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Each morning, the gopis would assemble together at the banks of Yamuna and, holding one another's hands, loudly sing of the wonderful pastimes of lord Krishna before entering the river. It is an old system among Indian girls and women that when they take a bath in the river they place their garments on the bank and dip into the water completely naked. The portion of the river where the girls and women bathe was strictly prohibited to any male, and this is still the system in some parts.
One day Krishna appeared on the scene. Observing the clothes left on the bank by the bathing gopis, he immediately collected all the garments, climbed up a nearby tree, and with a smiling face spoke to them thus: "My dear girls, please come here one after another and pray for your garments and then take them away. I'm not joking with you, just telling the plain truth. Please don't come here all at once. Come alone one by one; I want to see each of you in your complete beauty, for you all have thin waists."
When the girls in the water heard such joking words from Krishna, they began to look at one another and smile. Though outwardly showing resentment they were joyous to hear such a request because they were already in love with him. They then addressed him : " Do not joke with us in this way, it is unjust to us. You are a very respectable boy and very dear to us, so kindly deliver our garments immediately because we are all shivering from the cold water, and end our suffering."
But all their supplications could not convince Krishna. Seeing that he was strong and determined, they had no alternative but to abide by Krishna's command. One after another they came out of the water, but because they were naked, they tried to cover their nakedness with their soft hands. On observing this Krishna chided the gopis, addressing them thus: " My dear girls, you have committed a great offence by going naked in this holy river, because of this the presiding deity of this holy river is displeased with you. Therefore to please this deity touch your forehead with folded palms and ask for his forgiveness." The gopis were all simple souls, and whatever Krishna said they took to be true. They followed his command, but in doing so exposed their nakedness in all its pristine glory to Krishna's gaze, which was exactly what he desired.
All the unmarried gopis who prayed to Goddess Durga to have Krishna as their husband were thus satisfied. A fully developed woman cannot be naked before any male except her husband. The unmarried gopis desired Krishna as their husband, and he fulfilled their desire in this way.
The India art tradition visualises the love adventures of gods and their female friends because it acknowledges that sex is the supreme fact in life, which provides the urge to procreate and maintain the species. It is concealed like lightning in a cloud, and in its glow is the birth of art, literature and science. Sex union among lovers is the most exalted experience in life, and in mutual ecstasy the liberation of the soul from the narrow 'self' takes place. This is the supreme experience of lovers as well as mystics. That is why in describing the union of God and soul, the extremely beautiful imagery of man and woman is employed by mystic saints and artists. Thus we see that the classification of love into 'carnal' and 'spiritual' is arbitrary and unwarranted for the so called 'spiritual' love has its roots in the so called 'physical' love. This art thus sanctifies human love and places it on a par with divine love. In it we find sacredness wedded to sensuous joy.
The glowing, virginal forms of the maidens range from a pure golden hue to a warm dusky texture. They have nubile bosoms, with well-defined tips. Both their hands and feet are richly hennaed, and thick luxurious hair cascade down their bodies like serpentine coils. Krishna, poised on the sturdy branch of the tree, has a blue complexion soft like the monsoon cloud, shining locks of black hair framing his beautifully chiseled face, a yellow garment (pitambara) draped around his body, and a crown upon his head. A smile plays on his lips.
The sun is just rising in the background, and a file of village maidens slithers towards the river, inspite of the amorous episode being enacted there. To the right, behind the tree, are the earthen pots which the virtuous virgins will fill, after they have successfully completely their bath in the river.
This is not a spiritual art where spirit and body are regarded as two separate entities. It is not gloomy, cold and forbidding, but is an art which is a happy blend of the sensuous and the spiritual. The spirituality is not chilled by an asceticism which is disdainful of female loveliness and the delights of love. In fact, its spirituality very much based on flesh and blood. It is an art which glorifies female beauty and revels in the loveliness of the female form.
Of Related Interest :
Krishna Stealing Clothes (Batik Art)
Krishna Stealing Clothes (Miniature Painting on Paper)