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Krishna and the gopis meet for the rasa dance.
Shri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and yet, when He saw the autumn nights with their cool breezes scented by jasmine flowers, He turned His mind toward loving affairs, and for that purpose He employed His internal potency. Of course, when ordinary persons hear about Krishna’s loving affairs with the gopis, questions will naturally arise about the propriety of these pastimes. Therefore, Shrila Prabhupada painstakingly explained the spiritual purity of these affairs. Indeed, the teachings of all the great acharyas leave no doubt that Krishna is full and satisfied in Himself- free of all material desire, which is, after all, born from a sense of incompleteness or lack. Factually, our human attempts at loving affairs are just reflections of the original conjugal relationship of Krishna with His devotees. Why should we be envious and think that we can enjoy such loving affairs, while the Supreme Person should not?
After the lifting of Govardhana Hill, it was one full year before the sharat-purnima came once again. At that time, Krishna was eight years old. When the full moon rose, it anointed the horizon with a reddish hue, just as a beloved husband returns after a long absence and decorates his wife’s face with kunkum. Krishna saw the rising moon, and the kumuda lotuses opening in response, as well as the forest illuminated by its rays. When He saw the full moon, Krishna remembered the gopis’ prayers to goddess Katyayani, and thought that this would be the perfect time to dance with them, and thus fulfill their desire to have Him as their husband.
Lord Krishna began to sweetly play His flute, attracting the minds of the beautiful gopis. (Krishna appeared in the dynasty of the moon-god, and the moon plays a prominent role in the introduction of the rasa dance.) When the young women of Vrindavana heard the sound of Krishna’s flute, which arouses romantic feelings, their minds became captivated. Thus the gopis rushed to where Krishna was standing, each unknown to the others, their earrings swinging back and forth.
Some of the gopis were milking the cows when they heard the sound of Krishna’s flute, but they dropped everything and ran to see Krishna. Some of the gopis left boiling milk on the stove, and others left cakes burning in the oven. Others were getting dressed, giving milk to their infants, or rendering some service to their husbands- but they all gave up these activities and went to meet Krishna.
Other gopis were eating their evening meals, having bath, or applying cosmetics. But they stopped at once, and even though their clothes and ornaments were in disarray, they rushed out of the house to meet Krishna. Their husbands, fathers, brothers and other relatives tried to stop them, but Krishna had already stolen their hearts and so they refused to turn back. Some of the gopis could not manage to go out, however, and so they remained at home with eyes closed, meditating upon Krishna in pure love.
Shrila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura elaborates on this description as follows: In Rupa Gosvami’s Ujjvala-nilamani, it is explained that there are two categories of gopis- the eternally perfect (nitya-siddha) and those who have become perfect by the practice of bhakti-yoga (sadhana-siddha). The sadhana-siddhas are also in two categories- those who belong to a special group, and those who do not. Those who belong to a special group are also of two kinds- the shruti-charis (coming from the personified Vedas) and the rishi-charis (coming from the group of sages who saw Lord Ramachandra in the Dandakaranya forest). By no means were any of the gopis ordinary human beings. Some of the gopis are deva-kanyas (daughters of the demigods), and they are partial expansions of nitya-siddha gopis.
It is described by Kavi-karnapura Gosvami, in his commentary on the Tenth Canto, that those sadhana-siddha gopis that associated with the nitya-siddha gopis became completely purified. Thus, even though they associated with their cowherd husbands- by the power of Yogamaya, they remained untouched by sexual contact, being situated in purely spiritual bodies. When Krishna played His flute, these gopis were able to join Him, even though their husbands tried to forbid them with sticks in their hands.
Other gopis, however, because of not having the association of nitya-siddha gopis, were not yet fully purified, and by sexual union with their husbands they gave birth to children. Later on, they also became fully purified and situated in spiritual bodies, but for the present, Yogamaya failed to help them, and so they could not go to meet Krishna. For these gopis, the intense pain of separation from Krishna burned away the remainder of their karma. And as a result of their meditation upon Krishna, the Lord manifested Himself to them, so that they could embrace Him within their hearts. That transcendental ecstasy exhausted all of their accumulated material piety. In this way, these gopis immediately gave up their material bodies.
In essence, the acharyas give this explanation. To the degree that one becomes advanced in devotional service, the transcendental aspects of his body become prominent and the material aspects diminish. When one achieves pure love of God, the material portions of the body disappear and the body becomes completely spiritual. Nevertheless, so as not to disturb the false opinions of atheists, and to protect the confidentiality of devotional service, the Supreme Lord usually has the illusory energy exhibit the demise of a gross material body.
Thus, it could be that the gopis who were forbidden to join Krishna and were locked within their rooms actually were seen to give up their material bodies. Or, giving up the material aspects of their bodies, they could have remained in their spiritual forms.
When the gopis arrived before Him, Lord Krishna officially received them, so that His teasing words bewildered their minds: “O most fortunate ladies, welcome. What may I do to please you? Is everything well in Vraja? Please tell me the reason for your coming here.”
The gopis had come to embrace, kiss and dance with Krishna, so they were taken aback by His formal welcome, although they still smiled and listened eagerly.
Seeing this, Krishna began to discourage the gopis by saying, “It is frightening to be here in the forest at night, for dangerous creatures are lurking everywhere. Therefore, please return home, O girls with slender waists. This is not a proper place for women.”
Seeing how the gopis were still smiling, Krishna continued to speak: “Not finding you at home, your mothers, fathers, sons, brothers and husbands are certainly searching for you. You should not cause anxiety for your family members.”
Upon hearing this free advice, the gopis became a little disturbed and angry, and so they diverted their attention to look at the beauty of the Vrindavana forest.
Krishna took advantage of this to continue speaking as follows: “Now that you have seen the Vrindavana forest, which is full of flowers and which is well lit by the full-moon, you can return home. Do not delay. O chaste ladies, serve your husbands and give milk to your crying babies.”
“Or, perhaps you have come here out of your great love for Me, and this is quite commendable, because all living entities have such a natural attraction. Still, the highest religious duty of a woman is to serve her husband, behave well toward her husband’s family, and take care of her children. Women who desire a good destination in the next life should never abandon a husband who has not fallen from religious standards- even if he is obnoxious, unfortunate, old, unintelligent, sickly or poor. For a woman from a respectable family, petty adulterous affairs are always condemned. They bar her from heaven, ruin her reputation, and bring her difficulty and fear.”
“My dear gopis, transcendental love for Me develops by the devotional processes of hearing and chanting about Me, worshiping My Deity form and meditating upon Me. The same result is not achieved by mere physical proximity. There is no need to stand so close. Please go back to your homes.”
Hearing these discouraging words from Krishna, the gopis became morose. Their great hopes having been frustrated, they felt terrible anxiety. Their heads hanging down and their sorrowful breathing drying up their reddened lips- the gopis scratched the ground with their toes. Tears flowed from their eyes, mixed with black kajjala, washed away the vermillion smeared on their breasts, and fell upon the ground. In this way, they stood silently, bearing the burden of their unhappiness, for their hearts were grievously wounded. Although Krishna was their beloved and they had forsaken everything for His sake, He had spoken to them unfavorably. Nonetheless, they remained unflinching in their attachment to Him. The gopis did not like to retaliate with harsh words, but still, they desired to rebuke Him.
Stopping their crying and wiping the tears from their eyes, the gopis finally replied, their voices faltering with agitation: “O all-powerful one, although You are completely independent, You should not speak in such a cruel way to souls that are surrendered to You. Do not reject us, who have renounced all material enjoyment to render devotional service to Your lotus feet.”
“We agree with all that you have said about a woman’s religious duties toward her husband, children and relatives. However, this injunction is most perfectly carried out by rendering devotional service unto You, who are the dearmost friend of all embodied souls. You cannot accuse us of debauchery, for it is the natural inclination of all living beings to become attracted to You. Because You had once touched our breasts and stolen away our hearts, what use do we now have for our husbands, children and relatives? Therefore, please grant us Your mercy.”
“O lotus-eyed one, please do not cut down our long-cherished hope to have Your association. Until today, our minds were absorbed in household affairs. But now, You have stolen our minds and so we cannot move even one step from Your lotus feet. How can we go back to Vraja? What would we do there?”
“Dear Krishna, please pour the nectar of Your lips upon the fire within our hearts, a fire that was ignited by Your smiling glances and the sweet song of Your flute. If You do not, then we will consign our bodies to the fire of separation from You, and thus, like yogis, attain to the abode of Your lotus feet by meditation.”
“Even the goddess of fortune, who has achieved a unique position of always remaining on the Lord’s chest, desires the dust of Your lotus feet. O vanquisher of distress, please show us mercy, because to approach Your lotus feet we have abandoned our homes and families, having no other desire than to serve You.”
“O jewel among men, please make us Your maidservants. Seeing Your face, encircled by curling locks of hair- Your cheeks, beautified by earrings- Your lips full of nectar- Your smiling glance- Your two imposing arms that take away our fear- and Your chest, which is the only source of pleasure for the goddess of fortune- we must become Your maidservants.”
“Dear Krishna, what woman in all the three worlds would not deviate from religious behavior when bewildered by the sweet, drawn-out melody of Your flute? Clearly, You have appeared in this world to relieve the fear and distress of the people of Vraja. Therefore, O friend of the distressed, kindly place Your lotus hand upon Your maidservants’ heads and burning breasts. If you think that Your hand will be burnt, rest assured that You will instead feel pleasure, just as the lotus flower enjoys the scorching heat of the sun.”
After hearing these despondent words of the gopis, Krishna began to mercifully enjoy with them by kissing and embracing, although He is self-satisfied. In the midst of the gopis, Krishna appeared just like the moon surrounded by so many stars. He made their faces blossom with His affectionate glances, and His broad smile revealed the effulgence of his jasmine-bud-like teeth. As the gopis sang His praises, Krishna sang in response.
Krishna wandered through the forest with the gopis, and eventually they came to the shore of the Yamuna, where the sand was cooling and the breeze bore the fragrance of lotus flowers. While walking along the river, Krishna put His arms around a gopi and embraced her. He enhanced the gopis’ desires by touching their hands, hair, thighs, belts and breasts, and by playfully scratching them with His fingernails- as well as by joking with them, pinching them, glancing at them and laughing with them. In this way, the Lord enjoyed His pastimes.
The gopis became proud of themselves for having received such special attention from Krishna, so that each one thought that she was the best woman on earth. (This was the arrangement of Yogamaya, for as Bharata Muni states: “Direct contact is not fully appreciated until separation has been experienced.”)
Understanding this, Lord Krishna wanted to relieve the gopis of their pride, and show them further mercy, and so He immediately disappeared, thus displaying His opulence of renunciation.