10. The Divinely Feminine Avatari
Another two hundred years passed, and the Krishna myth was taken up by the talented hand of Jayadeva, who penned the ultimate poem of erotic devotion: the Gita Govinda (Song of the Cowherd). Gone are the metaphysical symbols of bees and lotus, Sun and Moon, as we learn that the Gopi whom Krishna carried off and then forsook was named Radha. When the dance resumed by the lake, and before Krishna multiplied his form, she broke into the circle in a mad frenzy and began devouring him with kisses. The God repulsed her with indifference, and continued dancing with the other girls. Radha retreated to a bower and lay there heartbroken; but Krishna repented, and abandoned the multitude of adoring Gopis to seek out the one who had specially touched his heart. There followed a number of moves and countermoves in what Jayadeva called a night of erotic warfare; and the outcome was the passionately explicit act of love consummated by the Man-God with his chosen woman. Thus Radha succeeded where the entire army of Kurus later failed: she had conquered Krishna and won the war of love.
This story made such an impact on the religious consciousness of India that Radha was elevated to near-deific status, equal to or exceeding that of Mary in Christianity. Traditional Christians have no doubt been scandalized by what to others seems a delightful irony: that Radha is not the Mother of God, but his adulterous lover.
Radha became a living symbol of Bhakti, spiritual surrender and devotion. Bhakti practice includes a refinement in which the individual’s psycho-emotional type, called bhava, determines their path. The bhava specially inspired by the passionate love of Radha for Krishna is called Madhurya, a word redolent with the finest feminine qualities: exquisite beauty, sweetness, charm, tender affection, grace, and loveliness. The gurus who developed the praxis of Madhurya Bhava lucidly grasped the profound similarity between the sexual surrender of a woman to the man she loves and the spiritual surrender of a devotee to God, who is loved just as deeply.
A masculine complement also arose: Sakhi Bhava, in which a male aspirant strives to identify with Krishna and woos Radha as his lover. There were always fewer men who could successfully pursue this path than female Madhuris, because it hinges on an alpha quantum of yang; by contrast, any sincere yin woman can do well at Madhurya Bhava. But when a Sakhi adept connected with an omega Madhuri it was always a match made in Heaven, for they could be God and Goddess to each other right here on Earth.