Chapter Fifteen from the book Bhakti-rasāyana, 4th edition by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja


tan-manaskās tad-alāpās
tad-viceṣṭās tad-ātmikāḥ
tad-guṇān eva gāyantyo
nātmagārāṇi sasmaruḥ

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.30.43); Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta (2.7.134)

[Their minds absorbed in thoughts of Him, they conversed about Him, acted out His pastimes and felt themselves filled with His presence. They completely forgot about their homes as they loudly sang the glories of Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental qualities.]

Those vraja-gopīs, who had fully given their hearts to Śrī  Kṛṣṇa, would imitate His manner of speaking and His activities. Since they had offered their very souls to Him and always sang His glories, they completely forgot themselves and their family interests.

In the gradual development of bhakti, from niṣṭhā comes ruci, where it becomes tasteful. From ruci comes āsakti, where one will not desire to leave it. Then comes bhāva, and then prema, sneha, māna, praṇaya, rāga, anurāga, and in some cases even mahābhāva, where one receives the pinnacle of experience of Kṛṣṇa. Possessing this mahābhāva, the gopīs’  minds and hearts became so absorbed in Kṛṣṇa that they could no longer be considered their own. If you place a piece of cotton on a few drops of water, the water is immediately absorbed. Similarly, the water of the gopīs’ hearts was immediately absorbed into the Kṛṣṇa-cotton in such a way that it was as if their individual existences were lost. If someone is fortunate enough to receive Kṛṣṇa’s direct darśana or to hear about Him from a rasika Vaiṣṇava, then one may also experience this same absorption. Singing about His virtues increasingly, they became tad-ātmikā –  they completely forgot their own bodies, bodily relations, homes, everything.

If we have a task to perform but, due to some obstacle, we cannot complete it, we simply return home. But the gopīs were searching for Kṛṣṇa everywhere, asking the vines, trees, tulasī and the deer if they had seen Him; still, they could not find Him anywhere. But did they return to their homes? Even though they could not find Him, their homes and families had been completely forgotten. They became so absorbed in thinking of Him that it was as if they were possessed by ghosts. Taking on Kṛṣṇa’s identity, they began imitating His activities and saying to one another, “How beautiful is my gait? How beautifully do I play the flute?” At that time they didn’t know what they were doing, which is what the words tan-manaskāḥ mean. They became so absorbed in Kṛṣṇa that their natures changed like iron put into a fire and they forgot everything.

As the gopīs searched for Kṛṣṇa, all they remembered were His virtues and His pastimes with them. Whereas we think mostly of our material comforts and can forget bhakti, they are the opposite. We should endeavour to become like the eternal associates of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, such as Mādhavendra Purī, who would go days without eating or even begging and was always absorbed in remembrance of Kṛṣṇa. As our bhakti increases, we will forget more and more the demands of our bodies and bodily relations, and this remembrance will also increase. Kṛṣṇa had left the gopīs, but they never thought, “Kṛṣṇa is so cruel because He has left us!” Otherwise they would have given up searching for Him and returned home, but they didn’t do that. They continued searching for Him, and they began singing in glorification of His virtues, especially His kindness:

praṇata-dehināṁ pāpa-karṣaṇaṁ
tṛṇa-carānugaṁ śrī-niketanam
phaṇi-phaṇārpitaṁ te padāmbujaṁ
kṛṇu kuceṣu naḥ kṛndhi hṛc-chayam

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.31.7)

[Your lotus feet destroy the past sins of all embodied souls who surrender to them. Those feet follow after the cows in the pastures and are the eternal abode of the goddess of fortune. Since You once put those feet on the hoods of the great serpent Kāliya, please place them upon our breasts and tear away the lust in our hearts.]

O Lord, You are very merciful. Why are You afraid that there may be a sinful reaction if You were to place Your lotus feet on our breasts? By merely remembering Your name, all sins are destroyed.

Praṇata means that if one surrenders everything to Bhagavān including one’s false ego, then all sins are destroyed, and when all of one’s sins are destroyed, then at once one receives Bhagavān’s direct darśana. Gajendra the elephant fought with a crocodile for thousands of years until being partially submerged in water, he took a lotus in his trunk and held it up as an offering to Bhagavān while silently praying, “O Lord, now I am surrendered to You, and I am not even concerned if You save me or if I perish.” By the power of this surrender, all of his anarthas and aparādhas from so many lives were destroyed, and at once, Bhagavān came. He killed the crocodile with His cakra, and Gajendra was released.

If someone factually surrenders to Bhagavān, that surrender will destroy all of his faults. Are we surrendered like this? Have all of our faults and offences been eradicated? This is the measuring stick. Most of the suffering we feel and the obstacles that arise in our bhajana are reactions to our past misdeeds. No matter where one goes, these reactions to previous karma and offences cannot be escaped, so an intelligent man will remain in the company of sādhus who will gradually lead him to Bhagavān.

The gopīs pray, “praṇata-dehināṁ pāpa-karṣaṇam – O Govinda, You are so merciful that You destroy the sins of those who surrender to You. We are surrendered to You, so is it that because of the sins of our previous lives, You remain hidden from us and do not give us Your darśana? We are crying in separation from You, and today, no one is as unhappy as us. We have abandoned forever our homes and families, and now we are left with no other shelter besides You! So won’t You destroy all of our sins?” These are the inner sentiments of one gopī. There are so many kinds of gopīs with different sentiments, and another gopī says, “You destroy the sins of one who is surrendered. Until tonight, we have not been able to surrender, but having abandoned our homes, husbands, children and the fear of being disgraced in society, we have come to You. So what remains for us to surrender? Now please give us Your darśana, and by placing Your lotus feet on our heads, give us the boon of mitigating our fear of the snake of separation from You. Those feet are eternally served by Śrī Lakṣmī, so are we to be deprived of the favour of serving them because we have taken birth in cowherd families in Gokula? Those feet follow after the cows in the pastures, and You are so merciful that even without any umbrella over Your head or any shoes on Your feet You take those cows, who are merely ignorant animals, out to graze, so who could be as kind as You?” In this way, even though they were anguished, they continued to sing the glories of Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet.

In the Bhramara-gīta, we find the gopīs deriding Kṛṣṇa and accusing Him of being cruel and deceptive, but still their minds never left Him.

mṛgayur iva kapīndraṁ vivyadhe lubdha-dharmā
striyam akṛta virūpāṁ strī-jitaḥ kāma-yānām
balim api balim attvāveṣṭayad dhvāṅkṣa-vad yas
tad alam asita-sakhyair dustyajas tat-kathārthaḥ

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.47.17)

[Like a hunter, He cruelly shot the king of the monkeys with arrows. Because He was conquered by a woman, He disfigured another woman who came to Him with lusty desires. And even after consuming the gifts of Bali Mahārāja, He bound him up with ropes as if he were a crow. So let us give up all friendship with this dark-complexioned boy, even if we can’t give up talking about Him.]

“In Kṛṣṇa’s previous life, instead of killing the innocent Vāli in the manner of a kṣatriya, He killed him from a hidden position like a hunter. And when a woman approached Him with amorous desires, being a kṣatriya He should have satisfied her; but instead, although He was excited by her beauty, He wanted to preserve His vow to Sītā, so He made her ugly by chopping off her nose and ears. He is so eager to show that He cannot be conquered by a woman, but in that instance we can clearly see that He really had been overpowered by a woman.” Even though they were accusing Kṛṣṇa, could they ever stop thinking of Him and speak about anything else?

In the verse we are discussing here, the words tad-ālāpāḥ mean that the gopīs sang in melodious tones the glories of Kṛṣṇa’s names (nāma), qualities (guṇa), form (rūpa) and pastimes (līlā). This is symptomatic of bhakti. In the stage of sādhana, whenever the mind strays, it must be brought back to Bhagavān’s nāma, guṇa, rūpa and līlā, and then it is real sādhana. There is no greater sādhana than this. Even endeavouring to push the thoughts of worldly enjoyment out of the mind is not necessary. The mind that has a tendency to ponder sense enjoyment should simply be engaged in hearing and describing Bhagavān’s names, qualities, form and pastimes and that will be all that is necessary. Doing that more and more, eventually these topics will become fully tasteful to us.

Tad-viceṣṭāḥ means the gopīs sang of Kṛṣṇa’s activities that were in relation to them: how He met with them, how He fed them tāmbūla, how He tied bells on their ankles, how He strung garlands of flowers for them, and how when they became fatigued He wiped the dust from their faces and bodies and composed a bed of flowers for them to rest on. Then they became tad-ātmikā – both internally and externally they began glorifying Him, and they forgot their homes and even their very own selves. What to speak of returning to their homes, remembrance of the home itself didn’t even arise in their minds. Glorifying Kṛṣṇa more and more in their separation, they completely forgot all worldly concerns.

Impersonalist yogīs don’t meditate on anything; their minds become attached to the void. They don’t meditate on the ātmā, on Paramātmā, or on any material object either. They are nirāśraya, without shelter, and are therefore prone to falling down; but devotees, who follow in the footsteps of the gopīs and constantly meditate on Kṛṣṇa’s attributes are āśraya, sheltered, and there is no possibility of them falling down.

Next comes this verse:

gopyas tapaḥ kim acaran yad amuṣya rūpaṁ
lāvaṇya-sāram asamordhvam ananya-siddham
dṛgbhiḥ pibanty anusavābhinavaṁ durāpam
ekānta-dhāma yaśasaḥ śriya aiśvarasya

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.44.14); Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta (2.7.135)

[What austerities must the gopīs have performed! With their eyes they always drink the nectar of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s form, which is the essence of loveliness and is not to be equalled or surpassed. That form is the only abode of beauty, fame and opulence. It is self-perfect, ever-fresh and extremely rare.]

[The ladies of Mathurā said:] Which austerities did the vraja-gopīs perform by which they could always drink through their eyes the nectar of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s form – which is the very essence of loveliness, which is unequalled or unsurpassed, which is perfect in itself and always appears new and fresh, which is extremely rare to behold and which is always the exclusive shelter of all fame, splendour and opulence?

When Kṛṣṇacandra entered the wrestling arena with Balarāma, the ladies of Mathurā spoke this verse in glorification of the gopīs. They said, “In this assembly, irreligious activity (adharma) is taking place, so we should not remain here.” One should not remain in a place where sinful activities are being committed. When the attempt was made to disrobe Draupadī, that was also an assembly of adharma, and men of good values should not have stayed there. So why, then, did Grandfather Bhīṣma remain there? At that time sinful reaction did not come to him because he knew well the greatness of Bhagavān and His devotees, and he remained silent so that their greatness would be shown. He could have taken a stand against the evil men who were offending Draupadī, and he was certainly capable of killing them all single-handedly; but even though Draupadī implored him to help her, he remained silent. He was a jñāni-bhakta, and he knew that if someone surrendered to Bhagavān, He would protect them accordingly. That was his thinking, but what were those evil men thinking? “What will Bhagavān do? He has no power to stop us, so we will do as we please” and they tried to disrobe her. And what about the Pāṇḍavas? Four of them were infuriated, but Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja remained silent. Being a jñāni-bhakta also, he knew that Kṛṣṇa would protect Draupadī appropriately, but Bhīma and Arjuna, who had less awareness of Kṛṣṇa’s divinity and saw Him more as a common friend in sakhya-bhāva, were furious.

At the wrestling arena, the ladies of Mathurā saw how those fearful wrestlers, whose massive bodies were like mountains and as if made of iron, wanted to kill soft and tender Kṛṣṇa. They saw how Baladeva’s face was red with anger and how Kṛṣṇa was smiling even though He was also angry. Considering that an injustice was about to occur, they felt it would be shameful if they remained there. There was no one present who could prevent it: Ugrasena had been imprisoned, and other elders like Akrūra remained hidden.

The meaning of this verse is, “What austerities did the gopīs perform by which they could see such a beautiful and sweet form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa as He freely wandered in the forests and kuñjas of Vraja with a happy heart?” There, the gopīs received the darśana of lovely rasika Kṛṣṇa playing the flute and wearing a peacock feather in His crown. But in the wrestling arena, the ladies of Mathurā did not see that beautiful form of Kṛṣṇa; instead, they saw Him in a fighting mood after He had broken the tusks of an elephant and was decorated with drops of blood.

What is the nature of Kṛṣṇa’s form? Lāvaṇya-sāram asamordhvam – it is the very essence of loveliness, and its beauty is unequalled and unsurpassed. Rāma is beautiful, Nārāyaṇa is beautiful and all other incarnations of Bhagavān are beautiful, but their beauty does not surpass or even equal Kṛṣṇa’s beauty. Ananya-siddham – if Kṛṣṇa is wearing an ornament, He becomes more beautiful, and if He removes that ornament, He becomes even more beautiful. Then if He becomes decorated with dust, He becomes even more beautiful again. In all circumstances, He is the most beautiful; there is no necessity for His wearing any ornament, such as an earring or a flower, to increase His beauty. We feel a need to increase the attractiveness of our appearance – how do we appear when we are not wearing tilaka or when we are wearing soiled clothing? But because Kṛṣṇa has no necessity of increasing His beauty, He is ananya-siddham.

Dṛgbhiḥ pibanty anusavābhinavam – the ladies of Mathurā are saying, “That beautiful form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa which we have never seen, the gopīs have seen in Vraja.” Suppose we have a desire to see someone whose appearance is very beautiful. Upon seeing their face just once, we become satisfied and there is no need to look again. But upon seeing Kṛṣṇa, one will have no desire to remove their gaze from Him because He always appears new and fresh. One will perpetually remain thirsty to drink the nectar of His appearance and never desire to look away. His form is the ekānta-dhāma – the exclusive shelter of fame, beauty and opulence as well as the three other qualities of Bhagavān that are not mentioned in this verse. So the ladies of Mathurā are saying, “Aho! What austerities did the gopīs perform to receive darśana of that form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa? We are seeing Kṛṣṇa  as He is angrily attacking His enemies, but they saw Him as the attractor of even Cupid himself.”

They want to know what austerities were performed by the gopīs to attain darśana of that form, but only by aspiring to serve Kṛṣṇa in the mood of the gopīs can this be attained. Without an intense hankering for that, it is very, very difficult. No performance of ordinary austerities can bestow the darśana of that form of Kṛṣṇa that was seen by the gopīs. So many of us chant one lākha of harināma daily, and we haven’t received that darśana yet, so what to speak of others? There are many well-known austerities, but none can bestow this fruit. Some persons sit in the middle of fires in the hot season, and others bathe at four in the morning in the Yamunā in the cold season and then return home in wet clothes regardless of whether it is windy, raining, snowing, or whatever. But are there any austerities by the practice of which we can attain Bhagavān?

ārādhito yadi haris tapasā tataḥ kiṁ
nārādhito yadi haris tapasā tataḥ kim
antar bahir yadi haris tapasā tataḥ kiṁ
nāntar bahir yadi haris tapasā tataḥ kim


[“If one is worshipping the Lord properly, what is the use of severe penances? And if one is not properly worshipping the Lord, what is the use of severe penances? If Śrī Kṛṣṇa is realized within and without everything that exists, what is the use of severe penances? And if Śrī Kṛṣṇa is not seen within and without everything, then what is the use of severe penances?”]

What is the value of austerities performed by sages like Durvāsā if they haven’t worshipped Bhagavān and if they don’t see Bhagavān everywhere? And if one sees Bhagavān within every living entity and everywhere outside, what is the use of other austerities besides that form of worship? For them, there is no necessity to perform any austerities other than observing devotional vows like those for Ekādaśī, Janmāṣṭamī and so on. Besides chanting the holy name and hearing and meditating on hari-kathā, there is no method to attain Kṛṣṇa’s darśana. The objective of performing austerities is to concentrate one’s mind, but catching hold of the wind is easy compared to subjugating the wicked mind, so how will it be accomplished? It can only be achieved by serving Vaiṣṇavas, hearing hari-kathā, loudly chanting the holy name and meditating on Bhagavān.

Because the ladies of Mathurā were seeing Kṛṣṇa with prema, He appeared ever-new and fresh. Others, such as the wrestlers, were present in that arena, but did they see Him the same way? They were not pleased upon seeing Him and instead merely became angry. Did Hiraṇyakaśipu enjoy hearing Bhagavān’s name, which is sweeter than sweetness? So the ladies of Mathurā are saying that the gopīs drank the ever-fresh, enchanting form of Kṛṣṇa with their eyes just as one drinks nectar with the mouth. His form is the essence of lāvaṇya, loveliness. It is as if He is the very embodiment of all loveliness.

A lion kept in a cage does not appear very beautiful, but when it is set free in the forest, its beauty, power and everything is apparent. Similarly, all of Kṛṣṇa’s beauty and sweetness are exhibited only “in the forest” of Vraja. He was not as beautiful in the wrestling arena with drops of the elephant’s blood spattered on His face. In this connection Sanātana Gosvāmī quotes this verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.2.12):

yan martya-līlaupayikaṁ sva-yoga-
māyā-balaṁ darśayatā gṛhītam
vismāpanaṁ svasya ca saubhagarddheḥ
paraṁ padaṁ bhūṣaṇa-bhūṣaṇāṅgam

[The Lord appeared in the mortal world by His internal potency, yoga-māyā. He came in His eternal form, which is just suitable for His pastimes. These pastimes were wonderful for everyone, even for those proud of their own opulence, including the Lord Himself in His form as the Lord of Vaikuṇṭha. Thus His [Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s] transcendental body is the ornament of all ornaments.]

By His Yogamāyā potency, Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa appeared in this world to lead the conditioned souls back to Him, and He exhibited a form which, upon being seen, would enchant them all. That form is the best of all, the ornament of all ornaments, and seeing it is the pinnacle of good fortune.


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Unless indicated differently, all verse translations and quotes are from the books by Śrīla Prabhupāda (

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