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yātudhānā mṛgāḥ khagāḥ
vaiśyāḥ śūdrāḥ striyo ’ntya-jāḥ
tasmiṁs tasmin yuge yuge
vṛṣaparvā balir bāṇo
mayaś cātha vibhīṣaṇaḥ
gajo gṛdhro vaṇikpathaḥ
vyādhaḥ kubjā vraje gopyo
The Lord has mentioned devotees such as the gopīs in Vṛndāvana and also demons like Bāṇāsura to illustrate how He comes under the control of those who surrender to Him. It is understood that devotees like the gopīs and others mentioned here obtained pure love of Kṛṣṇa, whereas the demons generally obtained only salvation. Many demons were purified by association with devotees and came to accept devotional service to the Lord as the most important among the various activities in their lives, but the exalted devotees like Prahlāda and Bali Mahārāja know nothing except devotional service, which they accept as their very life. Still, the reformed demons are also mentioned so that readers of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam will understand the enormous benefits one may achieve by associating with devotees of the Lord.
The demon Vṛtrāsura was the pious King Citraketu in his previous life, during which he associated with Śrī Nārada Muni, Śrī Aṅgirā Muni and Lord Saṅkarṣaṇa. Prahlāda Mahārāja, being the son of Hiraṇyakaśipu, is considered a Daitya, or demon. Yet while still in the womb of his mother, Kayādhū, he associated with Nārada Muni by sound vibration. The demon Vṛṣaparvā was abandoned by his mother at birth, but he was raised by a muni and became a devotee of Lord Viṣṇu. Bali Mahārāja associated with his grandfather Prahlāda and also with Lord Vāmanadeva. Bali Mahārāja’s son, Bāṇāsura, was saved by association with his father and Lord Śiva. He also associated with Lord Kṛṣṇa personally when the Lord cut off all but two of his one thousand arms, which had been awarded as a benediction by Lord Śiva. Understanding the glories of Lord Kṛṣṇa, Bāṇāsura also became a great devotee. The demon Maya Dānava constructed an assembly house for the Pāṇḍavas and also associated with Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself, eventually achieving the shelter of the Lord. Vibhīṣaṇa was a pious-natured demon, the brother of Rāvaṇa, and he associated with Hanumān and Rāmacandra.
Sugrīva, Hanumān, Jāmbavān and Gajendra are examples of animals who achieved the mercy of the Lord. Jāmbavān, or Ṛkṣarāja, was a member of a race of bears. He personally associated with Lord Kṛṣṇa, fighting with Him over the Syamantaka jewel. The elephant Gajendra in a previous life had association with devotees, and at the end of his life as Gajendra he was personally saved by the Lord. Jaṭāyu, the bird who at the cost of his own life assisted Lord Rāmacandra, associated with Śrī Garuḍa and Mahārāja Daśaratha as well as other devotees in rāma-līlā. He also personally met with Sītā and Lord Rāma. According to Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, the association that the Gandharvas, Apsarās, Nāgas, Siddhas, Cāraṇas, Guhyakas and Vidyādharas had with the devotees is not very prominent and does not need to be mentioned. Vaṇikpatha is a vaiśya, and his story is mentioned in the Mahābhārata in connection with the pride of Jājali Muni.
The importance of association with devotees is illustrated in the story of Dharma-vyādha, the nonviolent hunter, as described in the Varāha Purāṇa. In a previous life he somehow became a brahma-rākṣasa, or brāhmaṇa ghost, but was eventually saved. In a previous Kali-yuga he had the association of a Vaiṣṇava king named Vāsu. The lady Kubjā associated directly with Lord Kṛṣṇa, and in her previous birth she had associated with Śrī Nārada Muni. The gopīs of Vṛndāvana rendered service to saintly persons in their previous births. Having had ample association with devotees, they became gopīs in Vṛndāvana in their next lives and associated with the eternally liberated gopīs who had descended there. They also had association with Tulasī-devī, or Vṛndādevī. The wives of the brāhmaṇas performing sacrifice had association with women sent by Lord Kṛṣṇa to sell flower garlands and betel nuts and heard about the Lord from them.