Srimati Radharani is the Supreme Form of Divine Love.
I was on my way to Pandharpur with a small group of devotees when we got stuck in a traffic jam. I took the opportunity to get off the bus and stretch a bit. Seeing my devotional attire, a few villagers approached me and began to pose philosophical questions. As soon as the subject of Radharani came up, one of them interrupted me, “But Radha and Krishna were never married,” he objected. 
Having spent so many years in the movement, I had anticipated a challenge and was prepared to confront him. “Supreme Lord or not,” he continued, “how can we worship an illegitimate relationship?” My guess was correct. It was a sensitive topic and there was not much time to discuss it. I decided to keep my answer short and simple.
The Qualification to Understand
“Let us admit that we have hardly any interest in spiritual topics,” I began. “In our list of priorities – which include food, family, and career – spirituality comes up last, if it comes up at all. So, when trying to understand philosophy, we resort to imagination, not bothering to hear from an authority on the subject, nor caring to know what the real truth might be.”
Without waiting for a response, I continued, “We are influenced by the internet, television, newspapers, magazines, pundits, and scientists who put forward their theories based on speculation. It’s not just that unscrupulous people transmit false information, they often intentionally mislead others with half-baked theories, destroying faith in God and His supreme divinity. When it comes to personal matters – choosing a career, spouse, job – we do whatever we can to avoid making the wrong decision. But to arrive at a philosophical conclusion, we rarely stop to check if we’ve consulted a reliable source. Just see how callous we are about spiritual inquiry! And this is to say nothing of how little we realize the need to seriously take up some spiritual discipline and transform our lives.”
“But to some extent we do get knowledge from traditional sources,” one villager objected. 
“Undoubtedly, yes,” I replied. “But to understand spiritual concepts, we cannot employ the usual methods. Just as diving deep into the ocean requires special equipment, to dive into the ocean of spiritual knowledge we need to equip our consciousness. If we try to understand esoteric spiritual topics with only our impure and stunted intelligence, we will only be deluded.
“Spiritual subjects belong to a different plane, transcendental to this world, which is marked by duality. The safest way to understand spirituality, as Lord Krishna recommends in the Gita (4.34), is by approaching someone who is self-realized, someone who has understood the truth by practical experience.”
Svakiya-Rasa and Parakiya-Rasa
“But why does Lord Krishna act in such bewildering ways?” another villager wondered aloud. I could understand he was referring to Krishna’s romantic episodes with Radharani and the gopis.
“Bhaktivedanta Swami explains that the two transcendentalists Radha and Krishna are a puzzle to materialists. (Cc. Madhya 4.56) In this world, a man and woman can have two types of relationships – marital and illicit, or in scriptural terms, svakiya- and parakiya-rasa respectively. Being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna can enjoy both forms of relationships. The queens of Dvaraka, like Rukmini and Satyabhama, are related to Krishna in svakiya-rasa, while Radharani and the young gopis of Vrindavana enjoy with Krishna in parakiya-rasa. But, unlike the extra-marital relationships in this world, the parakiya-rasa of Krishna and His gopi girlfriends is in no way illicit. 
“Philosophically, all living entities are part and parcel of Krishna, including the residents of Dvaraka and Vrindavana, and so Krishna has the right to enjoy with them as He likes. We cannot protest His actions. 
“Actually, it appears that extra-marital affairs are more enjoyable than marital ones. There’s a particular excitement that comes from such a relationship. That’s probably the reason why year after year Bollywood churns out more movies centered on extra-marital affairs. But the illicit affairs of this world are perverted reflections of Goloka’s original pure parakiya-rasa, which is untainted by the sort of selfish exploitation that characterizes mundane relationships. And if even we are eager to enjoy extra-marital affairs, how can we fault Krishna for indulging in such activities?
“The activities of the spiritual world are like a movie whose director, producer, and screenwriter are all Krishna Himself, who personally empowers His lila-sakti to orchestrate the charming activities we come to know as the Lord’s pastimes. When anyone hears about Krishna’s charming diversions, he or she develops a desire to be reunited with the Lord in His spiritual abode and rejoin the fun. Speaking about the specific pastimes Krishna enjoys with the gopis, Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami writes (Cc. Adi 4.47), ‘Therefore I call it madhura-rasa. It has two further divisions, namely wedded and unwedded love. There is a great increase of mellow in the unwedded…mood. Such love is found nowhere but in Vraja.’
Lust and Love
“But the same scriptures forbid us to indulge in illicit affairs,” my companions all pointed out, together. “Are the scriptures wrong?”
“No, this prohibition applies to us,” I said. “Due to impure hearts, all living beings have the tendency to commit sin, and illicit relationships perpetuate that tendency. The Vedic scriptures therefore prescribe marriage as a means of regulation. By restricting a man’s enjoyment with one wife, thereby avoiding sexual relationships with other women, he can gradually purify his tendency toward lust. Lord Krishna, however, is known as apapavidham, pure and antiseptic. He is transcendental to all such rules and regulations, because everything and everyone belong to Him, including all men, women, and other living things. Krishna can enjoy with anyone as He likes; there is nothing illicit about anything the Lord does.
“Krishna is known as atmarama; He is self-satisfied. When He wants to enjoy, He doesn’t depend on any external object or person. He enjoys through the agency of His internal potencies, the chief manifiestation of which is Srimati Radharani, His pleasure potency. Sri Radha is not different from Krishna. 
radha-krishna eka atma, dui deha dhari’
anyonye vilase rasa asvadana kari’
“‘Radha and Krishna are one and the same, but They have assumed two bodies. Thus They enjoy each other, tasting the mellows of love.’ (Cc. Madhya 4.56)
“Illicit sex is considered abominable because it leads to unrestricted sense gratification, which invariably causes frustration. Considering only our own sensual enjoyment, we selfishly try to extract the maximum amount of pleasure from our partner. These relationships thrive on always determining “What’s in it for me?” And as soon as the enjoyment stops, the relationship is over. Spiritual relationships, however, are based on giving pleasure to the beloved. Krishna’s relationship with Radharani is based on just this sort of selflessness. The same is true of His relationships with all His parts and parcels.
“What we call love in this world is not love at all. It’s lust. True love, devoid of any ulterior motive, gives the soul lasting satisfaction. For that reason Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami compares love to gold and lust to iron – both may be metals, but there is a gulf of difference between them.
My audience was not yet convinced. “I don’t believe such a relationship could exist anywhere,” one man interjected.
“It’s true. Such relationships do not exist in the material world,” I explained. “They exist only in the spiritual world, which is beyond the reach of our mind and senses. The pure love of the spiritual world may not resemble anything we have seen or experienced, but when we stubbornly disbelieve in such affairs, we try to bring God down to our level by criticizing His divinity or, worse yet, we imagine ourselves to be God and foolishly try to imitate His activities. Imagining themselves to be Krishna, many imposters in India unscrupulously maintain illicit relationships with women in the name of spirituality. If Krishna’s amorous adventures with the gopis were so cheap and mundane, then why would strict sannyasis like Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Jayadeva Gosvami worship such affairs?”
Glorification by Great Devotees
“But if Lord Krishna wanted,” one villager began, “He could have married Radharani, thus putting all confusion to rest.”
“Confusion exists in our polluted minds, not in Krishna,” I said, trying to explain a deeper truth. “By indulging in extra-marital affairs with Radha and the gopis, Krishna wants to celebrate their unparallelled devotion. A wife is naturally loyal to her legally married husband. But if she wants to pursue a relationship with a paramour, she has to undergo great struggle. The cowherd girls of Vrindavana had to fight against all social conventions – at the cost of their own reputations – in order to respond to Krishna’s call of love. Lord Krishna personally testified that their sacrifice was so great He will never be able to repay them.
“But some people don’t accept Radharani,” the same villager countered. “According to them, nowhere in Bhagavad-gita or in Srimad-Bhagavatam will you find the name Radha.”
I had been waiting for this question. “Bhagavad-gita is the preliminary study of spiritual science, beginning with understanding the difference between body and soul. Radha-tattva, the esoteric truth surrounding Sri Radha, lies at the furthest limit of spiritual understanding and realization. Radharani is so exalted that Lord Krishna personally appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu just to try to fathom Her love. How can a first-grader be expected to understand post-graduate material? How can we, who have not even grasped the elementary wisdom of the Gita, understand something that God Himself has difficulty comprehending?”
“As far as Srimad-Bhagavatam is concerned,” I continued, “Sanatana Gosvami explains why Srila Sukadeva Gosvami never mentioned Radharani in his Bhagavatam recitation. Sukadeva Gosvami was an extremely elevated devotee of Sri Radha. If he had mentioned Radha’s name, he would have plunged into an ocean of ecstasy, and his recitation of Srimad-Bhagavatam would have stopped. Given the urgent need of Maharaja Parikshit, Sukadeva did not want to take that risk. The Gosvami did however indirectly mention the name of His worshipable mistress, Sri Radha, by reciting this verse (Bhagavatam 10.30.28):
anayaradhito nunam
bhagavan harir isvarah
yan no vihaya govindah
prito yam anayad rahah
“The word anayaradhito indirectly refers to Radharani, whom Sukadeva Gosvami identifies as a ‘particular gopi’ who had ‘perfectly worshipped’ Krishna. In this section of the Bhagavatam, the Lord – Himself identified here as Bhagavan, Hari, Isvara, and Govinda – singles out Srimati Radharani by choosing Her as His favorite among all the gopis.” 
The traffic had still not cleared. The rest of the devotees on the bus decided to get out and start a kirtana. I wanted to join them. Hoping to conclude the conversation, I said, “So you can never separate Radha and Krishna. One of our acaryas, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, ‘Just as there is no such thing as sun without heat or light, I do not accept a Krishna who is without Sri Radha!’” (Gitavali, Radhastaka 8)
“From what you’ve said, it’s clear that this subject is not so easy to understand,” one of the villagers concluded, “but if you meet someone who knows, it’s not difficult either.” 
“You’re right,” I said, and walked away to join the devotees.
Vamsivihari Dasa is the associate editor of Bhagavad-darsana, the Hindi edition of Back to Godhead.