I am initiated Vaisnava, and I was always told that Vaisnavas and Shaktas are enemies and have opposite viewpoints. I am not so sure anymore that is so, though.
You see, I am a Radha bhakta. Which I think requires some explanation. I see Radha, not
(only) as the girlfriend of the cowherd Krishna, but as the supreme female power of everything, as Shakti, and as non-different from all the other Shakti manifestations. So my interest and bhakti goes directly into the Shakta realm. I see Durga, Kali and the other manifestations as the same person as Radha. They are just different forms for different purposes. For me there is no difference.
Recovering the Feminine
Chaitanya Vaisnavism, as far as I understand, is in core actually quite female-oriented, but as time has passed, for some reason, the male (Krishna/Visnu) aspect has come more and more into the foreground, and the female element (Radha) has been put more and more in the background. When the female element becomes forgotten, with it goes the philosophy about it, which changes the shape of the whole philosophy to something else.
For me, in this life, I actually started out trying to worship Kali a little, many, many years ago. But the I somehow was directed to Vaisnavism (by inner direction), took initiation from my Guru and lived under his direction doing sadhana in his asrama for many years.
Finally it happened that my guru broke with the other Vaisnavas and I remember his words to me: "They are offensive to Radha by minimizing her." Somehow that mystically started a spiritual process within me, and with it came the inner relization that I am not a Krishna bhakta, but a Radha bhakta.
I can't really explain it. It was like Radha's Shakti had appeared just to become my friend, and I started to see the whole world with different eyes. And there was also when the female side of spirituality opened up. In the lack of proper scriptures, proper gurus, there was like I had a teacher within myself telling me about this mystic spiritual path.
It is easy to see what happened. Spritual practice is mystical. It changes the you inside in ways that are not known in today's society. At some point you in some way open up a channel to the spiritual reality, and for some reason I opened up a channel to the female Shakti reality.
I have a strong feeling that in an earlier life I was a Shakta of some kind, worshiping the feminine. Maybe a Kali worshiper, or something, as Kali was the first that attracted my mind in this life. For some reason I in this life got trained in the Vaisnava philosophy and practices under his direction, and that led to where I am now. For me Kali is not something fearful, but just Radha in a kind of fearful mode. She is not just the pretty girl who is the lover of Krishna, but she is also the female Shakti, the force-energy of all manifestation.
Shrim Ram Radhikayai Namahe!
See the 108 Names of Radha.
"Portrait of Radha" by Raja Savant Singh. Rajasthani, Kishangarh, c. 1760.
Paint on paper, 19 x 14 in (48.2 x 35.5 cm). Kishangarh Darbar, Rajasthan.
"Radha Sketching Krishna," by Sri Kailash Raj, a modern artist.
Radha and Krishna: A Brief Introduction
Radha and Her amourous encounters with Krishna serve, on different levels, both as profound religious allegory and as appealing and sentimental tales of love and romance.
At the most profound level, Radha and Krishna are merely Vaishnava names for Shakti and Shiva -- they are One, the Unity of the Divine Feminine with the Divine masculine. However, in practice, most Vaishnavas place Radha as Krishna's subordinate rather than His equal –- and thus She is rarely afforded much attention in Shaktism either -- where the Goddess is seen as (at least) Her consort's equal, and acts largely independently of His influence.
In scripture and mythology, Radha never becomes quite as independent as, say, Lalitha Tripurasundari or the Nine Durgas or the Ten Mahavidyas. But She does appear, to those who pay attention, as something very close to Krishna's equal. The great literary classics that focus on the Radha-Krishna romance are the "Gitagovinda," a 12th Century epic by the Sanskrit master-poet Jayadeva; and the lyrically beautiful stories of a central Vaishnava scripture, the Bhagavata Purana.
Both of these masterpieces exalt Radha as a strikingly beautiful and compelling woman: Proud, intelligent, sensitive, brooding and passionate. She is a simple village woman, supposedly -- a cow-herdess (gopi), who is already married. And yet the sheer, sustained personal fascination and erotic power She wields over the God Krishna makes clear that She is no mere mortal or lesser shakti, but a full avatar of Devi Herself. Her earthly attachments do not get in the way of Her divine romance. Nor does her lowly social status keep Her from becoming the center of Krishna's world.
The popular tales of Krishna and Radha portray them coming together, separating, flirting, leaving, returning, quarreling -- and finally uniting in ecstasy, just as the individual soul finally unites with the Divine Unity.
(Introduction by the Shakti Sadhana founders.)
"Krishna Attends to Radha's Feet," painting on paper in the traditional miniature style,
by an anonymous modern artist.