Song of Radha, the Milkmaid – Sarojini Naidu’s Poem

SONG OF RADHA, THE MILKMAID —text and critical study by Mandira Chattopadhyaya Labels: Literary Criticism I carried my curds to the Mathura fair… How softly the heifers were lowing… I wanted to cry, “Who will buy The curds that is white as the clouds in the sky When the breezes of Shravan are blowing? ” But my heart was so full of your beauty, Beloved, They laughed as I cried without knowing: Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! How softly the river was flowing! I carried the pots to the Mathura tide… How gaily the rowers were rowing! My comrades called, “Ho! Let us dance, let us sing
And wear saffron garments to welcome the spring. And pluck the new buds that are blowing. ” But my heart was so full of your music, Beloved, They mocked when I cried without knowing: Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! How gaily the river was flowing! I carried my gifts to the Mathura shrine… How brightly the torches were glowing! I folded my hands at the altars to pray “O shining ones guard us by night and by day”- And loudly the conch shells were blowing. But my heart was so lost in your worship, Beloved, They were wroth when I cried without knowing: Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! Govinda!
How bright the river was flowing! Substance of the poem Radha, the milkmaid is carrying curds to Mathura (Krishna’s birthplace) where the spring festival is going on. Cows are lowing softly in the fields. Radha, wishing to give out her trade cry to sell her curds that is as white as the autumn clouds, instead, calls out My Lord! My Lord! Everybody laughs. The river Jamuna flows on softly, as if appreciating her chant. Radha reaches the bank of the river to cross by the ferry boat. Her female companions want to wear the saffron garments, the color of spring, and want to sing and dance and pluck the new buds.

Radha’s heart swells with the music of her Beloved Lord Krishna. She cries in ecstasy when others humor her. The river Jamuna flows on joyfully regardless. Radha reaches, with her gifts of curds, the temple, where the torches are brightly burning. She folds her hands to pray to the deity, encircled by snakes, and prays for protection while the conch shells are blown. Her heart is lost to the vision of her Beloved Lord and she calls out the name involuntarily. Others become angry. But the river Jamuna flows on while her water dazzles in the light of the torches. A critical estimate of the poem
The title of the poem transports us to another world, to an environment of fertility and abundance. Mother Nature abounds the earth with the flow of her liquid. This white liquid symbolizes affection and nurturing of life. Radha, the daughter of Mother Nature carries the liquid of life and growth to all living beings. Mathura is her destination where Krishna, the Divine Musician holds everybody mesmerized with his mystic presence. The heifers herald her arrival to Mathura where she will pour into the pots the liquid which she has brought- energy and power from the mother Earth.
It is worth noticing that Sita, the other daughter of mother Earth also represents all that stand for productivity. Mathura is here the center of life and abundance. While the cow is the species, that represents the flow of life and abundance. Radha feeds and nurtures life. Even the clouds in the sky, white and creamy, are part of the resources of life. The clouds and breeze together produce rain to awash the earth with the energy and moisture that coaxes the dormant vitality into life energy. The time of the year should also be noted.
It is the time of incessant rain, the month of Shravan (August- September), when the life- giving moisture bursts forth. Radha’s heart wavers from her task in hand. She yearns for her union with Divine Musician, a presence that encompasses every soul of Mathura. She is absorbed, heart and mind, in his mystic presence and the trade cry she is supposed give out does not come to her lips- only the name of Govinda, the Omnipresent, the Omniscient and the Omnipotent, coming spontaneously from her heart, reverberates.
The poet, here, juxtaposes the two conceptions, the flowing of the river and Radha’s yearning for a communion with Krishna. Radha is presented in the poem in the first person. In the first stanza she refers to the commodity she is carrying. Her mind is somewhat attached to the earthly duties and nature of her work. Even in her surroundings she hears the cry of the heifers, an animal she connects with her trade. In the second stanza, her mind is drawn towards the joy and gaiety of nature.
She feels the abundance in her heart Life is flowing everywhere. Dear Mantu We are nown drawn to Indian English literature and your attempt at decoding Sarojini is a wonderful effort to that end Yes Indian English literature could be successful only when India breathes through the language of the Teutonic school and here is an instance of success Ihave read your substance and critical comments with great interest and I have a few reflections on the poem that I submit before you
Firstly Idont think that there is any clue in the text wherefrom we could infer that Krishna is at Mathura when Radha comes there Secondly though Vrindavan has not been mentoioned here it is clear that Radha comes from elsewhere to Mathura to sell her milk product She comes from the other side of Jamuna She comes from her village Mathura is a trade centre and town The poem on the surface dwells on a maid who comes to the town for selling milk product But her head is full of Govinda So instead of paying attention to her etting and spending and instead of giving her trade cry with gusto she unaware of herself cries aloud the name Govinda her sweetheart A wonderful portrait of a loveladen heart of a village girl Methinks the the heifers donot low at the place fair at Mathura They lowed whhen she was carrying her milk product and setting out for Mathura Then the Jamuna and the boat journey with her comrades and finally at Mathura at the fair and at the temple Thus four vignettes one after another pass by before our minds eye The prayer at the temple is very touching Because it is for achieving nothing great May all the gods protect us That is all Just as the naive boatman when encounters the godhead incarnated as goddess Annapurna in
Bharatchandra only prays that her should remain well fed That is all These simple folks are very much unlike us They dont want to be a scholar or a scientist or a president Bush Me thinks that the truly Indian attitude towards life along with the breeze of the month of Shravan blows through the poem Mind you the poem has some riddles in it to ponder over The curds are as white as the clouds in the clear sky But the time when Radha crosses the Jamuna is Shravan when there no white clouds But Radha fails to announce the good quality of her curds Because the blue clouds of the month of Shravan seem to engross her Again it is Shravan to Radha when her comrades want to don saffron robes in harmony with the spring time So many seasons at the same time draws my attention Thuis all the seasons are subjective Jamuna flows between the place where Radha stays and the place where Radha works for money Jamuna is a chasm between the two worlds —-one where love reigns and the other where exchange reigns The way you have interpreted milk is quite convincing Indeed it is from the villages that energy flows to rejuvenate the life in the cities
On another level Go vinda might mean the centre of the earth or universe or the source of all light Of course Radha is the symbol of the earth Her heart is full of the longing for the skies There you read the myth of Gaia and Ourania Dyaus and Prithivi And you have legitimately brought Sita and Radha together. Regards Ramesh Dear Mandira, The beautiful poem -Songs of Radha the Milkmaid that you have selected from Sarojini Naidu’s book of poems incites me to share something. I, myself am very much fond of *Kirtana *-the art form that sings basically the lila of Radha and Krishna,particularly the *Biraha *portion when Krishna left Radha in Brindavan and himself went to Mathura to perform another duty and activities. Radha remained ever engrossed in the thoughts of Krishna and waited for his return. Whenever any cart etc. came from Mathura she rushed there in the hope that her beloved must have come back . But in vain.
The love-lorn Radha became more sad. I am giving below a song that portrays this in a poignant manner; Piya tora kaisa abhiman Saghana sawan laye kadama bahar Mathura se doli laye charo kahar Nahi aye nahi aye Kesaria balma hamar Angana bara sunsan Apne nayan se neer bahaye Apne Yamuna khud aphi banaye Lakh bar usme nahaya Pura na hoi asnan Phir pura na hoi asnan Sukhe kesh rukhe besh Manua bejaan In this backdrop I would like to give my interpretation. Radha had not actually gone to Mathura . Rather in her inner mind flashed what would happen had she gone to Mathura fair, Mathura tide,Mathura shrine respectively. In the Mathura fair she would sell her curd.
As Radha did not have any idea about the life style of Mathura -the capital city,hence she imagined that heifers would be there and they were lowing softly in the hope of the union of Radha and Krishna as they had done in Brindavan. Radha would not sell milk;in its stead curd. Why? Because her love for Krishna that hand turned from milk to curd in the absence of Krishna/Gobinda . But it remained as pure and white as the white cloud of the sky. But mind that though Shravan breeze were blowing yet the cloud was white. How is it possible? As because Krishna was not with Radha hence there was Shravan breezes blowing in her mind/sky . Radha would sell her product only to Krishna Her mind was full of pure love for Krishna;( i. e.. the white cloud). After shower the sky becomes clear. So happened in case of Radha’s mind. Unaware she uttered Gobinda! Gobinda.
And even when her friends might laugh at her her pent up thoughts were released and her mind got a relief. Her conscious mind /the river started flowing softly. The other two stanzas may be similarly explicated. I resist myself to do that. Does it seem to be too far fetched . With love and with the hope to hear more from you. Dipika Dear Dipikadi, Thank you very much for your own interpretation of the poem. You are wonderfully lyrical and your point of view has added dimensions to the simple village girl’s vision of her divine Beloved. Please write your point of view on the other two stanzas too. best wishes Mondira In the second stanza, Radha imagined that she went to Mathura with her pot.
Within the pot Radha might have taken her love ,her longing for Krishna The imagery of pot at once reminds us of the individual body that separates us/here Radha from the union of our own god /Krishna. As soon as the earthen pot breaks there will be the eternal union. In this context, the word Mathura tide has a special import. Just as due to the attraction of the Moon there comes the high tide in the river,similarly Radha’s mind and body- her heart and breast swelled up being attracted to Mathura where her beloved resides. But as high tide and ebb tide come and go in alternate manner,similarly Radha’s emotion, feelings and demeanour changed- now elated and the next moment depressed.
While she thought of her union with Krishna there came the high tide. And there was all mirth and merriment. Merrily merrily the rowers, that is, her sweet memories were passing. There was abundance and abandon . At once spring came forth. Radha Krishna’s union is always associated with her *sakhis *-the comrades like the asto sakhis-Lolita ,Bisakha etc. Hence there appeared the comrades in colourful dresses . They were dancing, singing,plucking new buds to make garlands to greet the two beloved ones- Radha and Krishna. The new buds were blowing. How? There air blew gently. With this the flower plants also moved. As if the whole Nature took part and was happy with the union of Radha and Krishna.
The entire stage bacame colouful and moving with coloufully clad comrades dancing,singing along with ever blowing new buds on the plants as well as on the hands of the sakhis. The sakhis wanted to wear saffron coloured dress. Why? Because Krihna was not there. At once the colour reminds us the Hindu sanyasi/nies who used to wear saffron coloured dress. This is the colour of mensturation of the holy mother. This colour means detachment from the hurly burly of the mundane world. And so Radha could not take part in any paltry day to day activity and not in any mirth and merry. At once we can hear the unheard sound -Krihna se to nei nei re. The ebb tide- the depressed mood of Radha prevailed .
Her ears always heard Krishna’s music-Yeno nishi din murali dhani suni /Ujan bohe prem Yamunari bari /Nupuro hoye yano he Bonochari/Chorono jaraye dhore kandite pari/ Mamo madhuro minati sono Ganashyama Giridhari…. And Radha could not but cry out and utter Gobinda! Gobinda! The pent up emotion at once got released . And Radha’s mind became relaxed . And so did the river flow gaily. The high tide came instantly. In the third stanza we find Radha in a different mood. All passion being spent there was calm in mind. and in such a state on mind Radha imagined to visit the Mathura shrine. Rather now Radha was in a position to visit the Mathura shrine. If in the 1st stanza Radha ‘s conscious thoughts were described , it was on the surface level because the heifar used to gaze on the surface. nd Radha’s thoughts were moving softly like the soft lowing of the cows. But as soon as Radha uttered the word Gobinda her thoughts could delve deeper Her stream of consciousness started to flow softly . Thus then at once the setting changed from the land to river. In the 2nd stanza her thoughts went deeper. May be it touched the pre-conscious level . Because there in the 2nd stanza in the dream like situation Radha could face her carnal desire towards Krishna. The imagery of pot, the buds , the dancing ,singing river water with high tide and ebb tide etc. all are suggetive to something associated with sexual acts. See, Inthe first stanza Radha ‘s mind was full of Krishna’s beauty.
Here she was con cerned of her beloved’s physical charm. But then the rowers came and rowed gaily and they were all mirth and mery ( may be Physical /sexual enjoyment were imaginatively faced. ) To face a desire four square means to become free of it. That is why in the second stanza Radha’s Mind became free from Physical desire rather she was concerned about Krishna’s sound. But the river i. e. the stream of conscous now moved gaily. The charm of sight and sound cannot last long. Hence shorn of carnal desires Radha’s love now can have the power to submit herself totally to her Beloved. Now neither her mind nor her body was disturbed .
They had been burnt up and thereby emitting light and thus acting as torches. Radha’s was now fit to meditate. Hence Radha in her mind went to the shrine. There she could find those bright lamps of pure love that gathered their brightness through penance. She with folded hands prayed not for herself but for us-the humanity as a whole; may be for all sentient and insentient odjects under the Sun. She asked not the union of Krishna but the well being of all and sundry by day and night. When those pure lights protect, who could dare to do any harm? Such catholicity of mind was at once applauded by gods also and the sound of conch-shell was heard as a sign of it.. May be this was the sound of Panchajanya -the conch shell that Krishna blew in the Kurukshetra at the begining of the battle). But now it was blown to declare that Radha had successfully over come her mean self-centred desires and she became victorious. But the desires, which were termed as Mara in the Buddhist literature, may be here personified . So they( the personified desires) were wroth just after the sound of the conch-shell odviouly they were annoyed as because they were defeated in their schemes to ensnare Radha. And unknowingly Radha uttered Govinda! Govinda! And her stream of consciosness shorn of all impurities became a river of bright light.
T his imagery of brightness reminds me the story of Ahalya who became bright through her penance when Ram visited her ( in Valmiki)/touched his feet ( in Krittivasa) on the place where Ahalya stayed and observed penance . Hard Penance made Ahalya a woman to be remembered every morning as per Hindu Sastra. Similarly Radha the eternal consort of Krisna is being worshipped through out Northen India for her selfless pure love for Krishna. Because now onwards ,we may easily guess thatRadha’s heart will ever remain lost in Krishna’s worship in contrast of her earlier heart full of krishna’s beauty, then her full of his music in the 1st two stanzas. We may easily imagine that now she can sit years after years in a meditative mood with her heart lost in Krishna’s worship . It is said that even today also Radha is waiting in Brindavan for her Beloved Krishna.

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