Finding Radha tries to find the Radha that we all acknowledge and worship, but we hardly know anything about. When you visit Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana, Govardhan in Braj Bhumi, all you hear is Radhe Radhe. She rules the land; she is the supreme goddess. the daughter as well as the empress of the land.
In the academic world, scholars go mad looking for literary or other material evidence of her existence. Most of them stop at or should I say begin with Gita Govinda of Jayadeva. For poets of Bhakto era, poets of Shringar ras, she is the ultimate Nayika or heroine. For the devotee, she is the path to reach Krishna, she is the Swaroop they take to feel Krishna. The two worlds rarely meet.
Like their earlier anthology ‘In Search of Sita’ the editors Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal, there are essays by many writers, mostly well-known names of the literary circles. Having said that, I was happy to see one or two names from Vrindavan who could speak authoritatively on the subject.
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The book begins with an essay of Devdutt Pattanaik that sets the tone for many pieces in this book to follow. Almost everyone traces the history of Radha that begins in Gita Govinda and then through the poetry that followed. Most literary personalities have missed the experience of her that is living and thriving in Braj Bhumi. You need to live in the villages of Braj to feel that and realize the energy of Radha.
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Let me talk about the pieces I liked. I liked a comparative study of Gita Govinda & Shir Ha-Shirim from Hebrew Bible by Yudit Greenberg, a scholar of Jewish Studies. She not only introduced me to Jewish text but also makes you aware of the similar stories that exist around the world.
Essay by Shrivatsa Goswami on her being the play and perfection of Rasa is lovely. To me, personally, the essence of Radha is that she is the epitome of every Rasa that a human emotion knows. So, I enjoyed reading it and later I realized it has been written by someone who has experienced living in her land. No wonder it has the first-hand experience of the writer.
Pavan Varma’s piece on Rasikpriya by Keshav Das
If there is one piece in this book that I would go back to many times it would be Pavan Varma’s piece on Rasikpriya by Keshav Das. I was aware of it but I had no clue what it is. So, I thoroughly enjoyed reading how Keshav Das uses the framework of Natyashastra and fills it with Radha Krishna as Nayak and Nayika. He goes to explain the various terms used to define the Rasas. If you want to read one story in this anthology, read this one.
Lalit Kumar’s essay introduced me to Bhanushinger Padavali that was written by Rabindranath Tagore under the pseudo name of Bhanusingh. It is a work inspired by Maithili poet Vidyapati.
Tarashankar Bandopadhyay’s Rajkamal is a lovely story and beautifully translated by Aruna Chakravarti.
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Selected Poems from Indian Languages
Last part of the book has selected poems translated from various Indian languages. I did read them, but I know I would enjoy them more in the language they were originally written. Poetry is difficult to enjoy in translation. So, I am not commenting on that part.
Renuka Narayanan calls Rukmini a Chedi princess while she was the princess of Vidarbha who was to be married to kind of Chedi. Radha is Bollywood cinema is a such a half-hearted story, with no understanding of her at all. Even my listicle on Krishna Songs in Bollywood captured more than this piece.
The book gave me pointers to quite a bit of literature to explore this subject further. So, to that extent, it was quite helpful.
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Overall, there is a lot of repetition across pieces as many authors keep going back to the same history or the lack of history when it comes to her. Having said that, some of the pieces in Finding Radha, make it a worthwhile effort to read it.