By Mahanidhi Swami
In this month (November-December), Sri Krishna stole the clothes of the Vraja kumaris and adopted the mood of their husband to fulfill the purpose of their month long Katyayani Vrata. Of the twelve months in a year, this month represents Bhagavan Sri Krishna as Krishna says in Gita (10.35), “Among all months, I am the month of November-December, mrgashirsha aham.”
The story of the gopis complete surrender to Bhagavan, and Sri Krishna’s playful loving reciprocation is narrated in Tenth Canto chapter 22 (Gopi Vastra Harana) of the Srimad Bhagavatam. For your divine pleasure and meditation during japa, we offer you the following description of this pastime taken from Ananda Vrindavana Campu (ch. 12) by Kavi Karnapura:
One day in Vrindavana, the intense hope of Dhanya-sakhi and the other attractive Vraja kumaris to attain Krishna as their husband blossomed like a flower on the desire tree of their hearts. To fulfill their desires, the unmarried damsels decided to worship Katyayani Devi, a form of Yogamaya who connects devotees with Sri Krishna.
With great enthusiasm they collected all the articles to execute the Katyayani vrata. The transcendental bodies of the gopis displayed a distinct type of beauty while they underwent the hardship of the vrata. The Vrajavasis, astonished at the intensity of the gopis penance and emaciated conditions, all felt pity for them.
Every day before sunrise, the young ladies would meet together, lovingly embrace each other, exchange cordial words and proceed to the Yamuna while loudly singing about the qualities of Hari. Their melodious voices, rich in rhythm and precise intonations, blended harmoniously with the soft notes of their vinas. A sweet smell emanated from their mouths as the gopis engaged in kirtana.
Upon arriving at the Yamuna, the impatient Vraja kumaris immediately threw off their woolen shawls. The blissful bodies of the gopis, covered by thin white cotton bathing outfits, looked more beautiful than a stream of falling snow. The gopis shivered and softly sighed due to the chilly morning air. The quivering of their leaf bud-like lips revealed the splendor of their pearly white teeth.
Reacting to the biting cold, the gopis made a comic scene by slapping their arms and crossing their legs in various novel postures. The gopis smiled gently and giggled upon noticing their friends feeling the same way.
The Vraja kumaris climbed down the bank, and slowly entered the Yamuna while ignoring the cold. After completing their baths, the gopis joyfully ran back up the riverbank. They felt elated over courageously tolerating the painful cold winter waters of Yamunaji.
After bathing and drying their creeper-like bodies, the gopis looked even more beautiful as they filled their lotus mouths with the sweet names of Krishna. Then the kumarikas made a murti of goddess Katyayani and together performed the puja. They offered handfuls of flowers, padyam, arghyam, acamana, madhuparka, aromatic massage oils, camphor scented water, a costly sari, ointments of aguru and musk, incense made from Krishna aguru, khus and guggul, ghee lamps, naivedyam of milk, butter, rock candy, bananas, coconut, mung dal, malpoa, sweet rice, cooked grains, and little tasty cakes topped with powered rock candy.
While offering the various items to Katyayani, the gopis prayed, “O Devi, please help us meet our beloved Krishna! Please arrange for us to bathe in the nectar of Krishna’s association.”
They also chanted the following mantra with clear pronunciation and full feelings:
katyayani maha-maye, maha-yogin yadhishvari,
nanda-gopa-sutam devi, patim me kuru te namah
“O goddess Katyayani! O Mahamaya (i.e. Yogamaya)! O greatest of mystic yoginis and mighty controller of all! Please make the son of Nanda Maharaja our husband. We offer our obeisance unto you.”
Each gopi chanted the mantra while mentally expressing their individual desires i.e. “O Mahesvari! Please shower your mercy upon us; You are called Yogamaya, the internal spiritual potency of Maha-Visnu, who possesses all energies. So you have the power to do the impossible; O Devi! You are the pinnacle of all auspiciousness. Your orders and glories are sitting like a swan on the heads of all the devatas. You are expert in worshiping Krishna and you are the supreme Vaishnavi; You perfectly understand the minds of all living entities. So please fulfill our desire to achieve Krishna as our husband.”
Throughout the days and nights of the entire month of Margashirsha, the Vraja kumarikas performed their Katyayani Vrata with unswerving zeal. Their throats always sung about Krishna’s qualities. As the days passed, the gopis offered more items and increased the standard of worship. Katyayani-devi was pleased with their immaculate offerings and regular worship. The all-auspicious Katyayani Maa fulfills desires, and bestows mercy and happiness upon those qualified with a pure heart.
Reciprocating with the young damsels of Vrajabhumi, Devi appeared within their minds saying, “O auspicious girls! You are the embodiments of Krishna’s conjugal attraction. Your sincere prayers ornament your heart and indicate your sincere longing for Krishna. Very soon you will attain the association of Krishna according to your individual tastes.” After communicating this, Katyayani disappeared from their hearts.
Anticipating the forthcoming success of their austerities, the gopis succumbed to a playful mood and stood up excitedly. Then following the local customs, they bathed naked in the Yamuna. Elated and enthused, the gopis joyfully pushed and squeezed each other.
The prema of the young gopis reached perfection because it had the desire to give bliss to Krishna as its only goal. Knowing this, Govinda left the happiness of herding the cows and playing with His intimate friends. Taking a few toddlers with Him, Krishna went to perform pastimes with the gopis in order make the bud of their heart’s prema blossom into a flower.
Sri Krishna is an unfathomable reservoir of steadiness and all other good qualities, yet He often displays a unique type of fickleness. Crouching down and casting a few furtive glances and a mischievous smile, Krishna adopted the mood of a thief and arrogantly snatched the gopis’ garments from the bank of the Yamuna. After hushing up His little friends, Krishna slung the gopis’ clothes over His shoulder and quickly climbed to the top of a kadamba tree. Sitting on a branch, Krishna glanced toward the gopis and listened to their chatter.
Upon coming out of the Yamuna and not seeing their clothes, the gopis exclaimed with surprise, “Who stole our clothes?” While arguing over the various possibilities, they looked fearfully here and there with their wide blue eyes that resembled the petals of a blue lotus.
Seeing their plight, Vrajendrakumara assumed a splendid aura of beauty as He sat on the kadamba tree. Then Vidagdha Krishna joked with the gopis in a sweet, clear voice soaked in a nectar unknown even to celestials. “I have stolen your sparkling pure garments just to enchant your minds and relish some pleasurable pastimes. Now you can come here one by one or all together to collect your clothes.”
The Vraja kanyas, with gleaming teeth and bashful faces, stood silently without yielding to Krishna’s demand. They were thinking that Krishna might not keep His promise to return their clothes. So they deliberately refused to answer for a long time, or even look toward the kadamba tree. Finally giving up their shyness, they gopis spoke in such a way to show their disgust with Krishna’s naughty behavior.
At that time, the sweet dancing of their lotus eyes and the darting movements of their eyebrows captivated all directions. Through their affectionate solicitations and entreaties, that appeared both witty and respectful at the same time, the innocent gopis showed their shyness with their smiling faces sending waves of sweetness in all directions.
Mustering her courage, one gopi said, “O Krishna! Are You not the respectable son of the great king of Vrindavana who instructs everyone in proper behavior? Are You not the all-attractive ocean of good qualities full of waves of compassion? Are You not the personified bliss of Vrindavana, illuminating the eyes of everyone with Your effulgent limbs? Are You not learned in all sastras and weapons? Therefore, why are suddenly performing such an unjust and abominable act?”
Another gopi spoke up, “Why did You steal our splendid garments? Is this Your idea of fun? It will not bring You any good; but rather it will make You infamous. Now just follow the path of honor, play fair and return our clothes.”
Sri Krishna, touched by their humble entreaties, said, “When I said come and take your beautiful clothes, I was not telling a lie.”
The young unmarried girls were intensely eager to attain Krishna. Thus they felt they could no longer ignore the harsh demands of this rarely achieved person. However, inside themselves the gopis waged a war with the forces of shyness trying to hold them back, and the forces of desire pushing them forward.
The gopis could not move forward because the power of their moral character equaled that of their strong attraction to Krishna. Though saturated with Krishna prema, modesty subdued their ecstatic bliss. Glancing restlessly here and there from the corners of their eyes, the gopis came to the Yamuna’s bank with great difficulty. Due to shyness, they hid behind each other while trying to cover themselves from Krishna’s curious gaze.
Then Krishna said, “O sakhis! Why are you afraid of Me? Now stand in a straight line, come before Me, and exhibit your splendid beauty. If you do what I say, then easily you will get your clothes.”
The Vraja kumaris attentively listened to Krishna’s pleasing words. Overcome with feelings of love, respect and hesitation, each gopi slowly moved toward their beloved. While observing their state of embarrassment, Krishna relished the purity of the gopis’ prema. With their draped over His shoulder, Krishna smiled as He drank the nectar of their sweet loving faces.
The gopis lost all their apprehension after hearing Krishna’s clever and pleasing words. Thus overwhelmed with prema, the kumaris slowly rose out of the water to reveal the stunning beauty and unique elegance of their beautiful divine bodies. Casting aside their shyness, the gopis stood humbly before Krishna with their heads hanging down. As Krishna’s prema-filled heart melted, a nectarean smile perfumed His lips.
At that tender time, Sri Krishna said, “O Vraja abalas! You have greatly pleased Me, and I feel the utmost limit of love for you. Now take your clothes and dress yourselves. May you drown in the ocean of ecstasy according to your individual tastes of love.”
While saying this, Krishna extended His hand to give each gopi her respective clothes. Holding their shimmering dresses in their hands, the gopis appeared very beautiful like clusters of golden lotuses bedecked with flags.
Then Vrajendrakumara compassionately addressed the gopis, “I know everything about your vrata and austerities. So I have performed this astonishing pastime just to increase your love for Me. By ordering you harshly, I tested the purity of your love. Being completely attracted and attached to Me, however, you submissively obeyed My beneficial orders. Thus I have manifested a permanent bond of love within your hearts.”
Accepting the words of their dearest beloved Krishna as truth, the gopis experienced both immeasurable joy and agitation due to their intense longing for Krishna. These thoughtful girls were beautified with the sweet fragrance of the vine of fickleness. Now that their vrata was finished, the gopis felt surcharged with love and incredible bliss.
Krishna concluded, “O gopis! Soon we will enjoy together during a festive night. You have attained eternal perfection, so now you can return to Vrindavana.”
Sri Krishna’s gopi vastra harana lila ki jai!
Margashirsha mas Sri Katyayani vrata ki jai!
Jai Jai Sri Radhe!