The supreme emotion, mahabhava, is the quintessence of prema or love. And Radha is the personification of this supreme emotion.
The play of Radha with Sri Krishna is very deep; it cannot be learnt from the dasya (servant-lord), vatsalya (child-parent) and other bhavas (emotions). The sakhis (those who express their devotion as a friend) alone are qualified for it. They alone can relish this leela. Sakhis, or those who worship Krishna in the spirit of his sakhis, have a right to this leela. A sakhi does not yearn to play with Krishna all by herself. She feels a keener delight in contriving Krishnas dalliance with Radha; Radha is indeed the wish-yielding creeper, kalpalata, of Krishnas love. The sakhis are the leaves, flowers and shoots of the creeper. If the nectar of dalliance with Krishna waters the creeper, then the leaves and the flowers take delight in it a million times more than if they themselves had been watered.
The sakhis do not long for Krishnas embrace, but they exert themselves to make Krishna embrace Radha. They send Krishna to her for this purpose under various pretexts. Thereby they attain a bliss much sweeter than that of selfish enjoyment. Their unselfish devotion towards each other strengthens the deliciousness, rasa. The sight of such unselfish, pure love pleases Krishna. The love felt by the gopis, the maidens of Vrindavan, is not earthly lust. Earthly lust seeks sensual gratification for ones own self. The gopis abandon all idea of self and seek Krishnas enjoyment. They do not yearn for their own pleasure. They embrace Krishna only to please him. Therefore, however much you worship Krishna, you cannot attain him if you only meditate on him as a divinity and not serve him as a gopi.
Radha is the centre of Krishnas love-sports and worship. She beholds Krishna in everything. Krishna is the supreme, matchless lover and Radha is identical with Krishna. She is part and parcel of Krishna, his love energy. Her sole object of existence is to fulfil the wishes of Krishna. Hence she is named Krishnamayi, the one who is full of Krishna, by the Puranas. Krishna is the charmer of all, and Radha is Krishnas charmer, therefore the supreme goddess. She is the fosterer and mother of the worlds. She is the presiding deity of the Lakshmis of Vaikuntha, the six divine attributes of Lord Krishna. She is the chief of Krishnas divine energies. She is the seat of concentrated beauties, the source and centre from which the Lakshmis draw their beauty.
Krishna is the embodiment of bliss. He is the source and centre of happiness. Krishna has a certain energy called antaranga or swaroopa shakti (inherent force), which has the power of giving delight to Krishna and his devotees. It is called ahladini shakti, delight-giving energy. Its essence is selfless, Krishna love, called ananda-chinmaya-rasa (the deliciousness of bliss and consciousness). The quintessence of this rasa or mahabhava is Radha.
The word Radha etymologically means a devotee. She is the chief of Krishnas sweethearts. The queens of Dwaraka are her reflections. Lalita and other gopis of Vrindavan are her manifold forms. She pervades the gopis in her subtle form in order to contribute to Krishnas enjoyment. Radha is Krishnas delighter and charmer. Radha and Krishna are inseparable as fire and its heat, ice and its coolness, the flowers and its fragrance.
Radhas body is made up of tenderness for Krishna. The substance of her subtle form is love for Krishna. Ardent passion for Krishna is her dress. Her radiant smile is the camphor. All the bhavas form her ornaments and limbs. Krishnas name and qualities are her ear ornaments and flow out in a stream from her tongue. She serves Krishna with the drink of prema rasa or Shyama rasa.
The culmination of bhakti is reached in madhurya bhava (the emotion of lover-beloved). The lover and the beloved become one through the intensity of love. This is the Radha experience. In madhurya bhava lies the closest relationship between the devotee and the Lord. There is no sensuality, no tinge of carnality. Ordinary people cannot understand this bhava, as their minds are saturated with lower sexual appetite. In the secular sphere the only love which approaches this bhava is the love a grown-up son has for his mother. Sufi saints also express this love. Gita Govinda written by Jaya Deva is full of madhurya rasa. The language which the mystic uses cannot be comprehended by an ordinary person. Only the gopis, Radha, Mira, Tukaram, Narada and Hafiz can understand it.
The gopis were the medium for the Lord to express the infinite variety of his bliss aspect. They were, in their previous birth, the sages of Dandaka forest, who wanted to embrace Rama. As Rama had taken the vow of being wedded to only one woman in that incarnation, he could not accede to their request, but promised to fulfil their desire in his next incarnation as Krishna. The sages were born as gopis in their next birth for eventual merging with the Lord. They had their husbands, parents and children, they had their worldly duties to perform, some of them arduous enough to require constant attention, but the gopis mind was always fixed on the Lord. When the time came for union with the Purusha of the Heart, when the signal music was heard, every gopi shook off all the bonds and offered herself up completely to the Lord. Nothing in the world could stop them.
This is the highest form of bhakti. They present an ideal to always hold before us. How can its glory be described?
Sri Krishna performed the Rasa Leela to destroy carnality through pure love. When the gopis approached their Lord, there was no human passion in them, no love of the flesh, no idea of material gratification. It was the attraction of the soul for the Oversoul. They placed themselves entirely at the service of the Lord. They were permeated with madhurya bhava. The Lord only cared for their yearning to unite with him and not for the worldly circumstances created by their prarabdha karma. The Vrindavan Leela is nitya, constant. The Rasa Leela is true for all times for bhaktas. It was meant to build faith, to strengthen spirituality, to improve the minds of the gopis in particular and humanity in general. It was not merely a historical incident, but an eternal fact. The gopis were not of the world. They had become purified by tapas in their previous birth so in this birth they could merge in the Lord. Krishna could not deny them his companionship. Nay, it was a great pleasure for the Lord that the jivas should return to him with all their spiritual experiences. The concession was natural and the joy was mutual.
Many ignorant people question Krishnas dalliance with the gopis. Let not the dullness of perception or the lust of passion sit judgement over this final beatitude of human aspiration. But in the midst of the union itself, there is a danger, a most subtle one at that: that of the egoism. I am in union with the Lord. The gopis thought of themselves and there was an instant break in the union. Krishna could not be seen anywhere. They imitated his actions in the world. They followed his footsteps wherever found. Tears rained down their cheeks. They now realized that the Lord they wanted was not only the son of Yashoda, but the Lord of the universe. They forgot their egoism in their wonderful realization and the Lord appeared again.
The best way to get rid of egoism is to forget it completely. This time there was union, but not individual union. Hand in hand, the gopis formed a circle with their Lord not the individual Lord but the Universal Lord making himself many in their hearts as well as externally and went on dancing with him. The people of Vraja, however, never missed their wives (gopis), through the Lords yoga maya. The devas looked with wonder and envied the lot of the gopis.
Meditate on the sublime ideas underlying each leela of the Lord. The doors of the Great Secret will slowly, one by one, open to reveal the truth. Once you tear this veil, you will realize you are the Lord Himself the state experienced by Radha.