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Krishna steals the garments of the unmarried gopis.
During the first month of hemanta (the winter season), corresponding to sometime from late October to December, the unmarried gopis observed a vow to worship goddess Katyayani, and during this month they ate only unspiced khichri. At sunrise, the gopis would arrive at the banks of the Yamuna. After bathing, they would prepare a clay deity of goddess Durga and then worship her with offerings of aromatic substances like sandalwood paste, lamps, fruit, betel nuts, newly grown leaves, flower garlands and incense.
While performing this worship, each of the girls would chant the following mantra: “O goddess Katyayani, O potency of the Lord, O possessor of mystic power and controller of all, please make the son of Nanda Maharaja my husband. I offer my obeisances unto you.”
According to the acharyas, the goddess Durga mentioned here is not the external energy of the Lord. She is Yogamaya, the internal potency. But even if it is accepted that the gopis worshiped the external energy, there is no fault on their part because their objective was to get Krishna as their husband.
For one full month the gopis carried out their vow, and while doing so they fully absorbed their minds in thinking, “May the son of King Nanda become my husband.”
Each day at sunrise, the gopis called one another by name. Then, they all held hands and sang the glories of Krishna while going to the Kalindi to bathe. One day, after the gopis had come to the riverside, they put aside their clothes and began to happily play within the water while singing about Krishna’s glories.
According to Vishvanatha Chakravarti, this was the full-moon day that marked the end of the gopis’ vows. To celebrate the successful completion of their vow, the gopis had invited the young Radharani, the daughter of Vrishabhanu, who was the special object of their affection, to bathe in the river with them.
Being well aware of the gopis’ activities, Lord Krishna went there that morning, surrounded by His cowherd boyfriends, just to award the gopis the perfection of their endeavor. (Vishvanatha Chakravarti says that these boys were just three years old, and had followed Krishna because they could not bear to be without His association.)
After picking up the gopis’ garments, Krishna quickly climbed to the top of a kadamba tree. Then, while laughing aloud, along with His companions, Krishna addressed the gopis jokingly: “My dear girls, you may each come here and take your clothes. I’m telling you the truth. I am not joking. I can see that you are quite fatigued because of executing austere vows. I have never told a lie, as these boys well know.”
“O girls with slender waists, I wish to see your complete beauty, and so please come either one by one or all together and take your clothes.”
Upon hearing this, the gopis were overjoyed and began to glance at one another and joke. One gopi urged another, “You go first, and let us see if Krishna plays any tricks. Then, after that, we will come.” Still, being embarrassed, none of the gopis came out of the water.
Govinda’s joking words completely captivated the gopis’ minds. While remaining submerged up to the neck, they began to shiver.
The gopis then said, “Dear Krishna, do not be unfair! We know that you are the respectable son of Nanda Maharaja and that everyone in Vraja honors you. You are also very dear to us. Now, please give us back our clothes, for we are shivering because of cold.”
“O Shyamasundara, we are Your maidservants and must do whatever You say, but give us back our clothing. You know what religious principles are, and if you don’t give us our clothes we will go and complain to your father. If he does nothing, then we will go and complain to the king!”
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said, “If you girls are actually My maidservants, and if you really want to do as I say, then come here with your innocent smiles and pick up your clothes. If you do not obey Me, then I will not give you back your clothes. What can My father do? He is an old man. And, even if the king becomes angry, what can he do?”
Seeing that Krishna was determined, the gopis had no alternative. While shivering, all of the young girls came out of the water, covering their pubic area with their hands. Upon seeing the gopis’ simple presentation, Krishna became very satisfied with their loving affection. Because a woman cannot be naked in front of any man beside her husband, and because the gopis desired to have Krishna as their husband, the Lord fulfilled their desire in this way.
Placing their clothes on His shoulder, Krishna smiled and said, “You bathed naked in the river and that is certainly an offense against the demigod Varuna. To counteract that sin you should now offer your obeisances by placing your joined palms above your head. Then you can take back your clothes.”
Krishna spoke in this way because He wanted to see the full surrender of the gopis. The gopis accepted Krishna’s words and did as they were told, and in addition, they offered their obeisances unto Him. This is the transcendental position of Krishna consciousness. The gopis decided that it was better to renounce their family and moral traditions and simply surrender to Lord Krishna.
After seeing the gopis bow down, Krishna returned their garments. Although the gopis had been cheated, deprived of their modesty, and made to act just like dolls- still, they did not feel inimical toward Krishna. They were simply joyful to have had the opportunity to associate with their beloved. Actually, the gopis were addicted to being with Krishna and were fully captivated. Thus, even after putting on their clothes, they did not move, but remained standing there, shyly glancing at Him.
Knowing well the gopis’ desires, Krishna spoke to them as follows: “O saintly girls, I understand that your real motive for performing vows was to worship Me. I approve of this, and you can be assured that what you have hoped for will indeed come to pass. The desires of those who have fixed their minds on Me are not the same as desires for material sense gratification. Such desires do not produce sinful or pious reactions, just as barleycorns burned by the sun and then cooked can no longer sprout.”
“My dear Gopis, please return home now. Your desire will be fulfilled, for in My company you shall enjoy the forthcoming nights.”
Only with great difficulty were the gopis able to return home, and while doing so they meditated upon Krishna’s lotus feet.
Some time later on, Lord Krishna, and Balarama, surrounded by the cowherd boys, went a good distance away from Vrindavana while herding the cows. It was very hot, but the tall trees acted as umbrellas.
Krishna then said, “O Stoka Krishna, Amshu, Shridama, Subala, Arjuna, Vrishabha, Ojasvi, Devaprastha and Varuthapa, just see these greatly fortunate trees, whose lives are completely dedicated for the benefit of others. While tolerating the wind, rain, heat and snow, they protect us from these elements.”
“Just see how the trees are maintaining other living beings! Their birth is successful. They are just like great souls, for anyone who asks something from a tree, never goes away disappointed. These trees fulfill one’s desires with their leaves, flowers, fruit, shade, roots, bark and wood. It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words.”
While speaking like this, Krishna came to the River Yamuna. The cowherd boys let the cows drink the clear, cool water and they themselves drank to their full satisfaction. Thereafter, the boys continued herding the cows in a leisurely way, but after some time they became very hungry and so approached Krishna and Balarama.