Radha: Love, War, and Renunciation
by Krishna Dharabasi

"Life too is an object. We can use it as we like. Today, we are using it like this."

Sacred Hindu scriptures like the Mahabharata are the bedrock of Hinduism. In particular, the mythological character, Krishna, who frolics through his childhood in Gokul stealing the heart of the gopis is considered transcendent, the supreme personality of Godhead. In Dharabasi’s rendition, the Mahabharata narrative is told from the perspective of Radha, who is often described as Krishna’s childhood love and soulmate. Though Radha and Krishna are immortalized in union through their deities at Hindu temples, the author meticulously probes deeper into why they were unable to unite during their lifetime.

Dharabasi’s alternative reading highlights a male-dominant society in which women were objects of pleasure and one man had 16,108 wives. For instance, Hinduism glorifies the raas leela, or the cosmic dance between Krishna and the many gopis; however, the reality is that one man was partaking in the night picnic dance clearly as the superior being. Though this text is centered on Radha’s relationship with Krishna, there are numerous overlooked examples of atrocities against women. For instance, Kunti, Krishna’s aunt, is forced to forsake the son she had out of wedlock with the sun god, Surya, to preserve her image. Later, there is a contest, or swayamvar, where the most powerful princes and kings vie to win the hand of princess Draupadi. When Arjuna, one of Kunti’s children, wins, he is instructed to divide the princess among his siblings.

While the feminist advocacy angle runs deep, this text includes much more. For example, like Siddhartha Gautama, Radha renounces her worldly desires, including Krishna, and contemplates existential questions while traveling as an ascetic. Dharabasi is aware that this alternative reading will attract controversy among those who are versed with the Mahabharata. It is this unyielding and resolute spirit to question that permeates throughout the book in as authentic a manner as possible.

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