“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who is like a Chakora bird that drinks the beauty of the moonlike face of Shrimati Radharani, who steals away the calmness of all the gopis, and who is expert at dancing gracefully and following the meter known as charchari.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 2)
cāruto jayati kuñja-vihārī
Spiritual life at the highest levels is not devoid of activity. Rather, the free range of genuine ecstasy expands infinitely when one is able to practice their devotion that rests within. No one group of individuals better embodies the devotional spirit than the gopis of Vrindavana, and it is for this reason that Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the foremost champion of bhakti-yoga in the past thousand years, has proclaimed that the devotional service of the gopis of Vrindavana is second to none.
Who are the gopis? Who is Lord Chaitanya? The Supreme Absolute Truth is one way to describe the entity commonly referred to as God. He is the Truth because there is no duality in Him. The opposite of up is down and of down is up. One person who is up is automatically not down, which means that they are lacking something. A person who is hot is not cold, and so on. The Absolute Truth is that which is beyond duality. The most striking duality is birth and death, the coming and going of a living entity. The Supreme Absolute Truth transcends both birth and death; it exists beyond the realm of time and space.
nāhaṁ prakāśaḥ sarvasya
mūḍho ‘yaṁ nābhijānāti
loko mām ajam avyayam
“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My eternal creative potency [yoga-maya]; and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.25)
These sorts of descriptions give an impersonal understanding to the Absolute Truth. To go behind the curtain, to remove the veil created by the limiting aspects of dry logic and reasoning, we must consult the authorized Vedic texts. The information describing the personal aspect to the Absolute Truth is considered confidential, as without the requisite training one will be tempted to compare the Supreme Lord to themselves. His sport is different than ours, though, and His qualities are all transcendental. His dancing is not the same as ours, and in the same light those who delight in His dancing are not ordinary either.
Why would the Supreme Lord want to dance? The question should be, “Why wouldn’t He want to dance?” Dance follows the removal of inhibitions; it is the way to express emotions through the individual body parts working as a collective unit. Song is the same way, as to sing aloud in happiness signals a release of the shackles of shyness. The Supreme Lord does everything for His own pleasure, and since He is the reservoir of sweetness, He is known as Krishna. This is the topmost name for God, and it is kindly provided by the Vedas, the oldest scriptural tradition in the world.
Krishna plays in the Vrindavana forest, and so one of His names is Kunja-vihari. Shrila Rupa Gosvami, a noted disciple of the aforementioned Lord Chaitanya, composed a set of prayers in honor of Krishna’s attraction to the Vrindavana forest. Vrindavana is both a physical area on this planet and a transcendental realm found in the spiritual sky, the highest heaven if you will. Krishna takes His attractive body, which has various ornaments like a peacock feather, necklace and flute, and brings it to the forest of Vrindavana in the moonlit nights to play with His friends, the gopis.
A gopi is a female cowherder. The Vrindavana farm community thrives off of cow protection. The cows are very dear to Krishna, and since He gives them pleasure He is known as Govinda. Since He is also the protector of the cows in Vrindavana, He is known as Gopala. The gopis, like everyone else of a sober disposition, try to remain calm. In fact, the ancient art of yoga aims to bring about calmness, starting from within. With inner peace you can get outer peace. Very difficult it is to stay boiling mad on the inside and remain calm on the outside.
Who is there to break the calmness of the gopis? Why Krishna, of course. Is this not a bad thing? Why would He purposefully try to steal away someone’s resolve? Actually, there are two sides to this behavior so nicely glorified by Shrila Rupa Gosvami. Krishna is the father to all the creation, so He is free to interact with anyone. As the Supersoul, He exists in a visibly unmanifest form within every creature. Yet for personal interaction, there is the visible manifestation, which arrives through either the incarnation or the original Personality Himself.
One would have to think that the individuals chosen as recipients of the personal interaction are very fortunate. They must be highly qualified as well. The gopis are very fortunate because Krishna chooses to play with them, enticing them with the sounds from His flute. He also understands that they love Him very much, that they don’t think of anyone else throughout the day. Therefore He knows that calmness is not good for them, for they are happier when they are consumed with anxious thoughts about Him.
By mentioning Krishna’s behavior in this regard, Shrila Rupa Gosvami pays the gopis a compliment as well. They are kind enough to lose their calmness from Krishna’s presence. There are millions of other creatures who have the Supersoul within them, but they aren’t necessarily swayed by the divine influence. This is because the material land is conducive to forgetfulness of Krishna, or God. Vrindavana is thus not a part of the material universe, though it is technically found within it. The forest where Krishna enjoys is an area where the divine influence is noticed and appreciated. The gopis travel there to play with their beloved, and they personally offer to Him their calmness that He is expert at stealing.
Bhakti-rasa, or the transcendental taste of divine love, is available to every single person, offered free of charge by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the preacher incarnation of Godhead, through the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The leader of the gopis, Shrimati Radharani, and Shri Krishna are both represented in this sacred chant, and through reliance on it the calmness of the yogi is achieved, while the calmness with respect to ignoring Krishna is kindly removed, allowing for a personal interaction that delivers the sweetest taste in association.
No more objects of senses to dwell upon,
Keeps the yogi internally calm.
Chaitanya says yoga of gopis the highest,
At focusing the mind they are the best.
But Krishna their calmness to break,
With His charm their hearts to take.
For their benefit is this theft,
Because with God they are left.
Kind they are for giving their resolve,
Follow in their line for all problems to solve.