Radha, one of several revered goddesses in the Hindu tradition, provides her worshipers with what is widely considered an appropriate metaphor for the divine-human love affair. David Kinsley writes in his pan-Hindu text/source book, Hindu Goddesses, of the origins of the divine love relationship between Radha and the extremely important male deity, Krishna. Explicit references to Radha in the Hindu cannon do not appear until rather late in the religion's trajectory, most notably in Jayadeva's Gitagovinda (see below post).
Kinsley writes, however, that starting in Northern India in roughly 500 C.E. there began a "mythological tradition surrounding Krishna's sojourn in Vraja and his dalliance there with the gopis, the cowherd women of the village" (p.83). It is from the gopi tradition that the character of Radha truly develops. Although Krishna had long been worshiped as a supreme god, the Vraja mythology additionally gives him the reputation as ideal lover. Kinsley expounds:
The gopis "are all married women, but none is able to resist Krishna's beauty and charm. He is described as retiring to the woods, where he plays his flute on autumn nights when the moon is full. Hearing the music, the women are driven mad with passion and give up their domestic roles and chores to dash away to be with Krishna [...] They are so distraught and frenzied as they rush to his side that their clothes and jewelry come loose and fall off (10.29.3-7). The text makes no attempt to deny the impropriety of the gopis' leaving their husbands and abandoning their social responsibilities in order to make love to Krishna" (p.84).
Indeed, Kinsley continues, "the nature of true devotion, the text [in this case, the Bhagavata-purana] says, is highly emotional and causes horripilation, tears, loss of control, and frenzy (11.14.23-24). Those who love the Lord truly behave like the gopis. When they hear his call they abandon everything to be with him. Even though they are married [...], even though they incur the censure of society, they rush off to be with Krishna when they hear his call" (84-85).
This utter disregard for societal norms and values is thus an appropriate metaphor for how one should act in devotion toward God. Jayadeva takes this gopi model of many cowherdesses and applies it specifically to Radha in his epic, Gitagovinda, elevating Radha's status as a gopi higher and more special to Krishna than the other women, and thus making her a specific object of worship.
Does anyone see something wrong with this story? Look, I imagine that if I had been born female and encountered someone who seemed to be a combination of King David's military prowess and musical skills and King Solomon's ability to pull off some 1,000 wives and still keep the peace in the home, I might be tempted to cheat, too. Even though Kinsley, and to be sure the theologians who are Radha and Krishna devotees, explain that the love affair notion is just a metaphor for how one should act toward his/her god, it seems more than a little problematic to encourage infidelity, metaphorical or not. What kind of example does it send to the men out there? Maybe this is crude, but it's hard not to think of the Krishna paradigm as being misappropriated to encourage extra-marital relationships and upon chastisement using religious texts to justify actions.
I don't know, something about the cheating gopi just doesn't rub me the right way even if it is at the end of the day her choice...