Kṛṣṇa's age, His beauty, His bugle, His flute, His conchshell and His pleasing attitude all provoke love in friendship for Him. His exceptional joking abilities, exhibited sometimes by His pretending to be a royal prince, or even the Supreme Personality of Godhead, also give impetus to devotees developing love for Kṛṣṇa in friendship.
Learned scholars have divided Kṛṣṇa's age into three periods: the age up to five years is called kaumāra, the age from the sixth to the tenth year is called paugaṇḍa, and the age from the eleventh to fifteenth year is called kaiśora. While Kṛṣṇa is spending His days as a cowherd boy, He is in the kaumāra' and paugaṇḍa ages. In the kaiśora age, when Kṛṣṇa appeared at Gokula, He acted as a cowherd boy, and then, when He was sixteen, He went to Mathurā to kill Kaṁsa.
The kaumāra age is just suitable for reciprocating the love of a child with Mother Yaśodā. In the Tenth Canto, 13th Chapter, 9th verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śukadeva Gosvāmī tells King Parīkṣit: "My dear King, although Lord Kṛṣṇa is the supreme enjoyer and the beneficiary of all kinds of sacrificial ceremonies, He still used to eat with His cowherd boy friends. This is because at that time He accepted the pastimes of an ordinary boy, keeping His flute under His arm and His bugle on the right side in His belt, along with His cane. In His left hand He would hold a lump of rice paste with yogurt, and in His fingers would be pīlu, the king of fruits. When He would thus sit amongst His friends, it would appear that He was the whorl of a lotus flower and that the friends surrounding Him were petals. As they thus enjoyed joking amongst themselves, the denizens of heaven would become struck with wonder and would only stare at the scene."
Kṛṣṇa's paugaṇḍa age can be further divided into three periods—namely, the beginning, middle and end. In the beginning of the paugaṇḍa age there is a very nice reddish luster on His lips, His abdomen is very thin, and on His neck are circles like those on a conchshell. Sometimes, some outside visitors would return to Vṛndāvana to see Kṛṣṇa and, upon seeing Him again, would exclaim, "My dear Mukunda, Your beauty is gradually increasing, just like the leaf on a banyan tree! My dear lotus-eyed one, Your neck is gradually manifesting circles like the conchshell. And in the shining moonlight Your teeth and cheeks are competing with the padmarāga jewels in their beautiful arrangement. I am sure that Your beautiful bodily development is now giving much pleasure to Your friends."
At this age Kṛṣṇa was garlanded with various kinds of flowers. He used to put on a silk dress, colored with various kinds of dye. Such beautiful decorations are considered cosmetics for Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa would wear this dress when He used to go into the forest to tend the cows. Sometimes He would wrestle there with His different friends, and sometimes they would dance all together in the forest. These are some of the specific activities of the paugaṇḍa age.
The cowherd friends of Kṛṣṇa were so happy in His company that they expressed their transcendental feelings within themselves thus: "My dear Kṛṣṇa, You are always busy tending the cows which are scattered all over beautiful Vṛndāvana. You have a beautiful garland, a small conchshell, a peacock feather on Your turban, yellow-colored silk cloth, decorations of karṇikāra flowers on Your ears and a mallīkā flower garland on Your chest. Appearing so beautiful, when You pretend, just like an actor, to be fighting with us, You give us unlimited transcendental bliss."
When Kṛṣṇa is more grown-up, in the middle age of paugaṇḍa, His nails become finely sharp, and His chubby cheeks become lustrous and round. On the two sides of His waist above His belt there are three distinct lines of folded skin, called tribali.
The cowherd boy friends of Kṛṣṇa felt very proud of their association with Him. At that time the tip of His nose defeated the beauty of the sesame flowers, the luster of His cheeks defeated the glow of pearls, and the two sides of His body were exquisitely beautiful. In this age Kṛṣṇa wore a silk dress that glittered like lightning, His head was decorated with a silk turban covered with gold lace, and in His hand He carried a stick about fifty-six inches long.* Seeing this exquisitely beautiful dress of Kṛṣṇa, one devotee addressed his friend in this manner: "My dear friend, just look at Kṛṣṇa! See how He is carrying in His hand a stick which is bound up and down with golden rings, how His turban with golden lace is showing such a beautiful luster, and how His dress is giving his friends the highest transcendental pleasure!"
* The specific pastimes in this period took place in the forest known as Bhāṇḍīravan. This Bhāṇḍīravana, along with eleven other vanas, or forests, is still existing in the Vṛndāvana area, and devotees who circumambulate the whole area of Vṛndāvana can know the beauty of these forests even today.
At the end of Kṛṣṇa's paugaṇḍa age, Kṛṣṇa's hair sometimes hangs down to His hips, and sometimes it becomes scattered. In this age His two shoulders become higher and broader, and His face is always decorated with marks of tilaka. When His beautiful hair scatters over His shoulders, it appears to be a goddess of fortune embracing Him, and this embracing is highly relished by His friends. Subala once addressed Him in this way: "My dear Keśava, Your round turban, the lotus flower in Your hand, the vertical marks of tilaka on Your forehead, Your kuṅkum-flavored musk and all of Your beautiful bodily features are defeating me today, although I am usually stronger than You or any of our friends. Since this is so, I do not know how these features of Your body can fail to defeat the pride of all the young girls of Vṛndāvana. When I am so defeated by this beauty, what chance is there for those who are naturally very simple and flexible?"
At this age Kṛṣṇa took pleasure in whispering into the ears of His friends, and the subject of His talks was the beauty of the gopīs, who were just tarrying before them. Subala once addressed Kṛṣṇa thus: "My dear Kṛṣṇa, You are very cunning. You can understand the thoughts of others; therefore I am whispering within Your ear that all these five gopīs, who are most beautiful, have been attracted by Your dress. And I believe that Cupid has entrusted them with the responsibility of conquering You." In other words, the beauty of the gopīs was capable of conquering Kṛṣṇa, although Kṛṣṇa is the conqueror of all universes.
The symptoms of the kaiśora age are already described, and it is at this age that devotees generally most appreciate Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa with Rādhārāṇī is worshiped as Kiśora-kiśorī. Kṛṣṇa does not increase His age beyond this form of kaiśora, and it is confirmed in the Brahma-saṁhitā that although He is the oldest personality and has innumerable different forms, His original form is always youthful. In the pictures of Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra we can see that He is youthful, although at that time He was old enough to have sons, grandsons, and great grandsons. The cowherd boy friends of Kṛṣṇa once said, "My dear Kṛṣṇa, You need not decorate Your body with so many ornaments. Your transcendental features are themselves so beautiful that You do not require any ornamentation." At this age, whenever Kṛṣṇa begins to vibrate His flute early in the morning, all of His friends immediately get up from bed just to join Him in going to the pasturing grounds. One of the friends once said, "My dear cowherd friends, the sound of Kṛṣṇa's flute from above Govardhan Hill is telling us that we need not go to search Him out on the bank of the Yamunā."
Pārvatī, the wife of Lord Śiva, told her husband: "My dear Pañcamukha (five-faced), just look at the Pāṇḍavas! After hearing the sound of Kṛṣṇa's conchshell known as Pāñcajanya, they have regained their strength and are just like lions."
At this age, Kṛṣṇa once dressed Himself up exactly like Rādhārāṇī, just to create fun among His friends. He put on golden earrings; and because He was blackish, He smeared the pulp of kuṅkum all over His body in order to become as fair as She. By seeing this dress, Kṛṣṇa's friend Subala became very astonished.
Kṛṣṇa sometimes played with His intimate friends by engaging in fighting or wrestling with their arms, sometimes by playing ball, sometimes by playing chess, sometimes by carrying one another on the shoulders, and sometimes by exhibiting their expertness at whirling logs. And the cowherd friends used to please Kṛṣṇa by sitting together with Him on coaches or on swings, by lying together on their beds, by joking together and by swimming in the pool. All these activities are called anubhāva. Whenever all the friends would assemble in the company of Kṛṣṇa, they would immediately engage in all these functions, especially in dancing together. Regarding their wrestling, one friend once asked Kṛṣṇa, "My dear friend, O killer of the Agha demon, You are very proudly wandering among Your friends trying to exhibit Your arms as very strong. Is it that You are envious of me? I know that You cannot defeat me in wrestling, and I also know that You were sitting idly for a long time because You were hopeless of defeating me."
All the friends were very daring and would risk any difficulty, because they were confident that Kṛṣṇa would help them to be victorious in all adventures. They used to sit together and advise one another what to do, sometimes inducing one another to be engaged in welfare work. Sometimes they would offer betel nuts to one another, decorate one another's faces with tilaka or smear pulp of candana on one another's bodies. Sometimes, for the sake of amusement, they used to decorate their faces in strange ways. Another business of the friends was that each of them wanted to defeat Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes they used to snatch His clothing or snatch away the flowers from His hands. Sometimes one would try to induce another to decorate his body for him, and failing this, they were always ready to fight, challenging one another to combat in wrestling. These were some of the general activities of Kṛṣṇa and His friends.
Another important pastime of the friends of Kṛṣṇa was that they served as messengers to and from the gopīs; they introduced the gopīs to Kṛṣṇa and canvassed for Kṛṣṇa. When the gopīs were in disagreement with Kṛṣṇa, these friends would support Kṛṣṇa's side in His presence—but when Kṛṣṇa was not present, they would support the side of the gopīs. In this way, sometimes supporting one side, sometimes the other, they would talk very privately, with much whispering in the ears, although none of the business was very serious.
The servants of Kṛṣṇa were sometimes engaged in collecting flowers, decorating His body with valuable ornaments and trinkets, dancing before Him, singing, helping Him herd the cows, massaging His body, preparing flower garlands and sometimes fanning His body. These were some of the primary duties of the servants of Kṛṣṇa. The friends and servants of Kṛṣṇa were combined together in serving Him, and all of their activities are known as anubhāva.
When Kṛṣṇa came out from the Yamunā after chastising the Kāliyanāga, Śrīdāmā wanted to embrace Him first, but he could not raise his arms because of his great feeling of respect.
When Kṛṣṇa used to play on His flute, it appeared just like the roaring of clouds in the sky during the constellation of Svāti. According to Vedic astronomical calculation, if there is rain during the constellation of the Svāti star, any rain falling on the sea will produce pearls, and rain falling on a serpent will produce jewels. Similarly, when Kṛṣṇa's flute roared like a thundercloud under the Svāti constellation, the resulting perspiration on Śrīdāmā's body appeared to be just like pearls.
When Kṛṣṇa and Subala were embracing one another, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī became a little envious, and hiding Her hot temperament She said, "My dear Subala, you are very fortunate, because even in the presence of superiors you and Kṛṣṇa have no hesitation in putting your arms on each other's shoulders. I think it must be admitted that in your previous lives you have succeeded in many kinds of austerities." The idea is that although Rādhārāṇī was accustomed to put Her arms on Kṛṣṇa's shoulders, it was not possible for Her to do such a thing in the presence of Her superiors, whereas Subala could do so freely. Rādhārāṇī therefore praised his good fortune.
When Kṛṣṇa entered the lake of Kāliya, His intimate friends became so perturbed that their bodily colors faded, and they all produced horrible gurgling sounds. At that time all of them fell down on the ground as if they were unconscious. Similarly, when there was a forest fire all of Kṛṣṇa's friends neglected their own protection and surrounded Kṛṣṇa on all sides to protect Him from the flames. This behavior of the friends toward Kṛṣṇa is described by thoughtful poets as vyabhicārī. In vyabhicārī ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa there is sometimes madness, dexterity, fear, laziness, jubilation, pride, dizziness, meditation, disease, forgetfulness and humbleness. These are some of the common symptoms in the stage of vyabhicārī ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa.
When there are dealings between Kṛṣṇa and His friends which are completely devoid of any feelings of respect, and they all treat one another on an equal level, such ecstatic love in friendship is called sthāyī. When one is situated in this confidential friendly relationship with Kṛṣṇa, one shows symptoms of love such as attraction, affection, affinity and attachment. An example of sthāyī was exhibited when Arjuna*(4) told Akrūra: "My dear son of Gāndinī, please ask Kṛṣṇa when I shall be able to embrace Him in my arms."
When there is full knowledge of Kṛṣṇa's superiority and yet in dealings with Him on friendly terms respectfulness is completely absent, that stage is called affection. There is one brilliant example of this affection. When the demigods, headed by Lord Śiva, were offering respectful prayers to Kṛṣṇa, describing the glorious opulences of the Lord, Arjuna* stood before Him with his hand on His shoulders and brushed the dust from His peacock feather.
* This Arjuna, living in Vṛndāvana, is different from the friend of the same name to whom Bhagavad-gītā was spoken.
When the Pāṇḍavas were banished by Duryodhana and forced to live incognito in the forest, no one could trace out where they were staying. At that time, the great sage Nārada met Lord Kṛṣṇa and said, "My dear Mukunda, although You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the all-powerful person, by making friendship with You the Pāṇḍavas have become bereft of their legitimate right to the kingdom of the world—and, moreover, they are now living in the forest incognito. Sometimes they must work as ordinary laborers in someone else's house. These symptoms appear to be very inauspicious materially, but the beauty is that the Pāṇḍavas have not lost their faith and love for You, in spite of all these tribulations. In fact, they are always thinking of You and chanting Your name in ecstatic friendship."
Another example of acute affection for Kṛṣṇa is given in the 10th Canto, 15th Chapter, 15th verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In the pasturing ground Kṛṣṇa felt a little tired and wanted to take rest, so He laid down on the ground. At that time, many cowherd boys assembled there and with great affection began to sing suitable songs so that Kṛṣṇa would rest very nicely.
There is a nice example of the friendship between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra. When the fighting was going on, Aśvatthāmā, the son of Droṇācārya, unceremoniously attacked Kṛṣṇa, although according to the prevailing rules of chivalry one's chariot driver should never be attacked by the enemy. But Aśvatthāmā behaved heinously in so many ways that he did not hesitate to attack Kṛṣṇa's body, although Kṛṣṇa was acting only as charioteer for Arjuna. When Arjuna saw that Aśvatthāmā was releasing various kinds of arrows to hurt Kṛṣṇa, he immediately stood in front of Kṛṣṇa to intercept all of them. At that time, although Arjuna was being harmed by those arrows, he felt an ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa, and the arrows appeared to him like showers of flowers.
There is another instance of ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa in friendship: Once when a cowherd boy named Vṛṣabha was collecting flowers from the forest to prepare a garland to be offered to Kṛṣṇa, the sun reached its zenith, and although the sunshine was scorching hot, Vṛṣabha felt it as the moonshine. That is the way of rendering transcendental loving service to the Lord: When devotees are put into great difficulties—even like the Pāṇḍavas, as described above—they feel all their miserable conditions as great facilities for serving the Lord.
Another instance of Arjuna's friendship with Kṛṣṇa is described by Nārada, who reminded Kṛṣṇa, "When Arjuna was learning the art of shooting arrows, he could not see You for so many days. But when You arrived there, he stopped all His activities and immediately embraced You." This means that even though Arjuna was engaged in learning about the military art, he had not forgotten Kṛṣṇa for a moment, and as soon as there was an opportunity to see Kṛṣṇa, he immediately embraced Him.
One servant of Kṛṣṇa named Patrī once addressed Him like this: "My dear Lord, You protected the cowherd boys from the hunger of the Aghāsura demon, and You protected them from the poisonous affects of the Kāliya snake. And You also saved them from the fierce forest fire. But I am suffering from Your separation, which is more severe than the hunger of Aghāsura, the poison of Lake Kāliya, and the burning of the forest fire. So why should You not protect me from the pangs of separation?" Another friend once told Kṛṣṇa: "My dear enemy of Kaṁsa, since You have left us, the heat of separation has become extraordinary. And this heat is felt more severely when we understand that in Bhāṇḍīravana You are being refreshed by the waves of the cooling river known as Bhānūtanayā (Rādhārāṇī)." The purport is that when Kṛṣṇa was engaged with Rādhārāṇī, the cowherd boys headed by Subala were feeling great separation, and that was unbearable for them.
Another friend addressed Kṛṣṇa thus: "My dear Kṛṣṇa, O killer of Aghāsura, when You left Vṛndāvana to kill King Kaṁsa in Mathurā, all the cowherd boys became bereft of their four bhūtas (the elements of earth, water, fire and space). And the fifth bhūta, the air, was flowing very rapidly within their nostrils." When Kṛṣṇa went to Mathurā to kill King Kaṁsa, all the cowherd boys became so afflicted by the separation that they almost died. When a person is dead it is said that he has given up the five elements, known as bhūtas, as the body again mixes with the five elements from which it was prepared. In this case, although the four elements of earth, water, fire and ether were already gone, the remaining element, air, was still very prominent and was blowing through their nostrils furiously. In other words, after Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana, they were always anxious about what would happen in His fight with King Kaṁsa.
Another friend once informed Kṛṣṇa, "When one of Your friends was feeling much separation from You, there were tears covering his lotus eyes, so the black drones of sleep became discouraged from entering his eyes and left that place." When there is a lotus flower, the black drones fly into it to collect honey. The eyes of Kṛṣṇa's friend are compared to the lotus flower, and because they were full of tears the black drones of sleep could not collect honey from his lotus eyes and therefore left the place. In other words, because he was too much afflicted, his eyes were full of tears, and he could not sleep. This is an example of staying up at night because of separation from Kṛṣṇa.
An example of helplessness is described in the following statement: "Due to Kṛṣṇa's departure from Vṛndāvana to Mathurā, Kṛṣṇa's dearest cowherd boys felt as mentally light as possible. They were like fragments of cotton, lighter than the air, and were all floating in the air without any shelter." In other words, the minds of the cowherd boys became almost vacant on account of Kṛṣṇa's separation, and they are compared with fragments of cotton floating in the air without any shelter. An example of impatience was also shown by the cowherd boys when Kṛṣṇa went to Mathurā. Out of the sorrow of separation, all these boys forgot to take care of their cowherding and tried to forget all the melodious songs they used to sing in the pasturing ground. At last they had no desire to live anymore, being separated from Kṛṣṇa.
An example of stillness was described by a friend of Kṛṣṇa, who informed Him in Mathurā that all the cowherd boys had become just like leafless trees on the tops of hills. They appeared almost naked, skinny and frail, and did not carry any fruits or flowers. He informed Kṛṣṇa that all the cowherd boys residing in Vṛndāvana were as still as the trees at the tops of hills. Sometimes they felt diseased from their separation from Kṛṣṇa, and being so greatly disappointed, they were aimlessly wandering on the banks of the Yamunā.
There is also an example of madness caused by separation from Kṛṣṇa. When Kṛṣṇa was absent from Vṛndāvana, all the cowherd boys became bewildered, and having given up all kinds of activities, they appeared to be mad and forgot all their regular business. They were sometimes lying down on the ground, sometimes rolling in the dust, sometimes laughing and sometimes running very swiftly. All of these symptoms gave them the appearance of madmen. One friend of Kṛṣṇa's criticized Him by saying, "My dear Lord, You have become the King of Mathurā after killing Kaṁsa, and that is very good news for us. But at Vṛndāvana all the residents have become blind from their continuous crying over Your absence. They are full only of anxieties and are not cheered at all by Your becoming the King of Mathurā."
Sometimes there were also signs of death caused by separation from Kṛṣṇa. Once Kṛṣṇa was told: "My dear enemy of Kaṁsa, because of their separation from You, the cowherd boys are suffering too much, and they are now lying down in the valleys, breathing only slightly. In order to sympathize with the boys' regrettable condition, even the forest friends, the deer, are shedding tears."
In the Mathurā-khaṇḍa chapter of the Skanda Purāṇa, there is a description of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, surrounded by all the cowherd boys, always engaged in taking care of the cows and calves. When Kṛṣṇa was met by Arjuna at a potter's shop in the city of Drupadanagara, because of the similarity of their bodily features they made intimate friendship. This is an instance of friendship caused by the attraction of similar bodies.
In the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, 71st Chapter, 25th verse, it is stated that when Kṛṣṇa arrived in the city of Indraprastha, Bhīma was so overwhelmed with joy that, with tears in his eyes and a smiling face, he immediately embraced his maternal cousin. Following him were his young brothers Nakula and Sahadeva, along with Arjuna, and they all became so overwhelmed at seeing Kṛṣṇa that with full satisfaction they embraced the Lord, who is known as Acyuta (the infallible). There is a similar statement about the cowherd boys of Vṛndāvana. When Kṛṣṇa was on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra, all the cowherd boys came to see Him, wearing jeweled earrings in their ears. Becoming so greatly overjoyed, they extended their arms and embraced Kṛṣṇa as their old friend. These are instances of full satisfaction in friendship with Kṛṣṇa.
In the Tenth Canto, 12th Chapter, 11th verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is stated that even after undergoing severe penances and austerities and performing the yogic principles, the great mystic yogīs can hardly become eligible to achieve the dust of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, but the same Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, is easily available to the vision of the residents of Vṛndāvana. This means there is no comparison to these devotees' great fortune. The friendly relationship of the cowherd boys with Kṛṣṇa is a particular type of spiritual ecstasy almost similar to the ecstasy of conjugal love. It is very difficult to explain this ecstasy of loving affairs between the cowherd boys and Kṛṣṇa. Great expert devotees like Rūpa Gosvāmī and others express their astonishment at the inconceivable feelings which are in Kṛṣṇa and His cowherd boy friends.
This particular type of ecstatic love shared between Kṛṣṇa and His confidential friends further develops into parental love, and on from there it may develop into conjugal love, the most exalted humor or mellow of ecstatic love between Lord Kṛṣṇa and His devotees.