The cowherd girls of Vrindavan, the companions of Sri Radha (Astha Sakhi – eight principal cowherd girls) and Krishna are commonly referred to as the Gopis of Vrindavan. According to authorities, these gopis can be broadly divided into three groups – Samaja, Mandala, and Gana. Samaja can be further subdivided into two – Varistha and Vara. These most exalted Gopis of Vrindavan are celebrated as the most intimate associates of Sri Radha-Krishna and they are always engaged in assisting the divine couple manifest their loving pastimes. The love that these Gopis hold for Sri Radha and Krishna is unique and unmatched. They are endowed with beautiful forms, transcendental qualities, and sweet features.
Among all the gopis of Vrindavan, Sri Radha and Chandravali are the topmost. They are leaders of other gopis and their groups in turn comprise millions of other gopis. Between these two, Sri Radha is considered to be the more exalted. She is the ultimate source of all the transcendental qualities. Radha is the most loveable object of Sri Krishna. The eight principal gopis of Vrindavan (as described below) are all expansions of Sri Radha, who is the queen of Vrindavan.
Atha Astha Sakhi : 8 principal Gopis of Vrindavan
The eight principal Gopis of Vrindavan are Lalita, Visakha, Citra, Champakalata, Tungavidya, Indulekha, Rangadevi and Sudevi. They are also known as the ‘Parama Prestha Sakhis’ or the dearmost friends of Radharani. A brief sketch of their families, moods, and services is presented below.
Among the eight Gopis of Vrindavan, Sri Lalita devi is the chief. She is twenty-seven days older than Sri Radha. Another of her names is ‘Anuradha’. Her body possesses a yellowish tone resembling that of cow’s urine and her attire mirrors the hue of a peacock feather. Visoka is her father and Sarada is her mother. She is endowed with the quality of harshness which adds a special flavor to her relationship with Krishna. Bhairava, her husband, also a friend of the cowherd boy Govardhana.
Lalita devi is in charge of the most exalted gopis. She is an expert in making an agreement when Radha and Krishna engage in their loving disputes. Sometimes She even offends Krishna for the sake of taking Sri Radha’s side. During the meetings between Sri Radha and Krishna, she behaves like an indifferent person. Although it is Lalita devi along with Purnamasi who helps Radha and Krishna meet in the first place. Lalita devi is in charge of all the gopis who supply betel nuts to Sri Radha and Krishna, who are their maidservants, and also those who are devoted to Sri Balarama.
Visakha’s behavior, qualities, and perception are similar to that of Lalita. She was born almost at the same time as Radha. She wears a blue garment with white dots resembling a sky full of stars. Her bodily complexion is like lightning. Her father’s name is Vahika and her mother is Jatila’s niece, named Dakshina.
Visakha is young, auspicious, and is an expert in the subject of ecstatic love. Sometimes she teases Krishna and is capable of reading the intentions of the divine couple. She is also an expert in carrying messages and in consoling Radha-Krishna when they feel separated from one another. She is an expert in singing and can do so in different languages. She is skilled in performing magical shows, illusory activities, puppet shows, etc. She is also an expert in artistic works, like drawing beautiful designs on the floor, preparing enchanting Tilaka, flower decorations, etc.
Champakalata is the third of the Gopis and is as talented as Visakha. She is a day younger than Radha. Her father is Arama and her mother is Vatika. Her bodily hue resembles that of a fully blossomed jasmine flower and Her dress mirrors the color of a kingfisher. The cowherd Chandaksha is her husband. Champakalata is in charge of all those gopis who are engaged in protecting the trees, creepers, and plants of Vrindavan.
Citra is twenty-six days younger than Srimati Radharani. She wears a dress that resembles glass and her bodily hue is just like vermillion. Her father’s name is Chatura who is also the uncle of Suryamitra. Her mother is Charchika. Citra’s husband is Pithara. Citra always remains engrossed in the ecstasy of Krishna’s love.
Citra is especially talented and is capable of mixing with all groups. She can handle any dispute. She knows the identities of everyone and arranges the meeting between Radha and Krishna. She is adorned with the third among the six qualities of abhisarana. She is also an expert in the art of writing and knows the language of various countries. She is an expert in cooking and is proficient in preparing foodstuffs from honey and milk. She is a specialist in astrology. She is also skilled in planting and maintaining trees. She knows the characteristics of different animals. She also knows how to make glass vessels, arrows, sweet drinks, and so on.
Tungavidya is the fifth of the eight principal gopis. She is five days older than Sri Radha and her bodily aroma mirrors that of sandalwood pulp blended with camphor. Her bodily complexion resembles vermillion. She wears an attire of blue mixed with yellow. Her mother is Medha and her father is Pushkara. Her husband’s name is Balisa.
Tungavidya has mastered the eighteen branches of knowledge and is highly skilled with respect to medicinal herbs and gardening. She is an expert in transcendental mellows and in matters of morality. She enjoys the full confidence of Krishna and is also an expert in formulating treaties. She is highly skilled in music, drama, and playing musical instruments like mrdanga and vina. She is in charge of the eight female messengers headed by Manju Medha who create alliances between the two opposing groups of Gopis. She is also a master of those gopis who are given services like fetching water from streams.
Indulekha is three days younger than Sri Radhika. Her mother is Vela and her father is Sagara. Her husband’s name is Durvala. Her tone is bright as the sun and she adorns a pomegranate-colored attire. She is endowed with the quality of harshness which adds a special flavor to her relationship with Krishna.
Indulekha is highly skilled in the art of charming snakes. She is also an expert in chanting mantras and palmistry. She strings garlands, decorates teeth, and is a specialist in testing precious gems. She arouses attachment between Sri Radha and Krishna and thus helps them to enjoy transcendental bliss. She is in charge of all the gopis who are engaged as maidservants, who prepare ornaments, dresses, protect treasury, and defend the land of Vrindavan.
Rangadevi is the seventh Gopi and is seven days younger than Sri Radha. She possesses characteristics similar to that of Champakalata. Her bodily hue is that of the filament of a lotus flower. She adorns a red dress echoing a China rose flower. Her father is Rangasara and her mother is Karuna.
Rangadevi is always intoxicated with the mood of awe and reverence. Occasionally, she even teases Radharani in front of Krishna. She anticipates a suitable time before executing any service. She is an expert in musical instruments. By dint of her austerity, she had previously mastered the mantra for attracting Krishna. She is the leader of the gopis headed by Kalakanthi who render various services like painting, drawing, applying scented objects, offering ghee lamps, igniting a fire in winter, and fanning the divine couple with Camara in summer. She is also the leader of those gopis who are engaged in supervising animals like lions and deer.
Sudevi is the eighth principal gopi. She is married to Bhairava, the brother of Vakrasena. She is the twin sister of Rangadevi. She is gentle and possesses almost the same qualities as her.
Sudevi always accompanies Srimati Radharani and assists in decorating her hair, applying black ointment to Her eyes, and messaging Her feet. Sudevi conducts boat festivals and arranges conversations between the male and female parrot. She is knowledgeable about the auspicious and inauspicious astrological signs and can comprehend the languages of the birds and beasts. She knows about the flowers that bloom at night and is an expert in the matter of fireworks. Sudevi is the leader of those Gopis who are engaged in arranging sitting places, who have knowledge about birds, who are aware of the movement of opposing gopis, who can disguise themselves whenever there is a need, those who know about literary works, and those who are friends of the predominating deity of the forest.
Other exalted Gopis of Vrindavan (apart from the eight Astha Sakhi s)
Besides the eight principal Gopis discussed above, there are eight other exalted gopis of Vrindavan who are all at the prime of their youth. They are all about twelve years old and assist in serving the divine couple. They are Kalavati, Subhangada, Hiranyangi, Ratnalekha, Sikhavati, Kandarpa Manjari, Phulla Kalika and Ananga Manjari.
#1 Tatra Kalavati
Kalavati is the daughter of Kalankura and Sindhumati devi. Her complexion mirrors the hue of sandalwood and her dress echoes the color of a parrot. Her husband is Kapota, the younger brother of Vahika.
Subhangada is the younger sister of Visakha gopi and is married to Patatri, the younger brother of Pithara. Her complexion is white.
The complexion of Hiranyangi is similar to gold. She was born from the womb of Harini. She was the epitome of beauty and dressed in garments that resembled fully blossomed Clitoria flowers. Mahavasu was a pious cowherd boy who had performed a sacrifice with a desire to have a great son and a beautiful daughter. When a pot of nectar appeared from the sacrificial fire, Mahavasu happily handed it over to his wife Suchandra. While she drank the nectar, some of it accidentally spilled over onto a flower which was eaten by a deer afterward. In course of time, both Suchandra and the deer became pregnant. Suchandra gave birth to her famous cowherd son Stoka Krishna while the deer gave birth to Hiranyangi. Hiranyangi was very dear to Srimati Radharani.
Payonidhi, King Vrishabhanu’s maternal cousin, had no daughter although he had sons. Desiring to have a daughter, his wife Mitra worshiped the sun god. Finally, by the grace of the sun-god, she gave birth to a daughter who came to be known as Ratnalekha. Ratnalekha was very dear to Sri Radha and together they used to worship the sun-god daily. Her bodily complexion mirrored the color of the red metal called manah-sila and she wore a dress that resembled the color of a bumblebee. Whenever Ratnalekha saw Krishna, she rolled her eyes in anger.
Sikhavati was the daughter of Dhanyadhanya and Susikha devi. She was the younger sister of Kundalata. Her complexion mirrored the color of a laburnum flower. She dressed in multicolored garments that resembled the colors of a Tittira bird. She was the personification of sweetness. The cowherd Gurjara was her husband.
#6 Kandarpa Manjari
Kandarpa Manjari was son of Puspakara and Kuruvinda devi. Her father decided to get her married to Lord Krishna. Hence he did not arrange her marriage with anyone else. Indeed, she was finally married to Krishna. Her bodily complexion mirrored that of a Kinkkirata bird and she used to wear a multi-colored dress.
Phullakalika was the daughter of Srimalla and Kamalaini devi. Her complexion mirrored that of a blue lotus flower and her dress resembled a rainbow. Her brightly shining forehead was decorated with marks of Tilaka. The name of her husband was Vidura.
#8 Ananga Manjari
Srimati Radharani’s elder brother was Sridama and Her younger sister was Ananga-manjari. Radharani’s father-in-law was Vrikagopa and Her brother-in-law was Durmada. Ananga Manjari was dear to all, especially Visakha devi. Her bodily complexion was very enchanting and mirrored that of a screw pine flower in spring. Her dress resembled the color of a blue lotus. Her beauty defeated that of cupid.
Companions of Sri Radharani
Parama Prestha Sakhis (dearmost friends) – Lalita, Visakha, Suchitra, Champakalata, Rangadevi, Sudevi, Tungavidya, and Indulekha are the foremost of all the Gopis. They are regarded as Srimati Radharani’s Parama Prestha Sakhis.
Priya Sakhis (dear friends) – There are millions of Priya sakhis like Kurangaksi, Mandali, Manikundala, malati, Chandra latika, Madhavi, Madanalasa, Manju-medha, Sasikala, Sumadhya, Madhureksana, Kamala, Kama latika, Gunacuda, Varangada, Madhuri, Chandrika, Prema manjari, Tanu madhyama, Kandarpa sundari and Manjukesi. They are regarded as Srimati Radharani’s Priya sakhis.
Nitya Sakhis (constant companions) – Kasturi, Manojna, mani manjari, Sindura, Chandana vati, Kaumudi, and Madira are Sri Radha’s nitya sakhis.
Manjaris of Sri Radha – Ananga manjari, Rupa manjari, Lavanga manjari, Raga manjari, Rasa Manjari, Vilasa manjari, Prema manjari, mani manjari, Suvarna manjari, Kama manjari, Ratna manjari, Kasturi manjari, Gandha manjari, Netra manjari, Padma manjari, Lila manjari, Hema manjari, and Rati manjari (Bhanumati) are Sri Radha’s manjaris.
General Activities of Radha’s companions
Sri Radha’s companions are skilled in making attires, ornaments, and in the act of deceiving their husbands and other elderly people so that they can secretly engage in serving the divine couple. They always choose Radha’s side whenever there is any disagreement between Radha and Krishna. They often assist in arranging secret meetings between Radha and Krishna. They serve food to the divine couple and then relish their remnants. They keep their confidential matters a secret and serve the divine couple with pure intentions. They please and entertain them by dancing, singing, and playing various musical instruments. They are experts in rendering services according to suitable time, place, and circumstance. Only the most advanced devotees can understand their hearts.
Gopis belonging to Chandravali’s group
This presentation wouldn’t be complete without naming those Gopis who belong to Chandravali’s group. Just as Chandravali is Srimati Radharani’s competitor, similarly these groups are opposed to that of Srimati Radharani. Each of these Gopis have their own sub-groups comprising thousands of other Gopis. Padma, Syama, Saivya, Bhadrika, Tara, Vichitra, Gopali, Palika, Chandra-salika, Mangala, Vimala, Lila, Taralaksi, Manorama, Kandarpa-manjari, Manju-bhasini, Khanjaneksana, Kumuda, Kairava, Sari, Saradaksi, Visarada, Sankari, Kunkuma, Krishna, Sarangi, Indravali, Siva, Taravali, Gunavati, Sumukhi, Keli Manjari, Haravali, Chakoraksi, Bharati and Kamala are the gopis who belong to Chandravali’s group. Some of these gopis are exceedingly talented and full of transcendental qualities.