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Gopi Cheerharan Leela

When the gopés were very young, they developed an intense love for Krishna. Hankering to directly meet Lord Krishna before actually meeting him is a kind of love in separation called pürva-raga. The vraja-gopés desired to have a relationship with Krishna as their husband. Such was the desire of Dhanya Sakhi and the other virgin girls of Vrindavan. Individually, they secretly supplicated various deities with the object of having Krishna as their husband, but they were confused by the apparent failure of these efforts. Each of them prayed to reside in Nanda Bhavan with Nanda Baba and Yasodamayi as their parents-in-law and Krishna as their husband birth after birth. In due course of time, these girls met each other near the Yamuna. Though from different places, if many people simultaneously seek out the same goal, they come in contact with each other, just as students meet at the residence of their guru. When these girls met, they immediately felt a deep empathy for each other.

When this friendship was established, they revealed their heartfelt desires to each other. Although the hearts of those in love may be concealed, they are clear to those who are experiencing the same feelings. One day, as they were divulging their heart’s desire to each other and weeping, their well-wisher Vrinda arrived there in the dress of a female ascetic. Vrinda had been thinking, “The mutual love between these girls and the prince of Vraja possesses an indescribable power to bring them together. This love is far beyond the common affection of people in this world. Therefore they should worship some other god, other than Krishna personally.”

Upon arriving amongst the gopés, Vrinda accepted their respectful greetings and gave them her blessings. She said, “I am a resident of this forest and I couldn’t help but see how you are suffering due to your love. My heart has been torn with compassion, so I have come here. I ask you to carefully listen to my knowledge of magical ritual by which you will be able to fulfill your desires. It will not require extreme effort as you shall only have to exert yourselves for a month. I learned of these things from the compassionate Yogamaya, the reservoir of all spells and incantations, after I entreated her through austerities.”

Thus thinking of the girls’ welfare, Vrinda initiated the gopés by whispering a mantra into their ears and by instructing them in the rules and regulations for austerities meant to accompany the chanting of the mantra. She then disappeared. As soon as she left, the gopés joyfully began applying her instructions.

The mothers of these young girls wanted them to get married and so encouraged them to perform worship. But the mothers were worried that any austerities would be too much for the girls due to their tender and fragile young bodies. Thus their mothers affectionately warned them, “How can your young bodies endure austerities? And how will you get the needed determination? We have never seen you do such things before.” Their mothers’ doubts, however, simply increased their determination to perform the vrata. Their mothers also asked them, “O girls, who will you worship? Will you worship Uma or Umapati or maybe Lord Brahma? What type of püjä will you do? Will you need any wealth to perform the püjä? And who will be the äcärya to guide you in the chanting of the Vedic mantras? Please consider all these details and then tell us your decision.”

A vrata, vow, is specified by käla, deça, saìkalpa, mantra and iñöa-deva. The vraja-gopés were planning to perform a specific vrata, and, by the mercy of Vrinda-devi, they knew all of the particulars for that vrata. The time (käla) was set for the first day of the waning moon at the beginning of the month of Märgaçérña (November-December). The place (deça) to perform it was also planned: the pristine and beautiful banks of the Yamuna River. Their saìkalpa, desired goal, was deeply established in the core of their hearts: to attain the son of Nanda as their husband. The iñöa-deva to whom they would offer worship was to be goddess Katyayani, and the mantra they were going to chant during the offerings began with the words kätyäyani mahä-mäye.

It was the first month of the Hemanta season, winter. The girls briefly told their mothers, “We are going to worship Katyayani.” They did not tell their mothers much more because they were afraid that if their mothers would keep asking questions then the secret in their hearts would be revealed. That is one of the meanings of the word gopé. The Sanskrit root gup means “to hide”. Therefore, a girl who hides her love for Sri Krishna is known as a gopé. The gopés knew that if one reveals the flavor of ones love to others, it dissipates, just as spices lose their flavor if the lids of their containers are not kept tightly closed.

The vrata required that they eat only boiled rice and dal without any spices and to rise early every morning and bathe in the cold waters of the Yamuna River. There on the banks of the Yamuna they would worship goddess Katyayani and offer her prayers. They walked together every morning at dawn to take their morning baths, and then they worshipped goddess Katyayani. Every morning they made a mürti of Katyayani from sand.

The bodies of the gopés revealed a special kind of beauty during this time of austerity. They did not use oil while bathing, and thus their skin and hair appeared dry, clean and fresh like açoka leaves washed by rain. They also did not chew any tämbüla, so the natural hue of their lips was manifest. From eating only once a day their bodies became thin and lost their natural effulgence. Seeing their emaciated condition, the vrajaväsés felt pity for them.

Their burning desire to obtain Krishna caused them to often lay awake at night. And before they took rest they would secretly discuss how and where they would meet the following morning. Then when they would meet in the morning they would respectfully greet one another and lovingly embrace. They would sometimes call out to each other by name, “O fortunate girl, where are you? Why are you wasting time? Come!” As they walked together in the early morning toward the Yamuna, they would hold hands and sing songs about Krishna, teasing each other by exposing their own goals in song. Because they were effulgent, they appeared like a garland of lightening bolts moving on the earth.

Yamuna Devi could directly perceive the desire in their hearts. She knew that they all wanted Krishna as their husband. She welcomed them with her waves, desiring to embrace them, and respectfully called, “Come, come sakhis! Welcome!” When the eager gopés arrived at the bank of the Yamuna, they immediately threw off their woolen cadars, revealing their thin white underclothes for bathing. Thus they appeared more beautiful than fallen snow. Shivering and sighing due to the chill morning air, the young girls smiled and giggled at one another upon noticing that their friends felt the same way. Their lips quivered, revealing their jasmine bud-like teeth. They further reacted to the cold, making a comic scene by slapping their arms together and crossing their legs in a contorted, humorous fashion. They offered obeisances to Yamuna Devi before entering the river, and after bathing they gleefully ran back up the river bank, feeling elated at having bravely tolerated her icy waters.

After coming out, the water dripping from their garments fell onto the earth. It appeared that their garments were shedding tears after being tortured by the cold water. As they gracefully dried themselves with soft cloths, the gopés looked very beautiful. Their beauty was enhanced by their chanting of the sweet names of Krishna. The sweetness from their breath attracted bees that flew in front of their faces. But the gopés became annoyed, blinking and twitching their eyebrows, because the bees were creating a breeze by flapping their wings. Feeling compassionate, Suryadev gradually dispersed their chill by caressing them with his gentle, warm rays. Thus Suryadev offered more affection for the gopés than to his own daughter Yamuna Devi.