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Gopi (गोपी) is a Sanskrit word originating from the word Gopala referring to a person in charge of a herd of cows. In Hinduism especially, the name Gopika (feminine form of Gopi) is used more commonly to refer to the group of cowherding girls famous within Vaishnavism for their unconditional devotion (Bhakti) to Krishna as described in the Bhagavata Purana and other Puranic literature. Of this group, one gopika known as Radha (or Radhika) holds a place of particularly high reverence and importance in a number of religious traditions, especially within Gaudiya Vaishnavism. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there are 108 gopikas of Vrindavan. Although Radha and the other gopis are referred to as "cowherd girls," according to the esoteric theology of Vaishnavism they are the eternal consorts of Krishna, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, they are the internal potency, or antaranga shakti, and expansions of the internal potency of the Supreme Godhead.
In one of the most popular stories, Krishna spies the gopi of Vraja bathing naked in the Yamuna River. He takes all their clothes and climbs high into a tree. They beg him to return their garments, but he insists that they come out of the water to get them.
The Gopis of Vrindavan total 108 in number; Krishna charit describes the number as 16,000. They are generally divided into three groups: Gopi friends of the same age as Krishna; maidservants; and gopi messengers. The first group are the most exalted (Varistha), Krishna's contemporary gopi friends, the second group are the maidservants and are the next most exalted (Vara), and the gopi messengers come after them. The varistha gopis are more famous than all the others. They are eternally the intimate friends of Radha and Krishna. No one can equal or exceed the love they bear for the divine couple. The primary nine gopis are considered the foremost of Krishna's devotees after Srimati Radharani. Their names are as follows:
- Lalita (gopi) Sakhi
- Vishakha Sakhi
- Champakalata Sakhi
- Chitra Sakhi
- Tungavidya Sakhi
- Indulekha Sakhi
- Rangadevi Sakhi
- Sudevi Sakhi
- Anuradha Sakhi
According to Hindu Vaishnava theology, the stories concerning the gopis are said to exemplify Suddha-bhakti which is described as 'the highest form of unconditional love for God' (Krishna). Their spontaneous and unwavering devotion is described in depth in the later chapters of the Bhagavata Purana, within Krishna's Vrindavan pastimes and also in the stories of the sage Uddhava.