As an art curator, I am frequently asked by my family and friends what is the significance of art. They usually come up with questions like does art mean paintings and sculptures or it has a role to play in our everyday life.
To answer questions like this, I often ask people to look around and observe all the things that they can relate to art. Usually, this does the trick and they get the implied meaning of art and things associated with it. From the embroidery on clothes to intricate jewelry designs to the singing, dance and acting in Bollywood movies to the ancient sculptures and murals of temples, there is something artistic about everything. Like beauty, art is in eyes of beholder. A curious look around you is all that you need to notice an overwhelming amount of things that relate to art.
There is no denial to the fact that almost everyone is associated with one form or another form of art in their day to day life, yet people seldom think about the implied meaning of art. For example, you must have seen several paintings based on religious themes and the theme of divine love, which is mostly depicted in Radha–Krishna paintings. Though followers of Hinduism know that Radha was not the consort of Lord Krishna, yet they revere these deities as one. This article is all about understanding the implied meaning and significance of these paintings that depict Radha-Krishna as consorts.
To understand this meaning we will first have to know who is Radha. Radha is the manifestation of devotion unto Krishna. As a child, I once heard a story from my mother where Lord Krishna sent his dear friend Uddhav to the gopis (milkmaids) to teach him what devotion meant. The incident goes as follow:
Once to illustrate the devotion of the gopis, Shri Krishna pretended that he had an intense headache which did not respond to any medicine. He asked Uddhav to go to Gopis and tell them that “Krishna has headache and that his pain will vanish with the application of mud beneath anyone’s feet. However, the one giving the mud beneath his/her feet will die.” He asked Uddhav to proclaim this and bring the mud that anyone gives. No one was prepared to give the mud that was beneath their feet. On entering Gokul, when Uddhav narrated the situation and the condition to the first gopi that he met, she replied, “If the mud under my feet will relieve Krishna’s headache then I am prepared even to go to hell.” The devotion of the gopis is an illustration of ultimate devotion. Radha among them is like a jewel in the crown.
As many Radha-Krishna paintings depict these deities as consorts, Radha’s spiritual love, which is her devotion for Krishna has been widely misinterpreted as love in the Radha-Krishna relationship. Its futility will be realized if one considers Krishna’s age at that time. When Krishna left Gokul forever, he was only seven years old; thus his relationship with Radha was only during the period when he was three to seven years old.
If you have observed beautiful Radha-Krishna paintings carefully, you must have noticed that Lord Krishna is depicted playing his flute. According to Hindu mythology, the sound of the flute represents the anahat sound, which is the unceasing subtle sound of the universe. It is a widely known fact that this sound made the gopis crazy for Lord Krishna. If one carefully observes this, he will realize how highly spiritually evolved these gopis were as the spiritual experience of the sound is a high-level experience. While leaving Gokul, Lord Krishna gave his flute to Radha and never played it again; thus, he made sure that Radha constantly got the supreme spiritual experience of absoluteness, which is way more superior to the sound of the universe.
The Sanskrit for a stream of water is Dhara. Dhara spelled backward is called Radha. A stream of water, i.e. Dhara flows from a higher to a lower level. But the stream of devotion which flows upwards, that is from a lower level to a higher level, is called radhagati. When this devotion meets its point of origin, then it is the pinnacle of spiritual experience i.e. the experience of being Radha. If you too want to experience this spiritual experience, then bring home a beautiful Radha-Krishna painting.
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