Kṛṣṇa Returns to the Rasa Dance – Original Oil Painting
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Rādhā defeats the pride of all the damsels of Vraja. This painting shows the eight principal gopīs greeting Kṛṣṇa after he returned to the rasa dance. The following are descriptions of this līlā upon which the painting is based.
When the gopīs saw that their dearmost Kṛṣṇa had returned to them, they all stood up at once, and out of their affection for him their eyes bloomed wide. It was as if the air of life had reentered their bodies. One gopī joyfully took Kṛṣṇa’s hand between her folded palms, and another placed his arm, anointed with sandalwood paste, on her shoulder. A slender gopī respectfully took in her joined hands the betel nut he had chewed, and another gopī, burning with desire, put his lotus feet on her breasts. One gopī, beside herself with loving anger, bit her lips and stared at him with frowning eyebrows, as if to wound him with her harsh glances. Another gopī looked with unblinking eyes upon his lotus face, but even after deeply relishing its sweetness she did not feel satiated, just as mystic saints are never satiated when meditating upon the Lord’s feet. One gopī took the Lord through the aperture of her eyes and placed him within her heart. Then, with her eyes closed and her bodily hairs standing on end, she continuously embraced him within. Thus immersed in transcendental ecstasy, she resembled a yogī meditating upon the Lord.
Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura’s commentary
Five verses describe the personal loving activities of some of the principal gopīs. One gopī held Kṛṣṇa’s right hand in hers. This is understood because in the second half of the verse, it is described that another gopī put his other hand, decorated with sandalwood pictures, on her shoulder. That would be his left hand, since it is proper from the gopīs to stand to the left of Kṛṣṇa. The gopī took his hand out of courteous friendship and explicit eagerness. Because of the reverential touch of the gopī, it can be understood that she was of the subservient group fully surrendered to Kṛṣṇa, thinking herself as belonging to Kṛṣṇa, with ghee-like love. Because she is mentioned first, it may be concluded that she was senior most of that group, Candrāvalī.
The other gopī, characterized by a slightly reverential embrace, was an independent lover with an explicit expression of affection, honey-like love mixed with ghee-like love. That gopī was Śyāmalā, a member of the group friendly to Rādhā.
One gopī took Kṛṣṇa’s chewed tāmbūla in her folded hands. She was a member of the right-wing group, dependent, with friendship almost of the dāsya mood. Another gopī took Kṛṣṇa’s right lotus foot and placed it on her breast, while sitting on the earth. Supporting himself with his left arm on the shoulder of a gopī, he was standing on his left foot. The seated gopī was of the right-wing group, dependent, with dasya almost of friendly mood. Both were in the mood of ghee-like love, thinking of themselves as belonging to Kṛṣṇa. These are sakhīs of Candrāvalī — Padmā and Śaibyā.
One gopī, arching her brows like a bow, helplessly subject to the anger of love, aimed arrow glances at Kṛṣṇa, as if to shoot him. “O leader of rogues! You have been completely successful in administering the hālahala poison of prema to me. Why are you again approaching me to burn my life airs which have almost left my body already? I can understand very well who you are.” This was the mood she revealed as she glanced upon him. She bit her lips, hiding them with her hands as an expression of anger. This gopī exhibited jealousy arising from honey-like love, thinking of Kṛṣṇa as hers. This gopī was Rādhā.
One gopī gazed at Kṛṣṇa with unblinking eyes due to being stunned with bliss. Like bees mad to taste the lotus honey of his face, her two eyes, though relishing his face, were not satisfied. Or this can be interpreted in another way. Because of the fierce glance of Rādhā mentioned in the previous verse, Kṛṣṇa’s face was trembling with fear and remorseful. Therefore, that gopī could not be satisfied, though tasting repeatedly that face relished by her two eyes.
Though Kṛṣṇa’s face is an ocean of sweetness, at that time, because of the mixture of the sañcārī bhavas such as shyness, despair, meekness and fear, because of being struck with the arrow glance of the leader of her group, the ocean of sweetness increased to the extreme with great variety. The gopī could not be satisfied because of her increased thirst.
For lacking a complete analogy (covering both interpretations) to illustrate this, one covering the first interpretation is given in the verse: Just as devotees situated in the dāsya and sakkya bhavas cannot be completely satisfied though they serve Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet repeatedly, so this gopī also could not be satisfied.
It should be understood that Kṛṣṇa cast his full glance and full mind upon the previous gopī [Rādhā], who was glaring at him with furrowed brows, and did not divert himself to anyone else at all. So the gopī mentioned in this verse, seeing that Kṛṣṇa was inattentive towards her, looked at Kṛṣṇa with both eyes, directly, leisurely, and without shyness.
One gopī, understanding that Kṛṣṇa was fickle (even if he comes, will go away again), took him into her heart. Thinking he would escape through her eye holes, she closed her eyes. Her body erupted in goosebumps because of the unobstructed enjoyment of union with Kṛṣṇa. She stood there in a pose of embracing Kṛṣṇa to her chest with her arms, her sense control being absent due to intense thirst at the end of long separation, and her shyness absent due to outsiders not gazing on her.
The gopīs mentioned in verses 6–8, because they did not go to the side of their beloved, are understood to be of the uncooperative type, or right-wing. They thought, “He should come to us; we should not go to him.” From this mentality it can be understood that these three gopīs, being possessive and with honey-like love, were very intimate with Kṛṣṇa and brought him under their control. Among the three, the gopī mentioned in verse six is Rādhā, the leader of the best group. Those mentioned in verse seven and eight are her sakhīs. According to Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī, the gopīs mentioned in verses 4–8 are, respectively, Candrāvalī, Śyāmalā, Śaibyā, Padmā, Rādhā, Lalitā and Viśākhā. Bhadrā, the eighth gopī is mentioned in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa: “One gopī looking at Kṛṣṇa became joyful and began to sing his name repeatedly. She could say nothing else.”
These eight gopīs are considered the best of all the gopīs, as explained in the Dvārakā-māhātmya in the Prahlāda-saṁhitā of the Skanda Purāṇa, quoted in Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī. To understand the ranking among those eight gopīs one should consult Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi. The chief of all the gopīs is Rādhā. The Padmā Purāṇa says, “As Rādhā is dear to Kṛṣṇa, so also is her kuṇḍa. Among all the gopīs she is unparalleled, the dearest to Kṛṣṇa.” The Bṛhad-gautamīya-tantra says, “Śrī Rādhā is the most beautiful, always absorbed in Kṛṣṇa. She is the most worshipable supreme devatā, the abode of all lakṣmīs, fulfills all of Kṛṣṇa’s desires, is the attractor of the mind of Kṛṣṇa, and is the full śakti of Kṛṣṇa. She is inseparable from Kṛṣṇa.” The Ṛk-pariśiṣṭa says, “Mādhava with Rādhā and Rādhā with Mādhava are the most attractive thing in the whole universe.”
Gopāla-campū, chapter 25
Kṛṣṇa became ashamed of having abandoned the gopīs and thus stood rather neutrally. The gopīs quickly ran from all sides to him, just as the rivers flow quickly and join the ocean when the ocean shrinks. Each gopī strove to be the first to meet him. The gopī who met him first was Bhadrā.
Candrāvalī held Kṛṣṇa’s right hand in her hands, just as fresh leaves surround an excellent lotus. Padmā, by trickery, placed his lotus foot on her breasts, just as a woman puts a red lotus on the head of Śiva upon having her desires fulfilled. Śaibyā, situated to his right, a slender gopī, took his chewed betel nut in her palms, which appeared like the vessel holding attraction for him.
Śyāmalā, situated to his left, held Kṛṣṇa’s arm, which was covered with sandalwood pulp, on her shoulder. She showed her competence by her affection and her bodily complexion. Lalitā bountifully drank the lotus face of Kṛṣṇa with her unblinking eyes, which resembled a pair of the best of bees. She relished his form. Her two eyes in tasting the honey surpassed a pair of bees. When Viśākhā saw Kṛṣṇa, her mind became filled with shame. She stood like a doll, with unblinking eyes and hairs standing on end. I feel astonished at this woman who met with her lover internally. In separation she attained him within, and at the end of great separation, she met with him continually.
How can one describe the prema of Rādhā? Situated in front of Kṛṣṇa, her prema spread anger, though uselessly, and her eyes, though motionless, became weapons that shot arrows from her position and gave pain to Kṛṣṇa though not injuring him. All of the women, just on meeting Kṛṣṇa, felt successful. Just as the nava plant blossoms in the presence of a dark cloud, the beauty of their faces blossomed on attaining Kṛṣṇa. They became joyful.
Ānanda-vṛndāvana-campū, chapter 20
One gopī grasped Kṛṣṇa’s lotus hands, another leading gopī placed his arms on her musk-scented shoulders, and one gopī, inclined to service, respectfully took his chewed betel in her hands, which served as a golden spittoon. One leading gopī, burning with desire, put his lotus foot on her budding breasts. Decorated with the fresh young leaves of his toes, her breasts looked like a pair of auspicious golden water pots announcing the upcoming rasa dance.
Standing at a distance, one gopī, beside herself with loving anger, bit her beautiful lips and glared at him with frowning eyebrows. While casting glances from her reddened eyes smeared with kājala, it seemed as if she shot arrows tipped with the poison of pride. Another gopī with unblinking eyes drank the honey of his lotus face, but even after deeply relishing its sweetness she did not feel satiated. Only when Kṛṣṇa looked into her eyes did she become satisfied.
One married gopī took the Lord through the aperture of her eyes and placed him in the temple of her heart. Then fearing his departure, with her eyes closed and her bodily hairs standing on end, she continuously embraced him within.