The adorable Balgopal grows up to be the precocious Kanhaiya; both were irresistible in their attractiveness, but whereas the one evoked filial affection the other provoked sexual attention. This transition is demonstrated best in the tradition of the dan leela, wherein Krishna waylays the gopis as they take the milk products for sale to Mathura and demands a ‘tax’ from them in the form of a gift. The discovery of sexual attraction in both Krishna and the gopis is mutual. Krishna’s behaviour shows it. He is now not only seeking the butter and the milk, but in obtaining them, he is forcing physical contact with the gopis.
The gopis are initially unable to give form to this new dimension to their feelings for someone whom till the other day they fondled as a child. They ask Krishna to state clearly what he wants. If it is only their wares, he can have them, but where is the need for the ‘barjori’, the use of force, the attempt to physically molest them? Krishna, on his part, continues to mask the overt sexuality of his actions under the conventional demand for milk and butter. But the imagery becomes transparently overloaded with double entendre. When he says that he wants to ‘taste’ a gopi’s wares, the connotation is entirely different from the guileless context of his childhood stealing. His breaking of the gopis ‘matkis’-earthenware pots containing milk products-has an equally powerful sexual imagery. The asking of milk from a woman is not that innocent when the request is made by an adolescent with a rakish look in his eye. It does not take time for the gopis to understand how the situation has changed. They still sometimes complain to Yasoda about her son’s behaviour, but when Yasoda protests that he is still but a child, they smile to themselves and steal sidelong glances at his lips.
Perhaps the most famous of Krishna’s adolescent pranks was the stealing of the gopis’ clothes as they bathed in the river Yamuna. The gopis had gone into the water nude. Krishna, watching from a nearby kadambha tree, stealthily stole their clothes and hung them up like so many fluttering banners on the branches of the tree. Discovering the theft, the gopis hurriedly reentered the river to hide their nakedness. They implored Krishna to return their clothes, but he insisted that they come to him for them. Shivering in the cold water, the gopis had no option but to forget their shame and come out. With one hand they tried to cover their breasts and with the other their private parts. Krishna now insisted that they raise their hands in obeisance to him before he would give the clothes. Shyly, the gopis raised one hand, the other still somehow trying to cover their exposed bodies. But Krishna said the obeisance must be performed with both hands. Only when the gopis had raised both hands and stood naked before him did he give them their clothes.
The Bhagavata describes this incident in detail. The explosive sexual tension is not underplayed, but a religious motif is granted in explication. The gopis, by entering the waters of the holy Yamuna nude, had offended the gods; their transgression had to be brought home to them. In asking them to overcome their shame and modesty, Krishna was teaching them the importance of total surrender to him, the very baring of their souls, as it were, to him. The dip in the river was itself part of a religious ritual performed by unmarried girls every year in the first month of winter in honour of the goddess Katayani, who would answer their every prayer. Needless to say, the gopis’ only prayer was that they get the son of Nanda as their husband. Krishna was aware of this and appreciated the ‘purity’ and ‘chastity’ of their sentiments. When they had bashfully put their clothes on, he promised them that their prayers would not remain unanswered. ‘You will spend the nights in autumn with me,’ he said, and, in so doing, he freed them forever from the cycle of birth and rebirth.