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Most people know about Radha, who is said to be Krishna's lover and his favorite among the Gopis, whom Krishna spent time with during his childhood in Vrindavan and Gokulam. She's revered by many Vaishnavas, particularly those of the Gaudiya and Nimbarka Sampradayams. Yet the Sri Vaishnava Sampradayam (of which I'm a member) doesn't emphasize Radha. In part that's because Sri Vaishnavas focus on the Vishnu Purana and the Srimad Bhagavatam, neither of which even mention Radha's name. Yet Sri Vaishnavas do recognize a figure similar to Radha. Let me explain.

The Alwars (also spelled Azhwars) are a group of 12 ancient Vaishnava saints who lived in Tamil Nadu and are famous for their poetry in praise of Vishnu. The collection of their 4000 poems, known as the Naalayira Divya Prabhandam, is considered by many to be the "Dravida Veda", or South Indian Veda. The Alwars are crucially important figures in the history of Vaishnavism; it is the beliefs and principles embodied in the Alwars' poems that ultimately gave rise to the Sri Vaishnava sect.

In any case, the Alwars discuss a figure named Nappinnai, daughter of Yashoda's brother Kumbagan. It is said that Krishna married Nappinai after defeating the seven bulls of Kumbagan. Sri Vaishnavas believe that Nappinnai is an incarnation of Vishnu's wife Nila Devi. Most people only know about Vishnu's wives Sri Devi, aka Lakshmi, and Bhu Devi, aka Bhumidevi, but according to Sri Vaishnavism Vishnu has a third wife named Niladevi; the Nila Sukta of the Yajur Veda is addressed to her:

O thou of the three-and-thirtyfold Stoma, lady of the world, Breathed on by Vivasvant, do thou be gracious to us; Rich in ghee, O Savitr, through thy overlordship, Be the bounteous region rich in milk, for us. The firm among the quarters, lady of Visnu, the mild, Ruling over this strength, the desirable, Brhaspati, Matarisvan, Vayu, The winds blowing together be gracious to us. Prop of the sky, supporter of the earth, Ruling this world, lady of Visnu, All-extending, seeking food, with prosperity, May Aditi be auspicious to us in her life.

In any case, my question is, apart from the Alwars' poems, are there any scriptures which discuss the story of Nappinnai?

Now this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam describes how Krishna wins the hand of his queen Satya after defeating the seven bulls of Satya's father king Nagnajit (not to be confused with this king Nagnajit). This is exactly how Krishna won the hand of Nappinnai. So does this have some relation to the story of Napinnai?

Also, I've heard that Yashoda's brother Kumbagan is mentioned in the Harivamsa. Does anyone know if that's correct?

  • Why just "his favorite among the Gopis during his childhood"? She was his "for all times" favorite, literally! :) You have the Harivamsa at mahabharata-resources.org – brahma jijnasa Jul 17 '15 at 6:01
  • @brahmajijnasa I just meant that the Gopis were figures in Krishna's childhood. I edited the sentence to clarify. – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 17 '15 at 6:03
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    Forgive my ignorance. I am really interested in answers to many questions you asked on alwars and other tamil saints. It looks like , alwars are not really well known beyond tamilnadu . Probably it is because , apart from one rest of the alwars are born in kali yuga and hence they were not really covered in puranas . Tamil literature which covers them never got really popularized outside state. Tamil kings/saints before kaliyuga are very well covered.For ex: In Gajendra moksha , they clearly mention that , gajendra was tamil pandyan king called indradyumna(Not sure his tamil name). – tekkk Jul 17 '15 at 6:14
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    Also possible that , they would have used tamil equivalent names for sanskrit names . – tekkk Jul 17 '15 at 6:14
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    @sysinit First of all, the first four Alwars are said to have been born in the Dwapara Yuga; see my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6867/36 Second of all, Gajendra Moksham happened all the way back in the Tamasa Manvantara; see my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6608/36. That's such a long time ago that it was a different world back then. So who knows what they were speaking in South India? Tamil is certainly a divine language, but who knows who was speaking what back then? We know very little about the Tamasa Manvantara. – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 17 '15 at 8:08
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It turns out that the Harivamsa Southern Recension contains a chapter 'Krsnasya Nilaya Saha Vivahah', or the marriage of Krsna with Nila Devi. This chapter exactly tallies with the account of the Azhvars.

It states that Yashoda had a younger brother called Kumbhaka, who was famous for his piety. He had a wife called Dharmada, who true to her name, was a generous lady, and used to help everyone. They had a son, Shridama, 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 Etair Yatha Yogam Kreedam Kurmah, 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.

This differs from Srimati Satya's marriage in that Krsna killed the bulls in this, whereas Krsna tamed the bulls in Satya's marriage.

  • Thank you so much for your answer! The killed vs. tame point is a sufficiently minor point that it doesn't change my view that the Nappinnai story and the Satya story are somehow connected. By the way, now I'm curious whether the Alwars' poems or any other works describe what happened to Nappinai/Nila after Krishna went to Mathura. There are certainly plenty of stories of what happened to Radha, but I'm interested on stories that specifically say Nappinnai or Nila. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 24 '15 at 17:18
  • Actually, this is more like an Andal-type situation, where her bridegroom is forever the son of Nandagopa. It could also be possible that this story happens after kamsa is killed, because it is not stated after which chapter this story happens. Also, Krsna visited Vrindavana after delivering Shalva and demolishing the Saubha Vehicle, according to Padma Purana (?). So, this story could have happened even then. – Surya Oct 24 '15 at 17:22
  • Yeah, but the case of Andal is different, because Krishna wasn't present on Earth at the time. In this case there's the possibility that Krishna and Nappinnai stayed together after they got married. Perhaps some Alwar poem or something addresses what happened to her. Also, I think it's more likely that this happened before Krishna killed Kamsa, both because it would better comport with the story of Radha and because Krishna traveling to Yashoda's brother's house and things like that sound more like the earlier part of Krishna's life. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 24 '15 at 17:28
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    Oops, I meant it sounds like an Andal type situation. I say it happened afterward because it conforms to the story narrated in the Bhagavatam. Because surely Krsna wouldn't have left behind his bride in Vrindavana and gone to Mathura, since that subject took up three or four chapters of his previous incarnation... – Surya Oct 24 '15 at 17:33
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    I don't just dismiss everything I don't agree with as interpolations - I carefully apply principles of Mimamsa in making my determinations. It's a well-established principle of Mimamsa that if you see two scriptural passages that appear to contradict one another, you should first assume that you're misinterpreting one or the other passage. And then if you see no interpretation that would reconcile them, then you should investigate the possibility that one or the other passage is not authentic. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 13 '16 at 14:26

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