Sakhi is a term for the confidential girlfriends of Srimati Radharani. The word bekhi is a corruption of the Sanskrit word vesa, which means “dress.” A sakhi bekhi is a man or a woman who dresses like a gopi and imagines himself or herself to be enjoyed by Krsna.
Sakhi bekhis imitate rasa-lila, Krsna’s dance with the gopis, sometimes by dancing with a person dressed like Krsna who wears a cuda, a crown of peacock feathers. This person is called cuda dhari. The philosophy of these two types of sahajiya groups is the same. Practically the only difference is that one group dresses like gopis and the other like Krsna.
Lord Caitanya taught, “The only controller is Krsna; everyone else is His servant.” Each spirit soul is a tiny spark of para-prakrti, the Lord’s subordinate or female spiritual energy. But this sense of our “being female” has nothing to do with mundane gender. We have temporarily assumed a male or female body as a result of past karma; the material covering does not reflect the eternal nature of the soul.
From Srimad-Bhagavatam (Canto 4, Chapter 28) we learn that souls now in men’s bodies received them as a karmic result of earlier lives when they were women with a lusty attachment to men. And those now in women’s bodies were men too attached to women.
The soul as a spiritual spark caught in the cycle of birth and death is genderless. But according to the particular ecstasy a soul enjoys in relation to Krsna, the soul’s transcendental gender is revealed.
We see this in the spiritual bodies of Krsna’s eternal associates. Krsna’s devotees who serve Krsna with motherly and fatherly affection, for instance, have transcendental bodies accordingly. And the same is true of those who serve Krsna in madhurya-rasa (conjugal love). To be placed in madhurya-rasa one must develop the sentiments of a gopi, or cowherd damsel, under the guidance of a highly realized Vaisnava.
In Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22.156-158), Lord Caitanya clearly tells Sanatana Gosvami how an advanced devotee is to use the physical body in Krsna’s service. Externally, the devotee should perform regular devotional practices, such as hearing and chanting the holy name. Obeying all the scriptural rules, he or she should strictly avoid sinful life. And it is internally—within the purified, self-realized mind—that the devotee always meditates on serving Krsna in Vrndavana in a particular rasa, or relationship.
The sakhi bekhis, however, seem to think they have found an easier way. They dress in saris, decorate themselves with nose-rings and ornaments, and grow their hair in long braids. They paint their feet red, shave their faces twice a day, sing in falsetto voices, and gesture with women’s mannerisms. And they seem to think that this will please Krsna.
Cuda dharis similarly think they can attract Srimati Radharani to their rotting material bodies simply because they dress like Krsna.
Some sakhi bekhis say they are only following the example of Sri Gadadhara Dasa Thakura. This devotee of Lord Caitanya’s (a different person from the well-known Gadadhara Pandita) once walked through town in the mood of a gopi, carrying a clay pot of Ganges water on his head, calling out to sell yogurt, and laughing loudly. This, however, was an unusual ecstatic incident in the life of a pure devotee; it was not his regular practice.
Imitators say they can see their internal spiritual form by external play-acting. They forget, however, that neither Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu nor any spiritual master in Lord Caitanya’s line ever taught that one can awaken love for Krsna through speculative histrionics.
Srila Prabhupada once told a story to show how we must follow the method of bhaktiyoga to get love for Krsna. In the story, a man tried to cook by placing the flame on the floor and hanging the pot near the ceiling. “If you want to cook,” Prabhupada said, “you have to cook according to the method. You may have a pot and you may have a flame, but if you don’t cook by the method, you’ll never get the food.”
The sakhi bekhis and cuda dharis take Krsna and the gopis cheaply. Under the influence of impersonalism, they think they can become one with the Lord and the gopis goddess of fortune herself in her eternal form, can’t enter the rasa-lila, despite ages of austerity. So how can a fool do so by merely dressing up the material body?