Here, Ranchor Prime shares with me the ways in which he feels Radha can strengthen spiritual environmentalism. He links reverence for the feminine power of Radha to respect for all mothers, whether that is Mother nature, Gomata, or human women.
KJ: Is there a place for Radha in all of this? She is notably absent from environmental discourse in Vrindavan.
RP: Of course there is a place for Her. My personal realization here is that Radha’s role needs to have an independent significance away from just serving a as consort of Krishna. She has her own power. I would like to see icons of Radha in her power, because that’s what’s missing.
What is missing in the world, and has been for thousands of years, is the honoring of the divine feminine. I see this in the way that women themselves have been dishonored despite their revered roles as mothers and also in the way that animals – here I am thinking cows , who are also mothers, have been treated so badly all throughout history outside of India.
Then there is the mother of all – Mother Earth – who is also being dishonored. Her link to the feminine divine is indisputable; no one never talks about “Father Earth,” do they? This is because she is Mother Earth. The sky is addressed as father, the sun is addressed as father – but the earth is feminine, in Hindu culture and beyond. From the Hindu point of view, she is a goddess who is the consort of Vishnu. I have an image with which you are probably familiar: it is of Varaha, the Vishnu avatar who rescued the earth. The classic image of Varaha shows him sitting with Bhumi on his lap – she is his consort.
Bhu Devi is another form of Radha, the female Godhead. Radha appears in many roles. As well as being Krishna’s lover she appears as Divine Mother, as giver of inspiration, as comforter, and as the power of Nature. I want to see her honored in such ways in her own right, her own power.
Another example of Her importance in Vrindavan is that her name is used in all manner of greeting there: outside ISKCON they don’t say “Hare Krishna” -even though in “Hare Krishna” “Hare” is Radha -they just say Sri Radhe. I think Radha is hugely important.
KJ: So why then do you think Radha has been largely left out of environmental discourse in Vrindavan thus far when her name is on everyone’s lips?
RP: Because although she is spoken about with sentiment, in reality the men abuse the women in Vrindavan. I know they do, and that’s why. Not just in Vrindavan, but all over India. You would know better than me. Of course being in India as a Westerner gives you a different status and also in your case as an educated Westerner, you were able to take on the men. I think I saw and heard accounts of you going at it and that made me happy when I saw that.
What’s missing , not only in Vrindavan, but in worldwide culture, is the honoring of earthly manifestations of this divine feminine. If we can’t honor the feminine, we dishonor ourselves, there’s no doubt about it.
KJ: And what of notions that Radha’s divinity is mostly derived from the fact that she is the perfect devotee? Do you think that this role of servitude places limitations on the scope of Her power as you have just described it?
RP: I would actually like to see Radha elevated away from the limiting role of nothing more than the lover of Krishna; most who conduct only a surface inquiry into the Krishna lila end up conceiving of Her in this way. She is seen as just a girl Krishna dallied with in the woods, and most people can’t get that at all.
I think that pastimes such as the Ras Lila receive too much emphasis, because to me it is so far beyond anything relevant to daily life for most people. Of course it is deeply profound and mystical, but it takes the uninitiated and the unprepared away from ways in which spiritual philosophies are meant to guide our lives as engaged citizens. Religion can become avoidance rather than awareness sometimes and that’s the problem.
I would like to see Radha portrayed as a powerful goddess who can actually become an image of divine nature for all of us. As far as your question about servitude goes, the divine relationship has been and should be characterized as reciprocal: I have heard it said that some people worship Radha because She is dear to Krishna, but others worship Krishna because He is dear to Radha.
This last notion is the one we could be focusing on – Radha is immensely important in the the concepts of Radha-Krishna, of Vrindavan and of the universe; in today’s world, we need to correct the balance to reflect this.
The next and final segment of my interview series with Ranchor Prime will focus on current environmental threats to Vrindavan, the Keshi ghat flyover debate, Primes latest efforts in faith-based conservation and what he sees as a way forward for Vrindavan conservation.
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