The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
Krishńa praised by the cowherds: his sports with the Gopís: their imitation and love of hire. The Rása dance.
AFTER Śakra had departed, the cowherds said to Krishńa, 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. Kálíya 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 Yaksha, or a Gandharba, or whatever we may deem thee; for thou art our friend." When they had ended, Krishńa remained silent for some time, as if hurt and offended, and then replied to them, "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 Yaksha, nor Gandharba, nor Dánava; I have been born your relative, and you must not think differently of me." Upon receiving this answer, the Gopas held their peace, and went into the woods, leaving Krishńa apparently displeased.
But Krishńa, 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 Gopís in sport. Accordingly he and Ráma 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. One 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 Krishńa 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. Thus surrounded by the Gopís, Krishńa thought the lovely moonlight night of autumn propitious to the Rasa dance 1. Many of the Gopís imitated the different actions of Krishńa, and in his absence wandered through Vrindavan, representing his person. "I am Krishńa," cries one; "behold the elegance of my movements." "I am Krishńa," exclaims another; "listen to my song." "Vile Kálíya, stay! for I am Krishńa," 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." Thus in various actions of Krishńa the Gopís 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 Krishńa'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? Here Dámodara 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 Vishńu 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. Undoubtedly 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 Krishńa, the Gopís returned, and repaired to the banks of the Yamuná, 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, "Krishńa! Krishńa!" 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. Then Mádhava, 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 Gopís, however, attempted to keep in one place, close to the side of Krishńa, 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. Krishńa sang the
moon of autumn, a mine of gentle radiance; but the nymphs repeated the praises of Krishńa alone. At 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 Gopís. Krishńa sang the strain that was appropriate to the dance. The Gopís repeatedly exclaimed, "Bravo, Krishńa!" to his song. When 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 Gopís, 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 Krishńa, 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 every where present, and in all.
532:1 The Rása 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.
532:2 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.
533:3 This is a rather inexplicit statement, but the comment makes it clear. Krishńa, 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 Krishńa's. The Bhágavata is bolder, and asserts that Krishńa multiplied himself, and actually stood between each two damsels: 'The Rása dance, formed of a circle graced by the Gopís, was then led off by the lord of magic, Krishńa having placed himself in the midst of every two of the nymphs.' The Hari Vanśa 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 Krishńa.' The Pankti, or row, is said by the commentator to mean here, the Mańd́ala, or ring; and the couples' to imply that Krishńa was between every two. He quotes a verse to this effect from some other Vaishńava work: 'Between each two damsels was Mádhava, and between each two Mádhavas was a nymph; and the son of Devakí played on the flute:' for, in fact, Krishńa is not only dancing with each, but also by himself in the centre; for this the commentator on the Hari Vanśa 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 Krishńa; but it is explained to apply to the Rása; the form of Krishńa being supposed to be meant, as wholly distinct from the Gopís, and yet being beheld by every one of them, on each side and in front of her. In the meditation upon Krishńa, which is enjoined in the Brahma Vaivartta, he is to be contemplated in the centre of the Rása Mańd́ala, in association with his favourite Rádhá; but the Mańd́ala described in that work is not a ring of dancers, but a circle of definite space at Vrindávana, within which Krishńa, Rádhá, and the Gopís divert themselves, not very decorously. This work has probably given the tone to the style in which the annual festival, the Rása Yátrá, is celebrated in various parts of India, in the month of Kártika, upon the sun's entrance into Libra, by nocturnal dances, and representations of the sports of Krishńa. 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 Rása Mandala of the Brahma Vaivartta, Rádhá is accompanied by thirty-six of her most particular friends amongst the Gopís, but they are each attended by thousands of inferior personages, and none p. 535 of the crowd are left without male multiples of Krishńa. The only mysticism hinted at in that Puráńa, is, that these are all one with Krishńa: the varied vital conditions of one spirit being represented by the Gopís and the illusory manifestations of Krishńa: he himself being supreme unmodified soul.