Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Krishna not marry Radha?
A number of reasons have been suggested for why Krishna did not marry Radha. Among them: (1) Radha is already married, (2) Krishna knows that his destiny lies elsewhere, in a world unfit for a milkmaid, and (3) There was never any romantic or erotic love between Krishna and Radha; their union was emotional and spiritual rather than physical.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna did not marry Radha.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
The Krishna that we see in the Mahabharata is different in several ways to the Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana. The former primarily begins with Krishna’s exploits after he has established the kingdom of Anarta and the city of Dwaraka.
The latter describes Krishna’s life as a boy growing up in the cowherd village of Vrindavan. It ends with the toppling of Kamsa and the reinstating of Ugrasena as the king of Mathura.
A couple of things to note here:
- There is a bit of a blind spot, a few ‘missing years’ in Krishna’s life between the killing of Kamsa in the Bhagavata and his appearance at Draupadi’s swayamvara in the Mahabharata. During this time, Krishna and Balarama evacuate Mathura, migrate westward to escape Jarasandha, and establish the kingdom of Anarta.
- The two Krishnas are almost irreconcilable with one another. While in the Mahabharata he is depicted as a shrewd and selfish statesman, in the Bhagavata he is warm, loving and lovable.
There is another Krishna – a third variant – depicted in the Gita Govinda, which focuses primarily on Krishna’s relationship with the milkmaids of Vrindavan. Of these milkmaids, Radha is the important one.
Did Radha Exist?
While it is true that all three of these sources – the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, and the Gita Govinda – are stories of some form or another, it does not stop scholars from debating which of them is more ‘authentic’.
For instance, there is some overlap between the Bhagavata and the Gita Govinda, so whenever one of them contradicts the other, the older of the two is considered to be ‘right’, and the younger to be ‘wrong’.
The problem with Radha is that she does not get mentioned at all in the Mahabharata, hardly ever in the Bhagavata, and often in the Gita Govinda.
This has led some experts to speculate that perhaps the character of Radha did not exist at all, and that she has been created out of whole cloth by storytellers of the time to personify the milkmaids of Vrindavan – all of whom loved Krishna dearly.
It may seem like an academic discussion to wonder whether a fictional character existed at all, but as we shall see in the next section, it offers an explanation as to why Krishna did not marry Radha.
Radha in the Mahabharata
As far as the Mahabharata and its characters are concerned, Radha does not exist. Even Vrindavan, the cowherd settlement where Krishna is supposed to have grown up, is almost never mentioned.
The only time Krishna alludes to his roots is when he offers to Duryodhana his ‘Narayana Sena’, which he describes as a large army of cowherds. Not much of an explanation is given as to who these people are and where they live.
Within the Mahabharata universe, therefore, there is no Radha. The Krishna that we see in this story has never known a Radha, so he could not have married her.
Radha in the Bhagavata
In the Bhagavata Purana, which contains the story of the childhood of Krishna, Radha is not mentioned by name. But there are some places in which Krishna is cited as being smitten by ‘one particular milkmaid, in favour of whose company he deserted all his other friends’.
Some readers prefer to believe that these passages refer to Radha. There are also other subtle references that contain the sound ‘Radha’, which are argued by some as evidence for Radha’s presence.
Despite the fact that Krishna is raised lovingly by the milkmaids of Vrindavan, therefore, and despite the description of the Rasa Leela, there is no Radha here either.
So the Krishna we see in the Bhagavata is also unable to marry Radha because he does not know anyone by that name, not does he fall in love with her.
Radha in the Gita Govinda
Radha makes her first appearance as a major character in Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, a poem completely dedicated to Krishna’s relationship with the milkmaids and other women of Vrindavan as he grew into a young adult.
She is cast in the image of a romantic heroine, in whom Krishna displays considerable interest. Though he cannot be attained by any one woman, Radha comes the closest. Or so we’re told.
After this, several other works allude to Radha, and to the relationship between her and Krishna. She is sometimes exalted as being ‘greater than Krishna’. She is sometimes a maiden, sometimes a married woman, sometimes an older spinster.
The relationship between Krishna and Radha is also characterized in different ways. In some books they’re platonic friends. In some others she is his mentor. In yet others she is his playmate and lover.
Why did this Krishna not marry this Radha? The answer is perhaps he did. Because this Krishna – the Krishna of Gita Govinda – never leaves Vrindavan. He grows up here, lives and dies here. He probably married Radha and had many children with her.
A Definitive Answer
There are multiple theories on who or what Radha was and wasn’t. A few possibilities:
- Radha is an older milkmaid who looks after Krishna as a child and becomes a mother and mentor figure as the boy grows into his early teens. The relationship between the two is that of a mother and child. No romance ever enters the equation.
- Radha is younger than Krishna or around the same age. She is one of the gopis that Krishna plays with, and is someone for whom he has special affection. The two of them are friends. Here, too, the two never have romantic feelings for each other.
- Radha and Krishna are same-age playmates. Their friendship begins when they’re both children, ventures into romantic territory as they come of age, and we can safely conclude that they ‘love’ each other.
- Radha is older than Krishna, married to someone else, and is unabashedly attracted to Krishna as the boy begins to play his flute Here the relationship is tinged with innocence on Krishna’s part and with shame and guilt on Radha’s.
It is impossible to tell which of the above Radhas is the authentic Radha – if such a person as an ‘authentic Radha’ can exist.
Did Krishna promise Radha?
The most popular depiction of Radha-Krishna is as a similar-age couple who share a bond of deep romantic love. We’re not sure, however, if their romance ever blossomed into sexual or erotic territory.
Even if we assume it did, and even if we think it likely that there was an unsaid promise of love between them, it would have been impossible for Krishna to marry Radha because he was destined to leave Vrindavan and she – one assumes – would have been reluctant to do so.
Their love, therefore, is often depicted as pure, ephemeral, in-the-moment, and free of all contextual restraints. Radha and Krishna are symbols of a woman and a man who are in love despite the knowledge that they cannot be together.
It is the kind of love that cannot exist in real life, and therefore very attractive as an idea.
So why did Krishna not marry Radha? Here are the three main reasons:
- Radha did not exist at the time most of Krishna’s stories were written. We might therefore say that in Krishna’s mind, Radha simply did not exist.
- Radha and Krishna never had a romantic angle to their friendship. They were merely playmates. After Krishna left Vrindavan, he moved on from her – just like he moved on from all his other relationships.
- Radha and Krishna did share a romance, and Krishna did promise Radha that he will marry her. But the force of his destiny was strong enough to wrench him away from her.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story