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


No one can taste Kṛṣṇa’s beauty as the gopīs do. What is the reason? Only in Vraja, where Kṛṣṇa’s rūpa-mādhurī, līlā-mādhurī, veṇu-mādhurī and prema-mādhurī are all present, is He overpowered by the prema of His associates. Of the many devotees there, none overpower Him as the gopīs do, and amongst them, Śrīmatī Rādhikā overpowers Him the most. Concerning this point, Sanātana Gosvāmī has written a special philosophical conclusion in his commentary on this verse. As he said before, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the source of all incarnations, performs unlimited pastimes in unlimited dhāmas, but the pinnacle of His mādhurī flows in Vraja and nowhere else. Because the anurāga of the residents there is forever increasing, the entirety of His sweetness is exhibited there. Kṛṣṇa is mādhurya, sweet, but if the gopīs were not there, His sweetness would not reach its highest point. No other devotees can experience yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti, which is a special characteristic of the gopīs’ mahābhāva.

To the degree that there is love for something, it can be tasted; if there is no love, it cannot really be tasted. The meaning of yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti is that the gopīs’ prema reaches as far as and even further than anyone can describe it. If you stretch a rubber band it will snap at a certain point, but their prema, and only theirs, increases unlimitedly. Therefore they alone fully relish the rasa of Kṛṣṇa’s four types of mādhurī.

The tendency to relish the unsurpassed beauty of Kṛṣṇa’s form is yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti, another name for which is mahābhāva. Kṛṣṇa is rasarāja, and the gopīs are mahābhāva, and when they meet, the gopīs relish He who is the very embodiment of rasa. But the dynamic nature of this meeting is that sometimes Kṛṣṇa becomes yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti, and the gopīs become rasarāja. This is not possible for anyone else but the gopīs; being overpowered by their prema, Kṛṣṇa begins serving and attending them.

Suppose there is a young boy who is lame, ugly and unable to speak properly. It is doubtful that others will be very affectionate towards him, but his mother will always love him. Why? Because she possesses anurāga, spontaneous love for him, and although that is simply a reflection of the genuine sentiment, anurāga is the root cause of love. Because the gopīs’ anurāga for Kṛṣṇa expands unlimitedly, it is called yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti. Upon receiving Kṛṣṇa’s darśana, the gopīs’ love multiplies millions of times – this is the vṛtti, tendency, of their anurāga. But this only occurs when they see the unsurpassed mādhurya of Kṛṣṇa’s form; it does not happen when they see anyone else, including Uddhava, who looks so much like Kṛṣṇa.

The ladies of Mathurā lamented that although they were seeing Kṛṣṇa directly, they did not possess the quality of prema for Him by which they could see His form of unsurpassed beauty as the gopīs always did. A person eats something with great pleasure when they are hungry. And if someone isn’t hungry, they may pinch a bit of the preparation off with their nails, examine it, find fault with it and not desire to eat it. But if one is hungry, he will consider any preparation to be tasteful, even if it is stale. Then what to speak of a preparation that is unlimitedly sweet? In this way, the gopīs’ “hunger” for Kṛṣṇa is such that as they taste Kṛṣṇa’s mādhurya, their mahābhāva increases so much that it knows no upper limit. Even though there is no space for it to increase any further, still it increases. In the upper stages of mahābhāva known as mādana and modana, it perpetually increases and feels ever-new and fresh.

In our present condition, we cannot estimate even a fraction of that, but when our faith in the spiritual master, the Vaiṣṇavas and Bhagavān is sufficiently developed, then as we become free from the influence of our anarthas, niṣṭhā will come. Even if we possess some śraddhā and niṣṭhā in partial form, still, our ruci must become deep. For now our minds may not remain steady, but someday bhāva will come to us, and precisely when it will come is not in our hands. It is solely in the hands of Bhagavān and those devotees who possess that bhāva, and only when they bestow their mercy will it come to us. At that time, even the experience of mahābhāva will automatically come to a deserving soul, even though he may have not previously known anything of that tendency. It may seem that there is no hope of it ever coming and no space whatsoever for it in our hearts, but still it will come automatically. Then, by its wonderful influence, one will easily cross over whatever seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The ladies of Mathurā speak of mādhurya Kṛṣṇa, who had come to Mathurā from Vraja. Why didn’t He bring His flute with Him to Mathurā? Because if He were to play the flute in Mathurā, no lady would leave her home and family in the dead of night to come to Him; there was no qualified recipient for the flute song in Mathurā. The ladies there saw His beautiful form, but would they ever leave their husbands to go to Him? Would it happen in Dvārakā? All would be afraid of transgressing their dharma and being disgraced in society. Because mahābhāva and yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti do not exist there, no one would come.

In this regard Sanātana Gosvāmī says in his commentary that a devotee will perform kīrtana and hear hari-kathā of his worshipful deity, but direct experience of Him will only come in the dhāma. A devotee may meditate on Kṛṣṇa, become absorbed in remembrance of Him, and gain some attachment for the bhāva of Vraja, but direct experience of Kṛṣṇa can come only in Vṛndāvana, whether it is Gokula or Goloka. In other places meditation and remembrance are possible, but direct experience of Him is available only in Vṛndāvana. Therefore Kṛṣṇa’s eternal associates in Dvārakā and Mathurā may also be able to estimate the mādhurya of Kṛṣṇa in Vraja to a certain degree, but could they ever achieve direct experience of it? Would they ever be able to abandon everything and come to Kṛṣṇa in the dead of night? No, and neither would Kṛṣṇa ever enter the royal assembly hall in Dvārakā in His Vraja attire.

Mahābhāva is unlimitedly variegated. Ordinarily it is said that mahābhāva is of two varieties, rūḍha and adhirūḍha, but thousands of variations of each of them are possible, some in meeting and some in separation. But all varieties of mahābhāva are embodied in Śrīmatī Rādhikā, or they are manifest in Her expansions as the sakhīs. She is the svayaṁ-rūpa of mahābhāva, as Kṛṣṇa is the svayaṁ-rūpā and source of the tad-ekātma, svāṁśaka, vilāsa, āveśa, prābhava-prakāśa, vaibhava-prakāśa and guṇa expansions. The guṇa-avatāras are Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śaṅkara, and the āveśa-avatāras include Pṛthu, Nārada, Vyāsa, Kapila and Paraśurāma. They all possess specific natures or empowerments. Then when Kṛṣṇa expands into forms that are fully sac-cid-ānanda and sarva-śaktimān, it is called tad-ekātma-rūpa.

As all these personalities expand from Him and perpetually exist within Him, Rādhā embodies all of the three hundred and sixty varieties of heroines. Due to this She always attracts Kṛṣṇa’s mind. If Kṛṣṇa desires a specific bhāva, and in one gopī it is found to be insufficient, He can attain it by associating with another gopī. But none of them can completely mystify and enchant Him as only Rādhikā can.

Because unlimited feelings and desires arise within Kṛṣṇa, as the best lover and the hero of all women, He is sometimes dhīrodātta (grave and gentle), sometimes dhīra-śanta (peaceful and forbearing), sometimes dhīra-lalita (carefree and jovial) and sometimes dhīroddhata (proud and restless). He is all of these at the same time, and when there is the necessity for only one of these moods, He manifests that specific one. In the same way, Śrīmatī Rādhikā manifests whatever mood is necessary, sometimes becoming dhīra (grave), sometimes māninī (pouting) and sometimes dakṣiṇa (clever). As the crown jewel and very embodiment of the three hundred and sixty varieties of heroines, She relishes the sweetness of Kṛṣṇa to the utmost. Because She can manifest all the qualities of all the varieties of heroines, She is known as mādanākhya-bhāva-vatī.

While meeting with Kṛṣṇa, She experiences mādana, and in separation from Him, She experiences mohana. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu showed something of these elevated states of Hers to the world, and besides Him, there has never been anyone in this world who could exhibit these things. However, when He was exhibiting these states, Rāya Rāmānanda and Svarūpa Dāmodara, due to being His intimate associates, could also relish something of them. Besides them, no one else could comprehend these sentiments, but later Mahāprabhu invested the potency to understand them directly into the heart of Rūpa Gosvāmī, saying, “He will manifest My bhāva in this world through his writings.”

As Rādhikā experiences unlimited pastimes, the twenty varieties of ecstatic symptoms beginning with kila-kiñcita arise in Her simultaneously. She Herself cannot comprehend all these sentiments, and the appropriate sentiment is always manifest in Her at the correct time for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. Because of this, She is eternally the beloved of Kṛṣṇa in His svayaṁ-rūpa. He never appears to Her as any kāya-vyūha expansion or simply by sphūrti (arising in Her meditation) but is always with Her in His original form – in both meeting and separation.

Once, Rādhikā was seated somewhere in Vraja meditating on Kṛṣṇa more and more until She suddenly became completely overwhelmed. Then, from behind, someone placed their hands over Her eyes. She called out, “Lalitā?” But the hands were not removed; only when She called out the name of the person covering Her eyes would the hands be removed. “Viśākhā? Citrā? Kundalatā?” She called out the names of all Her sakhīs, but still the hands were not removed. When She said, “Śyāmasundara!” then He removed His hands and joyfully sat beside Her. Sanātana Gosvāmī comments on this pastime that Rādhikā thought that Kṛṣṇa appeared by sphūrti – in Her meditation, or that because at that time He was present in Mathurā or Dvārakā in His original form, He must have come there by assuming a kāya-vyūha expansion. But he concludes that Kṛṣṇa must have appeared there in His svayaṁ-rūpa because otherwise, Rādhikā would not be fully satisfied. This is the wonderful conception of Sanātana Gosvāmī.

If Mahāprabhu is in Purī, but in Navadvīpa Mother Śacī is crying while making an offering to Him, would she be satisfied if He were to appear there in a mere kāya-vyūha expansion? Knowing that she would only be satisfied if He came in His original form, He does just that, and it is the same with Śrīmatī Rādhikā. In His original form Kṛṣṇa always remains by the side of Rādhikā, and is never able to be separated from Her. Sanātana Gosvāmī says that because the vraja-devīs possess the paramount mahābhāvayāvad-āśraya-vṛtti – how could Kṛṣṇa ever leave them? Even while residing in a foreign land He visits them in Vṛndāvana in His original form – and only them, not others such as the sakhās.

rākhite tomāra jīvana, sevi āmi nārāyaṇa,
tāṅra śaktye āsi niti-niti
tomā-sane krīḍā kari’, niti yāi yadu-purī,
tāhā tumi mānaha mora sphūrti

Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 13.154)

[“You are My most dear, and I know that in My absence You cannot live for a moment. Just to keep You living, I worship Lord Nārāyaṇa. By His merciful potency, I come to Vṛndāvana every day to enjoy pastimes with You. I then return to Dvārakā-dhāma. Thus You can always feel My presence there in Vṛndāvana.]

mora bhāgya mo-viṣaye, tomāra ye prema haye,
sei prema — parama prabala
lukāñā āmā āne, saṅga karāya tomā-sane,
prakaṭeha ānibe satvara

Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 13.155)

[“Our love affair is more powerful because of My good fortune in receiving Nārāyaṇa’s grace. This allows Me to come there unseen by others. I hope that very soon I will be visible to everyone.]

Sitting alone with Rādhā in Vraja, Kṛṣṇa says, “My dearest Śrīmatī Rādhikā, in the distant land of Dvārakā, I have married many ladies, but in reality, I don’t love any of them as I love You. I searched the entire universe for one kiśorī whose beauty, complexion and nature were like Yours. I found Satyabhāmā, but I remain with her only because she reminds Me of You; I have married sixteen thousand queens because each of them reminds Me of the gopīs. If somehow that remembrance of You were to be lost, I would leave them all at once. You say that when we are apart, You feel as if You are dying, but I am constantly meditating on how to save Your life, and for this purpose, I worship Nārāyaṇa. By His mercy and mystical potency, I can come to Vṛndāvana every day to enjoy Your company. You consider My appearance to be in Your meditation or in a kāya-vyūha form but I come to Vṛndāvana in My original form. My great good fortune is the immense love that You have for Me. Unknown to everyone in Dvārakā and in Vṛndāvana, I come here to You, and hopefully very soon I will also be visible to everyone else here.”

In the verse the words we are discussing are amuṣya rūpam, meaning “that very form”. The ladies of Mathurā are saying, “We are seeing Kṛṣṇa, but why are we not feeling the highest prema? What austerities did the gopīs perform to be able to see with the eyes of mahābhāva the original form of Kṛṣṇa – adorned with a peacock feather in His crown, and as the very essence of all loveliness?” Unable to see that form of Kṛṣṇa that the gopīs see and unable to experience the mahābhāva of the gopīs, they wanted to know which austerities they could perform to become similarly fortunate.

Not everyone will be able to feel such elevated bhāva. When our gurudeva, Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, would dance, he would move in a charming and lovely way. With his eyes turned upwards and holding his sannyāsa-daṇḍa in his hand, he would dance immersed in bhāva. I have never seen such dancing as his in all my life. Whenever he would hear Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, he would become emotional and begin weeping, and if we perform bhajana sincerely with unwavering determination, we may also one day experience some of this bhāva. We desire these feelings as do the ladies of Mathurā who lamented, “Hāya! Hāya! We are seeing Kṛṣṇa directly, yet we cannot experience the bhāva of the gopīs. Our lives are useless!”

Sanātana Gosvāmī says that only in Vraja can the sweet form of Kṛṣṇa as the essence of loveliness and the emporium of rasa be seen, and only in Vraja can such a sweet bhāva be experienced. Outside Vraja, Kṛṣṇa’s original form cannot be seen directly, and this bhāva cannot be directly relished. In other places one may see Kṛṣṇa by meditation or in one of His expansions, but direct experience of Him is not possible.

Next comes this verse:

yā dohane ’vahanane mathanopalepa
gāyanti cainam anurakta-dhiyo ’śru-kaṇṭhyo
dhanyā vraja-striya urukrama-citta-yānāḥ

[The ladies of Vraja are the most fortunate of women because, with their minds fully attached to Kṛṣṇa and their throats always choked up with tears, they constantly sing about Him while milking the cows, winnowing grain, churning butter, gathering cow dung for fuel, riding on swings, taking care of their crying babies, sprinkling the ground with water, cleaning their houses, and so on. By their exalted Kṛṣṇa consciousness they automatically acquire all desirable things.]

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.44.15); Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta (2.7.136)

The gopīs are extremely fortunate because their hearts are always so absorbed in Śrī Kṛṣṇa that while milking cows, churning yoghurt, applying candana and other decorations to their bodies, comforting crying babies, washing their floors and performing all other household duties, tears of love flow from their eyes as they continuously sing about His purifying fame.

Generally, when a kaniṣṭha-adhikārī goes to visit a mahā-bhāgavata Vaiṣṇava, he first thinks, “He is a kaniṣṭha-adhikārī just like me.” At first, Sarvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya ridiculed Rāya Rāmānanda, thinking that he spoke too highly about women – Sarvabhauma considered the gopīs to be ordinary women. He only respected the scholarship of the four Kumāras, the renunciation of Śukadeva Gosvāmī and the impersonal conception of Śaṅkarācārya. Therefore if one isn’t of a higher type himself, he won’t be able to understand the bhāva of higher devotees. Only a great, perfected personality who is rāgātmikā, a devotee who is in the final stage of rāgānuga-sādhana, will understand the prema of the gopīs. Even devotees such as Bhīṣma, who were contemporary with them, could not fully understand the exalted nature of their prema. Only those who were near them could understand something of it. For instance, Uddhava had to leave Dvārakā and go to Vraja to understand something about how exalted the gopīs were; if he had remained in Dvārakā, he would have never understood.

This verse and the previous one were spoken by the ladies of Mathurā, and because Mathurā is only five miles from Vraja, sometimes the spiritual greed of the devotees of Vraja would find its way to Mathurā. Besides Uddhava, sometimes tradesmen and others would travel back and forth between Vraja and Mathurā, and in this way, the residents of Mathurā would be able to understand something of the bhāva of Vraja, but those who lived far away from Vraja understood nothing of it.

Even in separation from Kṛṣṇa, the gopīs were always meeting Him. While looking after their children, milking the cows, churning yoghurt, applying candana and doing housework, they always received His direct darśana through singing about Him, and therefore kīrtana is the best devotional activity. Singing in unison in a soft morning rāga, they saw Kṛṣṇa with the eyes of bhāva, even though not abandoning their duties. Similarly, a sādhaka will observe all the rules and regulations of vaidhī-bhakti, but internally his bhāva should be of rāgānuga-bhakti. Externally, he will appear to be the same, but internally, his bhāva will be different. The greed of rāgānugā will take one to Vraja, whereas vaidhī-bhakti will take one only to Vaikuṇṭha. Because the ladies of Mathurā are in close proximity to Vraja and, therefore, the bhāva of Vraja, they are praying that they will also experience the bhāva of the gopīs.

At the time of the rāsa-līlā, Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs were singing together. In beautiful melodies saturated with rasa, the gopīs defeated Kṛṣṇa by singing “Kṛṣṇa sādhu, Kṛṣṇa sādhu” in a note higher than Kṛṣṇa could sing. As the ladies of Mathurā contemplated pastimes such as this which the gopīs enjoyed with Kṛṣṇa, they said, “Whereas we can only see Kṛṣṇa here in a fighting mood, the gopīs perpetually see Him in His form as the crown jewel of vidagdha. We have never received such good fortune!” Vidagdha means witty and ingenious, but when applied to Kṛṣṇa it means He who is rasika-catura – supremely clever and skilful in relishing rasa. These ladies of Mathurā were not even as fortunate as the Pulinda girl, who often heard the vibration of Kṛṣṇa’s flute. Even the deer of Vraja heard the melody of His flute, but the ladies of Mathurā could only imagine it.

All of our duties should be performed while singing nāma-saṅkīrtana. Suppose there is a pitcher of water. If we simply add some lemon juice and some sugar, it immediately becomes nectar. Similarly, we must perform so many worldly duties, but if, following in the bhāva of our spiritual master, we meditate on Bhagavān while carrying them out, they will all become nectar. In the conditioned state, we are always considering what is favourable and what is unfavourable to our bhakti. Because we are in the beginning stages, everything appears to be unfavourable to us, and therefore our minds are disturbed. But to the degree which we progress in sādhana-bhajana means to that degree the vision of what is unfavourable will diminish. And when one reaches the stage of bhāva, he will perceive everything that he previously considered to be unfavourable as favourable.

Actually, nothing in this world is unfavourable to us; it is only due to our present weaknesses and anarthas that we see our environment as unfavourable. Whatever obstacles we are currently facing are due to our previous misdeeds and are not the fault of any other person.

In this verse, the rasika ladies of Mathurā say urukrama-citta-yānāḥ: the gopīs’ minds flow spontaneously towards Urukrama-Kṛṣṇa. Uru means a strong, continuous current, and because their minds spontaneously flow towards Kṛṣṇa with great speed and force, they are fortunate, and thus Kṛṣṇa comes to them directly while they are singing. So if while carrying out our household duties our minds and hearts are absorbed in Kṛṣṇa’s nāma, rūpa, guṇa and līlā, then very soon we will receive His direct darśana.


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

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