A female cowherd. The gopis figure in the story of Lord KRISHNA as divine lover. When Krishna went to the woods alone at night to play on his seductive flute, the cowherds, all married women, secretly left their houses to rendezvous with him. They would dance the Rasa Lila (loosely, the divine play of the essence of divinity); with Krishna standing in the middle, each gopi thought he was dancing with her alone. Some versions of the story say that Krishna multiplied himself so that he could dance intimately with each of the cowgirls simultaneously.
   The gopi becomes the symbol, in the theol-ogy of Krishna worship, of the devotee who is willing even to flout convention to go to her or his passionate “assignation” with the divine. In later versions, Radha appears as the favored gopi of Krishna. She, then, becomes the symbol of the passionate devotee. The love of Krishna and Radha is frequently depicted in literature, painting, and dance and is a central theme in Hindu devotion.
   Further reading: Edward C. Dimock, The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava Sajiya Cult of Bengal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966); Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha-Bhakti: The Early History of Krsna Worship in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983); Milton Singer, ed., Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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