There are countless cowherd boys of Vrindavan who are greatly attached to Krishna and assist in His pastimes in various ways. Some of them are fond of joking, some are always eager to give their counsel, some are very talkative and engage in arguments with Krishna, some of them are very gentle and give pleasure to Krishna by their sweet words. etc. All of these friends are very intimate with Krishna, and they exhibit expertise in their different activities, their purpose always being to please Krishna. Among the contemporaries of Sri Krishna, Sri Baladeva is the foremost. He is the elder brother of Krishna and is the killer of the demon Pralamba. Krishna’s friends can be grouped into four categories depending upon the closeness of their relationship with Krishna. They are described as below :
Krishna’s well-wishers (Tatra Suhrt) – Subhadra, Kundala, Dandi, and Mandala are the sons of Krishna’s paternal uncle. Sunanda, Nandi, Anandi are also celebrated as Krishna’s companions and they accompany Him to the forest. Also included among Krishna’s well-wishing friends are Subhada, Mandali-bhadra, Bhadra-Vardhana, Gobhata, Yaksendra-bhata, Bhadranga, Virabhadra, Mahaguna, Kulavira, Mahabhima, Divya-sakti, Suraprabha, Rana-sthira, and other cowherd boys. These well-wishing friends are older than Krsna and they try to shield Him from any danger. Out of love for their son, the parents of Krishna and Balarama have engaged these older cowherd boys to protect them. Among these boys, Vijayaksa, the son of Ambika devi, is the leader. Ambika had previously performed severe austerities to have a son. Mother Parvati, being pleased with Ambika’s prayers, had blessed her to beget Vijayaksa as his son.
Krishna’s friends (Atha Sakhayah) – Visala, Vrsabha, Ojasvi, Devaprastha, Varuthapa, Mandara, Kusumapida, Manibandhakara, Mandara, Candana, Kunda, Kalinda, Kulika and others are junior associates of Sri Krishna. They are younger and greatly attached to Krishna’s service.
Krishna’s dear friends (Atha priya Sakha) – Sridama, Sudama, Vasudama, Kinkini, Bhadrasena, Amsu, Stoka-Krishna, Pundarika, Vitankaksa, Kalavinka, and Priyankara are regarded as Krishna’s dear friends. They are almost the same age as that of Krishna and are very dear to Him. They perform various sporting activities like mock-fighting and wrestling to please Krishna. Among these friends, Bhadrasena is the leader. Although Stoka Krishna belongs to the opposite camp, yet he is very much devoted to Krishna.
Krishna’s most dear friends (Atha Priya-Narmma Sakhah) – Subala, Arjuna, Gandharva, Basanta, Ujjvala, Kokila, Sanandana, Vidhagdha, and others are celebrated as Krishna’s most dear friends. There is no confidential subject matter of Krishna that is concealed from these friends. Among them, Madhumangala, Puspanka, and Hasanka entertain Krishna by cracking jokes while Sadananda holds great warmth and sympathy for Krishna. Ujjvala, who is aware of all the intricacies of transcendental mellows, glows very brightly in his service. These friends always desire that Krishna meets with the Gopis. They are considered the most exalted of all other dear friends of Krishna.
Description of a few of Krishna’s cowherd friends :
Sridama, the son of Vrishabhanu Maharaj and mother Kirtida, is the dearmost friend of Krishna and the source of several blissful pastimes. Sri Radha and Ananga Manjari are his younger sisters. He has a blackish bodily appearance, dresses in yellow garments, and adorns himself with jeweled necklaces. He is sixteen years of age, looks very bright and attractive.
Sudama is the son of Matuka and Rocana devi. He dresses in blue garments, adorns jeweled ornaments, and exhibits a golden bodily hue. He is in the prime of his youth and assists Krishna in His various pastimes.
Subala is very dear to Krishna. He is always absorbed in Krishna’s thoughts and experiences great transcendental ecstasy. He is an expert in arranging meetings between Radha and Krishna. He has a golden bodily complexion, dresses in beautiful blue garments, flower garlands, and adorns various ornaments. He is twelve and a half years old. He assumes the mood of a gopi and engages in various services for the satisfaction of Krishna.
In Ujjvala Nilamani, Srila Rupa Goswami addresses that Subala is fortunate to serve Sri Krishna in countless ways. He pleases Krishna with pleasant words when Krishna returns from playing or fighting. Sudama prepares the bed for Krishna in the bower. He is also fortunate to fan Krishna when His limbs become tired or when He perspires profusely lying on the heart of His beloved.
Arjuna is the son of Sudakshina and Bhadra devi. He is fourteen and a half years of age. He has a shiny complexion and exhibits a bodily hue like that of a red lotus flower. He dresses in white garments, adorns various kinds of precious jewels and flower garlands. Vasudama is his elder brother. Arjuna is always filled with ecstatic love for Sri Radha and Krishna.
Gandharva is remarkably attractive and his bodily complexion is like that of a moon. He is twelve years old and is the son of Vinaka and Mitra devi. He dresses in red garments, decorates himself with various ornaments, flower garlands, and appears very bright. He is very dear to Krishna and is always eager to assist Him.
Vasanta has a slightly fair complexion, dresses as bright as the moon, and wears jeweled ornaments. He is eleven years old and is the son of Pingala and Saradi devi.
Ujjvala, who possesses a reddish complexion, adorns a bright dress resembling the stars in the sky. His dress is always decorated with pearls and flowers. Therefore, his name Ujjvala (means brightness) is fit for him. He is thirteen years of age and in the prime of his youth. He is the son of Sagara and Veni devi.
Kokila, the son of Pushkara and Medha devi, is eleven years and four months old. He has an effulgent white complexion, wears blue garments, and adorns himself with various jewels.
Son of Arunaksha and Mallika devi, Sanandana is fourteen and a half years of age. He has a golden complexion, likes wearing blue clothes, and adorns himself with ornaments and flower garlands. He is filled with love for Krishna and is deemed to be very affectionate to Him.
Son of Matuka and Rocana devi, Vidagdha is the younger brother of Sudama. He has a sister named Sushila. He has a complexion that resembles a Champaka flower and the tone of his dress mirrors a peacock’s throat. He looks very attractive and wears a pearl necklace. He is fourteen years of age and is always absorbed in the ecstatic love for Radha and Krishna.
Madhumangal is the son of Sandipani and Sumukhi devi. His grandmother is Paurnamasi and his sister is Nandimukhi. He possesses a slightly blackish complexion, wears a golden-colored garment, and decorates himself with flower garlands. He is one of the dearest friends of Krishna and pleases Him by cracking jokes.
Sri Balarama is the most-dear to Krishna and is the source of unlimited blissful pastimes. He is named Balarama because He holds unlimited prowess. He is very attractive, dresses in blue garments, has long hair, and is adorned with garlands of forest flowers. He beautifies Himself with jewels, ornaments, and a beautiful crown. His lotus feet are embellished with jewel-studded anklets, His arms are decorated with armlets and bracelets, His chest is ornamented with garlands and jeweled necklaces. Sri Balarama is sixteen years of age and thus in the prime of His youth. He is the son of Vasudeva and Rohini. Subhadra is the younger sister of Krishna and Balarama.