Krishna and his Gopis: An Eternal Love

“I am the conscience in the heart of all people

I am the beginning, their being, their end

I am the mind of the senses

I am the radiant sun among lights

I am the song in sacred lore

I am the king of deities

I am the priest of great seers…”

This is how Krishna is described in the Bhagavada Gita.

Krishna, the eighth Avatar of Vishnu, is also the God of love, protection, compassion and tenderness. He is the most powerful incarnation of Vishnu. Born to Devaki and Vasudev in the Yadava tribe of Mathura, Krishna is worshipped as the Supreme God himself. He was dark, as the mysterious self, and handsome. Krishna encapsulates all that is in the universe. He is believed to have lived on this earth between 3200 and 3100 BC. People worship him as their hero, protector, philosopher, guide and friend, all rolled into one.

Krishna was always known to be surrounded by his Gopis, who were the milkmaids of Braj/Vrindavan. Gopis, the consorts and devotees of Krishna, who surrendered to him with their unconditional love, have been worshipped since time immemorial. According to Bhagavata Purana Gopis are considered as the expansion of Goddess Radha, the chief consort of Krishna and His beloved.

According to Jiva Goswami (1513 – 1598), an Indian philosopher and saint from the Gaudiya Vaishnava school of Vedanta tradition, Gopis are considered as the eternal beloved and manifestations of the internal spiritual energy of Krishna. Among the gopis, Radha is the chief gopi, and is the personification of the bliss potency/energy of Krishna. Gopis’ love for Krishna has been described as Suddha-bhakti in Hindu Vaishanava Theology, which means the highest form of unconditional love for God (Krishna).

Legend has it that the sweet music of Krishna’s flute attracted Gopis who, unaware of their own bodies and the world around them while utterly immersed in his love, would leave behind their families and homes, to be at the place where their beloved God Krishna was waiting for them.

The Gopis of Vrindavan were known to be 108 in number. It is believed that they shared a very special and intimate friendship with Radha and Krishna and their love for the divine couple was unmatched and unequalled. Out of all the 108 Gopis, there were 8 primary gopis who were the foremost devotees of God Krishna and Goddess Radharani. They are:

  1. Lalita, the one who would arrange the meeting between Radha-Krishna and would adorn then with flowers,
  2. Visakha, the one who carried messages between Radha and Krishna and also the perfect counsellor for the Divine couple, most intelligent among the gopis,
  3. Champakalata, the chief protector of the trees, bushes, creepers, flowers of Vrindavan and an expert cook,
  4. Chitra, the one who would play music on pots filled with varying degrees of water for Radha-Krishna’s divine meetings and Raslila, also an expert in astronomy and astrology,
  5. Tungavidya, the one who denotes her love for the divine couple through her devotion to dancing and singing, is known for playing Veena,
  6. Indulekha, learned in science, Naga-Shastra and Palmistry, she carried auspicious messages between Radha-Krishna and was their confidant,
  7. Rangadevi, an expert in diplomacy and always the funloving one exchanging jokes and witty words,
  8. Sudevi, always at Radharani’s side arranging her hair, decorating her eyes and massaging her body with scented oil, her seva was to bring water for the divine couple,

All together they are known as AshthaSakhis and display the zenith of spiritual unconditional love for Radha and Krisha.

Looking at it from another perspective, it is also believed that all the Gopis were none other than Radha herself, her expansions, where she makes herself into multiple bodies and takes up so many forms to look after Krishna, play with him, love him, dance with him, do divine leelas with him and to give him everything he needs. If Radha would become so many gopikas, Krishna would have so many sakhis to take care of him and that would bring him immense happiness and for His happiness, Radha did this.

There is a story in Bhagavada Gita where Krishna, after leaving Vrindavan and settling in Mathura as the king there, asks Udhhav (Krishna’s cousin and a Brahmagyani) to go and visit Vrindavan and impart his wisdom of Vedanta to the gopis and ask them to forget Krishna so that he could then forget them too, as the pain of separation from Braj was as intense for Krishna himself as for Gopis the separation from Krishna. When Uddhav reached Vrindavan and he saw all the people of Braj and especially the gopis drenched in the love of Kanhaiya (Krishna), he was astonished. On meeting the gopis Uddhav asked them to worship the formless instead of Krishna, but the Gopis said that they knew no love other than Krishna’s love. They felt and saw the presence of Krishna everywhere and even inside them. The gopis had so many stories to share where Krishna helped them in distress or accompanied them, even while not being there in his physical self. They perceived Krishna as omnipresent and the one who resides in their heart. They were one with him.

Inspite of all his spiritual learnings and wisdom of the highest form of Vedanta, Uddhav had not experienced the Almighty, but here, at Braj, he learnt the lesson of supreme love or bhakti, selfless devotion. Uddhav was most surprised when, with Gopis’ grace, he, with his own eyes, saw Krishna standing everywhere among gopis. His wisdom transformed and fructified at Vrindavan with the knowledge and experience of spiritual love of the gopis for their beloved Krishna.

The love of Gopis transcends the logical and earthly perceptions of spiritual love. The truth is that Gopis signify the purest form of love. The Gopis never knew Krishna as a saint, they always thought of him as their eternal lover. In Bhagavata Purana it is said that Gopis knew Krishna as God, and yet they did not know him as God. For them their only consideration was that “Krishna is wonderful”, he may or may not be God, it didn’t matter to them. They didn’t even want to know who he was, except that he was theirs in all his entirety.

Gopis only knew how to love Krishna and that was their one and only business, their one and only desire, their one and only nishkam karma on this earth. Krishna was their conscious and he loved them back manifolds. Gopis’ love for Krishna is considered as the highest form of Bhakti as they never really expected anything in return from him, in fact they said, “Krishna, you take whatever you like from us, but we do not want anything, neither do we have any need.” “We have got everything to give you, and have no need to ask from you”, this is the worship of Gopis.

If there is anything we can learn from the love of Gopis for their beloved God Krishna, it is that:

  • Love is the foundation of spiritual wisdom, and without it we cannot experience bhakti in its purest essence,
  • At times knowing is in not knowing, and highest wisdom is in not trying to understand,
  • The Almighty is omnipresent and is in everything and everyone,
  • The feeling of bliss comes from perceiving oneness with the Almighty,
  • The Gopis attained the Almighty without any practices of japa, tapa, balidaan, charity and only through unconditional Love,
  • In not having expectations, one can experience divine love in any form,
  • Pure and higher love is experienced through complete and unadulterated surrender,
  • To experience love, one has to be love.
Pearl Jasra
Author: Pearl Jasra