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Vishnu Purana – Fifth Kandha

Chapter 13

Herdsmen appraised Krishna

1-8AFTER Śakra had departed, the cowherds said to Kṛṣṇa, whom they had seen holding up Govarddhana, “We have been preserved, together with our cattle, from a great peril, by your supporting the mountain above us; but this is very astonishing child’s play, unsuitable to the condition of a herdsman, and all thy actions are those of a god. Tell us what is the meaning of all this. Kālīya has been conquered in the lake; Pralamba has been killed; Govarddhana has been lifted up: our minds are filled with amazement. Assuredly we repose at the feet of Hari, O thou of unbounded might! for, having witnessed thy power, we cannot believe thee to be a man. Thy affection, Keśava, for our women and children, and for Vraja; the deeds that thou hast wrought, which all the gods would have attempted in vain; thy boyhood, and thy prowess; thy humiliating birth amongst us; are contradictions that fill us with doubt, whenever we think of them. Yet reverence be to thee, whether thou be a god, or a demon, or a Yakṣa, or a Gandharva, or whatever we may deem thee; for thou art our friend.”
9When they had ended, Kṛṣṇa remained silent for some time, as if hurt and offended, and then replied to them:
10-12“Herdsmen, if you are not ashamed of my relationship; if I have merited your praise; what occasion is there for you to engage in any discussion concerning me? If you have any regard for me; if I have deserved your praise; then be satisfied to know that I am your kinsman. I am neither god, nor Yakṣa, nor Gandharva, nor Dānava; I have been born your relative, and you must not think differently of me.”
13Upon receiving this answer, the Gopas held their peace, and went into the woods, leaving Kṛṣṇa apparently displeased.
14-17But Kṛṣṇa, observing the clear sky bright with the autumnal moon, and the air perfumed with the fragrance of the wild water-lily, in whose buds the clustering bees were murmuring their songs, felt inclined to join with the Gopīs in sport. Accordingly he and Rāma commenced singing sweet low strains in various measures, such as the women loved; and they, as soon as they heard the melody, quitted their homes, and hastened to meet the foe of Madhu.
18-22One damsel gently sang an accompaniment to his song; another attentively listened to his melody: one calling out upon his name, then shrunk abashed; whilst another, more bold, and instigated by affection, pressed close to his side: one, as she sallied forth, beheld some of the seniors of the family, and dared not venture, contenting herself with meditating on Kṛṣṇa with closed eyes, and entire devotion, by which immediately all acts of merit were effaced by rapture, and all sin was expiated by regret at not beholding him: and others, again, reflecting upon the cause of the world, in the form of the supreme Brahma, obtained by their sighing final emancipation.
23-28Thus surrounded by the Gopīs, Kṛṣṇa thought the lovely moonlight night of autumn propitious to the Rasa dance[1]. Many of the Gopīs imitated the different actions of Kṛṣṇa, and in his absence wandered through Vrindavan, representing his person. “I am Kṛṣṇa,” cries one; “behold the elegance of my movements.” “I am Kṛṣṇa,” exclaims another; “listen to my song.” “Vile Kālīya, stay! for I am Kṛṣṇa,” is repeated by a third, slapping her arms in defiance. A fourth calls out, “Herdsmen, fear nothing; be steady; the danger of the storm is over, for, lo, I lift up Govarddhana for your shelter.” And a fifth proclaims, “Now let the herds graze where they will, for I have destroyed Dhenuka.”
29-31Thus in various actions of Kṛṣṇa the Gopīs imitated him, whilst away, and beguiled their sorrow by mimicking his sports. Looking down upon the ground, one damsel calls to her friend, as the light down upon her body stands erect with joy, and the lotuses of her eyes expand, “See here are the marks of Kṛṣṇa’s feet, as he has gone alone sportively, and left the impressions of the banner, fife thunderbolt, and the goad[2]. What lovely maiden has been his companion, inebriate with passion, as her irregular footmarks testify?
32-38Here Dāmodara has gathered flowers from on high, for we see alone the impressions of the tips of his feet. Here a nymph has sat down with him, ornamented with flowers, fortunate in having propitiated Viṣṇu in a prior existence. Having left her in an arrogant mood, because he had offered her flowers, the son of Nanda has gone by this road; for see, unable to follow him with equal steps, his associate has here tripped along upon her toes, and, holding his hand, the damsel has passed, as is evident from the uneven and intermingled footsteps. But the rogue has merely taken her hand, and left her neglected, for here the paces indicate the path of a person in despair.
39-45Undoubtedly he promised that he would quickly come again, for here are his own footsteps returning with speed. Here he has entered the thick forest, impervious to the rays of the moon, and his steps can be traced no farther.” Hopeless then of beholding Kṛṣṇa, the Gopīs returned, and repaired to the banks of the Yamunā, where they sang his songs; and presently they beheld the preserver of the three worlds, with a smiling aspect, hastening towards them: on which, one exclaimed, “Kṛṣṇa! Kṛṣṇa!” unable to articulate any thing else: another affected to contract her forehead with frowns, as drinking with the bees of her eyes the lotus of the face of Hari: another, closing her eyelids, contemplated internally his form, as if engaged in an act of devotion.
46-52Then Mādhava, coming amongst them, conciliated some with soft speeches, some with gentle looks, and some he took by the hand; and the illustrious deity sported with them in the stations of the dance. As each of the Gopīs, however, attempted to keep in one place, close to the side of Kṛṣṇa, the circle of the dance could not be constructed, and he therefore took each by the hand, and when their eyelids were shut by the effects of such touch, the circle was formed[3]. Then proceeded the dance to the music of their clashing bracelets, and songs that celebrated in suitable strain the charms of the autumnal season. Kṛṣṇa sang the moon of autumn, a mine of gentle radiance; but the nymphs repeated the praises of Kṛṣṇa alone.
53-55At times, one of them, wearied by the revolving dance, threw her arms, ornamented with tinkling bracelets, round the neck of the destroyer of Madhu: another, skilled in the art of singing his praises, embraced him. The drops of perspiration from the arms of Hari were like fertilizing rain, which produced a crop of down upon the temples of the Gopīs. Kṛṣṇa sang the strain that was appropriate to the dance. The Gopīs repeatedly exclaimed, “Bravo, Kṛṣṇa!” to his song.
56-61When leading, they followed him; when returning, they encountered him; and, whether he went forwards or backwards, they ever attended on his steps. Whilst frolicking thus with the Gopīs, they considered every instant without him a myriad of years; and, prohibited in vain by husbands, fathers, brothers, they went forth at night to sport with Kṛṣṇa, the object of their affection. Thus the illimitable being, the benevolent remover of all imperfections, assumed the character of a youth amongst the females of the herdsmen of Vraja; pervading their natures, and that of their lords, by his own essence, all diffusive like the wind: for even as in all creatures the elements of ether, fire, earth, water, and air, are comprehended, so also is he everywhere present, and in all.


[1] The Rāsa dance is danced by men and women, holding each other’s hands, and going round in a circle, singing the airs to which they dance. According to Bharata, the airs are various both in melody and time, and the number of persons should not exceed sixty-four.
[2] The soles of the feet of a deity are p. 533 usually marked by a variety of emblematical figures: this is carried to the greatest extravagance by the Buddhists, the marks on the feet of Gautama being 130: see Trans. R. As. Soc. III. 70. It is a decoration very moderately employed by the Hindus.
[3] This is a rather inexplicit statement, but the comment makes it clear. Kṛṣṇa, it is said, in order to form the circle, takes each damsel by the hand, and leads her to her place: there he quits her; but the effect of the contact is such, that it deprives her of the power of perception, and p. 534 she contentedly takes the hand of her female neighbour, thinking it to be Kṛṣṇa’s. The Bhāgavata is bolder, and asserts that Kṛṣṇa multiplied himself, and actually stood between each two damsels: ‘The Rāsa dance, formed of a circle graced by the Gopīs, was then led off by the lord of magic, Kṛṣṇa having placed himself in the midst of every two of the nymphs.’ The Hari Vaṃśa intimates the same, though not very fully: ‘Then all the nymphs of the cowherds, placing themselves in couples in a row, engaged in pleasant diversion, singing the deeds of Kṛṣṇa.’ The Pankti, or row, is said by the commentator to mean here, the Maṇḍala, or ring; and the couples’ to imply that Kṛṣṇa was between every two. He quotes a verse to this effect from some other Vaiṣṇava work: ‘Between each two damsels was Mādhava, and between each two Mādhavas was a nymph; and the son of Devakī played on the flute:’ for, in fact, Kṛṣṇa is not only dancing with each, but also by himself in the centre; for this the commentator on the Hari Vaṃśa cites a passage from the Vedas: ###. Literally, ‘The many-formed (being) assumes (various) bodies. One form stood apart, occupying triple observance.’ Now if the verse be genuine, it probably refers to something that has little to do with Kṛṣṇa; but it is explained to apply to the Rāsa; the form of Kṛṣṇa being supposed to be meant, as wholly distinct from the Gopīs, and yet being beheld by every one of them, on each side and in front of her. In the meditation upon Kṛṣṇa, which is enjoined in the Brahma Vaivartta, he is to be contemplated in the centre of the Rāsa Maṇḍala, in association with his favourite Rādhā; but the Maṇḍala described in that work is not a ring of dancers, but a circle of definite space at Vrindāvana, within which Kṛṣṇa, Rādhā, and the Gopīs divert themselves, not very decorously. This work has probably given the tone to the style in which the annual festival, the Rāsa Yātrā, is celebrated in various parts of India, in the month of Kārtika, upon the sun’s entrance into Libra, by nocturnal dances, and representations of the sports of Kṛṣṇa. A circular dance of men and women, however, does not form any prominent feature at these entertainments, and it may be doubted if it is ever performed. Some of the earliest labourers in the field of Hindu mythology have thought this circular dance to typify the dance of the planets round the sun (Maurice, Ancient History of Hindus, I. 108. II. 356); but there is no particular number assigned to the performers by any of the Hindu authorities, beyond its limitation to sixty-four. At the Rāsa Mandala of the Brahma Vaivartta, Rādhā is accompanied by thirty-six of her most particular friends amongst the Gopīs, but they are each attended by thousands of inferior personages, and none p. 535 of the crowd are left without male multiples of Kṛṣṇa. The only mysticism hinted at in that Purāṇa, is, that these are all one with Kṛṣṇa: the varied vital conditions of one spirit being represented by the Gopīs and the illusory manifestations of Kṛṣṇa: he himself being supreme unmodified soul.

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