Who is Nīlā-dēvī?
The purpose of this article is to answer a few questions:
- Who is Nila devi?
- Did Krishna marry her?
- Is she same as Radha?
- Is she same as Satyā/Nagnajitī?
There is evidence from the Vedas, the Ṡrī-ṡukta,
hrīṡ ca tē lakṣmīṡ ca patnyau
There are two conjunctions, ca, used here, even though one is enough. Hrī and Ṡrī respectively denote Bhūdēvi and Lakṣmīdēvi. The additional ca is indicative of Nīlādēvī. She is not directly mentioned, becuase Bhū and Nīla are considered as shadows and servants of Mahālakṣmī, for which the authority is Ṡrī-raṅgarāja-stava (Pūrva 63) of Parāṡara Bhaṭṭa, the direct disciple of Rāmānuja:
ṡrīrangarājam iha dakṡiṇa savya sīmnōḥ /
lakṣmīṃ vihāra-rasikām-iva rāja-hamsīm
chāyām-iva abhyudayinīm avanīm ca tasyāḥ //Pūrva 63//
“chāyam-iva” means shadow-like.
There is the direct evidence of the Nīla-sūkta in Taittirīya Kṛṣṇa Yajur-vēda 4.4.12, where a Viṣṇu-patnī (mentioned twice) is glorified as Ghṛtavatī and Payasvatī (bestower of ghee and milk). This is an allusion to Her incarnation as Nīlā-dēvi in Vṛndāvana during Kṛṣṇa’s childhood days in a cowherd family (more on this later).
In the work Prapannāmṛta of Anantācārya, the following is quoted (vide Ṡrīla Prabhupāda):
lakṣmī-dharaṃ vakṣasi paṅkajākṣam /
viṣṇuṃ dadṛṡur bhagavantam ādyam //
pārṡva-dvayē ṡōbhita-bhūmi-nīlam /
catur-bhujaṃ candana-ruṣitāṅgam //
“They saw the lotus-eyed Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, mounted on Garuḍa and holding Lakṣmī, the goddess of fortune, to His chest. He resembled a bluish rain cloud with flashing lightning, and in two of His four hands He held a conchshell and disc. His arms stretched down to His knees, and all His beautiful limbs were smeared with sandalwood and decorated with glittering ornaments. He wore yellow clothes, and by either side stood His energies Bhūmi and Nīlā.”
There is the following reference to the Śrī, Bhū and Nīlā energies in the Sītopaniṣad:
mahā-lakṣmīr dēvēṡasya bhinnābhinna-rūpā cētanācētanātmikā.
sā dēvī tri-vidhā bhavati ṡakty-ātmanā icchā-ṡaktiḥ kriyā-ṡaktiḥ sākṣāc-chaktir iti.
icchā-ṡaktis tri-vidhā bhavati ṡrī-bhūmi-nīlātmikā.
“Mahālakṣmī is the different-and-nondifferent form of the Lord of lords (Nārāyaṇa), consisting of material (acētana) and spiritual (cētana) potencies, and in both features She acts as the willing energy (icchā), creative energy (kriyā) and the internal (sākṣāt) potency. The willing potency is again divided into three, namely Śrī, Bhū and Nīlā.”
Nila devis is so-called because of her color.
nīlō-varṇaḥ asti asyāḥ iti nīlā
The definition shows that her name is derived from Her colour (blue).
Ramayana Balakanda 1.14.18 mentions that Vishnu has three wives (tasya bhāryāsu tisṛṣu):
tasya bhāryāsu tisṛṣu hrī-ṡrī-kīrty-upamāsu ca
viṣṇō putratvam āgaccha kṛtvātmānaṃ catur-vidham /R_1,014.018/
Hrī is the personification of Lord’s kṣamā, i.e., forbearance and patience to forgive our mistakes, so it is Bhūdevī.
Ṡrī is the personification of Lord’s dayā, i.e., compassion, so it is the wealth-bearing Ṡrīdēvī.
Nīlā or Kīrti is the personification of Lord’s saundarya and audārya, i.e., beauty and generosity, so it is the glory-giving (kīrti) Nīlādēvī.
nīlā nāmā ca kanyā sā rūpa-audārya-guṇānvitā
Ṡrī dēvī, Bhū dēvī and Nīlā dēvī are the three dēvīs who stay on both the sides of the Lord in Paramapadam. On the right side stays Ṡrī-dēvī celebrated by Ṡrī-sūktam. On the left are Bhū-dēvī and Nīlā-dēvī eulogized by Bhū and Nīlā sūktas respectively. Swamy Vedanta Desika composed Ṡrī-stuti, Bhū-stuti and Godā-stuti to celebrate these three divine consorts of Ṡrīman-nārāyaṇa.
Nīladēvī, the daughter of Kumbhaka, married Lord Kṛṣṇa
As mentioned in the Harivaṃṡa (southern recension)
It states that Yashoda had a younger brother called Kumbhaka, who was famous for his piety. He had a wife called Dharmadā, who true to her name, was a generous lady, and used to help everyone. They had a son, Sridama, and a daughter, Nila. They lived near Mithila, the kingdom of (the present) Janaka Maharaja.
The chapter goes on to describe how beautiful Nila was, how no one could equal her in all the worlds, the usual stuff.
Then it says,
एतस्मिन्नेव काले तु वृषरूपा महासुराः । कालनेमिसुताः सप्त विक्रान्ता बाहुशालिनः ॥ १२अ-१४
Which means, in this time, the seven sons of Kalanemi, who took the forms of terrifying bulls… (after fighting and losing to Vishnu, who then appeared in the Yadava dynasty)…
वृषरूपधराः सप्त कुम्भकस्य व्रजे वसन् । बलवन्तो महाशृङ्गा महाकुक्षिशिरोधराः ॥ १२अ-१७
came to hasten his death in the form of seven mighty bulls, living in the pastures of Chief Kumbhaka.
These bulls caused havoc, and Janaka told Kumbhaka to do something else he would be punished. Kumbhaka proclaimed,
तप्तानां वृषमल्लानां दमिता यो भवेद्भुवि । तस्मै कन्यां प्रदास्यामि नीलां नीरदलोचनाम् ॥ १२अ-३४
I will give my lotus eyed daughter Nila to the man who can control these seven ferocious bulls.
Then, Nandagopa arrives along with Rama and Krsna to Kumbhaka’s village. The bulls, in the night, slaughter the calves and their protectors (come on!). Some more gopas die. Then Krsna enters (finally). He tells Balarama the history of the bulls and says, “vayam ētair yathā yōgam krīḍāṃ kurmaḥ”, viz. “we shall play with these bulls however the time and situation permits!”
Then Krsna enters the arena, and with his powerful fists, sens each bull to Yamaloka one by one.
क्रमेण मुष्ट्या तान्सर्वान्हत्वा दैतेयगोपतीन् । नीलां हस्ते गृहीत्वाथ कृष्णस्तस्मिन्व्यरोचत ॥ १२द्-१३
One by one Krsna killed all the bulls and victoriously held the hand of Nila, taking an instant liking for her.
Then Krsna was duly married to Nila, and along with Balarama, Nanda, Sridama and others, returned to Vrindavana.
Nīlā is not the same as Rādhā
Some highlights from the Nārāyaṇāstra blog
- Neela Devi is another consort of Lord Vāsudeva eternally in the Vaikuntha Loka. She was born as a cowherd girl during Lord Krishna’s leelas on this earth and was very favored by the Lord. In this avatara, she is called “nappinnai” in Tamil by the AzhvArs, and is also mentioned in ancient secular Tamil literature (called “Sangam texts”). Some people confuse Radha with Neela Devi, but they are different.
- Neela Devi is not Saraswati. Neela Devi is a separate consort mentioned. She is understood to be indigo-hued (Shridevi i.e. Lakshmi is described as reddish, Bhudevi as dusky/dark green). Radha is not Neeladevi. Neeladevi is mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam as the one whom Krishna wed after taming 7 bulls in svayamvara. In Bhagavatam/Harivamsa she is mentioned as “Nagnajiti” or “Sathya”, and in Tamil scriptures as “Nappinnai”.
- Bhu and Nila are distinct consorts, who serve ShrI and assist her in her function of purushakAratva (mediatorship). Hence, our AchAryAs often refer to them as “shadows” of Lakshmi. Tulasi-devi is a distinct goddess who is revered for her connection with bhagavAn.
- The gopis (cowherd girls) are jIvAs who were rishis in a previous birth, and took birth as gopIs by virtue of their merit. They (including Radha) performed prapatti and attained moksha.
- Nila devi was born among the gopIs as well. She was the daughter of Kumbhaka, the brother of Yashoda. KrishNa married her after subduing 7 bulls. The southern recensions of harivamSha contain this story.
- ShrI krishNa was the only avatAra to have married all 3 devis (shrI, bhU and nIla) thus.
- The AchAryAs have mentioned that one should surrender to shrI rAma by seeking the mediation of Sita (Lakshmi), shrI varAha by seeking the mediation of bhU devi and shrI krishNa by seeking the mediation of nIla devi.
Can you celebrate Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa kalyāṇam (marriage)?
From Chinna jeeyar:
No. It is not. According to original srimad bhagavatham, composed by the great sage Veda Vyasa, there is no character called as “Radha” at all. The mention of Radha is available in rajasa purana like “brahma vaivartha puranam”.
We can take ’Radhaʽ as a symbol of devotee with selfless devotion. In sanskrit “radh” means to please. The devotion of one, who pleased Lord with his heart, deed and word, will be called as Radha. Because the word ‘devotion’ is in feminine gender, so the word ‘radha’ also became a feminine gender word. When a character is personified that character became ‘lady Radha’.
How Lord loves such a devotee and how such devotee is merged in Lord, is seen in Radha-Krishnas. Hence radha is not really a person, it appears. That is the reason why kalyanam is not performed to them. It is done to those who were really there during his period.
Thus, Chinna Jeeyar Swami and U. Ve. Velukkudi Krishnan Swami probably suggest that Radha did not actually exist as a Gopi during the time of Krishna, but instead is a personification of the Gopis’ Bhakti towards Krishna.
What is the relation between Nagnajiti/Satyā and Nīlā-dēvi?
Both Rāmanujīya and Mādhva traditions agree that Kṛṣṇa married Nīlādēvi as the first wife, while He was still a cowherd, by taming seven bulls. She was the daughter of Kumbhaka, the brother of Yaṡōdā (Harivaṃṡa chapter). That is, even before the marriage with Rukmiṇi and Satyabhāma. He later enacted the same pastime (killing 7 bulls) and married the Nīlā re-born as Satyā.
Garuḍa Purana, a Sāttvika Purāṇa, mentions that Nīlā was reborn as Nagnajitī-Satyā, the daughter of King Nagnajit.
kumbhakasya gṛhē jātā nīlā nāmnā tu sā smṛtā /
kumbhakastu mahābhāga nandaṡōbhasya ṡālakaḥ // GarP_3,19.69 //
The maiden … was born in the house of Kumbhaka and was called Nila. Kumbhaka was the brother-in-law of Nandashobha. He was the first who carried Kavya to the Pitris. He was abiding on the mount Vrishabha, at that time. I went to his house, O best of birds. Being unconquerable, by the boon conferred by Lord Shiva, I killed him and was married to Nila.
kalpavāhaḥ sa vijn̄ēyaḥ pitṝṇāṃ prathamaḥ smṛtaḥ /
tasya gatvā gṛhamahaṃ vṛṣabhācalavāsinaḥ /
ṡivasya varataṡcaiva tvajēyaḥ khagasattama // GarP_3,19.70 //
In her second birth, Nila was born as the daughter of King Kalpavaha-Nagnijit. In the Swayamvara of Nila, I controlled seven bulls who by the favour of Lord Shiva were uncontrollable by gods and mortals. I conquered kings who had assembled at the ceremony I married her. Thus Nila was born twice on earth and married to me.
Mādhva (Dvaita) view of Nīlā
Madhvācārya in his Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya agrees:
Later Shri Krishna left to the residence of Nagnajit, and in the swayamvara restrained seven oxen. They were oxen with the strength of daemons due to the boon of Shiva and could not be restrained by anyone else. All the other kings were defeated by them. Later Shri Krishna married Nagnajit’s daughter Niladevi. Another maiden by name of Nila who was cowherd earlier entered her body. One person had incarnated in two forms.
The Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya 13.48 to 13.50 describes Krishna’s marriage to Niladevi.
And kRiShNa also eliminated seven demons who are in the form of adamantine bulls, who by the boon of shiva have become adamantine and uncontrollable for anyone. Then kRiShNa married niilaa devi, the daughter of kumbhaka, where kumbhaka is the brother of yashoda. [13–48]
niila devi undertook ascesis in her earlier incarnation, seeking kRiShNa as her husband. Again she undertook ascesis to become the wife of kRiShNa, before his marrying rukmiNi and others. By that reason kRiShNa married her in the first instance. [13–49]
kRiShNa married niila even before he is initiated, i.e. upanayana. Even the best apsara-s, who transfigured as milkmaids, have long before sought the company of kRiShNa, and they got it. [13–50]
There is an even more detailed refutation of Radha from Madhva point-of-view. The conclusion is that, if Rādha exists, she is a gopi who had an āvēṡa of Lakṣmī (just like all other gopis) during her union with the Lord. Rādhā cannot be an avatāra of Lakṣmī. Specifically, Rādhā is not Nagnajiti/Nīla who was married by the Lord after taming seven bulls. The above pdf is from this article.
Another excellent Q&A by Kesava Rao Tadipatri and Meera Tadipatri about Radha and Neela – the conclusion being that Radha is entirely fictional, Radha is not Lakshmi (not even āvēṡa avatāra), Radha is not Nīlā and Radha worship is against Sattvic scriptures.
Nappinai in the Tamil Tradition
Nappinai is the Tamil name for Nīladevi in Ṡrīvaiṣṇava literature. While it is well known that She is mentioned in the Azvar pasurams, what is surprising is that She is also mentioned in Silappadikaran which was composed, say 300–500 years before the time of Azvars.
Refer to the comment section of this article – where the author goes through Tamil evidence and reaches similar conclusion that Nappinai is not Radha, but a childhood wife of Krishna.
Radha cited by Srivaishnavas
In the work Yādavābhyudaya (10.71) by Vedanta Desika, a reference is made to Radha:
dēvakī danuja-sthūṇā divyaṃ dhāma-vrajāṅgaṇam /
ramā rādhādayaṡ-cēti rāṡi-bhēdair na bhidyasē //
“You are the same, (na bhidyasē - do not differ) even when Your place of manifestation differ such as, in Devaki or in the pillar in the house of Hiraṇyakaṡipu, or the yard of Vrajā or when You are in Vaikunta. Your consorts differ, Lakshmi in Vaikuṇṭha, Rādha (or Nīla?) in Vraja etc.”
Similarly, the Gopala Vimsati of Vedanta Desika mentions a cowherd girl (gōpa-kanyā) – Nappinai or Rādhā – in verse 18.
Another Gopala Vimsati composed by Manavala Mahamuni explicitly mentions Rādhā in verse 20 (rādhā-saṅgē viracita-rutukaṃ rājagopalamīḍē).
- As usual, an excellent takedown by Vishnudut1926 (use Google Translate):
- Is Nappinnai of Alvars same as Nila of Yajur Veda or is it Radha?
- Refuting the lie that Vedanta Desika acknowledged the worship of Radha in Yadavabhyudaya
- Did Madhvācārya consider all gōpīs as apsaras or Lakṣmī’s āvēṡas?
- Radha as per U.Ve. Velukkudi Krishnan swami.
- Nīlā-dēvī is the divine consort of Viṣṇu in Vaikuṇṭha, co-consort to Ṡrīdēvī and Bhūdēvī.
- She incarnated as cowherd girl under the same name Nīlā, the daugther of Kumbhaka (a brother of Yaṡōdā) and married Lord Kṛṣṇa after he defeated seven bulls in a fight.
- She appeared again in/as Nagnajitī-Satyā when Kṛṣṇa tamed seven bulls (again) and They got married (again).
- There is no info about what happened to Nīlā in Vṛndāvana after marriage and until she became Nagnajitī.
- Rādhā certainly exists, not a myth. But Rādhā is not Nīlā.
- Rādhā is the daughter of Vṛṣabhānu and is a cowherd girl (gōpī), an elevated jīva who got association with Kṛṣṇa by her previous merit (just like other gōpis). Rādhā is certainly not the “best” gōpī or anything like that.
- Rādhā is neither Lakṣmī nor Nīlā nor their full avatāras; Rādhā might be considered as an aṃṡa (or āvēṡa?) avatāra of Lakṣmī, without which no union with the Lord is possible.
- Nīlādēvī had a legitimate marriage with Kṛṣṇa whereas Rādhā remained as an illicit affair.