“Gopi-jana vallabha, Giri-vara-dhari” (Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura)
This is a line from the poem called Jaya Radha Madhava, composed by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great saint in the line of spiritual masters descending from Lord Chaitanya. Glorifying Lord Krishna and His principle devotees, this poem, turned into a song, was made famous throughout the world by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and today is sung daily in hundreds of temple throughout the world.
Lord Krishna is the sustainer of the gopis. Around five thousand years ago, the Lord personally advented on this planet and spent His childhood in Vrindavana, a town in India. There are three primary forms of God which are interchangeable: Krishna, Narayana, and Vishnu. They are the same one and only God, above any other demigod, but according to the Shrimad Bhagavatam and other major Vedic texts, Krishna is the original. It is similar to the concept of a single candle lighting many others. All other candles are the same in their potency, but the original candle still stands out. Krishna’s expansions are known as vishnu-tattva. His incarnations as Rama, Narasimha, Vamana, etc. are all as good as God Himself. In essence when discussing and comparing His various names and forms and their various potencies, it’s really a matter of a distinction without a difference. When Krishna came to earth, it was in His original form, and He came to give protection to His devotees, to kill the demons, and to enact pastimes for future generations to relish in.
The gopis were the cowherd girls of Vrindavana. Krishna spent His childhood living in a vaishya family. Vaishyas are the third division or caste of society and their duty is to run businesses and engage in cow protection. Nanda Maharaja, Krishna’s foster father, was a cowherd man as were the rest of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. The gopis were mostly married girls who worked all day as milkmaids and who managed household affairs. Most of them were married but they still spent all their time thinking about Krishna and His welfare. He was their life and soul. This is the mood of a pure devotee. We may have family ties and friendships during our lifetime, but our eternal relationship with God trumps all others. He is the only reservoir of pleasure, and those who realize this fact have made their lives perfect. As a child, Krishna and His friends would go out and play or they would take the cows out to the pastures, and the gopis would worry all day about Him. “How is Krishna doing? Is He alright? Is He having fun? When He comes home, we will serve Him nice food and make Him happy.” In this way, their minds were completely fixed on the Supreme Lord in perfect meditation like perfect yogis. They obviously weren’t yogis, for they were uneducated girls, but through their service, their activities were better than that of any yogi. There are 108 primary gopis, and for this reason the japa mala, or set of chanting beads, has 108 beads on them with an additional primary bead representing Krishna. If one thinks of the gopis while chanting on these beads, then he or she will gradually be elevated to the state of pure Krishna consciousness.
The gopis in Vrindavana actually descended from the spiritual world. The kingdom of God has many spiritual planets, with the primary one being Krishnaloka. Vrindavana actually exists there in its original form, and the same pastimes are occurring their eternally. The gopis that took birth in Vrindavana did so to as to allow the same pastimes to occur on earth for others to see and hear about. Many of the gopis were also great sages in their previous lives, during the advent of Lord Rama.
“The gopis who were gathered there were mostly all followers of the Vedas. In their previous births, during Lord Ramachandra’s advent, they were Vedic scholars who desired the association of Lord Ramachandra in conjugal love. Ramachandra gave them the benediction that they would be present for the advent of Lord Krishna, and He would fulfill their desires. During Krishna’s advent, the Vedic scholars took birth in the shape of the gopis in Vrndavana; as young gopis, they got the association of Krishna in fulfillment of their previous births’ desire. The ultimate goal of their perfect desire was attained, and they were so joyous that they had nothing further to desire.” (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, 1970-1-31)
Lord Rama lived by the principle of eka-patni, having only one wife in Sita Devi. Being God Himself, He was highly sought after by many others, but He didn’t want to break His vow, so He accommodated those people by allowing them to take birth in the future where they could have association with Him.
The gopis didn’t look for pleasure from material things. We all tend to seek after the material comforts of a nice home, money, a nice husband or wife, and good children. These certainly aren’t bad things, for they provide security and happiness. However, that is not ultimate aim of life. Family relations and money are nonetheless temporary, for one has to give them up at the time of death. If one wants permanent happiness, they need only look to God. The gopis didn’t pray for anything material, for they only wanted Krishna to be happy. They were the greatest renunciates without even knowing it. Most of us initially approach God for some personal benefit. One of our friends or family members may be suffering from an illness, so we pray to God to cure their ailment. Other times we may fall victim to some bad luck, and we pray to God to lift us out of our difficult situations. This type of worship certainly isn’t bad, for at least we realize that there is a God, a higher power who has greater control over things than we do. At the same time, God is not our order supplier. Everything that happens in this material world is a result of the laws of nature and karma. If we ask God for something and He doesn’t give it to us, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. The dualities of happiness and distress, good and bad fortune all come and go of their own volition without us seeking them. Our real business is to love God for who He is and not for what He can supply us.
Jaya Radha Madhava is a very nice song to sing, for it puts us in a good place. We can immediately think of the beauty of Vrindavana and the wonderful pastimes that occur there. Following in the path of the gopis, we can do no wrong.