Monday, September 8, 2008

The Asthasakhis: Introduction

Shri Radha feels that her love for Krishna can always expand to greater heights, and therefore she manifests herself as the ashtasakhis, her replications or kaya-vyuhas. They fulfill Krishna’s desire for a loving relationship in a variety of ways, with different moods and emotions. As Radha and Krishna’s sole purpose is to engage in a loving exchange, the gopis exist to assist them in their love-play in the isolated nikunjas.

The gopi bhava (love flowing towards the Lord) which leads us to Krishna is transcendental love of the highest order, said to be the zenith of spiritual awareness. These cowherdesses representing souls in search of salvation are hungry for the fulfillment of their love and Lord Krishna the dark-skinned cowherd of Vrindavana is hungry too. For when the divine suffers division, when it literally comes down to earth it must be restored to wholeness once again by an accumulation of devotion. Hence Gopivallabha or beloved of the gopis, is one of Lord Krishna’s epithets.

The sakhi or the love messenger’s only concern is to see Radha and Krishna united and joyous in love. To this end she not only carries messages but comforts and even admonishes them. Jayadeva’s ‘Gita Govinda’ leaves no doubt that the sakhi is not just a literary device but an indispensable persona in the dynamics of love and in our celebration of that love. Not mere voyeurs by identifying with the sakhi we raise the celebration of shringara rasa (sensual and spiritual love) to aesthetic heights, which takes us to the very heart of the love of Radha-Krisna.

The manjaris or beautiful young gopis carry on the second service in madhurya (sweet love) the watchword of shringara rasa. Being young, at most thirteen years old, the manjaris are invariably apprentices to the primary eight gopis .The manjaris are allowed to stay on during Radha and Krishna’s intimate romantic dalliances because of their naivete and purity.

Basically the gopis are divided into five groups. The most important are the parama-preshtha-sakhis or the eight primary gopis named, Lalita, Vishaka, Campakalata,Citra,Tungavidya, Indulekha, Rangadevi and Sudevi. Gaudiya literature provides many details of their lives and services including each one’s parents names, spouse’s name, skin colour, age, birthday, mood, temperament, favourite melody, instrument, closest girlfriends and so on. These elements provide the substance of an inner meditation or sadhana helping us realize who we really are in terms of our eternal identity in the spiritual realm and helps us gradually develop prema or love for Lord Krishna.

Vrashbhanupur or Varsana resonates with the innocent prattle of Shri Radha and on growing up she romantically dallies with her beloved Brajraj Nandnandan in Gaharvan, Sankrikhor, Vilasgarh, Mangarh, Dangarh and other sites. Villages of the ashtasakihs or the eight primary sakhis namely Shri Lalita, Vishakha, Chitra, Indulekha, Campakalata, Tungavidya, Rangadevi and Sudevi are located nearby.

Ashtsakhi Temple:

While going from Sri Madanmohanji's temple to Sri Banke Bihariji, the Ashtasakhi temple is on the right. Shri Radha-Krishna and the parama-preshta sakhis are resplendent here. In the year 1889 King Ramranjan Chakravarty of Hetampur inaugurated this temple and a new temple was formed in 1928 when the ashtasakhis or prime eight sakhis were included.

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