In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Tenth Canto, 12th Chapter, 10th verse, Śukadeva Gosvāmī tells King Parīkṣit: "My dear King, Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead to the learned transcendentalist, He is the supreme happiness for the impersonalist, He is the supreme worshipable Deity for the devotee, and He is just like an ordinary boy to one who is under the spell of māyā. And just imagine—these cowherd boys are now playing with the Supreme Person as though they are on an equal level! By this anyone can understand that these boys must have accumulated heaps of the results of pious activities to enable them to associate with the Supreme Personality of Godhead in such intimate friendship."
There is a description of Kṛṣṇa's feeling for his vayasyas in Vṛndāvana. He once said to Balarāma, "My dear brother, when My companions were being devoured by the Aghāsura, hot tears poured down from My eyes. And as they were washing My cheeks, My dear elder brother, for at least one moment I completely lost Myself."
Within Gokula, Kṛṣṇa's vayasyas are generally divided into four groups: 1) well-wishers, 2) friends, 3) confidential friends and 4) intimate friends. Kṛṣṇa's well-wisher friends are a little bit older than Kṛṣṇa, and they have some parental affection for Him. Because of their being older than Kṛṣṇa they always try to protect Him from any harm. As such, they sometimes bear weapons so that they can chastise any mischievous persons who want to do harm to Kṛṣṇa. Counted amongst the well-wisher friends are Subhadra,* Maṇḍalībhadra, Bhadravardhana, Gobhaṭa, Yakṣa, Indrabhaṭa, Bhadrāṅga, Vīrabhadra, Mahāguṇa, Vijaya, and Balabhadra. They are older than Kṛṣṇa and are always thinking of His welfare.
- Not to be confused with Kṛṣṇa's sister, Subhadrā.
One of the elderly friends said, "My dear Maṇḍalībhadra, why are you wielding a shining sword as though you were running towards Ariṣṭāsura to kill him? My dear Baladeva, why are you unnecessarily bearing that heavy plow? My dear Vijaya, don't be unnecessarily agitated. My dear Bhadravardhana, there is no need to make these threatening motions. If you will all look more closely you will see that it is only a thunder cloud upon Govardhana Hill; it is not the Ariṣṭāsura in the shape of a bull, as you have imagined." These older, well-wishing friends of Kṛṣṇa imagined a large cloud to be the Ariṣṭāsura, appearing in the shape of a huge bull. In the midst of their excitement one of them ascertained that it was actually only a cloud on Govardhan Hill. He therefore informed the others not to take the trouble of worrying about Kṛṣṇa, because there was no present danger from Ariṣṭāsura.
Amongst the well-wisher friends, Maṇḍalībhadra and Balabhadra are the chiefs. Maṇḍalībhadra is described as follows: his complexion is yellowish, and his dress is very attractive. He always carries a stick of various colors. He wears a peacock feather on his head and always looks very beautiful. Maṇḍalībhadra's attitude is revealed in his statement: "My dear friends, our beloved Kṛṣṇa is now very tired from working with the cows in the pasturing grounds and from traveling all over the forests. I can see that He is very fatigued. Let me massage His head silently while He is taking rest in His house. And you, Subala—you just massage His thighs."
One devotee described the personal beauty of Baladeva as follows: "Let me take shelter of the lotus feet of Balarāma, whose beauty is enhanced by the earrings touching his cheeks. His face is decorated with tilaka made from kastūrī (musk), and His broad chest is decorated with a garland of guñja (small conchshells). His complexion is as white as an autumn cloud, He wears garments of blue color, and His voice is very grave. His arms are very long, touching His thighs, and He has shown His great strength by killing the Pralamba demon. Let me take shelter of this chivalrous Balarāma."*
- Balarāma and Baladeva are different names for the same expansion of Kṛṣṇa. He is Kṛṣṇa's elder brother.
Baladeva's affection for Kṛṣṇa is illustrated in this statement to Subala: "My dear friend, please inform Kṛṣṇa not to go to Kāliya's lake today. Today is His birthday, and so I wish to go along with Mother Yaśodā to bathe Him. Tell Him He should not leave the house today." This shows how Balarāma, Kṛṣṇa's elder brother, took care of Kṛṣṇa with parental love, within the scope of fraternal affection.
Friends who were younger than Kṛṣṇa, who were always attached to Him and who gave Him all kinds of service, are called ordinary friends, or, simply, friends. Such ordinary friends are called sakhās, and the names of some sakhās are Viśāla, Vṛṣabha, Ojasvi, Devaprastha, Varūthapa, Maranda, Kusumāpīḍa, Maṇibandha, and Karandhama. All of these sakhā friends of Kṛṣṇa sought only to serve Him. Sometimes some of them would rise early in the morning and immediately go to Kṛṣṇa's place and wait at the door to see Kṛṣṇa and to accompany Him to the pasturing grounds. In the meantime, Kṛṣṇa would be dressed by Mother Yaśodā, and when she would see a boy standing at the door, she would call him: "Well, Viśāla, why are you standing there? Come here!" So with the permission of Mother Yaśodā, he would immediately enter the house. And while Mother Yaśodā was dressing Kṛṣṇa, he would try to help put on Kṛṣṇa's ankle bells, and Kṛṣṇa would jokingly strike him with His flute. Then Mother Yaśodā would call, "Kṛṣṇa, what is this? Why are You teasing Your friend?" And Kṛṣṇa would laugh, and the friend would also laugh. These are some of the activities of Kṛṣṇa's sakhās. Sometimes the sakhās would take care of the cows who were going hither and thither. They would tell Kṛṣṇa, "Your cows were going off here and there," and Kṛṣṇa would thank them.
Sometimes when Kṛṣṇa and His sakhās went to the pasturing ground, Kaṁsa would send a demon to kill Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, almost every day there was a fight with some different kind of demon. After fighting with a demon, Kṛṣṇa would feel fatigued, the hairs on His head would be scattered, and the sakhās would immediately come and try to relieve Him in different ways. Some friends would say, "My dear Viśāla, please take this fan of lotus leaves and fan Kṛṣṇa so that He may feel some comfort. Varūthapa, you just brush the scattered hairs on Kṛṣṇa's head which have fallen upon His face. Vṛṣabha, don't talk unnecessarily! Immediately massage Kṛṣṇa's body. His arms have become tired from fighting and wrestling with that demon. Oh, just see how our friend Kṛṣṇa has become tired!" These are some examples of the treatment given to Kṛṣṇa by the sakhās.
One of the sakhās, known as Devaprastha, is described as follows: he is very strong, a ready scholar, and is very expert in playing ball. He wears a white dress, and he ties his hair into a bunch with a rope. Whenever there is a fight between Kṛṣṇa and the demons, Devaprastha is the first to help, and he fights just like an elephant.
One of the gopīs once said to her friend, "My dear beautiful friend, when Kṛṣṇa, the son of Mahārāj Nanda, was taking rest within the cave of a hill, He was keeping His head on the arms of Śrīdāmā, and He was putting His left hand on Dāmā's chest. Taking this opportunity, Devaprastha, out of his strong affection for Kṛṣṇa, immediately began to massage His legs." Such are the activities of Kṛṣṇa's friends out on the pasturing grounds.
The more confidential friends are called priya-sakhās and are almost Kṛṣṇa's age. Because of their very confidential friendship, their behavior is only on the basis of pure friendship. Other friends' behavior is on the ground of paternal love or servitude, but the basic principle of the confidential friends is simply friendship on an equal level. Some confidential friends are as follows: Śrīdāmā, Sudāmā, Dāmā, Vasudāmā, Kiṅkiṇi, Stokakṛṣṇa, Aṁśu, Bhadrasena, Vilāsina, Puṇḍarīka, Viṭaṅka and Kalaviṅka. By their various activities in different pastimes, all of these friends used to give transcendental pleasure to Kṛṣṇa.
The behavior of these confidential friends is described by a friend of Rādhārāṇī, who told Rādhārāṇī: "My dear graceful Rādhārāṇī, Your intimate friend, Kṛṣṇa, is also served by His intimate boy friends. Some of them cut jokes with Him in mild voices and please Him very much by this." For example, Kṛṣṇa had one brāhmaṇa friend whose name was Madhumaṅgala. This boy would joke by playing the part of a greedy brāhmaṇa. Whenever the friends ate, he would eat more than all others, especially lāḍḍus, of which he was very fond. Then after eating more lāḍḍus than anyone else, Madhumaṅgala would still not be satisfied, and he would say to Kṛṣṇa, "If You give me one more lāḍḍu, then I shall be pleased to give You my blessings so that Your friend Rādhārāṇī will be very much pleased with You." The brāhmaṇas are supposed to give blessings to the vaiśyas (farming and merchant caste), and Kṛṣṇa presented Himself as the son of Mahārāj Nanda, a vaiśya; so the brāhmaṇa boy was right in giving blessings to Kṛṣṇa. Thus Kṛṣṇa was very pleased by His friend's blessings, and He would supply him with more and more lāḍḍus.
Sometimes a confidential friend would come before Kṛṣṇa and embrace Him with great affection and love. Another friend would then come up from the rear and cover Kṛṣṇa's eyes with his hands. Kṛṣṇa would always feel very happy by such dealings with His confidential friends.