Independence Day goosebumps

Indian flag - abstractToday is India’s 62nd Independence Day. I didn’t attend any flag hoisting ceremony. Nor watch on television the Prime Minister’s traditional salute to the flag and address to the nation.

What I did do was stumble upon AR Rahman’s brilliant rendition of Maa Tujhe Salaam/ Vande Mataram that features the kind of music only he can make.

I have heard the song and watched the video hundreds of times. But it still has the power to cause me goosebumps. No, to make me shed tears of simultaneous pride/ pity for this vast, weird and completely crazy country I happen to have been born in.

Don’t get me wrong. I am about as patriotic as the next steal-from-thy-neighbour and damn-the-country Indian. If I had to give up the comforts of home, I’d probably live abroad without much regret. But some things do move me. This song does. Watch it and feel it.

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Radha-Krishna: The greatest, unconsummated, love story ever

Did you know that, as per Indian mythology, Radha & Krishna never got married? Apparently, there are some intricate explanations for their unfulfilled – yet eternal – love. Non-religious that I am, I had never paid much attention to all those mythological stories that you tend to absorb no matter where you live, what you do and who you interact with, in India. If anything, these flotsam stories about divine love, about Krishna’s innumerable wives and his flirting around with all those gopis only pissed me off. Here was a guy we called God, I’d argue, and even he couldn’t stay faithful to one wife, one woman! And then we crib about the patriarchal society we live in!

After all, if you can block out the image of Ram asking his wash-his-feet-and-drink-the-water pativrata wife to take the Fidelity Fire Test, or of honourable Arjun wandering off and taking every beautiful woman he met as one of his wives, or of Krishna getting married to not one, two or three but to 16,000 women and fathering 16,000 children (!), well then I have very little to say to you. Except that you and I have nothing in common.

A few days ago, however, I attended a dear friend’s lavish wedding. The bride’s party had engaged a group of folk singers to keep the guests entertained as, onstage, the various rituals and pheras were being conducted. Though almost all the songs were in Gujarati with the vocals almost drowned out by the chanting of the priests or the chatter of the wedding guests, yet whatever little I heard of the music gave me goosebumps. Here and there I caught phrases about the various promises Radha makes to meet Krishna on the banks of the river, about how Krishna woos her with the music of his flute or about how nature rejoices at the union of these two divine souls, here on earth. Later, a Gujarati friend helpfully pointed out: “The music was so touching. All the vows, all the rituals of the wedding were being mirrored and enhanced by it. Each of the songs depicted the many moods of the Radha-Krishna pair – the greatest love story ever!”

After the wedding, I more or less forgot about the whole thing. Until recently when I happened to watch one episode of a TV series about Krishna. The characters were discussing how Radha and Krishna had been cursed by some saint (or someone of that sort) and would never be able to meet – post their childhood – for the duration of their earthly avatar. And it was a long duration – Krishna is believed to have lived to be approximately 125 years old!

5 minutes of googling told me this: In Indian tradition, Radha and Krishna are considered the most divine, the most passionate, of lovers. Yet they spent their lives never being able to consummate their love whether by sight or by touch. Apparently, at one point, Radha even asks Krishna to marry her (presumably before they were separated at around age 10). After making the request, when she turns around to face her lover, she finds another Radha standing in his place. And Krishna tells her: “Can you marry yourself? I am you, and you are me. We are one – how can anyone unite one entity?”

I admit I found this thought incredibly moving, deeply romantic. In a world where everything is so transient, where people divorce for reasons as trivial as you can imagine, can you also imagine a love so strong, so unshakeable, that 115 years of separation could do nothing to change that feeling?

Of course I do not believe that the people we worship as gods were anything more than the well-known, good or popular people of those times. By that token, I do not believe that Krishna and Radha were a god & goddess who came down to earth by divine plan. And if there is any truth to the stories, then whatever did happen, happened to normal earthly beings like you and me. Putting it in this perspective, I feel, only adds to the amazing dimensions of the Radha-Krishna love story (if it can be called that). Two average human beings, separated almost all their lives, yet carrying a torch for each other all through those long years. Now where do you find something of that quality anymore? 🙂