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The gopīs’ relationship with ‘husbands’ is not real

I recently became aware that some Gauḍiyas criticize Śrī Jīva Goswami for teaching svakīya-vāda in the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha. These people go to the extent of rejecting his commentary on the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, and even the Sandarbhas, outright. They consider Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī to be reliable because he firmly supports parakīya-vāda. While everyone is welcome to their own views, the fact is that Śrī Jīva Goswami’s Sandarbhas are foundational to Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavism. Criticizing him is akin to cutting off one’s own relationship with Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavism at its very root.

Here, I examine the meaning of the terms svakīya and parakīya. I show that Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī is in agreement with Śrī Jīva on the concept that the gopīs’ relationship with ‘husbands’ is only a mental concept, and not actually real, in the sense that there is no desire associated with that self-concept nor action. Both also agree that the gopīs are the svarūpa-śakti of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, i.e. they belong exclusively to Him. As such, the ‘controversy’ over svakīya versus parakīya isn’t all that consequential.

The meaning of the terms svakīya and parakīya

A relationship with one’s spouse is called svakīya, lit. ‘one’s own’. A relationship with an unmarried partner, or a partner married to another, is called parakīya, lit. ‘belonging to another’. In the prakaṭa or manifest līlā of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the gopīs are depicted to have a parakīya relationship with Him.

Given the obvious immorality of a parakīya relationship, many scholars in India have wrestled with how the Supreme Brahman could indulge in it.

Śrī Babaji writes in the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha:

One group worships Kṛṣṇa only in His baby form, as Bāla Gopāla, averting the need to justify the morality of Kṛṣṇa’s līlā with the young gopīs . Other groups deny the veracity of this līlā altogether, considering it to be allegorical. They compare the gopīs to various mental states (citta-vṛtti), and Kṛṣṇa to the witness of those mental states (ātmā). Still others claim that Kṛṣṇa was in fact married to the gopīs . According to this view, the marriages of Kṛṣṇa with the gopīs took place during the year in which Brahmā stole Kṛṣṇa’s friends. During this time, Kṛṣṇa expanded Himself to replace the missing cowherd boys, and so the boys who were married with the gopīs were actually Kṛṣṇa Himself.

Bhāgavata Purāṇa , however, which delineates Kṛṣṇa’s prakaṭa-līlā , is very explicit that Kṛṣṇa did not marry until after He left Vraja and moved to Dvārakā via Mathurā. He lived in Vraja only up to the age of eleven and later underwent the sacred-thread ceremony, upanayana , in Mathurā. According to Hindu custom, a brāhmaṇa , kṣatriya , or vaiśya boy was not permitted to marry without first undergoing the sacred-thread ceremony ( upanayana-saṁskāra ). On this basis, Kṛṣṇa’s marriage with the gopīs in Vraja is ruled out.

In fact, when Śrī Śukadeva, the speaker of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, narrates Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s dancing in the forest with the gopīs, who were depicted as being married to other men, even King Parīkṣit became disturbed and asked a question about the morality of such behavior. The essence of Śrī Śukadeva’s reply is that even though the gopīs appeared externally as if they were married to other men, from an ontological perspective they are His own svarūpa śaktis. Thus, they eternally belong to Him alone and to no other. As such, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that their relationship with Śrī Kṛṣṇa is essentially of the svakīya type, but there is an appearance of a parakīya relationship.

Below, I examine Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on verse 10.33.38, which illuminates this topic further.

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on Bhā. Pu. 10.33.38

Verse 10.33.38 is of particular importance, because on it turn the Gauḍiya replies to questions relating to the immorality in the parakīya relationship. Śrī Jīva Goswami discusses it in the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, but here I examine Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on it.

The verse goes like this:

nāsūyan khalu kṛṣṇāya mohitās tasya māyayā | manyamānāḥ svapārśvasthān svān svān dārān vrajaukasaḥ ||

Deluded by His māyā , the men of Vraja did not envy Kṛṣṇa, because they thought that their wives were still present by their side. ( SB 10.33.38)

I present my translations of Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on the verse below:

nanv evaṁ sarvāsv eva niśāsu gopa-strībhiḥ saha viharati bhagavati tāsāṁ patayaś ca śvaśrv-ādayaḥ sva-sva-gṛheṣu tāḥ sva-vadhūr adṛṣṭvā bhagavate tasmai kathaṁ nākupyan ?

Objection: at the time that Bhagavān was playing with the wives of the gopas in all of the nights, why did not their husbands, mother-in-laws, and others, not seeing their wives or daughter-in-laws in their respective homes, become furious toward Bhagavān?

If the gopīs were truly married to other men, then, when they went to meet Bhagavān in the night, their act should have created a huge uproar against Bhagavān in the whole village. So why did this not happen? This verse provides the answer.

tatrāha—neti | māyayā yoga-māyayaiva, na tu bahiraṅga-māyayā, bhagavat-parivāreṣu tasyā adhikārābhāvāt, tan-mohitānāṁ ca bhagavad-vaimukhyasyāvaśyambhāvāt, teṣāṁ gopānāṁ tu bhagavad-vaimukhya-mātrādarśanāt | tathā mohanaṁ ca gopīṣu kṛṣṇam abhisṛtavatīṣu dṛśīs tāvatīr eva gopīḥ sṛṣṭvā tān darśayitvaiva | ataḥ svān svān dārān sva-pārśva-sthān eva manyamānāḥ |

The reply is in this verse. The word māyayā, “by māyā”, means “by yoga-māyā”, and not “by bahiraṅga-māyā”, because the latter has no authority when it comes to the families of Bhagavān, and because those who are put in illusion by bahiraṅga-māyā, are necessarily turned away from Bhagavān, while such turning away from Bhagavān is not ever seen in the gopas. Also, when the gopīs went out to meet Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the illusion the gopas were put in [by yoga-māyā] was through the creation of exactly the same types of gopīs, and then making them visible to the gopas’ vision. This is why they thought that their own wives were by their side [when the gopīṣ went out to meet with Śrī Kṛṣṇa].

Note here that Śrī Viśvanātha repeats exactly the same reply that Śrī Jīva Goswami provides in Anuchheda 177 of the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha. There are two sets of gopīs. One group is the ‘real’ group, while the other is created to nourish the illusion that the gopas have wives. Of course, both are consistent on this point because Śrī Rupa Goswami has written precisely the same thing as Śrī Viśvanātha cites here:

yad uktam ujjvala-nīlamaṇau—   māyā-kalpita-tādṛk-strī-śīlanenānasūyabhiḥ | na jātu vraja-devīnāṁ patibhiḥ saha saṅgamaḥ || [u.nī. 3.32] iti |  

This is stated in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi – there was certainly no physical association of the vraja-devīs with the husbands, who were non-envious [of Bhagavān] because of the similar nature of the women who were created by māyā.

Also important is his gloss of māyā as yoga-māyā. The gopas are also Bhagavān’s devotees- they are antar-mukhas, and in fact, they are uttama bhaktas, devoid of any desire for personal enjoyment or happiness as occurs in those who want mukti of any type. Rather, their only desire is to serve Bhagavān. As such, bahiraṅga-māyā has no power over the gopas. Indeed, we shall see below that there was no intimate relation between them and even the replica gopīs. Basically, their service to Bhagavān is to facilitate His līlā by playing the role of so-called ‘husbands’.

Śrī Jīva Goswami has stated in the Sandarbhas that the real gopīs are substituted for these virtual gopīs during events such as marriage to the gopas or when they are alone with the gopas. Śrī Viśvanātha sheds some more light:

tataś ca yoga-māyāyāś cic-chakti-vṛttitvāt tat-kāryāṇām api nitya-satyaucityāt sarva-māyika-prapañca-nāśe’pi teṣāṁ pārśva-stha-dārāṇāṁ, teṣu sva-sva-bhāryābhimānasya ca nitya-satyatvam eva manyamānā ity abhimāna-mātram, na tu yoga-māyā-kalpitānām api tāsāṁ patibhiḥ sambhoga iti tāsāṁ tad-ākāra-tulya-kārāṇām anya-sambhuktatvasyānaucityāt | ata eva sva-pārśva-sthān iti tu sva-talpa-sthān itu uktam | tac ca samādhānaṁ yoga-māyayaiva | tat-patīnāṁ tāsu kāma-bhāvānupādanāt kṛtam iti jñeyam | śrī-bhagavat-pārśvāt sva-sva-gṛhaṁ prati gopīnām āgamana-samaye māyika-gopīnāṁ māyayaivāntardhāpanam api jñeyam |

Because yoga-māyā is a transformation of the cit-śakti, it is appropriate that her effects are also eternal. As such, their concept that the gopīs are their own wives is eternal, [which persists] even when the world composed of bahiraṅga-māyā is destroyed [the prakaṭa līlā becomes aprakaṭa]. The word ‘manyamānā’, ‘thinking’, that their wives were by their side, implies that they only had the concept [that they were their wives], and not that there was union between the gopīs created by yoga-māyā and their husbands. This is because it would be inappropriate for those gopīs to be united with anyone else, given that they have the same forms as the original gopīs. This is why, the word ‘sva-pārśva-sthān ‘ is used, which here means ‘on their beds’. It is to be understood that this solution [of creating māyika-gopīs and the self-concept in the gopas’ minds that the gopīs are their wives] is orchestrated by yoga-māyā alone, due to the fact that their husbands have no desire for them. It is also to be understood that at the time of arrival of the actual gopīs from the side of Śrī Bhagavān back to their homes, the māyika-gopīs were hidden by the same yoga-māyā.

Here we again see that the husbands have no desire for the gopīs. They are among the topmost devotees of Bhagavān, exemplars of the definition of uttamā bhakti, which includes

anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam – devoid of desire-ness for anything else

along with

kṛṣṇānuśīlanam = continuous service directed toward Kṛṣṇa or His devotees.

Just like the gopīs, the gopas’ existence is also for pleasing Bhagavān alone.

Importantly, the relation between the gopas and the virtual gopīs exists only in the gopas’ minds- they never act on it because a) they have no such desire, and b) it would be inappropriate for such an act to occur. We can now apply kaimutya-nyāya – what then can be said of the relation between the gopas and the real gopis? That relationship most definitely is not real, but exists only in the minds of the gopis and of the gopas.


There are two sets of gopīs: real gopīs and virtual gopīs.

The real gopīs’ relationship with the gopas is imagined in the gopīs’ minds.

A relationship of the real or virtual gopīs with the gopas is also only imagined in the gopas’ minds.

There is no union possible between the gopas and the virtual gopīs, because the gopas do not desire them as their wives and because such a union would be inappropriate. By kaimutya-nyāya, this is all the more true for the real gopīs.

To understand this līlā, one has to first study and comprehend the definition of uttamā bhakti thoroughly.

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  1. As a gaudiya vaishnav it is necessary that we consider works of shad goswamis as shrutis that which are without any fault and that which cannot be challenged. Vishvnath Chakravarti pad himself says in the beginning of sararth darshini that he is writing this commentary according to Bhagvat Sandarbhas this itself shows his allegiance towards Srila Jiva Goswami. All Gaudiya Vaishnav Acharyas Shad Goswamis, Vishvnath Chakrvarti Pad and Baldev Vidyabhushan are in same line and have no mutual contradictions.

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