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Today is a super excellent auspicious day called Gopashtami— the entire day is known as Ashtami tithi (eight days from new moon). According to Vaishnava culture and traditions, in a few hours we will observe Gopashtami. And Gopashtami refers to the first time Krishna went to herd His calves and cows. That is why today is given the name Gopa Ashtami. 

Every year, we visit the home of Paresh Sandari and his wife Ranigiri; they are completely dedicated unto the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. I have come to their house for many years now, especially when I used to collect money for our Sri Keshavaji Gaudiya Matha; at that time our Matha was not wealthy and every day, I used to go house to house in Vraja and especially in Mathura, collecting donations for our Sri Keshavaji Gaudiya Matha. Then, I met their family, and they were always very generous, and remained completely dedicated to the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva, BV Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. 

On the auspicious day of Gopashtami in 2013, Paresh Sandari’s wife departed from this material world early in the morning. You cannot believe how dedicated Ranigiri was to the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva. When I used to come to their home, they would always show so much love and affection and always treated us like their family members. In Sanskrit, the term for this is, laukika sad-bandhuvat priti. Brahmaji similarly glorified the residents of Vraja. In this verse recited by Brahmaji, he glorified the family relationship that the Vrajavasis and Krishna have:

aho bhāgyam aho bhāgyaṁnanda-gopa-vrajaukasāmyan-mitraṁ paramānandaṁpūrṇaṁ brahma sanātanam

Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.14.32)

[How greatly fortunate are Nanda Maharaja, the cowherd men and all the other inhabitants of Vrajabhumi! There is no limit to their good fortune, because the Absolute Truth, the source of transcendental bliss, the eternal Supreme Brahman, has become their friend.]

Brahmaji’s Glorification of Fortune of Vrajavasis & Predominance of Vraja’s Sweetness

In this verse, Brahmaji recites how fortunate the Vrajavasis are— saubhagyavat. All of the residents of Vraja including Nanda Baba, maintain relationships with Krishna as if He is a member of their family. ‘Aho bhāgyam aho bhāgyaṁ nanda-gopa-vrajaukasām yan-mitraṁ paramānandaṁ pūrṇaṁ brahma sanātanam’. Krishna is called Purna Brahma Sanatana Purusha, meaning that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. However Vrajavasis, the residents of Vraja, believe Krishna simply to be a family member. They never think Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Svayam Bhagavan. ‘Dekhiyā nā māne aiśvarya’

They have witnessed all of Krishna’s opulences, yet, they never believe Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Svayam Bhagavan. Krishna lifted Giriraja Govardhana for seven days and seven nights— they witnessed this. They also saw Krishna dance on the hoods of Kaliya naga (snake). And they saw Krishna consume fire, davanala-bhakshana lila. In Vraja, Krishna manifests all of His opulences, His aishvarya. Even more than in Vaikuntha, ‎Ayodhya, Dvaraka or even Mathura. Vraja is actually completely full of opulence. Except that opulence is covered with sweetness, the Sanskrit term for this is madhurya. And Vraja is always covered by sweetness, madhurya

For this reason, in Chaitanya-charitamrita, Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami explains, “Dekhiyā nā māne aiśvarya.” The Vrajavasis witnessed all of Krishna’s opulences first-hand and still do not believe Krishna is Bhagavan. Why? Because at the time of His name giving ceremony, Gargacharya said, “Nārāyaṇa-samo guṇaiḥ - O Nanda Maharaja, your son Krishna has many qualifications like Lord Narayana.” Due to this, they believe that Krishna actually has no power Himself. Whenever Krishna’s transcendental and opulent pastimes manifest, Vrajavasis believe the astonishing feats of opulence (aishvarya) observed can only occur because Lord Narayana possessed Him. 

Who is Narayana actually? Narayana is an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Despite this truth, the residents of Vraja never believe Krishna to be Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srimad-Bhagavatam clearly explains, “Ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam.” Rama, Nrisimha and Kalki are all incarnations of Sri Krishna. Krishna is called sarva-avatari, the source of all incarnations. However, Vrajavasis think Lord Narayana sometimes possesses Krishna’s body and only then is He able to perform all of these opulent activities. Why am I saying this? Because these are the moods of pure Vrajavasis, shuddha-bhaktas

Shuddha-bhakti means pure devotional service is in their hearts. Prabhu’s wife, Ranigiri was very lucky as very early in the morning, during brahma-muhurta, after she chanted Gurudeva’s mantra, gopala- and guru gayatri-mantra, she departed from this material world in the month of Kartika, on this auspicious day of Gopashtami. She served Gurudeva during many of our utsavas, celebrations and regularly attended our Sri Keshavaji Gaudiya Matha in Mathura. As mentioned, she was completely dedicated to Srila Gurudeva, serving with her body and mind. Ranigiri Didi gave everything to serve Gurudeva. Even selling all of her ornaments and offering everything to Gurudeva and afterwards, faithfully serving Thakuraji (deity). You cannot imagine the amount of love and affection she had with guru and Vaishnavas. 

Significance of Gopashtami

So, the entire day is Ashtami tithi. Later on, myself, Sripada Nrisimha Maharaja and Ananga-mohana Prabhu will perform a very nice and beautiful fire sacrifice upstairs. On this day, during the Lord’s human-being pastimes, Krishna is growing up and today He says, “I must go cow-herding.” After hearing this, Nanda Maharaja replies, “How will this be possible? In my house there are many servants and they can herd the cows.” 

Krishna may be only five years old, but He is still very clever. Krishna told Nanda Maharaja, “No, I was born in a cowherd dynasty, gopa jati. This is our business, our profession. According to our dynasty, our cowherd dynasty, I must go cow-herding.” However, Nanda Maharaja replied, “There is no need for You to go.” 

Still, Krishna remained very stubborn, this is the nature of a baby. Three people in this material world are very stubborn by nature. First, is a baby. The Sanskrit term for this is bala hatha, hat means stubborn. Babies think, “I have to do this!” The second is raja hatha, the stubbornness of a king. A king is also very stubborn and thinks, “I must do it!” Third, is a wife. Wives can be stubborn and also think, “I have to get this done.” She will not listen to the advice of her husband, but would rather insist on getting something done.  

In the same way, Krishna stubbornly told Nanda Maharaja, “Father, I was born in a cowherd dynasty, gopa jati. This is our profession. I must herd the cows.” According to our Indian Vedic caste system there are brahmanas (priests or teachers), kshatriyas (warriors or statesmen), vaishyas (agriculturalists, merchants, or businessmen) and shudras (labourers). Brahmanas’ duties are worshipping Thakuraji, ‘deva puja archana’. Kshatriyas’ duties are to protect the nation by fighting. There is also vaishya jati. Vaishya jati means those who cultivate the lands and handle the trade business. They also have the responsibility of protecting cows, go-rakshana. Krishi, go-rakshana, means cultivating fields and growing grains. Lastly, shudras serve the three aforementioned castes. This is the complete Vedic caste system. In Srimad Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says this verse: 

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ


tasya kartāram api māṁ

viddhy akartāram avyayam

Bhagavad-gita (4.13)

[According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.]

This is called daiva-varnashrama-dharma (Vaishnava caste system). Krishna said, “According to a person’s qualifications, one should belong to a particular caste and race.” Similarly, Krishna explained to Nanda Maharaja, “O father, I was born in a cowherd dynasty. So this is My duty, I have to do this. Especially now, I should practice in my childhood. If you do not practice something in your childhood, you will not be able to properly perform those activities when you become old.” For example, you can easily bend a youthful green bamboo stick. However, when that green bamboo ages and becomes matured, it cannot be bent as easily as before. And, what will happen if you try to bend it by force? It shall break. 

For this reason, Krishna told Nanda Maharaja, “In My early age I must practice My duties and responsibilities.” When you are young, in order to attain knowledge, you have to become a student, go to primary school and then college. However, when you become old, you cannot learn things as easily as before. 

śrī-prahrāda uvāca

kaumāra ācaret prājño

dharmān bhāgavatān iha

durlabhaṁ mānuṣaṁ janma

tad apy adhruvam arthadam

Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.6.1)

[Prahlada Maharaja said: One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life — in other words, from the tender age of childhood — to practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection.]

In this verse, Prahlada Maharaja said, “Everyone should practice Krishna consciousness at an early age.” ‘Kaumāra ācaret prājño dharmān bhāgavatān iha’. Everyone has to practice Krishna consciousness during their childhood. This is the process. In the same way, Krishna said, “Father, I have to go cow-herding.” After hearing Krishna’s remarks, Mother Yashoda said, “No Krishna. How can You possibly herd the cows?” 

You see in Vraja, especially during the summertime, it is incredibly hot. Thus, Mother Yashoda said, “The rays of the sun are very strong. They are scorching hot and You cannot tolerate them. Also, how will You possibly walk the path of Vrindavana? There are many thorns.” Still, Krishna persisted, “No, I must practice.” Mother Yashoda contemplated, “How can Krishna possibly go?”  

Finally, Yashoda-maiya and Nanda Maharaja decided, “Okay, You can take a small baby calf. Just go perhaps three to five metres and return.” “No, no. I have to go to herd the calves in the forest,” replied Krishna. Try to understand that whenever Krishna goes cow-herding, Nanda Baba and Mother Yashoda feel so many pangs of separation from Him. And this first time Krishna went cow-herding is known as Govatsa-charanа

In response, Nanda and Yashoda said, “Listen Krishna. How will You walk behind the calves and cows? You must wear shoes.” “No. Cows and calves are our ishtadevas,” replied Krishna. Ishtadeva means your worshipable deity, and according to shastras (scriptures), one should never put shoes on when standing in front of guru and Thakurаji. Krishna very logically applied this conception when He said, “The cows and calves are our ishtadeva. So, how can I possibly wear shoes in front of them?” Always remember that Krishna is very clever.

namo brahmaṇya-devāya

go-brāhmaṇa-hitāya ca

jagad-dhitāya kṛṣṇāya

govindāya namo namaḥ

Vishnu Purana (1.19.65)

[My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world.]

Nanda and Yashoda insisted to Krishna, “Listen, the cows can walk everywhere because they have hooves. If they walk on a chipped stone, they will not feel any pain. How will You possibly walk behind the cow without shoes? You must wear shoes.” “Okay, I can take the shoes. But first you must also offer shoes to all the cows and calves. And for this, you will need a big shoe factory. So, I will have to go barefoot,” Krishna responded cleverly.

Thus, today is the first day Krishna herded His cows and calves. According to the rules and regulations of our shastras, for protection, brahmanas chant special mantras or some stavas and stutis, like, “Om svasti no govindah svasti no achyutanantau svasti no…” Mother Yashoda thought, “Krishna will go very far and perhaps some, pishachi, ghosts or spirits will try to attack Him.” This type of thinking manifests because of Mother Yashoda’s intense vatsalya-bhava or parental mood towards Her young son Krishna. So, Mother Yashoda applied twelve tilaka (clay markings for the forehead and other parts of body) signs on Krishna’s body and protected Him with these special mantras. Just look how much love and affection, vatsalya-bhava, they have with Krishna!

In this way, Sri Krishna is actually maturing, kishoravastha. Afterwards, Krishna said, “Now, I must go herd the cows.” ‘Vanād vanam’ means that He goes cow-herding from one forest to another. Actually, Krishna only travels with the cows from one forest to another because He is searching for the gopis. This is the main reason for Him to enter the forest, Krishna only uses herding as an excuse. He says, “I am going cow herding now,” but really, Krishna is searching for the gopis as Radha and Lalita are feeling heavy pangs of separation from Him. Srila Shukadeva Gosvamipada beautifully described these pastimes in more detail in his grantha Venu-gita. Today is ideal to recall these pastimes as it is the super excellent, auspicious day of Gopashtami, Ashtami tithi— eight days from the new moon. 

Gaura Premanande!

Hari Haribol!

Date: 15 November 2018 Location: Mathura, India


Transcriber: Sanatana dasa (USA) Editor: Sanatana dasa (USA) Integrity check: Divya-premamayi dasi (Slovakia) Proofreader: Chandrika dasi (UK) Image: Navina-krishna dasa (Holland)

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