How the sons of Pāṇḍu, the Pāṇḍavas, enjoy Kṛṣṇa's association is described as follows: "When Śrī Kṛṣṇa arrived in Indraprastha, the capital of the Kurus, Mahārāj Yudhiṣṭhira immediately came out to smell the flavor of Kṛṣṇa's head." It is the Vedic custom that superiors smell the heads of their subordinates when the subordinates offer respect to the superior by touching his feet. Similarly, Arjuna and Bhīma embraced Kṛṣṇa with great jubilation, and the two younger brothers, namely Nakula and Sahadeva, touched the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa with tears in their eyes and offered their respects. In this way all the five Pāṇḍava brothers enjoyed the fraternal friendship of Kṛṣṇa in transcendental mellow. Of the five Pāṇḍavas, Arjuna is the most intimately connected with Kṛṣṇa. He has a nice bow in his hand which is called Gāṇḍīva. His thighs are compared with the trunks of elephants, and his eyes are always reddish. When Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna are together on a chariot, they become celestial beauties, pleasing to the eyes of everyone. It is said that once Arjuna was lying in his bed with his head upon Kṛṣṇa's lap and was talking and joking with Kṛṣṇa in great relaxation and was enjoying Kṛṣṇa's company with smiling and great satisfaction.
As far as the vayasyas (friends) in Vṛndāvana are concerned, they become greatly distressed when they cannot see Kṛṣṇa even for a moment.
There is the following prayer by a devotee for the vayasyas in Vṛndāvana: "All glories to Kṛṣṇa's vayasyas, who are just like Kṛṣṇa in their age, qualities, pastimes, dress and beauty. They are accustomed to playing on their flutes made of palm leaves, and they all have buffalo-horn bugles ornamented like Kṛṣṇa's with jewels such as indranīla and with gold and coral. They are always jubilant like Kṛṣṇa. May these glorious companions of Kṛṣṇa always protect us!"
The vayasyas in Vṛndāvana are in such intimate friendship with Kṛṣṇa that sometimes they think themselves as good as Kṛṣṇa. Here is an instance of such friendly feeling: When Kṛṣṇa was holding up Govardhan Hill with His left hand, the vayasyas said, "My dear friend, You have been standing for the last seven days and nights without any rest. This is very troublesome for us because we see that you have undertaken a severely laborious task. We think, therefore, that you need not continue to stand in that way holding the hill. You can just transfer it onto Sudāmā's hand. We are very much aggrieved to see You in this position. If You think that Sudāmā is not able to support Govardhan Hill, then at least You should change hands. Instead of supporting it with Your left hand, please transfer it to Your right hand, so that we can give Your left hand a massage." This is an instance of intimacy, showing how much the vayasyas considered themselves to be equal to Kṛṣṇa.
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.