Reading Sangam literature can always throw you some pleasant surprises. This is one of such surprise. Krishna stealing Gopika’s dress while they were bathing in Yamuna, is absent in any of Sanskrit litertaure before 5th century and the earliest available literature for the theme is available only in Sangam literature. Below lines for Agananooru are the earliest available lines on this motif. The poem is written by Nallantuvanar. 

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வண் புனல் தொழுநை வார் மணல் அகன் துறை,
அண்டர் மகளிர் தண் தழை உடீஇயர்
மரம் செல மிதித்த மாஅல் போல

Like Mal (Perumal/Krishna) who walked (on branches of trees) and trampled them

to provide dress of cool foliage to the cowherd women

in the bountiful river Tholunai (Yamunai/Yamuna)

spreading sands on the wide shore!

Translated by Palaniappan Vairam Sarathy

Full poem:

Though it is not very clear that Krishna stole the clothes in these lines, Civaka cinthamani (Around 900 – 1000 AD) has a verse which can be seen as an extension to the above poem,


“நீல் நிற வண்ணன் அன்று நெடுந் துகில் கவர்ந்து தம் முன்

பால் நிற வண்ணன் நோக்கில் பழி உடைத்து என்று கண்டாய்

வேல் நிறத் தானை வேந்தே விரிபுனல் தொழுனை ஆற்றுள்

கோல் நிற வளையினார்க்குக் குருந்து அவன் ஒசித்தது என்றான்”

Oh king with army with reputation of lance,

Blue colored one (Krishna) in the past stole many clothes and when he saw the

Milk colored one (Balarama) before him, he realized the blame would fall on his brother,

he broke the (branches of ) Kurunthu trees for the women wearing round bangles

in the wide water of Tholunai (Yamunai/Yamuna) river.

Translated by Palaniappan Vairam Sarathy

The story is elaborated here that Krishna stole the Gopika’s dress and when Balarama come, he fears that girls will think Balarama stole the clothes. Krishna then breaks the Kuruntham tree to provide foliage to the girls to save them from shame.

Notes on dating of Agam 59: Poem actually sings praise of Anutuvan. So Anutuvan could be of same age or earlier to Nallantuvanar. Anutuvan had sung about Thiruparankundram in Paripadal poem 8(The song contains detailed descritpion of Thiruparamkundram – I am yet to read it!). He is supposed to be one of the gifted poets of the late sangam age.He is also the author of  Akam 43,Narrinai 88,Paripatal 6, Kalithokai 118-150 and may also have been the compiler of Kalithokai anthology.The poet here honors him in his poem by saying the Thirparankundram which was sung by Anutuvan. Since he is considered to be late Sangam author, Agam 59 can be dated anywhere between 250-400 AD.

This is contrary to Sanskrit sources. The earliest available Sanskrit source is Baghavata Purana (which dated anywhere between 6th century to 10th century).

“One day they came to the riverbank and, putting aside their clothing as they had done before, happily played in the water while singing the glories of Krishna.

Taking the girls’ garments, He quickly climbed to the top of a kadamba tree. Then, as He laughed loudly and His companions also laughed, He addressed the girls jokingly. My dear girls, you may each come here as you wish and take back your garments. I’m telling you the truth and am not joking with you, since I see you’re fatigued from executing austere vows.

Then, shivering from the painful cold, all the young girls rose up out of the water, covering their pubic area with their hands. When the Supreme Lord saw how the gopés were struck with embarrassment, He was satisfied by their pure loving affection. Putting their clothes on His shoulder, the Lord smiled and spoke to them with affection.
You girls bathed naked while executing your vow, and that is certainly an offense against the demigods. To counteract your sin you should offer obeisances while placing your joined palms above your heads. Then you should take back your lower garments.
Thus the young girls of Vrindhavan, considering what Lord Achuta had told them, accepted that they had suffered a falldown from their vow by bathing naked in the river. But they still desired to successfully complete their vow, and since Lord Krishna is Himself the ultimate result of all pious activities, they offered their obeisances to Him to cleanse away all their sins. Seeing them bow down like that, the son of Devaki, gave them back their garments, feeling compassionate toward them and satisfied by their act.” – Translated by Prabupada

As per my understanding this theme of Krishna stealing the clothes of girl and being afraid of getting caught, giving foilage to them to wear as clothes should have existed as folk stories among the cowherd communities especially Aayar community. The folk version has been recorded playfully as an allusion in Akam 59 and later in Civaka Cintamani.  This folk version is taken up in Bhagavathapurana. This theme is not available in other Krishna related purnas like Harivamsa or Vishnu Purana. Bhagvatha purana which is of very late orgin, takes this folk version and spins into the northern tradition of Rasa Lila or Krishna and Gopikas as lovers of Krishna. This version has more philosphical spin to it – google it you will see various interpretations on why Krishna made the girls walkout nude.

Atleast in Tamil Versions Krishna is playful and regrets his deeds and saves the girls from shame. This is in direct contrast to the Sanskrit and northern versions.


Tamil Traditions on Subramanya Murugan by Kamil V.Zvelebil

The poems of the ancient Tamils by George L. Hart

Akanaanuru Urai by U.V.Swaminathan Iyer

Tamil Literature by Kamil Zvelebil

Civa Cintamani – Somasundranar Urai

Srimad Bhagavatham

Vishnu Purana

Bhaghavatha Purana



வண் புனல் தொழுநை வார் மணல் அகன் துறை,

Bountiful –  River – Yamuna – spread – sand – wide – shore
அண்டர் மகளிர் தண் தழை உடீஇயர்
cowherd – girls – cool – leaf/foilage – dress – possible

மரம் செல மிதித்த மாஅல் போல,

Tree –  walk – trample -mal – alike
“நீல் நிற வண்ணன் அன்று நெடுந் துகில் கவர்ந்து தம் முன்

blue – color – colored one – that time – many/plenty – dress – steal – him – before

பால் நிற வண்ணன் நோக்கில் பழி உடைத்து என்று கண்டாய்

milk – color – colored one – see – blame – fall – so – see

வேல் நிறத் தானை வேந்தே விரிபுனல் தொழுனை ஆற்றுள்

lance – quality – army – king – wide -river – Yamuna – river

கோல் நிற வளையினார்க்குக் குருந்து அவன் ஒசித்தது என்றான்”

roundness – nature- bangle – kuruntham tree – he – break – he said


2 responses to “Earliest reference of Krishna stealing clothes of Gopikas – Akam 59”

  1. arun Avatar

    Brilliant Mr.Palaniappan Vairam. The poem is really interesting both the Tamil and similar sanskrit one. A nd very nice translation and commentary by you. Also, i did not know that this particular Ras leela poetry was inspired from Tamil Sangam folklore. Very interesting piece of fact. Expecting more such posts from you.

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