabharata, where the characters represent so much more than what they are. So we recognize ourselves and our situations through them. It’s not just moralizing it’s more pragmatic human interaction and Radha is the most enigmatic figure of them all.”
What is Radha’s role in this whole play? “It’s about herself, celebrating herself. It’s about having the strength to love without fear of social pressure,” says Namita.
She adds, “I think that yearning for Radha in many women is the yearning for the self which they have lost in the bounds of other aspects of life because, in the end, we have to return to ourselves and women are rarely given the resource to celebrate themselves but they are always made to do one thousand other things when the essential thing is working on oneself, being yourself, having the strength not to care. I hope that’s what the contemporary generation learns from her.”
“Yes, here is a goddess who just was very very different. I think nowhere in the world in any religion will you find characters like Radha and Krishna worshipped not as husband and wife but as lovers, in the most sacred sense of the word. And even poets like Andal, Meerabai they have carried on this tradition of searching and finding some fragment of themselves which is not easy. And I think feminism is meaningless and empty unless we can learn to love ourselves, to respect ourselves, and find that precious core of ourselves,” she concludes.