Absorbed in voicing their long suppressed sentiments, they forgot the presence of Uddhava and began to talk to a bee who was flying around. Uddhava listened patiently to them but persisted in conveying Krishna’s central message which was the reason for his leaving Vrindavan:
This separation from me is good for you. It will make your love for me more intense. Your thoughts of me will become more constant and steady. The love for a distant object is always greater than that one has for an object, a beloved object, which is within your reach. Please do not, even for a moment, think that I have abandoned you or that I have forgotten you. It can never be. I can never forget you and my love for you is the same as it was before, when I was with you in Vrindavan. Be comforted by my words and remember you will reach me very soon.
Surdas and Nandadas used this incident mentioned in the Bhagavata to develop a distinct genre of verse called ‘Bhramargit’ (Songs of [or to] the bee). The Bhramargit dealt with the dialogue between Uddhava and the gopis; however, unlike as in the Bhagavata, this dialogue becomes much more transparently a means to juxtapose two different ways of approaching the divine: the path of jnana (knowledge) as against the path of bhakti (devotion). And needless to say, in this debating match, Uddhava, the spokesman of the jnana-marg, is suitably humbled.
In the Bhramargit of Surdas, the gopis make their point with telling clarity:
Udho, hearts like ours can’t change;
They’re dyed with Shyam’s pure blackness
and there’s no way to wash it away.
Spare us then your artful speeches
and let’s get down to the root of the matter:
The yoga you preach means no more to us
then campa flowers do to you bees
How could an insipid thing like that
erase the fate that is furrowed in our hands?
Show us Shyam instead, our delight;
one look, says Sur, and we’ll come to life.
When Uddhava speaks to them of trying to attain Krishna through meditation, the gopis retort that in their viyoga (separation) they have surpassed the ascetic’s concentration. When Uddhava persists with his philosophizing, the gopis are sharp in their rejoinder:
First teach yourself, you black honey bee,
before you start teaching others.
If you had lived through it,
then you’d know how exacting love can be.
You say your mind is still at Hari’s feet,
though you’ve brought your body here,
But without the living presence of his lotus eyes
who ever has found the true way?
So stay here in Gokul! What do you care,
since to you this world’s an illusion?
This was their challenge to Udho, says Sur:
See if there’s any difference between us.
The gopi’s argument had one invincible point: Uddhava was not qualified to lecture them because he had not experienced what the gopis had. Logic and rationality were beyond the purview of such a relationship. Wise counsels and learned discourses were of little avail. Philosophical dilutants could never weaken this bond. A moth, if it became aware of the folly of its action, would never go near a flame; but the fact that it did, and enjoyed doing so, pointed to the limitations of knowledge in guiding thought and action. Of what good was Uddhava’s nirguna divinity, the gopis asked, when it could do nothing to assuage the virahini’s pain of separation?