The pre-eminent gopī-bhāva is intended solely for Kṛṣṇa’s pleasure. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.31.19) states:
yat te sujāta-caraṇāmburuhaṁ staneṣu
bhītāḥ śanaiḥ priya dadhīmahi karkaśeṣu
tenāṭavīm aṭasi tad vyathate na kiṁ svit
kūrpādibhir bhramati dhīr bhavad-āyuṣāṁ naḥ
O beloved, Your beautiful feet are even softer than a lotus. When we massage those soft, tender, lotus feet we fearfully, slowly and gently place them on our breasts in such a way that our hard breasts may cause them no pain. With those same soft feet, You wander behind the cows in the deep forest. Will Your lotus feet not be pierced by sharp stones and the like? Such thoughts make us extremely anxious. O Prāṇanātha, You are our life, so please stop wandering in the forest. Please, appear before us.
tomāra caraṇāmbuja e karkaśa stane
sāvadhāne dhari sakhe! kleśa-bhīta mane
se pada-kamale vane kūrpādira duḥkha
haya pāche, śaṅkā kari’ nāhi pāi sukha
In this verse the gopīs express their extremely deep prema. In previous verses the gopīs described their condition in separation from Kṛṣṇa, but here their anxiety for His happiness is evident in their words. The gopīs, who are covered by kāma – that is, their love for Kṛṣṇa – tried very hard to conceal their prema, but because it flows so swiftly, it was revealed.
The gopīs suffer in their hearts at the thought of Kṛṣṇa coming to harm. This is the characteristic of mahābhāva. Only the gopīs are experienced in the sorrow of separation from their prāṇa-priyatama, and only the gopīs are experienced in the happiness of meeting with Him. In Text 14, the gopīs expressed how troubled they felt by the pain caused to Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. That is why this Text, in which the suffering of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet is again mentioned, came to be. Text 15 described separation from Him during the day, and this Text describes separation from Him at night. In the daytime, Kṛṣṇa roams here and there herding the cows, and He can easily protect Himself from the stone chips, thorns and sharp grass. But on the bank of the Yamunā, in the darkness of night, stones, thorns and sharp grass are not easily seen. Thinking of this, the vraja-sundarīs’ hearts begin to melt and they express their moods with words of distress.
Śrī Vṛndā-devī puts great effort into making Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s pastime-places, like the bank of the Yamunā, very pleasant and beautiful. There is no possibility of thorns or sharp grass being there, but nonetheless, the women of Vraja fear that Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet will suffer.
Afflicted by prema, the gopīs pray in this Text, “O life-giving Śyāmasundara, like beautifully blossoming lotus flowers, Your reddish lotus feet, which are endowed with fragrance and sweetness, mitigate any suffering. Now these reddish lotus feet must be suffering from the injuries caused by stones, sharp grass and so forth as You roam from forest to forest. We are saddened by such thoughts.”
Upon hearing this, Śrī Kṛṣṇa might reply, “Oh, come now! What realisation do you have of My suffering?”
The gopīs answer, “Priya karkaśeṣu staneṣu bhītāḥ śanair dadhīmahi – O beloved, we consider You to be non-different from our bodies and to be the life of our lives. How can we place Your supremely beautiful, tender lotus feet on our hard breasts? Please listen for a moment. Bhītāḥ śanaiḥ, we place them there very slowly and gently so that You may feel no pain at all. Therefore, when You, Yourself, cause them pain, we drown in an ocean of sorrow.”
Śrī Kṛṣṇa says, “O gopīs overwhelmed by madana (Cupid), why do you want to place My lotus feet on your hard breasts?”
“O Priya, You are our beloved, and the only duty of a lover is to increase the beloved’s happiness. Placing Your lotus feet on our breasts gives You supreme pleasure, and if You are happy, we are, too. For this reason, we place Your lotus feet there, but as soon as we remember their softness, our hearts melt.”
Kṛṣṇa says, “O mad gopīs, you all should perform some austerity to satisfy the Creator, and then pray to him for soft, tender breasts.”
The gopīs reply, “We are ready to perform this austerity, but there is a consideration. If our breasts were soft, You still may not be pleased, and if they are hard, they will cause You pain. We are unable to determine what to do and what not to do. You, however, behave the same way You treat Your feet – mercilessly.”
Hearing this Kṛṣṇa may reply, “O gopīs, what are you raving on about?”
The gopīs say, “O Śyāmasundara, we are unable to calm our hearts at all.”
Kṛṣṇa replies, “Why do you suffer so much? Where is your affection for Me? What are the symptoms of affection? If the lover is unable to remain alive when the beloved is suffering severly, how is it that you are still alive?”
The gopīs say, “Bhavad-āyuṣām. You are our very life. Although we have endured much hardship, our lives do not end.” With loving anger they continue, “O Śyāmasundara, not only are You cruel to us, but so is the Creator; he has given us such a long life – only to suffer.”
This is the commentary of Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura on this śloka, which expresses the deep suffering in separation from Kṛṣṇa of the vraja-devīs, who are filled with mahābhāva.
The gopīs’ bhāvocchvāsa (outburst of feeling that expresses the bhāva hidden in the heart) when meeting with Kṛṣṇa is described in Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta (12):
kim api vahatu cetaḥ kṛṣṇa-pādāmbujābhyām
May my heart attain indescribable bliss at Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet, which are the eternal abode of pastimes for the original goddess of fortune, which thwart heaps of lotus flowers’ pride in their beauty, and which are deeply respected everywhere for their great power in giving shelter to the surrendered souls.
tāṅra nitya-līlāspada parama-mādhurī
kamala-vipina-garva kṣaya yāhe haya
hena kṛṣṇa-pāda-padma, kṛṣṇa! mama mana
apūrva utsava-rati karuka vahana
When Śrī Kṛṣṇa reappeared after disappearing from the rāsa-līlā, a gopī who was burning in the fire of separation from Him placed His lotus feet upon her breasts. Śrī Līlāśuka explains that this refers to Śrī Rādhā’s keeping Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet on Her heart. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is sporting with Rādhā in a solitary nikuñja. As soon as He places His reddish lotus feet on Her breasts, they become even more reddish. May these lotus feet, smeared with kuṅkuma, fully manifest within our hearts.
In describing the speciality of Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet, he says that they defeat the pride of lotus flowers. How? The material lotus flower is cooling, fragrant, soft and beautiful for the five senses, and the bumblebee becomes mad by drinking its honey. But Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet are intoxicating in a different, exceptional way. These feet are the embodiment of beauty and wealth for all material and transcendental living beings, and they are the eternal abode of pastimes for the original goddess of fortune (nikhila-bhuvana-lakṣmī). The word nikhila-bhuvana-lakṣmī in this Text can also refer to all the gopīs, who offer their everything to these lotus feet. Śrī Kṛṣṇa removes the affliction of their kāma by touching them with His lotus feet. The young girls of Vraja affectionately keep these lotus feet on their hearts and serve them in every way.
It is also said in Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta (18):
mama khelatu mada-cetasi madhurādharam amṛtam
His eyes are fresh and reddish like the early dawn, full of compassion and very long and wide; His bodily hair stands on end by the touch of the waterpot-like breasts of Śrī Rādhā; and the sound of His flute makes the munis restless like the gopīs. May the sweet nectar of His lips sport in my heart.
taruṇa aruṇa jini, karuṇā-svarūpa maṇi,
vipula nayana śobhe yāṅra
rādhā-kuca-dvaya bhara, preme deha gara gara,
vipula pulaka camatkāra
madhura-muralī svare, muni-mana padmavane,
taralita kare sarva-kṣaṇa
kṛṣṇera madhurādhara, parāmṛta śaśadhara,
citte mora karuka nartana
Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa are in a solitary nikuñja, and no tinkle of ankle bells or any other sound comes from inside. Knowing that the Divine Couple’s amorous pastimes (surata-līlā) have come to an end, the sakhīs look through the small eyelets in the kuñja at the intimacy of the pastime. Kṛṣṇa has risen from bed and is sitting up. To remove Śrī Rādhā’s fatigue and to stimulate Her amorous desire, He massages Her limbs and cleverly fans Her with His scarf. Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is the embodiment of nectar, maddens our sakhī, Śrī Rādhā, with the happiness of Her good fortune. Kṛṣṇa’s naturally youthful, reddish eyes have become even more red by His drinking the nectar of Rādhā’s lips, and They are again becoming restless with intoxicating amorous desires. Full of tenderness, He fans Rādhā to remove Her perspiration. Seeing Śrī Rādhā’s fatigue due to amorous sports, Kṛṣṇa’s heart overflows with an ocean of compassion, and He endeavours in various ways to mitigate Her tiredness.
He places Śrī Rādhā on His lap, and the touch of each other’s bodies drowns Them both in an ocean of aṣṭa-sāttvika-bhāvas. His endeavours to remove Her fatigue of amorous play increase Their desire to sport again.
Even the hard hearts of the munis become restless when Śrī Kṛṣṇa plays His flute. When Rādhā is in māna, Kṛṣṇa tries in various ways to pacify Her. This dense māna is not removed by His falling at Her feet and crying, but it is vanquished by His playing one note on the flute. The sound of Kṛṣṇa’s flute enters Rādhā’s ears and makes Her mad (unmāda). All glories to such a flute!
The mānasī-sevā, service performed within the mind, of one who performs bhajana of pastimes in his eternal form (siddha-deha) is described in Ujjvala-nīlamāṇī (8.88–91):
sakhyāḥ kṛṣṇe samarpaṇam
tayor dvayor upālambhaḥ
The sixteen activities of the sakhīs are: (1) to glorify the prema and qualities of the nāyikā to the nāyaka and vice versa; (2) to create attachment between the nāyikā and nāyaka; (3) to arrange for their abhisāra; (4) to offer their sakhī to Śrī Kṛṣṇa; (5) to joke; (6) to console; (7) to dress and decorate the nāyikā and nāyaka; (8) to skilfully hide the nāyikā and nāyaka’s innermost feelings; (9) to conceal the nāyikā’s faults; (10) to cheat their husbands and others; (11) to give favourable instructions; (12) to arrange for the nāyikā and nāyaka to meet at the appropriate time; (13) to fan and render other services; (14) to point out faults in the nāyikā and nāyaka and to instruct them; (15) to deliver the nāyikā and nāyaka’s messages to each other; and (16) to endeavour to protect the nāyikā’s life.
rādhā-kṛṣṇa guṇotkīrti, āsakti-vardhana
abhisāra-dvaya, kṛṣṇe rādhā-samarpaṇa
narmāśvāsa, veṣa-kārya, hṛdaya-sandhāna
chidra-gupti, gṛha-pati-gaṇera vañcana
śikṣādāna, jala āra vyajana-sevana
nāyikāra prāṇa-rakṣāya prayatna pradhāna
sakhī-sevā jāni’ yathā karaha vidhāna
In Stavāvalī (Vraja-vilāsa-stava (38)) it is written:
vṛndāraṇya-maheśvarīṁ priyatayā yās toṣayanti priyāḥ
prāṇa-preṣṭha-sakhī-kulād api kilāsaṅkocitā bhūmikāḥ
kelī-bhūmiṣu rūpa-mañjarī-mukhās tā dāsikāḥ saṁśraye
I take shelter of the maidservants of Śrīmatī Rādhikā, of whom Rūpa Mañjarī is prominent. Unlike the priya-narma-sakhīs, they can perform any service without hesitation. They perpetually and affectionately satisfy Śrīmatī Rādhikā with their various services, such as offering tāmbūla, massaging Her feet, bringing Her water and arranging for Her trysts with Kṛṣṇa.
tāmbūla-arpaṇa, duṅhāra caraṇa-mardana
payodāna, abhisāra, dāsī-sevā-dhana
Śrī Rādhā’s sakhīs are of five kinds. Among them, the service of the nitya-sakhīs and prāṇa-sakhīs (all of whom are mañjarīs) is topmost. When Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa become overwhelmed with ecstasy and become helpless while sporting in a solitary nikuñja, the mañjarīs enter without any hesitation to perform all varieties of services. Although the mañjarīs perform their service under the instruction of priya-narma-sakhīs such as Lalitā, Viśākhā and others, when Yugala-kiśora are in a solitary nikuñja, Lalitā and Viśākhā can only enter with the permission of Rūpa Mañjarī and Rati Mañjarī. In rank, the priya-narma-sakhīs are more eminent, but in the good fortune of service, the mañjarīs are more eminent. Even when the priya-narma-sakhīs cannot enter the kuñja, the mañjarīs freely serve the Divine Couple there. Often, when Śrī Kṛṣṇa desires to meet Śrī Rādhā, He must repeatedly entreat the mañjarīs; only then does He receive the opportunity to meet with Her.