As noted above, the Puranas (ancient tales) are a loose collection of poetic tales of the gods Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Of these the most popular are the ones pertaining to Vishnu's incarnation as Krishna. The tales focus on Krishna as a child and young man; in other words, Krishna before he became the charioteer for Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita. As a child, he is mischievous and adorable; as a youth he is a cow-herd and talented musician whom young women find irresistible. Consequently, in the Puranas, Krishna has many erotic encounters with gopis (milk maids). . When he is called away on a heroic mission, the texts describe the grief and longing of the young women.
What is the meaning of this depiction of such erotic love? Typically, it is thought to represent the longing devotion of the worshipper for the god Krishna. As one scholar explains:
"The infatuation of the gopis for the divinely adorable cow-herd is given a symbolic meaning; even their transports of love, the thrilling sensation at the roots of the hair, the choking emotion, and the swooning are said to give a true picture in sensuous imagery of the exaltation produced in the worshiper who is looking upon the image of Krishna and thinking of his love."