Question: "Is it true that OM VishnuPad Shree MadhvAcharya considered all the Gopis to be Apsaras from Svarga-Loka?".
Answer by Vishnudut1926: "According to Shree Madhva-Sampradaya all the Gopis are Lakshmi-Aveshas, not the Apsaras.
If someone had ever read "Shreemad-Bhagavatam" ("Shree Bhagavata-Purana"), then he/she had probably noticed that the descriptions of Gopi-Leela from this Purana have an enormous number of Pramans devoted to Shreemati MahaLakshmi-Devi.
For example, "Shree Bhagavata-Purana", 10.32.14 चकास गोपी-परिषद्-गतो ऽर्चितस् त्रैलोक्य-लक्ष्म्य्-एक-पदं - chakAsa gopI-pariShad-gato .architas trailokya-lakShmy-eka-padaM - "Bhagavan Shree Krishna and Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi were shining in the gathering of Gopis".
Besides, "Shree Vishnu-Purana", 1.8.33 says रती रागश् च मैत्रेय लक्ष्मीर्गोविन्द - ratI rAgash cha maitreya lakShmIrgovinda -"Lord Shree Govinda adores Shree Lakshmi-Devi only".
"Shree Vishnu-Dharmottara-Purana", 30.6 clarifies, that शृङ्गारो विष्णुदैवतः - shRRi~NgAro viShNudaivataH - "Bhagavan Shree Vishnu is the Devata of Shringara-Rasa".
So, Bhagavan Shree Vishnu (even when He is Govinda/Krishna) dedicates all His Shringara-Leelas to Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi. One of the reasons is that Bhagavan Shree Vishnu follows to "EkaPatni-Dharma" (Dharma of being The Husband of Shreemati MahaLakshmi-Devi only) - श्रिय एकान्त-वल्लभम् - shriya ekAnta-vallabham - "Lord Shree Vishnu is The Only Husband of Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi and Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi is The Only Wife of Lord Shree Vishnu" as "Shreemad-Bhagavatam", 10.33.14 states.
As you can see we have a kind of dharmic puzzle here, because a question emerges: "If Bhagavan Shree Vishnu follows to EkaPatni-Dharma how it came that taking Shree Krishna-Avatara He enjoyed with billions of Gopis in Vrindavana and 16108 Princesses of Dwaraka?".
From the Madhva-Siddhanta point of view the answer is very simple: "All the Gopis and Princesses had Lakshmi-Avesha in Them, so the Shringara-Leela of Bhagavan Shree Vishnu with Gopis and Princesses was actually the Shringara-Leela with Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi ONLY!".
The Verse 22 from "Shree Yamaka-Bharata" by OM VishnuPad Shree MadhwAcharya is in strict conformity with the above-mentioned Pramanas:
रेमे गोपीष्वरिहा स मन्मथाक्रान्तसुन्दरीपीष्वरिहा
पूर्णानन्दैकतनुः स विश्वरुक्पावनोऽप्यनन्दैकतनुः
reme gopIShvarihA sa manmathAkrAntasundarIpIShvarihA
pUrNAnandaikatanuH sa vishvarukpAvano.apyanandaikatanuH
"Shree Yamaka-Bharata", Verse 22: "Lord Shree Vishnu incarnates as Gopishvara in order to give Ananda to Shreemati MahaLakshmi-Devi and His bhaktas. Bhagavan Shree Vishnu is free from affections and passions, but during Gopishvara-Leela in Vrindavana He enjoyed with Gopikas who actually were Lakshmi-Aveshas".
OM VishnuPad Shree NaraHariTirtha-Acharya writes the following in His Tikas to the Verse 22: लक्ष्म्यावेशं विना भगवदङ्गसङ्गे नान्यस्त्रीणामधिकारः । अतस्तत्र रमावेश इति भावः (ना) - lakShmyAveshaM vinA bhagavada~Ngasa~Nge nAnyastrINAmadhikAraH | atastatra ramAvesha iti bhAvaH (nA) - "Without Lakshmi-Avesha it is not possible to enjoy Shringara-Leela with Bhagavan Shree Vishnu. So all the Gopis were Lakshmi-Aveshas (RamA-Aveshas)".
As you can see Shree NaraHariTirtha-Acharya mentions not only "Lakshmi-Avesha" expression here, but "RamA-Avesha" as well, because RamA is one of the Names of Shreemati MahaLakshmi-Devi, see for example, "Shree Bhagavata-Purana", 5.18.17 - रमा देवी संवत्सरस्य रात्रिषु - ramA devI saMvatsarasya rAtriShu - "Shree RamA-Devi (Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi) worships Bhagavan Shree Vishnu as KamaDeva".
Besides, you can find the explanation of Lakshmi-Avesha-Siddhanta in the Tikas to the Verses 71-72 of "Shree Yamaka-Bharata":
ननु भगवतः साक्षादङ्गसङ्गाय लक्ष्मीं विना न कापि योग्येत्यतः कथमेतदित्यतोऽप्याह रामरामेति। रामा रामासमुहे रमैव रामा यस्येत्येतादृश । ताः सर्वा अपि लक्ष्म्यवेशयुक्ता इत्यर्थाः ।
nanu bhagavataH sAkShAda~Ngasa~NgAya lakShmIM vinA na kApi yogyetyataH kathametadityato.apyAha rAmarAmeti| rAmA rAmAsamuhe ramaiva rAmA yasyetyetAdRRisha | tAH sarvA api lakShmyaveshayuktA ityarthAH |
रामराम = रमे रमैव रामा rAmarAma = rame ramaiva rAmA - In any स्त्रीसमूह - strIsamUha (gathering of girls in Vrindavana or Dwaraka) Bhagavan Shree Vishnu actually enjoys only with Shreemati Lakshmi-Devi, because Gopis and Dwaraka Princesses are actually RamA-Aveshas (Lakshmi-Aveshas)".
It is also crucial to remember that in Dwaraka-Leela Shreemati Rukmini-Devi and Shreemati Satyabhama-Devi are not Lakshmi-Aveshas, but Shree-Devi and Bhu-Devi respectively. OM VishnuPad Shree MadhvAcharya writes in "Shree MahaBharata-Tatparya-Nirnaya", 20.60 - भैष्मी सत्या चैकतनुर्द्विधैव जाता भूमौ प्रकृतिर्मूलभूता - bhaishhmI satyA chaikatanurdvidhaiva jAtA bhUmau prakR^itirmUlabhUtA - "Shreemati Rukmini-Devi and Shreemati Satyabhama-Devi are Shree-Shaktis: Shree-Devi and Bhu-Devi".
Besides, "Shree Vishnu-Purana" 1.9.144 says राघवत्वे ऽभवत्सीता रुक्मिणी कृष्णजन्मनि - rAghavatve .abhavatsItA rukmiNI kRRiShNajanman - "During Krishna-Avatara-Leelas SHREE (Shreemati MahaLakshmi-Devi) always incarnates as Shreemati Rukmini-Devi".
Question: "There is a place in "Bhagavata-Tatparya-Nirnaya" where Shree MadhvAcharya writes that only Apsaras are eligible for Kama-Bhakti dedicated to Bhagavan Shree Vishnu. Can we conclude that "Gopis = Apsaras" from this statement? I mean, it seems that both Gopis and Apsaras seem to practice Kama-Bhakti, so can we equal Gopis with Apsaras?".
Answer by Vishnudut1926: "In the Tikas you have mentioned OM VishnuPad Shree MadhvAcharya does NOT write that "Gopis = Apsaras", He just discusses the eligibility (yogyata) of Apsaras for Kama-Bhakti.
Let's look at these Pramanas, they are from "Shree Bhagavata-Tatparya-Nirnaya", Verses 10.17.28-36:
स्नेहभक्ताः सदा देवाः कामित्वेनाप्सरःस्त्रियः ।
काश्चित्काश्चिन्न कामेन भक्त्या केवलयैव तु ।
मोक्षमायान्ति नान्येन भक्तिं योग्यां विना क्वचित् । ।
snehabhaktAH sadA devAH kAmitvenApsaraHstriyaH |
kAshchitkAshchinna kAmena bhaktyA kevalayaiva tu |
mokShamAyAnti nAnyena bhaktiM yogyAM vinA kvachit | |
Translation: "Devas always practice Sneha-Bhakti and Apsaras always practice Kama-Bhakti (worshipping Bhagavan Shree Vishnu not as The Husband, but as The Lover). One can obtain Mukti only with the help of Vishnu-Bhakti, there is no other way!" ["Shree Padma-Purana"]
जारत्वेनाप्सरःस्त्रीणां कासांचिदिति योग्यता ।
योग्योपासां विना नैव मोक्षः कस्यापि सेत्स्यति ।
अयोग्योपासनाकर्तुर्निरयश्च भविष्यति ।
तस्मात्तु योग्यतां ज्ञात्वा हरेः कार्यमुपासनम् । ।
bhaktyA vA kAmabhaktyA vA mokSho nAnyena kenachit |
kAmabhaktyApsaraHstrINAmanyeShAM naiva kAmataH |
upAsya shvashuratvena devastrINAM janArdanaH |
jAratvenApsaraHstrINAM kAsAMchiditi yogyatA |
yogyopAsAM vinA naiva mokShaH kasyApi setsyati |
ayogyopAsanAkarturnirayashcha bhaviShyati |
tasmAttu yogyatAM j~nAtvA hareH kAryamupAsanam | |
Translation: "Ordinary kama can't grant Moksha, so the Kama-Bhakti of Apsaras is tinged with Shree Vishnu-Bhakti. Apsaras worship Bhagavan Shree Vishnu as The Lover (जार - jAra), while the wives of Devas worship Bhagavan Shree Vishnu as The Father of all the Devas (श्वशुर - zvazura). Everyone must worship Bhagavan Shree Vishnu according to his/her योग्यता (yogyatA). Shree Vishnu-Worship which does not comply with one's yogyata just leads to hells". ["Shree Bhadrika"]
As you can see Shree MadhvAcharya does not mention Gopis in the above-mentioned Pramans. Actually in this excerpt from "Shree Bhagavata-Tatparya-Nirnaya" Shree MadhvAcharya is not interested in the discussion on Gopi-Leela at all: He is more interested in revealing Bhakti-taratamya, which is the inherent feature of such fundamental notion as "Taratamya" in Shree Madhva-Siddhanta.
Question: "There are still some doubts, because it seems that in "Shree MahaBharata-Tatparya-Nirnaya" (13.50, 13.73, 13.75) Shree MadhvAcharya says that the Gopis from Vrindavana were Apsaras in their previous births. For example, in 13.50 Shree MadhvAcharya writes सम्स्कारतः प्रथममेव सुसङ्गमो नो भूयात् तवेति परमाप्सरसः पुरा याः samskArataH prathamameva susaN^gamo no bhUyAt taveti paramApsarasaH purA yAH - "The best of Apsaras took birth as Gopis in Vrindavana". How to understand these Pramanas?".
Answer by Vishnudut1926: "In all these Pramanas Shree MadhvAcharya does NOT make claims that ALL the Gopis were Apsaras in their former births. That's the point. Verse 13.50 says परमाप्सरसः - paramApsarasaH - "only the best of the Apsaras". The point is that "not all the Apsaras are Gopis, not all the Gopis are Apsaras" - "best of" is not equal to "all" and etc.
By the way, this statement of Shree MadhvAcharya is strictly Pramanic, because in "Shree Varaha-Purana" (Chapter 54) you can find a story about Apsaras who followed a strict Narayana-Vrata in order to obtain Bhagavan Shree Narayana as The Husband in Vrindavana (that is in order to become Gopis during Shree Krishna-Avatara-Leelas). You can find "Shree Varaha-Purana" both in Sanskrit and English in my E-Library (link to Sanskrit scan + link to English scan).
But the idea is still the same - neither "Shree Varaha-Purana" claims that ALL the Gopis were previosly Apsaras nor Shree MadhvAcharya claims the same.
Question: "So, the right understanding is that OM VishnuPad Shree MadhvAcharya stated that all the Gopis were Lakshmi-Aveshas, BUT NOT the Apsaras. Right?"
Answer by Vishnudut1926: "Yes, 100% right! Whenever you have the questions regarding Gopi-Leela in the Siddhanta of Shree MadhvAcharya, you should remember that Shree MadhvAcharya is:
1. Lakshmi-Narayana-Bhakta, that is an Orthodox Vaidika-PanchaRatrika-Acharya and
2. Jnana-Bhakti-Acharya (Aparoksha-Jnana-Acharya).
The matter is that Shree MadhvAcharya is NOT a sweet Rasika-Bhakti-Acharya like, for example, Shree NimbarkAcharya (Shree Nimbarka-Sampradaya), Shree VallabhAcharya (Pushti-Marg), 6 Goswamis of Vrindavana and many, many similar Acharyas of Vrindavana-Gopi-Bhakti range.
Shree MadhvAcharya wrote Tikas to "Shree Vedanta-Sutra", "RigVeda-Bhashya" and compiled "Shree Vishnu-Tattva-Nirnaya". Even in His "Shree KrishnAmrita-Maharnava" there is no space for sweet Krishna-poetics: in spite of the name "Shree Krishna-Maharnava" is a strict set of rules for worshipping Bhagavan Shree Vishnu!
So, it is more than obvious that Shree MadhvAcharya was not interested in Krishna-Madhurya-Bhakti (and Gopi-Leela particularly) at all, but as Lakshmi-Vishnu-Bhaktas He and all the subsequent Acharyas of Shree Madhwa-Sampradaya were definitely very much interested in establishing Lakshmi-Avesha-Siddhanta!
More than this - being a strict Jnana-Bhakti-Acharya Shree MadhwAcharya explains Gopi-Leela in the terms of Mukti and Jnana. In "Shree Bhagavata-Tatparya-Nirnaya", 10.27.11 Shree MadhvAcharya writes:
कृष्णकामाः तदा गोप्यः त्यकत्वा देहं दिवं गता: ।
सम्यक् कृष्णं परब्रह्म ज्ञात्वा कालात् परं ययु: ।
पूर्वं च ज्ञानसयुङ्क्ताः तत्रापि प्रायशः तथा ।
अत स्तासां परं ब्रह्म गतिरासीत् न कामतः ।
न तु ज्ञानमृते मोक्षो नान्यः पन्था इति श्रुतेः । १०.२७.११
kRRiShNakAmAH tadA gopyaH tyakatvA dehaM divaM gatA: |
samyak kRRiShNaM parabrahma j~nAtvA kAlAt paraM yayu: |
pUrvaM cha j~nAnasayu~NktAH tatrApi prAyashaH tathA |
ata stAsAM paraM brahma gatirAsIt na kAmataH |
na tu j~nAnamRRite mokSho nAnyaH panthA iti shruteH | 10.27.11
Translation: "Gopis in Krishna-Kama mood obtained दिवं (divaM) upon leaving their bodies. After some time they have obtained Mukti in Shree Vaikuntha. All these Gopis obtained Mukti in Shree Vaikuntha not due to their Krishna-Kama, but due to Krishna-ParaBrahma-Jnana, because they have developed a certain amount of Jnana in their previous births".
Can we interpret दिवं (divaM) from this Verse as "DevaLoka, Svarga and etc."? Can we claim that after Vrindavana-Leela Gopis were born as Apsaras in DevaLoka and only after that obtained Moksha?
Yes and no, because this Verse actually says not about DevaLoka, but about Krama-Mukti from Orthodox Vaishnava-PanchaRatra point of view, but the topic of Krama-Mukti in Vaishnava-PanchaRatra Agamas and Samhitas requires 100 pages of further explanations from me.
Speaking honestly - why any representative of Shree Madhva-Sampradaya or Shree Ramanuja-Sampradaya should pay attention to "Gopis and Apsaras" theme?
The only Siddhanta that we should be interested in is that Gopis are Lakshmi-Aveshas and that they can obtain Mukti in Shree Vaikuntha - निरुच्छ्वासतया मुक्तिं गतान्या गोपकन्यका - niruchChvAsatayA muktiM gatAnyA gopakanyakA as "Shree Vishnu-Purana", 5.13.22 says or गोप्यो यज्ञ-पत्न्यस् तथापरे - gopyo yaj~na-patnyas tathApare as "Shree Bhagavata-Purana" 11.12.06 says or योगेश्वरेश्वरे कृष्णे यत एतद् विमुच्यते - yogeshvareshvare kRRiShNe yata etad vimuchyate as "Shreemad-Bhagavatam", 10.29.16 says.
Any other Siddhanta is not essential at all for the followers of Shree MadhvAcharya as well as for the followers of Shree RamanujAcharya!
So, I stop here, praising Shree MadhvAcharya-Guru-Parampara and Shree RamanujAcharya-Guru-Parampara!
Speaking about our Acharyas - I strongly recommend to study "Shree Yamaka-Bharata" with the brilliant, precious and masterpiece Tikas of Shree NaraHariTirtha-Acharya as He tells not only about Shree Lakshmi-Avesha-Siddhanta, but about many crucial points of Shree Madhva-Siddhanta as well - #LINK TO PDF-SCAN#
Article, answers, translation of Pramanas from Sanskrit to English
by Vishnudut1926, Moscow, Russia, August 2018