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Gopi Vastra-harana Lila: Part Two

Submitted by on December 14, 2017 – 12:33 am6 Comments

By Swami Tripurari

Krishna has many cowherd friends. There are four basic groups, sakhas (ordinary friends), suhrt sakhas (well-wishing friends), priya sakhas (dear friends), and priyanarma sakhas (bosom buddies), who accompany him in his cow-herding adventures. Rupa Goswami has also identified two secondary groups, vidhusakhas (jokers) and vitas (artists). Both the priya sakhas and the priyanarma sakhas are aware of Krishna’s affairs with the gopis, as is the famous vidhusakha, Madhumangala. The priyanarma sakhas headed by Subala are directly involved in these affairs; indeed, Rupa Goswami calls their love for Krishna ‘sakhi bhava‘ in his Radha Krsna Gannodesa Dipika. Their friendship is mixed with conjugal love such that they can expertly council Krishna in his love plight with the gopis. However, his priya sakhas, although aware of his secret love, never speak about it, and they are not directly involved in it. It is interesting that the pals of Krishna accompanying him on this day were his four most intimate priya sakhas, Sridama, Sudama, Vasudama, and Kinkini.

Of the priya sakhas, Sridama is the foremost. He is the brother of Radha. In the central meeting shrine (yoga pitha) of sakhya rasa, Sridama stands at the western gate, Sudama at the northern gate, Vasudama the eastern, and Kinkini at the southern gate. In the center stand Krishna and Balarama, and on the eight petals of this hexagonal lotus stand Stoka-Krishna, Angshuka, Bhadrasena, Arjjuna, Subala, Vilasa, Mahabala, and Vrsabha. On the central, golden hexagon is carved the kama bija, klim, which is sva sadhya (self-accomplishing).

The Gautamiya tantra identifies the four principal priya sakhas as manifestations (antahkaranarupa) of Krishna’s intelligence (Sridama), ego (Sudama), heart (Vasudama), and mind (Kinkini). As one cannot go anywhere without these four, these boys, either manifest or unmanifest, are always with Krishna. Appropriate to their relationship with him they are silent with regard to his conjugal life. Although personally present on this occasion, they remained as if unaware of the implications of the event that was to ostensibly constitute a virtual marriage in disregard of socio-religious convention. In terms of the divine drama, the acaryas have described them at this time as being too young to comprehend what was actually taking place.

As they walked with Krishna to the Yamuna, they repeatedly asked where he was taking them. The kumaris were bathing in a place otherwise unknown to males. As they neared the river, Krishna crouched and observed, forbidding his friends to laugh lest they be found out. Then he stole the maidens clothes, tasam vasamsi upadaya.

Krishna next climbed to the top of a kadamba tree with his friends and all five of them laughed loudly in unison, especially his fun-loving friends who had thus far been restrained. Hearing the laughter, the girls recognized the deep voice of Krishna with surprise and inner delight. Looking up they saw him and his pals in the tree, their clothes no longer on the shore. Quickly they lowered their breasts into the Yamuna so that only their faces could be seen. It was as if the flower of their faces had bloomed out of season. As Krishna looked on, the bumblebee of his eyes drank the honey of the kumaris‘ flowering lotus-like faces.

Krishna then suggested that they come out of the water and take their clothes. He insisted that this was no joke, stayam bruvani no narma, biting his tongue in indignation as the girls suggested there might be something improper about his proposal. Krishna told them that compassion should not be misconstrued regardless of what form it takes. They were fatigued from their vow and now, freezing in the cold winter water, yad yuyam vrata-karsitah, while he was the solution to their predicament, their clothes in his hands.

Could Krishna’s honesty be questionable? Na mayodita-purvam va anrtam, “I have never ever lied, tad ime viduh, and these boys are my witness. Let one of you come, or all come together, O slender-waisted girls.”

Krishna’s friends’ testimony was hardly what the kumaris considered credible. They laughed at what was obviously his jest with a sense of fulfillment, for he was joking with them as if they were his wives. They nonetheless remained too shy to leave the water, yet too cold to remain within.

The cold winter water of the Yamuna provided the perfect opportunity for the girls to express their hearts to Krishna and at the same time deny their heart’s ambition should anyone else find out, or in the unlikely event that Krishna did not accept their proposal. This latter concern is relative to the very nature of conjugal love of Krishna. Each and every cowherd boyfriend of Krishna feels that he is the favorite of Krishna, and each and every one of them is right. The milk maidens, however, feel just the opposite. Each girl continually doubts Krishna’s love for her, even while it is all-pervading.

The girls sensed that Krishna was trying to bring them out into the open. He wanted to hear directly from their lips the essence of that which they secretly uttered in the worship of goddess Katyayani. The cold water of the Yamuna provided the pretext for them to do so. Such is the friendly nature of the Vraja environment, the bitterly cold water’s current appeared favorable to the girls. Indeed as their hearts melted hearing Krishna’s request, the cold water afforded them some sense of composure that made them all the more becoming. This is the vision of the highest devotees: that which would otherwise be unfavorable is perceived by them as favorable. Their vision turns the world of adversity into an abode of joy, visvam purnam sukayate. The magical, mythical land of Vraja lies in this vision. One must learn to flow with the eternal current of God’s will.

Then they said it: syamasundara te dasyah karavama tavoditam, “O Syamasundara, we are your maidservants, and we shall do whatever you say.” The girls followed this heartfelt submission wrapped in the pretext of physical distress with a reminder for all of us. In asking for their clothing again, they declared Krishna to be the knower of dharma, dehi vasamsi dharma jna. There was nothing remotely irreligious in what he had requested. This affair was an example of paro dharma, as it demonstrated ahaituky apratihata yenatma samprasidati. The gopis love, that is, was without motive and without reservation as to what they would do for the satisfaction of the Supreme, whose satisfaction is the criterion of religious perfection, samsiddhir hari tosanam.

Spiritual truth of the matter aside, absorbed in the drama of apparent irreligiosity, the girls intended, by calling attention to dharma, that it was enough that Krishna was insisting that they bare themselves before him, and therefore he should not add insult to injury by not returning their clothes once they left the river. The feeling of their addressing Krishna as “dharma jna” was thus: “Don’t arm yourself with untruth as you prepare to do battle with the very essence of religion.” A thinking person should conclude that a relationship between boy and girl out of wedlock is the antithesis of spiritual love, even while it wraps its nature in a sense of freedom and spontaneity that we sense to be at the heart of that which is spiritual. One who develops feeling for this drama of divine love will never again be troubled by the call of the wild, the voice of the mind and senses that steal the heart of the soul.

The young maidens then threatened to report Krishna to the king if he did not return their clothes once they came out of the water. Both this and their previous statement came as Krishna hesitated to respond, which had, in turn, heightened the uncertainty of the young maidens. His hesitation revealed his own amazement at the depth of the girls’ love. He had no fear of King Kamsa, although had they intended to tell King Nanda, his father, one might think that there could have been a cause for concern. However, Krishna knew the girls had no intention of telling anyone, and his fearless nature called upon by their idle threat thus came to the surface.

Krishna responded through the voice of Sukadeva as he continued the narration, addressing Krishna as Bhagavan. In order to conceal the actual reason for his hesitation, Bhagavan said: “Well if you are willing to become my maidservants, what are you waiting for? If you really intend to do as I say, then come here. Right now you are neither acting as maidservants nor coming to get your clothes. If you really want to do as I say, then come here wearing only your smiles and each of you can take your clothes from me. If you don’t do as I say, it is you who will be known as untruthful. Then what will the king say to a compassionate person like myself, who tried to help ordinary girls like you, even while you have nourished false hopes?”

We should do our service to Krishna cheerfully, not begrudgingly. The latter is not service at all. Although we will be asked to perform many difficult tasks, these tasks are not difficult in and of themselves. The difficulty lies in our attachment to a false sense of identity. This false identity is not easy to give up. Krishna asked the girls to wear only their smile as they came out of the water. Similarly, we should never begrudge one who asks us to bare our soul. We must allow ourselves to be exploited for a purpose greater than our own mentally conceived ideal. The world of the mind is mean-spirited, and we should not allow it to vent itself towards those who are our well-wishers, those whom the mind can never fully understand.

Now the girls became silent and proceeded to exit the river, desperately hoping that Krishna’s words about false hopes were words only. Their bodies had been practically immobile due to shyness more than the temperature of the water. And as they moved forward, their shivering too was only apparently due to the cold. Stepping out of the river, they covered their pubic area with their hands, their long black hair on bowed heads covering their breasts, as the shorter girls stood in front of the taller ones.

As Krishna watched the embarrassed girls one by one climb out of the water, he was satisfied with the measure of their love. He sensed that their hesitation that caused them to cover themselves even after they had come out of the water was due to nothing else than the fear that he might not accept them. They themselves had the conviction that should he turn away from them, they would give up their lives. Such was the intensity of the sacred vow they had undertaken. Krishna wanted to satisfy further his thoughts, as well as the minds of his buddies, with visible evidence as to the cause of the girls fear. Thus he spoke in jest with the appearance of gravity, assuring his pals that the girls had not yet reached menstruation as if this changed the equation.

As Sukadeva changed the meter of his poem, Krishna told the girls, “Your religious observance is flawed, for you bathed in the river without clothes. Varuna, the God of the waters, must be appeased. Fold your hands above your heads in respect and only then will I give you back your garments.”

Distracting Krishna’s chums by telling them they heard someone coming, the girls did as Krishna ordered, editing his mandate thus: they paid respect with hands folded above their heads to him, with the sense that the wife’s husband represents the gods for her in the religion of the Veda. As they did so, Krishna returned their garments to them.

Sukadeva then interrupted his own narrative with these reflective words. “Although the girls had been completely cheated and deprived of their modesty, laughed at and played with like toys, their clothes stolen, they felt no enmity towards Krishna. Rather, they were overjoyed to have been able to have the company of their beloved.”

Quickly the girls put on their clothes. While Krishna’s chums assumed the whole affair was now finished and pulled on one another to go, the girls sat motionlessly. They waited in anticipation. As is done in the marriage ceremony, they wanted to touch his lotus feet.

Krishna then spoke to them. Accepting them, he assured them that the vow they had undertaken would bear fruit. He told them that the desire they cherished for uniting with him in love was pure. “Such pure desire can never lead to anything else but the fulfillment of its own objective. As fried seeds have no potential to sprout, even though they continue to look like seeds that can, the desire seed to love me can never give rise to material fruits, even though it looks like that is what it is all about.” Mysterious indeed is the nature of the highest love.

While the girls expected Krishna to perform a Gandharva marriage then and there, he told them that marriage itself is all about the feelings they shared, rites and rituals were subsidiaries. Then he promised to consummate the affair on a future night. To reach that night of spiritual union, sadhakas must first pass through many long days and nights of service in separation.

6 Comments »

  • Gurunistha dasa

    Quite the prankster that Kanu. 🙂

    We should do our service to Krishna cheerfully, not begrudgingly. The latter is not service at all. Although we will be asked to perform many difficult tasks, these tasks are not difficult in and of themselves. The difficulty lies in our attachment to a false sense of identity. This false identity is not easy to give up. Krishna asked the girls to wear only their smile as they came out of the water. Similarly, we should never begrudge one who asks us to bare our soul. We must allow ourselves to be exploited for a purpose greater than our own mentally conceived ideal. The world of the mind is mean spirited, and we should not allow it to vent itself towards those who are our well-wishers, those whom the mind can never fully understand.

    I really liked the paragraph above. It’s a good reminder that we can talk about the lila all day and night but it doesn’t mean much at all if we don’t cultivate surrender and a proper service attitude.

    I guess this actually answers KB’s question from the first part of this article: my understanding is that when our faith progresses to a certain point, we have to start working on our anarthas consciously and try to imbibe the mood of the ones we read the “cute little stories” about. I think they are cute and minimal only as long as we don’t connect the spiritually grave underlying tattva to the lilas. Who are the players really, what do they represent and what is that world really made out of?

    Anyways, that’s my ramblings for the day.

  • Prema-bhakti

    Wow! I am floored by the depth of this poetic rendering and explanation of this lila. Beautiful!

    Wonderful explanation of the priya sakhas role in Krsna’s conjugal affairs.

    A thinking person should conclude that a relationship between boy and girl out of wedlock is the antithesis of spiritual love, even while it wraps its nature in a sense of freedom and spontaneity that we sense to be at the heart of that which is spiritual. One who develops feeling for this drama of divine love will never again be troubled by the call of the wild, the voice of the mind and senses that steal the heart of the soul.

    Oh, I pray for that feeling to come!

  • Das of dasa

    Hare Krishna!

    Is this not a little too intimate for front page of public website.
    ie topics for self realised souls?

    • Not when properly explained, as it has been in this article, and for example, in my Guru Maharaja’s widely circulated Krsna Book.

      • Das of dasa

        Hare Krishna!

        That picture is not on the front of Krishna books. With due respect.

        • No but there is similar one inside the book. But regardless, such pictures seek to depict a various theological points as well as provide a graphic image for contemplating the lila itself. And no, I do not think the subject is inappropriate for sadhakas, and neither did my Guru Maharaja or Vyasa. All Gaudiya commentators have commented on this lila extensively. Prabhupada is no exception, and he desired that this lila be circulated widely along with the rest of Krsna lila from the Bhagavatam as long as it was accompanied by appropriate commentary.

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