Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: Did Krishna flirt with gopis?
During his time at Vrindavan, Krishna grows up loved by one and all at Vrindavan. As he grows into a teenager, Krishna woos the milkmaids of his village with the flute, and they’re said to ‘lose their hearts’ to him. This said, there is no evidence that Krishna and the gopis flirted with one another in a way that the word is used in modern times.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna flirted with gopis.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Devotion for Krishna
Krishna grows up in Vrindavan the apple of everyone’s eye. As the son of Nanda and Yashoda, he automatically possesses status among the other villagers. Add to that the fact that he is lovable and mischievous makes him impossible to dislike.
When Krishna is a young boy, the milkmaids complain to Yashoda about his antics – he routinely steals milk and butter from their homes – but the general tone of the narrative is that they all secretly adore him nevertheless.
Meanwhile, Krishna also displays his divine powers on several occasions. So it would not be wrong to say that there is a devotional aspect to the love that Vrindavan feels for him. This is true for both men and women.
As Krishna grows older, his magic grows stronger. By the time he is lifting the Govardhana and protecting the village from Indra, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that he is a celestial being.
Around this time, Krishna’s flute is said to woo the hearts of the people around him. Women, specifically, are said to leave their homes in the dead of the night to go into the forest, where they ‘dance’ with Krishna.
Who are these women?
Since none of the stories written about Krishna go into details of this matter, we may as well ask: Who are these women that leave their proprieties behind and go to dance with the younger son of Yashoda?
Are they married women? Unwed but sexually mature maidens? Small girls who are yet to hit puberty? Middle-aged and menopausal wives whose childbearing years are behind them? Old crones?
All of the above?
Often, pictures drawn depicting the ‘raasaleela’ (as the dance of Krishna with the gopis is called) show a clutch of young, unwed yet sexually mature women surrounding Krishna while he stands with the flute to his lips. We do not see any of the other demographics represented.
And the language that is used to describe the feelings that these young women experience at the sound of Krishna’s flute is suggestive of erotic undercurrents. Yes, there is spirituality in it. Devotion as well. But there are hints of sexuality too.
The Nature of Love
The precise nature of Krishna’s relationship with the milkmaids of Vrindavan is therefore debatable. While we know that the gopis loved Krishna with all their hearts, whether this love is romantic, filial, erotic, maternal, sexual – or a mixture of all these – is unknown.
What we know of Krishna’s raasaleela is the following:
- Krishna plays the flute, and draws the milkmaids out of their homes in the dead of the night toward the forest.
- They dance together for several nights in a row in the moonlight. Krishna is said to replicate himself many times over with his magic such that each maiden believes that he is dancing with just her.
- The milkmaids are mesmerised with Krishna’s physical beauty, and with the melody of his flute.
Modern media – with its penchant for sexualizing everything – likes to pretend that the fundamental attraction the milkmaids feel for Krishna is erotic in nature.
But this may lead to us unwittingly stripping the relationship to just one of its many dimensions. The milkmaids respected Krishna. They prayed to him. They thought of him as their saviour. They felt comfortable with him. They cared for him.
Did they have sexual thoughts toward him? Some of them, probably, some of the time. But it would be crass to suggest that all the women of Vrindavan became sex-crazed dolls the moment Krishna picked up his flute.
(Suggested: Why did Krishna not marry Radha?)
Spiritual versus Physical Union
The suggestion in the Bhagavata Purana and the Gita Govinda is that the union between Krishna and Vrindavan’s milkmaids is spiritual in nature. The flute and its notes become a conduit between Krishna’s mind and the women’s.
The dance is a medium through which they express their affection and connection to one another.
A spiritual union between two people does not require sexual thoughts to be present in either of them, of course. But equally, sexual thoughts are not precluded either.
It is entirely possible for some of the milkmaids of Vrindavan to have entertained fantasies in which they united with Krishna physically. Krishna may have fantasized that way about some milkmaids too.
Women fantasize about kind, powerful, attractive men. Men fantasize about playful, lovable and beautiful women. None of this ought to be controversial.
And none of this proves conclusively that there was any actual flirtatious behaviour between Krishna and the milkmaids.
While all of the above is highly suggestive of the notion that Krishna had sexual relationships with many of the women of the village, it is also highly unlikely. Because:
- In those times, a maiden’s sexuality had to be fiercely guarded until she got married because almost all sexual activity was procreative.
- Krishna is the son of the village chief. If it were common knowledge that Krishna was being sexually active with women, the fathers and husbands of those women would have complained to Nanda, and the practice would have stopped.
- The women themselves would have had much more wisdom than blindly saying yes to Krishna, despite his attractiveness.
The fact that none of the men of the village stopped their women from dancing with Krishna indicates that nothing happened during these nights that could be termed scandalous. The relationships between the women and Krishna are by all indications platonic.
This is also as expected, because fantasy and reality are harshly distinct from one another. The former allows you to indulge without any consequences. You can let your mind wander. With the latter, you must always be mindful of what might follow.
(Suggested: Why did Krishna never return to Vrindavan?)
Suggestiveness versus Evidence
The likely explanation, therefore, is that the women of Vrindavan had the collective wisdom to engage with Krishna on a spiritual level while saying no to all real, physical temptations.
Krishna, too, for his part, would have stopped himself – in his capacity as the son of the chief, and therefore protector of the village – from deliberately tarnishing the name of any woman under his care.
While we cannot prove this ‘friends only’ theory for certain, we can offer two points in its favour:
- None of the male citizens of the village – brothers, fathers, and husbands of the milkmaids – ever bring in a complaint to Nanda about Krishna’s behaviour. Not even once.
- The only way in which a man could have sex with a woman in those times would be to (a) marry her, or (b) take her against her will. Krishna does neither. He does not bear any of the milkmaids a child.
This suggests that the relationship between Krishna and the gopis of Vrindavan was largely asexual in practice. Their union was almost entirely spiritual in nature.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story