Whenever anyone talks about Krishna’s story they cannot help but talk about the greatest love story of all time, the story of Radha and Krishna. Rukmini was his chief wife and she was virtuous, beautiful and dutiful. But did Krishna love Rukmini? Whether he loved her or not we will come to that later but both Rukmini and Radha loved Krishna dearly.
Who was the greater lover?
Once upon a time, when Krishna was with his wife, Rukmini, Narada Muni walked into their home, greeting them with his signature line: “Narayan Narayan”. The gleam in his eyes gave Krishna a hint that Narada was up to some mischief. Krishna smiled. After the initial courtesies, Krishna asked Narada the reason for his arrival.
Narada was evasive and wondered aloud whether a devotee ever needed to have a reason to meet his idol. Krishna was not one to be taken in by such talk and he knew only too well that Narada would never come to the point directly. He decided not to pursue the matter further and let Narada have his way. He would gauge the situation as it evolved.
Rukmini offered Narada fruits and milk, but Narada refused because he said that he was too full and wouldn’t be able to have even the smallest piece of a grape. At that Rukmini was quick to ask him where it was that he had been before he came into their home.
In Krishna’s story, Radha is always there
Without looking at Krishna, Narada said that he had been to Vrindavan. The Gopis, especially Radha, he said had forced him to eat so much that if he had one more morsel his insides would burst. The mention of Radha made Rukmini anxious and her face reflected her displeasure. This was just the reaction Narada was waiting for.
Krishna knew what was coming. He asked Narada to tell them what had happened there. Narada said, “Well, all I said was that I had been to Mathura and had met Krishna. No sooner had I said that they left all their work and began asking about you. All except Radharani, she stood in a corner and heard them silently. She had no questions, which was surprising.”
Rukmini too seemed surprised but she didn’t say a word. Narada did not need any coaxing to continue, “I couldn’t help but ask her why it was that she had no questions. She merely smiled and said: ‘What does one ask about someone who is always with you?” Narada paused and looked at Rukmini.
“But I love him more!”
Rukmini’s face had changed colour. She seemed angry. Krishna decided to keep quiet. Surprisingly, Narada too decided to enjoy the silence in the room. After a few minutes, he belched. The sound of his burp was enough to destroy Rukmini’s poise. Upset, she asked him whether the reason for his visit was to taunt her and let her know that Radha didn’t feel the absence of Krishna who had left her a long time ago. And she went on to tell Narada, she was Krishna’s wife and his present. Radha was his past and that is where matters should rest. There was no need to discuss this any further. Did Krishna love Rukmini? Yes. Rukmini had no doubts he did.
By this time Narada was beginning to enjoy himself. “Past, what past? That’s not the feeling I got when I went to Vrindavan. Radha doesn’t speak about the lord in the past tense. He exists in every moment of hers. Isn’t that surprising? I actually wonder how?”
Rukmini was getting angrier and angrier and even more so because Krishna was quiet and smiling. And addressing Narada though it seemed that she was indirectly speaking to Krishna, she said “Munivar, there is no doubt about my love for the lord though I do not believe in quantifying my love, and so it is a waste of time comparing. But I know that there can’t a greater lover of the lord than me.”
So saying Rukmini left the place in a huff. Krishna smiled and Narada bowed and left saying, “Narayan Narayan”.
Related reading: A story of how Krishna treated his two wives fairly
Testing the love
A few days later Krishna fell ill and no medicines could cure him. Rukmini was worried. A celestial vaidya arrived at their home saying that he had been sent by the Ashwins, the celestial doctors. The vaidya was none other than Narada in disguise and, needless to say, the entire charade was a joint act by Narada and Krishna.
The vaidya examined Krishna and said gravely that he was suffering from a debilitating disease which had no cure. Rukmini looked worried and asked him to save her husband. After a long pause, he said that there was a cure but it was not easy to procure. Rukmini asked him to go ahead and tell her what he needed to help her husband get better.
The vaidya said that he would need the water which had washed the feet of someone who loved or adored Krishna. Krishna would have to drink the water and only then he could be cured. Rukmini was taken aback. She did love the lord, but making him consume water which had washed her feet, would be a sin. After all, Krishna was her husband. She could not do that she said. Queen Satyabhama and the other wives also declined.
When love is greater than social norms
The vaidya then went to Radha and told her everything. Radha immediately poured some water on her feet and gave it to Narada in a cup. Narada warned her about the sin that she was about to commit but Radha smiled and said, “No sin can be greater than the life of the Lord.”
Rukmini was embarrassed when she heard this and accepted that there was no greater lover of Krishna than Radha.
While this story brings out the conflict between Rukmini and Radha, it also ends up pitching two kinds of love. Love within an established relationship and love outside a relationship. Rukmini’s love is that of a wife, who seeks love in return for love. She is also constrained by society and its dos and don’ts. Radha’s love is not bound by a social contract and is thus boundless and free of expectations. Besides, Radha’s love is unconditional and non-reciprocal. It is perhaps this factor that made Radha’s love greater than the rest. It is also probably the reason why the love story of Radha and Krishna is more popular than that of Krishna and Rukmini or other consorts. That is why Radha’s name comes first in Krisha’s story. We can take love lessons from Radha and Krishna.