Skip to main content
November 2021
Vraja bhakti poetry.


[…] We move forward to the sixteenth century to consider a poem attributed to Surdas, an important figure in the late medieval north Indian landscape of Krishna-bhakti. The poet invites his readers/listeners to picture in detail the scene of child Krishna’s butter thieving. Gopal (an endearing, popular name of Krishna, meaning “cowherd”) is described as being “in the butter,” the shimmering color of which contrasts with his own “dusk-toned body.” Then ensues a cascade of images mirroring and echoing a sense of divine grace occurring in liquid form, the freshly churned butter “trickling down his face to his chest / As if the far ambrosial moon rained beams on loves below.” Then, shifting the metaphor, Surdas suggests a sense of excitement and danger: Gopal has “risen to peer from his lair,” perhaps like a lion cub, to look about and confirm that no one is looking, “and then / he cheerfully feeds his friends.” Surdas’ audience knows (from the Bhagavata Purana account) that these “friends” are monkeys, whose impish company points to Krishna’s inclination to freely extend his kindness to all beings. The poem’s colophon turns our attention to the intense affection of Krishna’s beloveds (the “loves below”), the gopi maidens, who have delightedly witnessed Krishna’s mischief:

... Seeing Sur’s Lord in his boyish fun,
the maidens start, love-struck and weakened,

Until their hearts are lost to speech
in thought after thought after thought.

(Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988, pp. 105–106)

—From the book “Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics” by Kennth R. Valpey, Palgrave MacMillan, 2019.



Philosophy is the pursuit of truth, and the best means of this pursuit is through understanding the love of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. This is the Absolute Truth, which we should search for, at all times and in all places. Greek philosopher, Aristotle states wonder to be the beginning of philosophy. And it is because of a sense of wonder that Sri Krishna undertook the adventure of appearing as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu - “How is it possible that Radharani loves me so much? What kind of love is that?” This marks the beginning of the Gaudiya-vaisnava philosophy. According to Kavi-karnapura, wonder is an essential element of devotional poetry because it lies at the very heart of rasa. Rasa and wonder go together - “a poet is one who is expert at composing verses that arouse wonder.”  

In the purport to SB 10.3.31, Srila Prabhupada writes, “The form of the Lord with the flute in His hands is most attractive, and the One who is most sublimely attracted is Srimati Radharani, Radhika.” It is not surprising that Sri Radhika is the best of Krishna’s devotees.  However, Her name is not directly mentioned in the Bhagavatam. The name Radhika can be derived from the word anayaradhitah in SB 10.30.28, which indicates that Srimati Radharani enjoys the highest loving affairs with Krishna.

Radharani’s gopi-friends seem to understand this perfectly. They exclaim, “Certainly this particular gopi has perfectly worshiped the all-powerful personality of Godhead, Govinda, since He was so pleased with Her, that He abandoned the rest of us and brought Her to a secluded place.” The gopis are saying this as they search for Krishna who has disappeared from their midst. Like detectives, they examine the footprints, recognizing the footprints of Krishna with those of Srimati Radharani. They understand what is happening: Krishna has abandoned them and gone with Her. That is how they read the footprints.

We can learn from the gopis what is pure devotion. We must note their attentiveness and their particular readiness to abandon the safety of society, friendship and love in this world. The gopis know how to approach Krishna. Even when He sends them back, they refuse to go, as they had left everything behind, there was no option to go back. Krishna eventually agrees to dance, but not for long, as He soon disappears, having detected some pride in their hearts. And although Krishna disappears, the gopis are experts in searching for Him and finding Him. The marks on the lotus feet (the footprints) of Radha and Krishna examined by the gopisare like deities. However, although there is no difference between Them and Their footprints, still there is the feeling of absence or separation. The footprints are there, but They are absent.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja says, “Amongst the gopis, Srimati Radharani is the foremost in beauty, good qualities, good fortune, and above all - in prema.” One of the ways She serves Krishna is as a guru. Radharani is teaching Krishna how to dance. She also teaches Krishna how to love. That is why Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu advents - Krishna wanting to feel what Radharani feels for Him. Therefore, in approaching Krishna, we must first approach Radharani’s lotus feet. It is important to remember Her feet and the marks on Them, though we are not allowed to see Them often.

The umbrella mark on the lotus feet of Radhika indicate that Her feet provide relief to Krishna from the scorching heat of the separation that He feels. The kind of separation He feels in Dvaraka is elaborated by Srila Sanatana Goswami in Brihad-bhagavatamrita. That is what the mark of an umbrella can remind us.

In the practices of devotional remembrance – one item, lila, or Krishna’s feature comes to our memory and that leads us to another, and to another, and to another. For example, to another “umbrella” in the form of Krishna lifting the Govardhan hill. We can also imagine attendants holding an umbrella above the king, which is again a remembering of the elevated position of the devotees, who always remember Krishna’s and Radha’s lotus feet.

Why to approach Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet? It is because She knows how to approach Krishna’s lotus feet.

—His Holiness Krishna Kshetra Swami at the online KrKSanga from Sadhu Bhavan – Poland (September, 2020).



If we cultivate the idea that our cows are our family members, then it shall be clear how we should manage and develop our farms. We need to realize what Srila Prabhupada was talking about—brahmanical culture and cows.  The starting point for us is to get the right idea, the right feeling and the right sense of perceiving cows as our family members—just like we hear a lot about in India. Therefore, the quality of care that we provide to cows is important.

—From the lecture “Keeping cows in the centre” by Krishna Kshetra Swami in New Vrajamandala ISKCON temple, Spain, on May 27, 2019.