[November 12, 2021 is the Gopāṣṭamī in Vṛndāvana, India. It is also the disappearance day of Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī and Śrī Dhanañjaya Paṇḍita. The following is a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the same tithi on October 31, 2014 and November 21, 2012. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
So many tithis are coinciding today. What is Gopāṣṭamī?
When Kṛṣṇa was five years old, He was sent for grazing calves. An entire year
elapsed when Brahmā stole the calves and the cowherd boys, by that time, Kṛṣṇa attained paugaṇḍa [six to ten years]. Today’s tithi marks the day Kṛṣṇa began herding the cows. Up to this point, He was grazing only calves. [Endnote 1]
RECIPROCATING WITH EVERYONE
During that span of one year, Kṛṣṇa bestowed His grace upon so many devotees. And what was this grace? The [elderly] gopīs nurtured some feelings in their hearts, ‘Kṛṣṇa is not my child, so I am unable to feed Him nicely. Yet when He comes to my home of His own accord, and He steals and eats, He gives me only this much opportunity. If He were my child, I would have ample opportunity to feed Him to my heart's content.” [The teenage gopīs also desired Kṛṣṇa as their beloved.]
Cows are devotees in śānta rasa [the mellow of neutrality in devotional service] who possess two characteristics: kṛṣṇa niṣṭhā and bhoga tyāga – unflinching faith in Kṛṣṇa and no taste for sense enjoyment [cessation of all desires which are not connected to Kṛṣṇa], but by themselves, they are not able to do anything. [Endnote 2] They too had their heart’s desire fulfilled [to feed Kṛṣṇa].
So Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is the fulfiller of the [spiritual] desires of His devotees (bhakta-vāñchā-kalpataru), bewildered Brahmā, who stole the calves [and the cowherd boys] and hid them in a cave of the Sumeru Mountain, thereby fulfilling Kṛṣṇa’s desire indirectly.
This incident happened while Kṛṣṇa was grazing calves in the forest of Kāmyavana, specifically, at Bhojana-thālī [also known as Bhojana-sthalī]. As Kṛṣṇa and His cowherd friends opened their respective tiffins to eat, the calves began to wander away. The cowherd friends became disturbed, thinking, ‘If the calves do not reach home safely, my parents will become angry.’ Thus, Kṛṣṇa assured them, “There is no need to panic. Be seated and eat comfortably. I will go and carefully collect the calves.” Everyone had faith in Kṛṣṇa, so the cowherd boys continued to eat. At that time Brahmā stole the calves [and later the cowherd boys as well]. Later in one verse from the chapter 'Brahmā’s prayers to Lord Kṛṣṇa' [Brahmā Stava], Brahmā laments, “What wicked mind I have? Even a thief should not be disturbed while eating. One should at least wait till he finishes and then arrest him. But I did such an unbefitting thing.”
When the time arrived to return home, Kṛṣṇa expanded Himself into the exact number of calves and cowherd boys as were missing and returned. [Endnote 3] Could any gopī or cow recognize that their child had not returned? No. Why not? Their tone of voice, looks, activities, and everything matched exactly. One year elapsed as they were going for grazing and coming home every day, but nobody could detect any difference. One year here [by human measurement] is just one moment of Brahmā’s time [According to Brahmā’s own measurement, mānena truṭy-anehasā - when Lord Brahmā returned after a moment of time had passed, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.13.40].
So when Brahmā returned to see, He discovered everything was going on as usual – the calves were grazing and cowherd boys were having fun [engaged in blissful pranks]. Brahmā could not understand how all the calves and cowherd boys whom he had hidden in the cave of the Sumeru Mountain could have escaped. Simultaneously, he looked with two faces there [in Vṛndāvana] and with his other two faces, here and found both – the calves and boys - sleeping in the closed cave. He was completely bewildered; he could not reconcile how it happened. While he was in such a puzzled state, Kṛṣṇa, by His mercy, transformed all the calves and the cowherd boys into their four-handed Nārāyaṇa forms. Brahmā took birth from the navel of the four-armed Kṣīrodakaśāyī, and so realized, “All of these calves and cowherd boys are my janaka [originator], they are of the same substance from whom I was born”. Then he sang Kṛṣṇa’s glories (stuti) and offered Him prayers.
ONLY BY GRACE
He said 'naumi’, meaning, I offer my obeisances unto You; ‘īḍya’ — You are my worshipable Lord. Previously, seeing Kṛṣṇa as a simple cowherd boy, [Brahmā thought to himself] ‘Foolish people address Him as Bhagavān, if indeed He were Bhagavān, then why does He lack knowledge of the Vedas? Why is He standing and eating, and holding a mixture of rice and yogurt in His left hand?’ But now Brahmā is seeing Kṛṣṇa’s glories.
Then Kṛṣṇa said, “I am only a cowherd boy. Your master is the four-armed Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, Nārāyaṇa.” Brahmā replied, “You are the original Nārāyaṇa (Mūla-Nārāyaṇa). By Your grace You have given me this information. My Prabhu, You Yourself are all the cowherd boys and calves.” In this way, Brahmā glorified Kṛṣṇa. The point is, until one is graced by Bhagavān with knowledge, one cannot know Him.
A LIMB OF DEVOTION
Today is go-pūjana day. It is a [prescribed] ritual to offer grass to the cows. This service has been included in the 64 limbs of devotional service outlined by Śrī Caitanya-deva [originally] to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī:
dhātry-aśvatthādi-gauravam, yathā skānde –
pūjitāḥ praṇatāḥ dhyātāḥ kṣapayanti nṛṇām agham
[Respect myrobalan amla trees and fig trees: It is mentioned in the Skanda Purāṇa that sins of men are washed away by the holy pippala (fig) tree, tulasī (holy basil), the myrobalan tree, the cow, the brāhmaṇas and the Vaiṣṇavas if they are worshipped, bowed down to and meditated upon.] Translation and commentary by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja [For commentary to this verse refer Endnote 4]
Out of those, there is one instruction [to worship] dhātrī [the āmalakī tree] as well as aśvattha [the sacred fig tree], so we have planted the aśvattha tree here [In front of Śrī Caitanya Gaudiya Matha, Chandigarh]. Many worship the āmalakī tree today. To fast on Ekādaśī and follow Cāturmāsya-vrata is also a part of devotional service. So it is worth celebrating and participating in today’s festival.
You saw there is a cow on the temple altar [today]. How did a cow appear there? Once [Endnote 5], Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī who very much resembles Subala [Kṛṣṇa’s intimate cowherd boyfriend], dressed like Subala, and holding a calf in Her hands, She escaped to present herself [for a rendezvous with Kṛṣṇa]. To commemorate this pastime of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, which occurred on this day, a cow is placed on the altar. [Only twice annually, on Rādhāṣṭamī and Gopāṣṭamī, are Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s lotus feet shown, which is called caraṇa-darśana]
PRESENT DAY CELEBRATION
So today, in Vraja, they dress two boys as Kṛṣṇa and Balarama and they are taken behind the cows to depict the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. In Mathurā, a beautiful procession follows and they perform worship of cows by offering them their favorite foods like green grass and jaggery, and by bathing them nicely and decorating their bodies with various designs such as imprints of hands [smeared with turmeric] and so on. They also sport with the cows – go-kridā, accompanied by lots of music and songs. It’s not that the cows are simply worshipped without having satisfied them by serving them.
ŚRĪLA GADĀDHARA DĀSA GOSVĀMĪ - THE FEARLESS PREACHER
Another tithi is the tirobhāva of Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī. Śrīla Gadādhara Paṇḍita Gosvāmī and Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī are two different personalities. Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī’s śrīpāṭa, residence, is Ediyadaha.
It is said that He is the manifestation of Radharani’s efflugence. He made even the most disobliging people chant kṛṣṇa-nāma. This was his glory. The Muslim administrator, Kāzī, was antagonistic to religion and cruel. One evening Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī fearlessly visited Kāzī’s residence and asked him to chant harināma. Intimidated, the Kāzī promised, “I will chant Hari’s name tomorrow”. Then Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī responded, “You have just uttered the name of Hari now, thus, where does the question of tomorrow arise?” This is Śrīla Gadādhara dāsa Gosvāmī. He was preaching alongside Nityānanda Prabhu. So he was in sakhya rasa but later he became a mādhurya rasa devotee [Here “became” means that He was sometimes in sakhya rasa and sometimes in madhurya depending on the service that is to be rendered. Just like Balarama Prabhu or Nityananda Prabhu who can be in any of the four rasas depending on the service that is needed to be rendered.][Endnote 6]. Today is his tirobhāva.
ŚRĪ DHANAÑJAYA PAṆḌITA - MĀHĀ-VAIRĀGYA-VĀNA
Another is [that is it the disappearance day of] Śrī Dhanañjaya Paṇḍita. Whatever inheritance he received he gave to Mahāprabhu and rather accepted a begging bowl [bhānda] in his hand. Thus, he is known as māhā-vairāgya-vāna, a great renunciate. So in Vaiṣṇava-vandanā his glories are sung by the words, ‘sarvasva prabhure diyā bhāna hāte layā’.
ELIGIBILITY FOR HIGHER SERVICE
I pray for their causeless mercy. By their mercy one will attain the eligibility for higher service. In the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta it is said [Madhya 22.69]:
yāhāra komala śraddhā, se ‘kaniṣṭha’ jana krame krame teṅho bhakta ha-ibe ‘uttama’
[“One whose faith is soft and pliable is called a neophyte, but by gradually following the process he will rise to the platform of a first-class devotee.]
There is no cause for fear or apprehension. Even one who has tender faith will gradually attain the position of an uttamā-bhakta, an advanced devotee. This is the process (krama).
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.15.1 translation and purport by Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja:
tataś ca paugaṇḍa-vayaḥ-śrītau vraje babhūvatus tau paśu-pāla-sammatau gāś cārayantau sakhibhiḥ samaṁ padair vṛndāvanaṁ puṇyam atīva cakratuḥ
Śukadeva Gosvāmī said: When Lord Rāma and Lord Kṛṣṇa attained the age of paugaṇḍa [six to ten] while living in Vṛndāvana, the cowherd men allowed Them to take up the task of tending the cows. Engaging thus in the company of Their friends, the two boys rendered the land of Vṛndāvana most auspicious by imprinting upon it the marks of Their lotus feet.
Lord Kṛṣṇa wanted to encourage His cowherd boyfriends, who had been swallowed by Aghāsura and then stolen by Lord Brahmā. Therefore, the Lord decided to bring them into the palm-tree forest called Tālavana, where there were many delicious ripe fruits. Since Lord Kṛṣṇa’s spiritual body had apparently grown slightly in age and strength, the senior men of Vṛndāvana, headed by Nanda Mahārāja, decided to promote Kṛṣṇa from the task of herding calves to the status of a regular cowherd boy. He would now take care of the full-grown cows, bulls and oxen. Out of great affection, Nanda Mahārāja had previously considered Kṛṣṇa too small and immature to take care of full-grown cows and bulls. It is stated in the Kārtika-māhātmya section of the Padma Purāṇa:
śuklāṣṭamī kārttike tu smṛtā gopāṣṭamī budhaiḥ tad-dinād vāsudevo ’bhūd gopaḥ pūrvaṁ tu vatsapaḥ
“The eighth lunar day of the bright fortnight of the month of Kārtika is known by authorities as Gopāṣṭamī. From that day, Lord Vāsudeva served as a cowherd, whereas previously He had tended the calves.”
The word padaiḥ indicates that Lord Kṛṣṇa blessed the earth by walking on her surface with His lotus feet. The Lord wore no shoes or other footgear but walked barefoot in the forest, giving great anxiety to the girls of Vṛndāvana, who feared that His soft lotus feet would be injured.
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya 8.294, purport by Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja:
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura points out that in Vrajabhūmi there lies the Yamunā River with her sandy banks. There are kadamba trees, cows, Kṛṣṇa’s sticks with which He used to herd cows, as well as His flute. All of these belong to śānta-rasa, the mellow of neutrality in devotional service."
By His Vāsudeva feature, Kṛṣṇa simultaneously expanded Himself into the exact number of missing cowherd boys and calves, and replicating their exact bodily features – their particular types of hands, legs and other limbs, their sticks, bugles flutes, lunch bags, their particular types of dress and ornaments placed in various ways, their names, ages and forms, and their special activities and characteristics and so on. By expanding Himself in this way, beautiful Kṛṣṇa proved the statement, samagra-jagad viṣṇumayam – Lord Viṣṇu is all-pervading.
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 110 - Translation and commentary by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja:
Commentary: Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says that the pippala tree is a symbol of one of the glories of the Lord, and hence it should be respected and worshipped. The Lord Himself manifests in this world for the benefit of cows and the brāhmaṇas, therefore, they should be served and revered. The Vaiṣṇavas and tulasī have been bracketed with the pippala tree, the myrobalan tree, the cow and the brāhmaṇa in order to establish the fact that the latter should be revered in the same way that the Vaiṣṇavas and tulasī are respected. Of these again, the worshipping of the cows is of particular importance for those who are devoted to Lord Gopāla (child Kṛṣṇa), because it is congenial to their attainment of the highest desired end. It is said in the Gautamya Tantra that one should gently scratch the body of the cow, offer her a mouthful of green grass as is taken by a cow at one time, and reverentially circumambulate the cow with the right side kept towards her, for if the cows are kept in nice and comfortable conditions, Lord Gopāla is pleased.
This pastime is originally covered in Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī’s Gopāla–campū.
On this very day [Gopāṣṭamī], Kṛṣṇa’s devotees also remember another intimate pastime, often referred to as subala-milana. On this day, many temples in Vṛndāvana, and now throughout the world, show the Deity form of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī with Her lotus feet visible. Every other day of the year, Rādhārāṇī, the supremely chaste goddess of devotion to Kṛṣṇa, keeps Her feet covered. Why is it that She displays Her lotus feet on this one day of the year? She does so almost inadvertently and indirectly as She has disguised Herself as Kṛṣṇa’s bosom friend, Subala.
Among all of Kṛṣṇa’s friends, Subala is perhaps the most intimate. He is the leader of the priyanarma- sakhās, who serves as an accomplice in Kṛṣṇa’s loving dealings with Rādhārāṇī and the other cowherd girls of Vraja. Subala has a very fair complexion, like Rādhārāṇī’s; in fact, his countenance very closely resembles Her own.
One day Kṛṣṇa felt so deeply the pangs of love for Rādhā that He was inconsolable in his separation from Her. He summoned His dear friend Subala and said, “I can’t stand being away from Rādhā. You must get Her and bring Her here to me!”
Subala, perplexed, replied, “How can I bring Her out to the forest in broad daylight?” Rādhārāṇī was kept from meeting with Kṛṣṇa by Her vigilant elders, especially Jaṭilā, the mother of Her so-called husband. Jaṭilā kept a close watch on Rādhārāṇī day and night, and Subala worried about how he would be able to manage to spirit Her away from Her home.
Kṛṣṇa was insistent: “You’ll figure it out. You have to manage it somehow or other!” Determined to satisfy his friend, Subala hatched a plan: He approached Rādhā’s home with one of his calves under his arm. Once he was nearby, he set the calf down on the ground and gave its tail a quick twist, so it would run off. Then he entered Rādhā’s home.
The ever watchful and suspicious, Jaṭilā called to Subala, “Say, what are you doing here? You’re that boy who is always hanging out with that rascal Kṛṣṇa. You boys are undoubtedly up to no good. You get out of here right now!”
“No, no—you’re mistaken, dear mother,” Subala protested. “I’ve lost one of my calves. His mother is causing quite a stir, moaning in separation from her baby, and I just want to bring him back, like a good cowherd.”
Jaṭilā, despite her suspicion, was persuaded. “Well, I don’t