Understanding Rasa-lila 5 – Gopi-gita 1
[Bhagavatam class at ISKCON, Denver, USA]
Transcribed by: Sadananda Prabhu
Understanding Rasa-lila 5 – Gopi-gita 1
Today morning we are discussing one of the sweetest sections in the Srimad-Bhagavatam; that is the prayers of the gopis to Krishna. The backstory is that the gopis left everything to come to Krishna when he called them by playing his flute, and then after passing the test by which he tried to dissuade and send them back, they determinedly at least stayed on. And just as they were about to celebrate the divine dance of love with Krishna, and as they were about to enter into the deep ecstasy, Krishna disappeared. In great agony the gopis kept searching for Krishna everywhere but they couldn’t find him anywhere. Finally realizing that Krishna had disappeared they decided to come back to the banks of Yamuna, and there, called out to Krishna. These are the prayers which the Gopi’s offered to Krishna although Krishna is not present there in front of them. They know that Krishna was hearing them and they are calling out, “Krishna, please come back.” The acharyas state that uvaca is singular and ucuhu is plural. So, gopya ucuhu means that the gopis are speaking this collectively. Does it mean that all of them are reciting these verses in chorus? No. Jiva Goswami explains in the Gopal Campu that each verse is actually recited by one gopi but that gopi is speaking as a representative of all the gopis. So, there is an individual devotion being expressed by their prayers, and along with that there is a collective appeal that is resonated through each prayer. And based on the mood of each verse Jiva Goswami actually identifies each gopi and which verse is sung by which gopi. In that way he goes quite deep. We can thus see that each of the verse has a distinct thought, but along with that is also an intense common prayer; that prayer is, “Krishna please come back. Please appear before us.” So, through different directions, different reasons, different arguments and different ways of appealing, the gopi’s are constantly telling Krishna, “Please come back. Please come before us.” We will go over these prayers one by one to get a feel of the sweetness of these prayers.
This verse states: Jayati te dhikam, janmana vraja…. In this verse the gopis are saying, “Krishna, since you have appeared in this place of Vrindavan, Vrindavan has become even more glorious. It is already glorious but now it has become even more glorious since you have appeared in this forest of Vrindavan. Why it has become so glorious? It is because you have appeared over here and the goddess of fortune has come and made Vrindavan her permanent residence.” The goddess of fortune actually is considered to be canchala or restless. She doesn’t stay in any one place for too long. People who are wealthy in one generation may just become a pauper in another generation. What to speak of generations; nowadays if one stock market crashes, people may get reduced to beggars in just one day. So, we can see that wealth doesn’t stay in one place for long, but she stays in one place always, and that is by the side of the Lord. Laxmi always stays by the side of Narayana. But when Laxmi comes to anyone else she doesn’t stay for long. We can see that the various goddesses are generally worshipped with their consorts; for example, we have Parvati and Durga. Although they are the same, Parvati is worshipped with Siva, but when she is worshipped separately, she is known as Kali or the destroyer. In that form she is very fierce and angry. The images of Kali are often with a garland of skulls around her neck with her tongue coming out and blood all around her. The idea is that when the goddess is with her Lord, she is very gentle and mild but when she is alone she becomes angry. She can act as a ferocious protector as well as a ferocious destroyer. Similarly, when Laxmi is worshipped with Narayana, then her blessings actually bring auspiciousness and happiness in our lives. But when Laxmi is worshipped alone, then her Vama swababha or gentle mood doesn’t remain, and in that ferocious mood sometimes she gives us benediction and sometimes she takes away all our benedictions. When this happens, we become plunged into great distress. Here we see that the gopis are saying, “Krishna! You are the lord of the goddess of fortune, and because you have come here, the goddess of fortune has also come to reside here permanently. Thus, she has made this land glorious. But although this is the land where the goddess of fortune resides, we are experiencing extreme misfortune.”
In the next verse the gopis say, “O Krishna! We live only for your sake and our life air stays in our body for you. We have searched for you everywhere. Therefore, O beloved Lord, please come before our eyes and reveal yourselves to us.” Here the gopis are offering their prayer with great philosophical understanding. They are saying, “Krishna! You are the Lord of the goddess of the fortune. In this land there is fortune permanently for everyone, and yet how can we experience such misfortune? It is unbecoming. We live only for you, and for us to not have you with us is unbearable. Therefore, please come back and appear before us.” And then they go on. Each prayer after this also is like this.
One aspect of the Gopi Geeta is its exquisite poetic feature. Here we will see that in this verse the “Ja” sound comes in the first line. Then in the next line there is the “Sha” sound. Then the “Da” sound is there. Then the “Ta” sound is there. So, we can see that the gopi’s are great poets. It is described that they are exquisitely skilled.
In the Radhikastham it is said that in all the exquisite skills that are required for pleasing her Lord, there are no one who is equal to Radharani. Radharani is exquisitely beautiful, she is a superb cook, she is great singer and a dancer etc. Thus, she is perfect for Krishna.
The gopis are all great poets and although there is great distress in their hearts, but still their devotion is being expressed through their exquisite poetic meter. The next verse is also a prayer by the gopis to Krishna requesting him to come back. In this verse the gopis tell Krishna, “O Krishna! Your eyes are so beautiful. They are like the most exquisitely formed lotus petals.” When somebody is very beautiful we think that this person must be very nice and loving; beauty is an attractive feature that attracts us to people, and when we are attracted to them we want to have loving reciprocations. Sometimes some people may have very attractive looks but they may have a very deceptive heart. They may use their beauty to manipulate others. But Krishna is not like that. In the next verse the gopis say to Krishna, “Krishna! You are not only very attractive and loving to look at, not only is your glance very loving, but your heart is also very loving. You are the God of love and we are your unpaid maidservants.” The gopis don’t think that they are the queens or the consorts of Krishna; they think that they are just the maidservants or “dasika” of Krishna. Then they are saying that they are “asulka” or without any payment. Why the point of payment is brought in over here? They are saying, “Krishna! We have come to you only out of love and you are the God of love. When you are the God of love and we have come out to you out of love, how can you abandon us?” Then the gopis say, “You who are the giver of benedictions, how can you kill us?”
If Krishna is the God of Love and somebody comes to him with great love, then naturally Krishna should bless them. That is appropriate because he is the God of love and people are approaching him with love. Then the gopis say, “That is your normal disposition that you give love, but then how is it that you are killing us?” Then Krishna says, “I am not killing you.” The gopis reply back, “No. Krishna! for us separation from you is a pain that is worse that death. Don’t think that it is weapons that can kill. The separation from you is such a great agony that, that can also kill.” That is hinted in the previous verse when they say, “Actually we live for you. Our life air is maintained for you, and if you are not there, then what is the point of our life?” So, we see that again the mood is, “Krishna! Please come back. Please appear before us. You are the god of love and we have come to you out of love, and how can you abandon us now, how can you reject us? And if you reject us, then that will be devastating for us and we will die.” Here the mood that is actually being displayed by the gopis is very much the mood of the Gaudia Vaisnava Acharyas. The Gaudia Vaisnava tradition of which we are a part focusses on love in separation – that when Krishna is not present, then we long for his presence and we beg to him to feel his presence. We beg him to appear before us. In that sense these verses are embodying in the Bhagavatam the mood that the acharyas in our tradition have later spoken in their compositions.
Each of these verses have been spoken by different gopis. so, we see that each gopi is reiterating the appeal, “Krishna, please come back from different directions.” The previous verse says, “Krishna, how can you kill us because separation from you is killing us.” Then the gopis say, “Killing us is unreasonable for another reason.” Why is that? That the gopis describe in the third text where they say, “In the past you have protected us from so many dangers. You have saved our lives from so many demons. If you have protected us earlier, then how can you kill us now? Therefore, please protect our lives and please come back.” Here the gopis describe different pastimes and different occasions when Krishna has protected them. For example, the poisoned water refers to Kalia; Kalia had put not only Krishna in danger but the water around it was so poisonous that anyone who went in the vicinity would also die. Then the gopis said, “O Krishna! You saved us from the poison water created by the serpent, Kalia. “Bhyala Rakshasa” refers to a demon who was in the form of a giant snake. It was a python which could swallow everyone. The serpent had swallowed all the gopas. Then Krishna also entered and saved all of them. Here when the gopis are saying “We” they are not just referring to themselves alone, but they are referring to all the Vrajvasis for whom they act often as representatives. In the next verse the gopis say, “Rain, storm and thunderbolt; all these three endangered us when Indra became angry with us. At that time all the Vrajavasis were in great danger and O Krishna, you protected us at that time. You lifted the Govardhan hill and in a miraculous way and you gave us your darshan for seven continuous days. You protected us not only from the danger of death because of the storm, rain and thunderbolt, but you also gave us the supreme sweetness of your uninterrupted darshan. So, you O Lord who has given us benedictions so many times, now how can you kill us?”
Vrisha refers to the bull demon; that is Aristhasur. Mayaatmajat refers to the Maya demon whose son is Vyomasur. Now the acharyas explain that this two demons “Vrsa” and “Maya” have not come till now. This is chapter-31 and the coming of these demons will be described in the later chapters which are chapters 38, 39 and 40. How is it that the gopis are mentioning beforehand? That is because the gopis are not just ordinary cowherd girls, but they are extraordinary devotees of Krishna and they know the glory of Krishna and divinity of Krishna, and thus they are able to know that Krishna is going to perform these pastimes in the future. And they know that, as Krishna had protected them in the past, he will also protect them in the future. So, they are saying, “Why is Krishna not protecting us now? Please Krishna, protect us now.” So, they are in various ways appealing to Krishna by saying, “Krishna, your behavior right now is very uncharacteristic and unbecoming of you, you are the protector of your devotees in all phases of time: past, present and future. You protected us in the past and you will protect us in the future. So, how can you not protect us now? Krishna please come back. Please appear before us.” And as they are pondering like this, they contemplated, “This Krishna is not who we think he is. He is certainly not the son of Gopi; the gopis are females.” So, they are referring to Krishna in terms of his relationship with another female; that is Yasodamayi. Then the gopis continue, “You are not the son of Yasoda. We think that you are also a Vrajavasi and one among us, but actually you are the supreme Lord and certainly not the son of Yasoda. You are the indwelling super-soul in the hearts of all the living beings. You O Lord are present in our hearts and in the hearts of everyone.” What is the significance of this point? That is stressed in the next two verses. The gopis in the next verse are saying, “If you are the indwelling super-soul, then how are you manifesting here? In the next verse “Vikhanas” refers to Brahmaji. Here the gopis say, “That when Brahmaji was in distress along with the devatas prayed to you to descend in this world for the protection of the world, at that time you appeared in the Satwata dynasty.” That means that they understand that Krishna is the son of Vasudev who has appeared over there. When Krishna has appeared like this, this pastime of Krishna was being appealed by Brahmaji as described in the start of the canto before Krishna’s descent. But what is the context of this? At one level the gopis are saying, “Krishna you are the supreme Lord.” But again, there is a reiteration of their appeal. They say, “Krishna! You have come to protect the whole world. How come you are not protecting us? You have come to free this whole world of distress, and now how can you put us in distress. We are in such agony that we are on the verge of death because we are not able to see you, and how can you not fulfill your mission for us? You should have come to protect us because you have come to protect the world. In the Bhagavad-gita you say that you come to deliver the saintly. So, please deliver us.” Here the significance of the address is stated in the next verse where the gopis say, “You are indwelling supersoul in the hearts of everyone.” When the gopis say like that, the significance of what they said is, “O Krishna, you are in our heart and you know in how much distress we are in.” Sometimes somebody may be in trouble and somebody else may not know that they are in trouble. But Krishna says, “That is not your case.” Then the gopis say, “You know we are in distress. You have come to this world to release this world from distress and you know that we are in distress. How can you not relieve us from this distress? Please O Lord, fulfill your mission, release us from the distress, please come back.” In this verse there is also a very sweet and revealing contrast that is seen. At one level the gopis are saying, “You are the supersoul in the hearts of all living beings, you are the Lord who even Brahma prayed to so that you may descend to this world.” and yet the gopis are also referring to Krishna by the word “Sakha” Sakha means “O Friend.” Now if Krishna is the indwelling supersoul and the Lord of all living beings, then how can they refer to him as their friend? Actually, our acharyas describe that the Vrajavasis have the knowledge of Krishna’s greatness, but that knowledge of Krishna’s greatness is eclipsed by their absorption in Krishna’s sweetness. God has two aspects: his greatness and his sweetness.
Even in the day time there are stars in the sky, but we can’t see those stars because the sun is so bright. And when the sun’s brightness decreases and the sun sets, then we can see the stars. It is not that the stars are created at that time. So, for the Vrajavasis, their love for Krishna, their absorption in the sweetness of Krishna and their wanting to serve Krishna in their particular relationship is like the sun. And their awareness of Krishna’s divinity and supremacy is like the stars. So, it is there, but it is not in the foreground of their consciousness. It is said that the stars are present in the sky but they are not seen. Similarly, the Vrajavasis don’t act as if they know that Krishna is God. They act as if Krishna is an extraordinary cowherd boy among them; and if for the intensification of the flavor of their devotion and for the purpose of their service to Krishna, the knowledge of Krishna’s divinity is required, then they summon that knowledge and that knowledge appears in their consciousness; and then they use it for doing their service to Krishna. But otherwise they don’t depend on Krishna’s divinity to love him or to serve him. So, we see that the Vrajavasis don’t love Krishna because he is God, but they love Krishna because he is so lovable. The knowledge that Krishna is God. the gopis sometimes remember when it will help them to serve Krishna. In this case the predominant flavor of the Vrajavasis is, “Krishna, you are my friend and our sakha.” “sakha” refers to the friends who are males and “sakhi” refers to friends who are females. That is the predominant mood of their relationship, but right now they are not even able to relate with Krishna as their sakha because Krishna is not there in front of them. And in order to bring intensity to their prayer to Krishna, they say, “Krishna, please come.” Here they add the knowledge that Krishna is God; that Krishna, who is the Lord of everyone, and who frees everyone from distress, the gopis pray, “O Krishna, please free us from the distress of separation from you.” This is a very instructive meditation that we can also do. Actually, Krishna is in our hearts and he knows our distress. Now the distress of the gopi’s may be spiritual because they are separated from Krishna. But our distress maybe material because we may be facing some worldly problems and there may be some relationship issue, some financial worry or some health issue. But still Krishna knows our distress because in all living beings he is present as the supersoul. Now in the case of the gopis, why do they have to pray to Krishna if they know that Krishna knows their distress? Some people say, “What is the need to pray to God. God knows you condition. When he knows what is your condition, then he will provide.” That is one way of considering God’s position, but in Bhakti we see prayers as not just a tool to get God to do something for us. We see the prayer as a way of offering our emotion to Krishna and as a means to connect with Krishna for invoking Krishna’s presence in our heart; not just as a tool to get things done. Even when we are in a particular plight that Krishna knows, still we can verbalize and offer a prayer to Krishna about it, and in that way our bond with Krishna will strengthen.
As the gopis are thinking that Krishna is in their hearts, they think, “Did Krishna see that we have become proud? Is it because of our pride that Krishna left us and went away?” If that is the case, then the next few verses address that. Before they go to that point, they reiterate Krishna’s mission, “Krishna has come for the protection of the whole universe.” And thus, they pray over here, “O Krishna you grant fearlessness to us. You are a great hero.” For example, if someone is in great danger, and at that time a very powerful warrior comes over there, then they will be protected. Similarly, the gopis pray, “O Krishna, you always grant fearlessness because you are a great hero who is born in the Vrishni dynasty.” Somebody may say, “To whom does Krishna give fearlessness? To whom does Krishna grant fearlessness?” then answer is, “To anyone who takes shelter of Krishna’s lotus feet.”
Then the gopis say, “Whoever takes shelter of your lotus feet, they come in your presence, and when they come in your presence, then you grant them fearlessness.” There may be many great dangers; we may have the fear of loss of health, loss of relationship, loss of wealth etc. But for those who have knowledge, they understand that, far greater than all these fears is a fundamental fear: that is the fear of material existence itself. What is the fear of material existence? Actually, there are two kinds of fear: one is, material existence may bring tribulation upon us at any moment. Anything can go wrong in this world. Disaster can fall upon us at any moment. So, the material existence itself is fearful because tribulation can befall us at any time, but actually material existence is dangerous in another way, “Not just tribulation can trouble us, but temptations can allure us.” If temptations allure us, then we do wrong things, and those wrong things binds us in this material existence. And when they bind us in material existence, then we get various distresses again and again. So, for a devotee, actually temptation is more fearful than tribulation. This is because when tribulation comes upon us, it comes by our past karma, and the past karma is getting exhausted when we suffer. But when temptations come upon us and we succumb to the temptations, then it is not that the past karma is getting exhausted, but rather new karma is getting created. So, actually temptation is more threatening for a devotee than tribulation. Tribulation exhausts past karma but temptations create new karma. Therefore, temptation is more of a threat than tribulation for a transcendentalist. Both these fears are there in this material world. Therefore, this world is very fearful and fearsome place. However, Krishna can grant us protection from temptation and tribulation if we surrender to hm. If we are absorbed in Krishna, then we will not get tempted by anything. If we are absorbed in Krishna, even if dangers come upon us, we will be able to tolerate them. So, the gopis are telling Krishna, “You give everyone protection from all fears if they surrender to your lotus feet. Therefore, why are you not giving us the protection? Please gives us this protection O Krishna.” Then the gopis say, “Please take you beautiful lotus hand which is so attractive.” Again, when the gopis are acknowledging Krishna’s divinity, they say, “O Krishna, you are mukunda, you are the Lord who frees everyone from material existence.” But still they are referring to him as “kanta” or “O lover”. The gopis are telling to Krishna, “O Krishna, you are the fulfiller of our desires.” The word “kama” can sometimes mean lust and sometimes it can broadly mean desire. The gopis are telling to Krishna, “You are the fulfiller of our desires.” And what is the desire of the gopis now? The gopis say “Please O Krishna, bless us, put your hand on our head because your hand is supremely auspicious. In your hand resides the goddess of fortune. There is mark of the goddess of fortune on your hands also, and if you bless us with your hand on our head, then we will be freed from all distress, and thus you will fulfill both your mission as the Lord who frees the surrendered souls from distress, and also you are a hero, you are a ksatriya, and a ksatriya is meant to protect those who are in distress.”
There are five classes of people who are to be protected: women, children, elderly, the brahmana and the cows; and a ksatriya hero is meant to protect women, so, the gopis are saying, “We are women in distress and you are great hero. So, Krishna please come and protect us.” So, we see that same mood is being offered to Krishna, “You are the protector. So, please come and protect us.” Indirectly Krishna has to put his hand on their head and he has to appear before them; and thus, they are reiterating these prayers, “Krishna, please come.” Then they address, “Krishna may not be coming because he thought that we have become proud.” They then said, “Krishna! Even if we have become proud, what is the solution to that pride? It is when you appear before us that the pride will go away.” So, they are praying over here, “You are the destroyer of the distressed and of the Vraja Jana – the residents of Vrindavan, and especially you are the hero for all women, you are such an attractive heroic person that if a woman is in distress, she will call out to you and you will protect her. So, we are vraja vasis and women. So, please protect us, and if you feel that we have been afflicted by pride, then please protect us from that pride also. And how will you protect us?” Then the gopis say, “If your devotees become proud, your smile destroys their pride.” This is very interesting. It can mean different things. It can mean that Krishna smiles and does whatever is required to destroy the pride of his devotees, and when the destruction of pride happens, that can be quite painful. But there is another meaning over here. This first meaning can be applied to Indra; Indra became proud, and because of that Krishna smiled and performed the Govardhan lila by which Indra’s pride was destroyed. But there is another meaning. We all want pleasure, and all these anarthas and misgivings that are there in the heart, they all promises pleasure. Lust, greed and pride promises some pleasure. Pride promises pleasure at the level of ego. That time the person thinks, “Everybody admires me, everybody looks up to me and everybody speaks praises of me.” And that titillates our pride and we feel happy. But when a devotee comes before Krishna and sees the smile of Krishna, that devotee feels that pride has no pleasure. The pleasure of drinking the Nectarian beauty of Krishna’s form, and especially of Krishna’s smile is so great, that this pleasure of pride is insignificant. That pleasure of pride is just like a few drops of water, but Krishna’s beautiful smile is like an ocean.
In the Caitanya Cairtamrita there is a beautiful prayer which says that Krishna’s whole form is very beautiful, and then in his entire form, his face is very beautiful, and on his face his smile is extremely beautiful. And how beautiful it is? There are no words to describe it. It just describes again and again that it is madhura or sweet. So, for us, how do we become free from pride? Just absorb ourselves in devotion. If we absorb ourselves in devotion and get the taste of devotion, then we feel, “This is so relishable. Why do I need anything else in life?”
When we sing or speak about Krishna, sometimes we may want to see how many people are appreciating our singing or speaking, and when people praise us for our singing or speaking, we may get some pleasure by that. But sometimes nobody may praise us, and then we may get no pleasure. But instead of expecting for that pleasure of praise while singing or speaking about Krishna, if we just try to absorb ourselves in Krishna, then we will realize that this absorption is so much more glorious and enduring, and so much more fulfilling, that the pleasure that might come by being praised is so fleeting and so insubstantial, that we feel that we don’t need it anymore. So, the gopis are saying, “Krishna! If at all you think that we have become proud, the way to destroy our pride is, please come before us and smile before us. Your smile will destroy our pride.” And how will this smile destroy the pride? They give us a description which is an indication of the beauty of the smile in the next verse, where the gopis say that they are the “kinkaris” or the servants of Krishna and they are worshipping him. In the same verse they are actually using the word “kinkara sakha”; sakha is friend and kinkara is servant. So, the gopi’s are having both this flavor; they are appreciating Krishna’s sweetness while also contemplating his greatness.
And they say that the smile of Krishna is like a freshly formed beautiful lotus that is grown in a pond. So, they are saying that Krishna’s face is like a beautiful pond and the smile in that face is like a blossoming lotus flower. Then the gopis are saying, “O Krishna, please reveal this form to us because this form is so sweet.” In this way the gopis are fervently praying to Krishna to please come before them. Such is the extraordinary intensity and sweetness of the gopis prayers which can be seen in the same verse coming through six different forms of reasoning.
We will summarize:
The Gopi Geeta is the song where the gopis are being separated from Krishna and are one by one offering their prayers. The first prayer is, “Krishna, you have made this land fortunate by having the goddess of fortunate residing here permanently and yet how can you make us unfortunate by making us separated from you when we have devoted our life to you?” The second verse has a different reasoning where the gopis say, “Krishna, you are the God of love and we are worshipping you out of love. You have attractive form, face and heart, and when we approach you out of love, how can you not bless us? Instead of blessing us how are you condemning us to death by the fierce pain of separation from you. They are then saying, “O Krishna, because you are the god of love, please come and appear before us.”
In the first verse the gopis say, “Because you are the Lord of the goddess of fortune, make us fortunate and appear before us.” Second verse says, “Because you are the god of love please appear before us.” Third verse states, “Krishna you have protected us from so many demons in the past; you have protected us from Indra’s thunderbolt, rain and wind. You have protected us from Kaliya’s poisoned water, you have protected us from the all-devouring mouth of Agha, and in the future, you will protect us from demons like Bull demon, Vyamasur and Aristasur. So, you are the protector. You have protected our lives in the past and you will protect in the future. So, how can you not protect us in the present? Please protect us now Krishna from the demon of separation from you, which is devouring us right now. Then they offer the fourth reason, “Krishna, you are not the son of Yasoda, you are the indwelling super-soul who has descended because of the prayers of Brahma to protect the whole universe. We are also a part of the universe. Then how are you not protecting us from distress? You are present in our hearts and you know our distress, and how can you not protect us from distress? You have descended this world to free us from distress. Therefore, O Lord, please free us from distress.” Then in the fifth prayer they say, “Krishna, you are a great hero, you are the hero of the Vrsni dynasty who is meant to protect women. We are the women in distress. So, please protect us. And you are the supreme Lord who protects those who take shelter of his lotus feet. You protect them from all fear of material existence. We are in great fear and are in distress of being separated from you. Please O Lord! act according to your nature and protect us by appearing before us.” In the last prayer the gopis say, “You freed the vrajavasis from distress and women from distress. We are female and vrajavasis. So, please protect us. If we are proud, then protect us from the pride by revealing your beautiful smile before us.” Seeing the beauty of that smile we will feel that the pleasure coming from pride is so insignificant that pride will get destroyed. In this way the gopi’s through profound philosophical knowledge of Krishna’s greatness, which is like the stars in the daytime, are using that knowledge to intensify their flavor of their conjugal relationship and to intensify their call to Krishna, “O Krishna, please come back.
Thank you very much
End of transcription.