This is yet another aspect of Krishna’s life that is ridiculed and often questioned. The question of Krishna’s 16,000 wives and its allegorical significance was discussed in an earlier post. (Click here to read). This question of why a “God” would indulge in such dalliances is uppermost in most people’s minds and is often a source of embarrassment for Hindus and mirth for people of other religious denominations.
A proper reading of the Srimad Bhagavata should put this in the proper perspective, but unfortunately a lack of Sanskrit knowledge and poorly rendered translations along with fanciful storytelling have done little justice to the underlying meaning and purport of the puranas.
In this story, the Gopis or Gopikas (literally cowherd wives) go to the banks of the Kalindi (Yamuna) river during the “Vasanta” (Spring) season, make an idol of Goddess Katyayani using the soil from the banks of the Kalindi and worship her everyday. Their one-point prayer to mother Katyayani is “Mother, please make the son of Nanda (Krishna) our goal. We would like to attain to that divine personage, Krishna who is the embodiment of supreme bliss…”
This went on for more than a month – The Gopis would wake up early and walk to the banks of Kalindi, singing Krishna’s glories, bathe in the cold waters of the river, worship Katyayani and go back to their homes. As the days passed by the Gopis became more and more desperate to get a glimpse of the supreme being – Krishna.
One day the Gopis as usual discarded their clothes on the banks of the Kalindi and entered the cold waters for their ritual bath. When they finished their bath, all the while singing and chanting the names and glories of Krishna and looked to the river bank, they saw that their clothes had disappeared! Soon, they heard the lilting tunes of the flute… divine music floating through the air – they looked up at the large tree on the edge of the river bank and there was the smiling visage of the supreme personality – Krishna playing the divine music of the Universe…
Even as they were joyous that they had neared their goal, they were embarrassed and ashamed to step out of the water naked. They beseeched Krishna to hand over their clothes but he was adamant. He told them…
“Step out of the water, approach me, and raise your hands and you shall
receive what you want“
“After much hesitation they did and they experienced the supreme bliss of merger with Krishna, that indwelling, all pervading universal spirit – the Atman”
This story highlights the concept of Saranagathi – complete, total, unquestioned surrender to the all knowing spirit of the Universe giving up all inhibitions, expectations, beliefs, worries, and all the other myriad emotions that cloud our understanding of our true identity.
Nakedness in both the literal, metaphorical, and allegorical sense is a concept deeply embedded in Sanatana Dharma. Many of our greatest saints and mystics have often found the trappings of not just wealth but also clothes unnecessary (new age Gurus seem to be an exception to this rule) – Ramana Maharishi wore nothing more than a loin cloth, Akka Mahadevi was covered only in her tresses, Sadasiva Brahmendra was a naked avadhuta. So also Trailanga Swami (the walking Shiva of Varanasi).
Their surrender in the sense of “Naked you came; naked you shall go” is epitomized in this story of Krishna and the Gopis.