By Swami Harshananda
Gopis literally means ‘cow herdesses’.
The gopīs or cow herdesses of Vṛndāvana are well-known in mythological and devotional literature. They are famous as the supreme example of madhurabhakti and their love towards God as their beloved.
Literature about Gopis
Though the Mahābhārata is the earliest record of Kṛṣṇa’s life, it does not contain accounts of his childhood and boyhood days. The record of gopis has been accounted in the
- Bhāgavata purāna
Gopis as per Purāṇas
These purāṇas give a fairly detailed account of the early life of Kṛṣṇa which also contain a lot of material about the gopis of Vṛndāvana. Their love for Kṛṣṇa was intense. They very well knew that Kṛṣṇa was not human but the Supreme Lord himself. They were actually goddesses of heaven reborn on earth to play their role in the Lord’s life.
Gopis as per Philosophy
Medieval schools of philosophy of the Kṛṣṇa cults have pictured these gopis as manifestations of the Śakti or the divine power of God. If Lakṣmī and Bhudevī represent the aiśvaryaśakti, the gopīs represent the mādhuryaśakti.
Gopis as per Acintya-bhedābheda School
In the Acintya-bhedābheda school of Caitanya (A. D. 1485-1533), Rādhā, the chief of the gopis stands for the hlādinī-śakti of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme God.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore