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.