“Oh Wavering mind! Go to Vrindavana and take the dust of that holy soil, on which the lotus feet of Lord Krishna have trod and place it on your forehead. Then only will you be blessed.”
This refrain from a famous song kept ringing in my ears all through the six hour train journey from Rishikesh to Mathura station. We were eight pilgrims from Rishikesh and four from Mumbai and all of us felt truly blessed to have been invited by the Lord to visit his home in Vrindavana! It is a fact that one can never go on a pilgrimage unless the deity of the temple wants to meet us and invites us. All of us rendezvoused at Mathura station and went straight to the Krishna Janmasthan which was unfortunately totally dominated by the dome of the masjid in the background. The Janmasthan is the dungeon in which Krishna was born.
Kamsa’s dungeon has been re-constructed in a cinematic fashion and we went and sat inside. As soon as I closed my eyes I was wafted seven thousand years back to a stormy night when the Lord revealed himself to his parents Devaki and Vasudeva in the gloomy dungeon of Kamsa, King of Mathura. The baby that Devaki gave birth to had changed into the four-armed Vishnu holding the divine insignia like conch, chakra, lotus and mace. The darkness of the dungeon was dispelled by the effulgence emanating from the Lord. He told Vasudeva to deport him immediately to the cow- herd settlement of Gokula and keep him there and bring back the baby girl that had just been born to Yashoda, the wife of their chief, Nanda. With these words the effulgent form vanished to be replaced by a delightful baby. Vasudeva had no time to ask how he was going to accomplish this formidable task since he was chained to the pillar and all the dungeon doors were locked and heavily guarded. But before he could even formulate this thought the chain fell off by its own accord. He found himself free and carefully wrapped the baby in his tattered upper garment and hugged him to his heart while Devaki watched with tears overflowing from her eyes. He walked to the massive doors that swung open of their own accord. The guards were snoring, leaning on their spears. Vasudeva walked fearlessly down the dark corridors leading to the outside gate and once again found that the gates flung open effortlessly allowing him to depart with his precious burden which he clutched to his heart. It was already five minutes past midnight and the entire sky was lit up with intermittent flashes of lightning and growls of thunder. He could hardly see a step in front of him since rain was pouring down in buckets. But strangely enough not a drop fell on his head. It is said that Sheshnag, the serpent on which Lord Vishnu slept, was holding his hood like an umbrella over the head of the divine infant who was his master. He had to cross the turbulent river Yamuna in order to reach Gokula. He had no doubt in his mind as to whether he was going to accomplish this impossible task. As he came to the river, it parted to allow him to walk across with the water coming barely up to his ankles. At last he reached the village and found the house of the chief and crept into the bedroom and saw Yashoda lying there in a kind of stupor after having given birth to a baby girl. He exchanged the babies reluctantly since he was loathe to leave his precious burden but there was no time even to think so he took the baby girl who was the incarnation of the divine mother and made his way back to the dungeon. Hardly had he passed through the gate than the doors clanged shut of their own accord. The baby girl started to cry at the top of her voice as soon as he gave her into Devaki’s arms and the snoring guards woke up with a rude shock.
The whole scene flashed through my mind as I sat in the dungeon. This was the route I wanted to follow – the path taken by Vasudeva long ago on that stormy night when Krishna, the greatest of all avatars (incarnations) was born. Clutching the baby to my heart I got into the van which was transporting us to Gokula, across the river. It was 15 km from Mathura. The bridge was not an impediment. In my mind I crossed on foot and reached the huge mansion called Nanda Bhavan in Gokula. It is said to be 5000 years old and built by the great architect Vishvakarma. It had eighty four pillars out of which eighty were supposed to have been built by Vishvakarma and four by the creator Brahma. The pillars were made out of huge logs of wood and looked incredibly old. Of course the “pandas” or priests of Vrindavana are most avaricious and extremely clever at squeezing money out of innocent pilgrims with gory tales of what happened to people who refused to do what they advised! However we were impervious to such threats and simply sat and soaked in the atmosphere which still lingered. We were allowed to rock the cradle that had held the baby who is still rocking the world in this 21st century!
One of the greatest of my Lord’s lilas was played as soon as he returned to Mathura from Vrindavana at the age of twelve. Kamsa had invited all the gopalas (cow herds) to come to Mathura to take part in the great festival of Shiva’s bow but his secret intention was to kill Krishna when he came. The gopalas were simple folk and they were delighted to go to the big city of Mathura. When they reached the city the boys along with Krishna and Balrama danced and skipped along the grand trunk road leading to the palace. They were entranced by the shops and big houses they saw on either side of the road and walked along laughing and joking with their beloved friend. Suddenly they saw a strange figure approaching them. It was a girl with three humps on her back. She was so bent that she could not even look up. She hobbled along clutching a silver pot of sandal paste. She belonged to a family of devadasis, (courtesans) who used to cater to the pleasures of the great Lords of the court. She used to be known as Kubja or Trivakra since she had three humps on her back. But since she was so ugly no one ever looked at her and she was given the task of making unguents for the king. She was hobbling along painfully down the road when a pair of lotus feet stopped right in front of her and stopped her progress.
A mellifluous voice asked her, “O Sundari!” (Beautiful One) “Who are you taking this sandal paste for?”
She could not see the person but she knew he must be very special since no one had ever called her anything but “hunchbacked one” or “crooked one.”
Immediately she answered, “Who else but for you, my Lord?”
Krishna laughed and said, “Let the world see the beauty of your soul in your face.”
So saying he pressed his toe on her right foot and placed his forefinger under her chin and lifted her up, straightening up her three humps so that she stood straight and tall and beautiful in front of him. She looked straight into his lotus eyes and her own brimmed over with love. Taking the sandal paste meant for the king, she lavishly anointed the lord’s body with it. He smiled at her and walked on after his brother who was looking with displeasure at the scene. Kubja saw her saviour walk away. She could not bear to think that she would never see him again. In despair she caught his uttareeyam (top cloth) and pulled him back. He turned round with a laugh and asked, “What do you want?”
She replied, “Will you come to my house tonight?”
Touched by her offering of the only thing she had to offer, Krishna replied with great compassion, “I will come after I have finished the work for which I have come.”
She let go of his uttareeyam with great reluctance and watched him go with all her love spilling out of her eyes.
Straight after the visit to the dungeon we visited the Keshavdeva Mandir, at which spot this incident is supposed to have taken place. I was filled with delight thinking of this occurrence and the great compassion he had shown to this poor hunchback of Mathura. My eyes overflowed when I thought of the compassion he showers on all of us who are spiritually hunchbacked and totally incapable of overcoming our negativities.
It was only after visiting Keshav Deva Mandir that we went to Nanda Bhavan, the house of Nanda, in Gokulam.
En route from Gokula to Vrindavana our guide was kind enough to take us to the little known village of Rawal, which is supposed to be the birthplace of Radha Rani. There was a simple temple there and an old man sitting and reading some scriptures and he told us the story of this place where there was a miraculous bush which had been in existence since the time of the birth of Radha. We could still see it on the roof top. The legend of this place is most interesting.
Krishna’s foster father, Nanda, was living in the village of Nandgaon and his friend Vrishabhanu was living in the village of Barsana. They had no children and decided to shift closer to the Yamuna for fear of Kamsa. Nanda shifted to Gokula and Vrishabhanu to Rawal. Soon after shifting Nanda got a baby girl who was exchanged for Krishna as we know.
At about the same time when Vrishnabhanu went to the river for his bath he saw a lovely lotus flower in the middle of the river on which was laying an extremely charming baby girl. He brought the baby to his home and performed all rituals but soon he realised that the baby was blind, deaf and dumb. The parents were grief stricken but the great sage Narada came to them and advised them to hold a big ceremony for the baby and invite everyone including his friend Nanda and his family from Gokula. Nanda came with Yashoda and the baby Krishna. While the elders were talking Krishna crawled to the cradle and put his face on the side of the cradle and looked intently at the baby. Immediately the baby girl opened her eyes and started cooing and gurgling with delight. She did not want to see anyone in the world except her beloved Krishna and that was why she had never opened her eyes all these days!
Today however, the village of Barsana is the one to which everyone goes since it is supposed the village in which Radha grew up. That has a really radiant aspect to it which this village lacks.
From there we went on to Vrindavana. As soon as we reached I jumped out and took a pinch of the sand and smeared it on my forehead. This was the sacred earth on which my beloved Lord had walked and sat and played and crawled and danced. I felt it was sacrilegious to stamp this holy ground. How fortunate we were to be able to come here and enjoy his divine presence. Everyone in this celestial town greets you with the words, “Radhe! Radhe!” The response is generally, “Shyam Milaade”. This means “Lead me to Shyam or Krishna!” Even the auto rickshaw drivers would poke out their heads and shout, “Radhe! Radhe!”, if someone was blocking their path!
After checking in at our guest house in Vrindavana our guide suggested we visit the most famous place in Vrindavana known as Nidhivana. We reached there almost at sunset and walked through the heavily barred gates set in a high wall, leading into a courtyard. From there another gate opened out into a most mysterious garden if it can be called as such. This gate and all places around were guarded by hundreds of monkeys. We were not sure if we would be allowed to go in without being molested but thankfully an old man carrying a heavy stick offered to take us round. The small narrow path led us further and further into the secret garden. Both sides of the path were filled with ancient looking, twisted and stunted trees growing in pairs. The barks were smooth and white, the ground beneath was totally bare of all grass and looked as if it had been made smooth by countless feet stamping over it. These trees were supposed to be “van tulsi, a type of jungle tulsi”. We had been advised not to pick or take even a single leaf from them. There was a Kund at some point which again looked dark and mysterious. The winding path eventually led us to a little room called the “Rang Mahal”. There was a priest there who told us the whole story of the place. Every night after 8 pm the priest would make up the beautiful sandalwood cot inside the room. He would keep a glass of milk, a glass of water, some sweets and some “paan” (betel leaf) and a neem stick. He would then lock the door carefully and leave the garden, locking the huge door outside. No one was allowed to stay in the garden after that. All animals including dogs and monkeys would leave at that time. Even birds would not fly over the garden after sunset. Next morning the priest would return at 6.30 am and unlock the gate and the door of the room. He would find the bed ruffled up, the glasses of water and milk empty and no signs of the sweets and the paan. This is a miracle that takes place every day. It is said that the room is the place where Krishna used to attend to Radha Rani’s toilette or “Shringaar”, before dancing with the gopis. Apparently these trees are actually gopis who take on their human form and dance the “Rasa Lila” with their beloved, Krishna every night. He retires to the room with Radha and hence everything is consumed by morning. It is also a fact that these trees seem to be growing in pairs and it is noticed that they keep shifting their positions during the night. Anyone who dares to get into the garden after the forbidden hour is found in the morning to have gone totally crazy or blind or unable to articulate. They can only babble. The houses that are on the sides lock up the windows facing the garden. Some have even bolted and barred the windows overlooking the garden so that they can never be opened even accidently. This of course is one of the most mysterious places in this town filled with the magic of that most magnificent incarnation of the Lord.
After this we went to the beautiful temple of Radha Ramana. It was a huge temple filled with devotees. The entrancing voice of the singer filled the whole hall. Everyone seemed mesmerised by his voice. I went and stood right in front of the sanctum. The two delightful idols of Radha and Krishna were far off and could only be seen clearly by using a pair of binoculars. The priests went up and down carrying offerings and garlands but I hardly noticed them. Having just come from the magic forest of Nidhivana, I was wafted into a world peopled by Radha and Krishna alone. The plaintive voice of the musician pulled at my heart strings and wafted me into the magic world of the rasamandala. I was Radha and I alone danced with him swaying in his arms to the beat of the drums playing behind me. The scintillating forms in front of me took me into an ethereal world where nothing else existed. After a long, long while the music faded, the wispy forms in front stiffened and turned into idols. Intoxicated with the glory of the place we returned to our rooms singing, “Sri Radha Ramana Hari Bol, Sri Radha Ramana Hari Bol.” Thus ended our memorable first day in the city of Radha/Ramana (the delight of Radha).
Later I discovered the history of the temple. It is one of the oldest temples in Vrindavana. One of the miracles here is that the fire in the temple kitchen has been burning continuously ever since it was lit during the time of its construction. The idol of Krishna is actually a shaligrama (type of black stone). Gopal Bhatt Goswami had gone to the Gantaki river in Nepal and brought back twelve shaligramas. He started worshipping all twelve but had an intense desire to worship the Lord in his form. One day on the day of Narasimha Chaturdashi he found that one of the shaligramas had turned into the exquisite figure of the Lord which is what we see now.
Next morning we went to the most famous of the temples of Vrindavana- Sri Bankey Bihari – meaning the one with the three bents. When Krishna stands holding the flute in his hands, he is bent in three places! This temple opens rather late in the morning since he is supposed to have spent the whole night with the gopis at Nidhivana and tired himself out! Each temple is connected with some aspect of his life with the gopis and this lends a piquant charm to each story. It was really crowded and we had to literally fight our way to the front where there was supposed to be different lanes for men and women but somehow there seemed to be no particular rule anywhere and people were simply jostling each other to get to the front. But there was a barricade of some sort right in front and we managed to cling on to the railings and lean forward to get a good view of the charming figure within the sanctorum. A priest was standing in front throwing flower garlands to various people in the crowd. I was hoping desperately that he would throw one to me and even put out my hand. Suddenly I felt a thud round my neck which nearly made me lose my balance and I found a garland of roses and marigolds round my neck. I had no idea where it had come from. I looked back and there was no one there. My eyes filled with tears and I just prostrated to him for I knew that HE was the one who had thrown the garland round my neck. I inhaled the perfume of the tulsi garland round his neck and heard the plaintive call of the flute beckoning me to go closer and closer until I melted in his arms covered in a purple haze where his eyes flowed into mine.
I sat in a daze for a while on the steps. This is a custom we follow in the south but here actually it was discouraged. However we did manage to sit for a while and absorb the vibrations of the place.
Now let us look into the history. The temple was built by Swami Haridas who is supposed to be the incarnation of Lalita, who was Radha Rani’s friend. He was the guru of the famous singer Tansen. Once he sang a beautiful song to the celestial couple in Nidhivana and found that the couple appeared before him. The Swami requested them to merge into one and this is the idol of Bankey Bihari that we see now. Swami Haridas’ lineage can be traced to Sri Gargacharya who was the Kulaguru of the Yadava clan and who had performed the naming ceremony of the baby Krishna. He had been meditating on the divine couple at the forest of Nidhivana for many years. His disciples were very curious about the place and one day they entered the Kunj. They were blinded by a bright and intense light which filled the whole place. For a few seconds they were granted the sight of the divine couple but none could stand the vision for long and feared that they might lose their sight. The swami then requested Radha and Krishna to take a single form and thus the couple turned into the one single black charming idol which we see today. The charisma is such that no one can look at it all the time so the curtains in front are regularly drawn and opened by the priests. It is said that if we gaze too long into Krishna’s eyes we will lose consciousness.
This was quite a big temple with a garden at one side and a library at the other. The beautiful idols of the Lord and Radha were already clothed in their deep blue winter garments. There was a very interesting story connected with this temple. One of the Goswamis called Sanatana Goswami, had been doing four parikramas (going round) of the mountain of Govardhana that Krishna had lifted and held up as an umbrella over the gopalas and gopis when rains threatened to flood the whole village. The Goswami kept doing this till he became too old to walk. At that time the Lord manifested himself as a small mound at this very place and told him that from now on he need not go to Govardhana to do his parikrama but could do it round this mound. This mound is known as the Giriraj Charan Shila and has Lord Krishna’s footprint on it since he is supposed to have stood on it. It is now covered with a beautiful cloth and the priests uncovered it now and then and exposed it to all the pilgrims. It is right in front of the charming figures of Radha and Krishna. We were told that we would get the same benefit of doing circumambulations of Govardhana if we went on the walking path round the temple. We were thrilled to hear this since we knew that we certainly did not have the time to do the real parikrama of the mountain. This was truly a bonus. Chanting Krishna mantras we went round and round on the little path and just as we completed the 4th round, the curtains that had been drawn in front of the sanctorum for the main puja, lifted and enabled us to see the mid-day Arati (waving of lights). In each temple my Vanamali had arranged a small miracle.
History has it that this temple was established by Jiva Goswami in 1542 AD. During the time of Aurangzeb the idols were removed to Jaipur was some time and brought back in 1739. He established a library here where all the original manuscripts of the Goswamis are stored. Some of these have been preserved.
ISKCON TEMPLE (International Society for Krishna Consciousness)
Next we went to the famous Iskcon temple. It was very beautiful with fantastically decorated figures of Radha and Krishna in the middle, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda on the left side altar and Sri Prabhudananda on the right side. Since the noon Arati was going on, there was a lot of dancing and singing by the devotees in which all of us joined in with great delight.
After this we partook of the Krishna Prasad which was served at their restaurant reserved for visitors.
Our next stop was at the comparatively small temple of Mirabai, the princess of Mewar who was married to the prince of a neighbouring state at a very young age. She had given her heart to Lord Krishna and could never have a proper relationship with her husband, who suspected her of having illicit relationships with some other man. He didn’t dream that it was Krishna himself who was her sole love and husband. Instigated by his jealous sisters he repeatedly tried to kill her but of course the Lord saved his devotee time and time again. At last she decided to leave the palace and made her way to Vrindavana. When she tried to enter the hall where some great pundits were carrying on a debate about the Lord’s exploits, she was stopped. They shouted at her and declared haughtily that women were debarred from entering that place. Meera looked around at all of them and innocently asked, “Where is the man here? I see only women. There is only One Purusha (male) in this world and that is my Lord Giridhari. Everyone else is a woman!”
This is the spot where this episode took place and her temple was built here.
I suddenly noticed a young man in full prostration in front of the idol. Something about him attracted me and I waited for him to get up. However he did not rise up for a long time. I turned away and told one of the boys to give him some money since he was dressed very poorly. However when we searched for him, he was no longer to be found. Since I was standing at the door there was no way he could have slipped out without one of us noticing! Another question mark in Vrindavana?
Meera Bai went to Vrindavana in the year 1524 after leaving the palace of her husband. She lived in Vrindavana from 1524 to 1539. After that she went to Dwaraka and stayed there till her death in 1550. In Vrindavana Krishna is always found with Radha and the bhava (attitude of the mind) here is that of a lover and his beloved. In Dwaraka however, Krishna is worshipped as the husband of Rukmani and his various wives. Meera always considered him as her husband. Perhaps that is why she left Vrindavana and went to Dwaraka.
The great sage and Acharya known as Lalit Kishori Devji lived between 1758 and 1823. He was anxious to meditate in seclusion under a tree. His disciples found a place and fenced the whole area using bamboo sticks. Bamboo sticks are known as “tatiya” in the local dialect. This is how the place got its name.
When we went there it was already quite dark and we could hardly see where we were walking since the place was lit only with a few “diyas” (mud lamps) placed here and there that had flickering lights, casting grotesque shadows on the sand. The whole place had been preserved exactly as it had been at the time of the great sage. I was wafted a couple of centuries back. It was a magical place. There were no large, ugly concrete edifices. There was only a huge square of river sand in which our feet sank deep. Apparently the sage had never left this square of sand and never ventured out of this self-imposed prison. It was fenced with bamboo sticks and filled with various kinds of trees that Krishna loved like neem, peepul and kadamba. This place is meant only for sadhana (spiritual practice) and is not intended to attract the normal tourist.
His samadhi was in a small room in the centre of the square. Thankfully the place had not been electrified. We sat in front of the samadhi in almost complete darkness. It was a most mysterious place filled with strong vibrations. Soon a couple of men came and sat in front and started singing some wonderful verses about Krishna. It was really thrilling. Tears poured down my eyes as the soul stirring couplets reverberated through the air. We sat in silence soaking in the atmosphere of devotion that filled the place. Our guide then told me that the Madhathipati (chief of the ashram), had come there and I could take the opportunity to meet him. I followed him round the samadhi temple and came to a platform about two feet high, again made totally out of sand that had been firmly stacked and was most stable. A cloth had been spread over it and the priest sat quite firmly on it. He gave me some Prasad (food that has been offered to the deity) and told me to come in the morning the next day. We did go again the next day but the aura and mystery surrounding the place had been overpowering at twilight and was hardly perceptible at 11 in the morning. But we did have a good look inside the samadhi room which had just two plain mounds, one for the saint and the other for his disciple.
From there we went straight to the banks of the Yamuna to watch the famous Yamunaarati. There was a kind of a platform above the Yamuna on which the priest and various helpers were seated in front of a makeshift altar. He had a beautiful voice and was chanting innumerable songs. A lady dressed like a gopi was dancing and singing at the side. The Yamuna was only a dark expanse of water at the back. Suddenly the darkness was lit by thousands of little lights floating down the river. The little lamps were placed in boats made of leaves and filled with flowers exactly as we used to see in Rishikesh on the Ganga. At the end of the long drawn out puja each of us were given separate arati plates and lamps and asked to perform our own aratis to the river goddess.
My heart bled for the holy river. Our ancient sages were so wise that they taught us to worship our rivers like goddesses since they knew that rivers were the lifelines of our country. However today we have forgotten this truth and have clung on to the surface rituals which are meaningless without the basic truth that supports them. After the pujas are over, the plastics, the flowers, the papers and the rubbish are all thrown into the “holy” river as if she was a garbage bin! All the little nalas (drains), collecting the refuse from the big hotels and bustling city were all released into the river which was slowly being choked to death. “Why are we killing our rivers like this?” I cried out. Why are we clutching at the empty shell of the rituals without realising the reason for their being? Our rivers are screaming out loud to save them. We have shut our ears to their cries and keep on with our meaningless rituals, uncaring of the fact that we are actually committing suicide since without our rivers we will be lost!
On the third day morning we went to the Karthyayani temple which was a fairly new temple built by Swami Keshavananda who was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, which Paramahamsa Yoganandaji had visited. Keshavananda spent forty years in the Himalayas. There he had a vision of the mother goddess Karthyayani and went to Vrindavana and located the place where the gopis had prayed to Devi Kartyayani and built this temple.
It had beautiful vibrations and as we sat in front I was reminded of the touching story of Devi Karthyayani which is given in the Bhagavad Purana. She is the primeval Mother Goddess and the gopis who were totally enamoured of Krishna decided to undertake a forty-one day vow to her in order to procure him as their husband.
In the month of November they would get up at Brahma Muhurtam at 4 am and go to the River Kalindi in the bitter cold. They would take a bath in the icy waters and then make an idol of the goddess Karthyayani with the river sand and worship her with this mantra.
“Karthyayani Mahamaaye, Mahayogin, Yatheeswari,
Nandagopa sutham Devim pathim me kuruthe mama.”
(O! Devi Karthyayani! Thou art the great Mother goddess! The controller of maya, the great yogini!
Do thou grant us our wish and give us the son of Nanda (Krishna), as our husband.)
Hundreds of gopis used to gather together on the river banks and repeat this mantra and pray earnestly to the goddess to give them Krishna as their husband. This went on for forty days. On the forty-first day, the object of their desire presented himself before them on the river banks. They were thrilled to see him but a bit shy since they were naked so they sank down to their necks in the water. Their clothes had been discarded on the banks. Krishna picked up the clothes and casually climbed up a tree and hung the clothes on the branches. The gopis didn’t know what to do since they were stark naked. They begged him to return their clothes but Krishna refused and asked them to come out one by one with their arms raised above their heads and he would give them their clothes.
This is one of the most mis-interpreted episodes in his life. The gopis had actually reached the very pinnacle of excellence as far as devotion was concerned. They cared nothing for themselves and were ready to sacrifice everything, even their own relations for his sake but they still clung to the body as if it belonged to them. This test was given to them in order to make them realise that they were not the body. We are ashamed to expose our bodies in front of another person but Krishna is not another person. He is the very breath of our breath, the life of our lives, the supreme atman, ensconced within the covering of our bodies. Our body is his temple. This is the truth he wanted to teach them - that he was not separate from them so there was no need for them to be ashamed to expose their bodies in front of him. This was the final test given to them before he agreed to their demands which was to have him as their husband.
One by one the gopis came up to the Lord of their hearts and accepted their garments from his hands. He had tested them to the utmost, made them dance to his tune, run for him, cook for him, dance for him, play with him, do everything for him and now he had made them realise that they were not separate from him. He was their very self. Pleased with their unconditional love and devotion he blessed them and told them that he would meet them in the forest on the next full moon day- which was the Sharad Pournami when the moon would be at its its largest. That was when he danced the “rasalila” with them.
This is one of the most esoteric of his lilas and all of us felt exalted when we listened to this story. All of us prayed to the goddess Karthyayani to give us Krishna as our husband!
From there we went to the Ranganatha temple which is the biggest temple in Vrindavana with huge grounds. It is one of the few temples in Vrindavana, built in the South Indian Dravidian architectural style. The main priest is always a South Indian.
It was built in 1851 by a Jain businessman. The main deity is Ranganatha, the deity found in Sri Rangam in Tamil Nadu. The temple had closed for the mid-day puja so we sat in the beautiful gardens and meditated till the huge doors opened. We went in and were just in time for the noon Aarti. It was so perfectly planned that we felt truly awed. It was a huge and very beautiful idol and we were able to pray without any crowd for a long time before they asked all of us to go out since the temple was closing for the afternoon. It was the wedding anniversary of a couple in our group. He was a S.Indian who had great faith in the deity so they were so happy to have had the great good fortune to have darshan of his favourite deity on this auspicious occasion.
We came out on the road and were surrounded a group of widows for which Vrindavana is famous. Many of them wander around in the streets begging for food or money. We asked them to come with us and the couple took them to a restaurant and gave them a good meal. Feeding the poor is supposed to be the most auspicious thing to do on an anniversary or birthday. So it was their great good luck to have been able to do so. We also bought some shawls and distributed it to them. It was such a delight to see how happy they were. We were so grateful to Krishna for having given us this opportunity.
GOVINDA DEV TEMPLE
This temple is said to be one of the oldest and believed to have been installed by Vajranabha, Lord Krishna’s great grandson more than five thousand years ago. But the deity was lost over a period of time. Once when Rupa Goswami was searching for the deity he sat under a tree near the Yamuna banks. He was approached by a gopala who told him that he had seen a cow go up the hill daily and pour milk into a hole. The Goswami went and dug near the hole and found the beautiful idol of Lord Govindaji. He requested Raja Man Singh of Jaipur to build a temple. He built it in 1590. According to the legend it is said that Akbar had donated some of the red sandstone that had been brought for constructing the Red Fort in Delhi to Raja Man Singh who was his general. It was destroyed along with so many of the temples of Vrindavana by Aurangzeb. The idol was taken and kept in Jaipur. It was later re-installed during the British rule in 1873.
This was indeed a unique temple, one of the few Shiva temples in Vrindavana. The story goes that Lord Shiva was anxious to see the rasalila of Lord Krishna. On full moon day of the Sharad season he arrived with Parvati in the forest of Vrindavana to watch the fun. In this dance the gopis would make a circle with Krishna standing in the middle playing the flute for the dance. But the miracle was that every gopi had her own Krishna as her dancing partner! Shiva was very anxious to witness this particular lila of the Lord. He tried to slip in unnoticed but this was naturally quite a difficult task for the blue-necked one.
Shiva was determined to participate in it and so he meditated with Radha in his mind. Pleased by his meditation, Radha sent her close friend Lalita to bring him over into the Rasamandal after he had a dip in the holy Yamuna.
When Shiva took the dip, he came back as a beautiful damsel and Lalita took him to the Rasamandal. Lord Krishna recognised Lord Shiva and named him as Gopeshwar. Shiva considered Lalita as his guru since she helped him understand the secrets of the Rasalila.
No description of Vrindavana would be complete without mentioning the six Goswamis to whom the world owes a debt for they are the ones who brought out the esoteric secrets of the transcendental lilas of the Lord and disovered the places where the rasamandala was held. Almost all the temples of Vrindavana were built by them. They were a group of true sages from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition who lived during the 15th and 16th centuries. All of them came from affluent families but gave up everything and came to Vrindavana as directed by their guru Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who is considered as Krishna’s yugavatara (Incarnation of the age).
The two brothers Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis were told by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the year 1516 to go and live in Vrindavana and search for all the holy places connected with Krishna’s transcendental pastimes. The brothers were actually important ministers in the government of Bengal but at the behest of their guru they renounced their mundane life and went to Vrindavana which at that time was only a large forest. They wore nothing but a loin cloth and slept under trees. They ate only roots and dry chappaties (unleavened bread) obtained by begging in the nearby villages. They hardly slept for more than two hours and spent their time in meditation and writing books on the science of Bhakti Yoga. They wrote on parchment leaves which have been preserved in the Vrindavana Research Institute. The two Goswamis Rupa and Sanatana were assisted by Raghunatha Dasa, Raghunatha Bhatta, Gopala and Jiva Bhatta from the south, and these form the famous six Goswamis of Vrindavana.
Their fame came to the ears of the Moghul Emperor Akbar who decided to pay a visit to Vrindavana in 1570. Jiva Goswami led him blindfolded into the sacred forest known as Nidhivana where he experienced such bliss that he granted permission to construct four grand temples dedicated to Krishna. These are the temples of Govindaji, Gopinatha, Madan-Mohana and Jugal Kishore. He also gave money to set up a library at the Radha Damodara temple to preserve the writings of the Goswamis. He gave the best red sandstone normally reserved for the Emperor’s palaces to make some of the temples. Unfortunately one hundred years later in 1670, all these temples were desecrated by his grand-son Aurangzeb.
This temple is said to be the oldest in Vrindavana. The idol of Krishna known as Madana Mohana (the enticer of Cupid) was discovered by Sanatana Goswami. The idols of Radharani and Lalita Sakhi are also found here. It was built in 1580 on a fifty foot hill called Dwadasaditya Tila.
Every day we would pass this temple to which our guide had been hesitating to take us since he thought I might not be able to climb. When we assured him that I could manage it, he decided to attempt it on the 4th day of our soul uplifting pilgrimage. It was not much of a climb and we were really glad to have made it. It was under construction and had been declared a Hindu Heritage temple. I’m never very happy to hear this since most of the temples that have been taken over by the government in this way lack something. Even though the grounds are maintained very well the fact is that there is no priest or proper pujas conducted at such temples. So they look like beautiful mausoleums. The spirit of the temple is missing. This had not come to this stage but the priest was rather a lackadaisical person. As I said the grounds were well kept and a lot of construction was going on, which made it difficult to do a full parikrama of the temple. However we did find a very sweet sweeper lady who was so happy to see us and of course her name had to be Lalita (Radha’s best friend and confidante!), whose idol is to be seen in the temple. This was another of the puckish pranks my Lord loved to play with me.
This was another weird place something like Nidhivana. Since it was bright daylight it didn’t have the magic and mystery of Nidhivana. I don’t know what made our guide insist that we visit this place. He was always prompted by Vanamali himself. His instincts were so deep and unpredictable that I’m sure he had direct contact with Vanamali. We went to the little temple in which there was an avaricious priest who as usual gave a long drawn out explanation of how this was the place where the rasalila used to be performed. The temple walls were decorated with paintings of the various lilas performed by my Lord. In one he is seen to be combing and decorating Radha’s hair. But what made me take instant notice was the painting in which Krishna had taken Radha’s foot onto his lap and was tenderly massaging it. This is why this place is known as Seva Kunj since Krishna used to do seva (selfless service) to Radha and help her to get ready for the Rasalila. There is also a well here which Krishna is said to have made for Lalita.
We went and sat in the courtyard in front and sang some songs but all the time this picture was haunting me. Suddenly a sweeper carrying a huge broom in one hand and a garland with lavender coloured chrysanthemums in the other, came in front of us and garlanded me. I couldn’t believe it. Who was he? From where had he suddenly appeared with a garland? What was the story of this place? I closed my eyes and they overflowed with gratitude towards my Lord who had appeared in so many forms and had accompanied me to this holy spot. All these boys and girls were nothing but gopis. Everything was Krishnamayam (filled with Krishna). I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude to each and every one of these noble souls who had accompanied me and were anxious to serve me in any way they could. If my Lord could massage Sri Radha’s feet as recompense for her unconditional love and devotion to him, could I not touch the feet of these pure souls who had taken on human forms and who were actually gopis in disguise. Each one of them in their own way had done so much for me. How could I ever repay them for their loving service? I was filled with a desire to touch their feet on this holy ground and thus repay my debts if indeed that was possible. It was not a logical thought. It was a spontaneous action prompted by Him alone. One by one they came forward ignorant of what they were called for. I could hear the tinkling of their anklets as they came and each of them was covered with a purple haze, some of which enfolded me. I was choking with some uncontrollable emotion of love and gratitude. I touched each one’s feet reverently and placed the dust on my head. The love I bore for each of them could only be compared to the love that my Lord had for the gopis. As Uddhava said in the Bhagavad Purana – “Blessed is this land! Blessed is the dust of this place on which that holy one has trod. Blessed are the shrubs and trees for his clothes have brushed them as He walked!”
Uddhava then took the dust of that holy ground on which the gopis were standing and placed it on his head and said, “Blessed are these gopis of Vrindavana for the dust of their feet is capable of purifying all the three worlds!”
If Uddhava, the Prime Minister to the king, the most erudite person of the age could have felt this, what wonder that I, who was only a servant of the devotees of the Lord, could feel overwhelmed with love for these gopis who had followed me to this holy land?
I could have rolled on this ground – this holy ground on which my Lord had walked, on which the gopis had walked, on which so many saints had trod! I felt inebriated like a bee that had drunk deep from the nectar of the flowers of the Vanamala that hung round my Lord’s neck and I could hardly stand. The haunting music of his flute was driving me crazy. I knew that my only salvation lay in his divine arms.
“O Vanamali! My only Love! I surrender totally at thy feet.
ANANDA WIDOWS ASHRAM
None of us felt like going anywhere after this. The Ananda Widows ashram had been kind enough to allow us to donate the lunch for 178 widows that day. Silently we proceeded to the place. Compared to the widows we had seen on the streets the previous day, here all of them had lovely beds, and extremely clean bathrooms and kitchens etc.
Most of them were Bengalis and all were very old. Bengal in the past century had very strict laws concerning widows. Though they were treated as queens while their husbands lived they were considered to be most unlucky the moment their husband died. Their own parents refused to keep them in their houses and many of them were taken to the widows ashrams in holy places like Kasi and Vrindavana where they were left to manage as well as they could. The government had provided some sleeping quarters for quite a few of them but they had to fend for their food by begging on the streets. They were given a petty sum by the temples for singing bhajans during arati.
So it was a joy to see this well- looked after and happy widows at the Ananda Ashram. We were taken round each of the beds and I felt so happy to observe their joy and the way those in charge dealt with them. They seemed to be filled with love. Their own children had abandoned them and the love which they could not give to their children they lavished on these pure souls who had dedicated their lives to serving them. We were all deeply touched by this scene. We went to three of their ashrams and blessed the food. I felt deeply honoured to be asked to serve the food at one of the ashrams. The rest of the group distributed sweets and chocolates. After all the inmates had their lunch, we also sat on the floor and partook of the delicious lunch that had been cooked in true Bengali style.
After this we went to their office where we had sat- sang with all the office bearers. Jayeeta Chakraborty, the one who was in charge of the ashrams was such an inspiration to us. She had dedicated her whole life to these people and since she spoke the language of the majority, she could converse so easily and sweetly with them. It was obvious that all of them adored her. I’m truly grateful to her for having helped us in so many ways during this trip. Rajeshji was the guide that had been given to us. Within a few hours he became not only a guide but a friend and true devotee of Vanamali. He was such a pure soul. All of us felt blessed at having him with us all the time.
Our lovely guide in Vrindavana - Rajeshji
We had been invited to visit the Giridhari Dham so on the way back to our guest house, we went there. Most of the inmates were foreign devotees. Somehow they discovered that it was my birthday and insisted on singing songs and giving blessings. It was a delightful end to the day. One of them who was from Canada asked my opinion about what they should do in that city. Without hesitation I told her that the one way they could help the city would be to clean it up. I told them to offer 1 kg of rice or atta for a kg of plastics and I assured her that they could get the place cleaned soon enough.
“India’s role in society is to provide spirituality and in turn it’s your role to teach us cleanliness. There are many people who go round chanting bhajans but I think Krishna would love you even more if you undertook the great task of cleaning up the city.”
She was quite impressed by this and promised to take up the challenge. I hope they will do it.
On the last day, despite my hints the party was anxious to visit the site of the famous Govardhan hill where Krishna had performed one of his most prominent miracles. The cowherds were a pastoral race and were always anxious to please Indra, the god of rain, for their entire livelihood was bound up with the cows that lived on the pastures and green grass that depended on rain. Once when they were preparing for the festival meant for Indra, Krishna went up to his father and advised him that worshipping the hill Govardhan was better than worshipping Indra. This was the hill that stopped the rain clouds that shed their store of water on their pastures so worship should be given to the hill was Krishna’s argument. Nanda and the others reluctantly agreed and all of them took all the delicious eatables they had prepared and went to the hill and offered their worship. Indra saw this and was furious. He let loose his flood waters and the little village started to drown in the rising deluge. The terrified gopalas ran to their saviour. Krishna told them not to worry and that Govardhana would save them. He lifted up the mountain as if it was only a huge mushroom and the gopalas and gopis and the cows took all their possessions and stayed for one whole week under this amazing umbrella. Indra could not believe that such a small boy was capable of holding up a mountain but at the end of a week when he had exhausted all his stock of water he realised that another star had risen in the heavens who was going to usurp his throne. He repented his behaviour and went to Krishna along with the celestial cow, Surabhi and extolled him and begged him to forgive him. Surabhi requested to be allowed to pour her milk over him in the very first “abhisheka” or pouring of some liquid over a deity. He agreed and Indra performed this task and everyone extolled Krishna by a new name – “Govinda” or the Indra (king) of all creatures and cows in particular.
This incident also represents the fall of the ancient Vedic gods of whom Indra was the king. That used to be a kind of sacrificial worship and Krishna brought in the jnana-bhakti marg – a combination of knowledge and devotion. He has dominated the spiritual scene since his advent and has been classified as the supreme incarnation.
Govardhana hill is supposed to stretch from Radha Kund to the end of the so called hill which is actually only a long ridge that stands about 30 m above the surrounding land. The hill has apparently been decreasing by the size of a mustard seed everyday due to the curse of the sage Pulastya.
Once, the great sage was travelling over the world and landed in Shyamali Dvip (now called Africa). There, he saw Mount Drona’s son Govardhana filled with flowering bushes and fragrant vines heavily laden with fruits. It had minerals and jewels. It looked auspicious with many caves and streams. Different kinds of birds were fluttering around filling the air with their cooing sounds. He thought Govardhana would be an ideal place for performing austerities and requested Mount Drona to allow him to carry his son, Govardhana to Kashi, the city of Shiva. Drona was not anxious to let his son go but fearing the curse of the rishi he allowed him to go to Bharatavarsha (India). At that time Govardhana was 103 km long, 64 km wide and 26 km tall. The hill warned him that if he ever put him down he would not budge from that place. The sage agreed and carried him in his right hand through the air. As they passed Vrindavana, Govardhana knew that this was the place where Lord Krishna was going to spend a part of his life. He wanted to stay there so he made himself very heavy so that Pulastya was forced to put him down. He begged the mountain to climb back on to his palm once again but he refused. The sage was angry and cursed him that he would daily become smaller by the size of a seseme seed. This has come true and today it is just a ridge 8 km long 25m high. It has been declared illegal even to pick the tiniest pebble from this.
I had been there before and knew that that there was no hill anymore. However just to quench their curiosity we went to the temple there and saw the little mound that was all that was left of the hill. The temple to Govardhan was beside the beautiful Mansi Ganga. But the rest of the place was kept in a very dirty condition. This always saddens me and I hope the westerners of Giridhari Dham would take up the cause.
From there we went to another Yogananda Trust for widows at a place called Radha Kund. This was indeed a beautiful Kund where many people were taking baths. The street leading to the Kund was filled with shops all selling tulsi malas of every size and description. This was apparently a cottage industry here and every house in the village had tulsi bushes and made the malas themselves.
That evening we had our final arati in our guest house. It was a touching scene for all of us and we felt bound to each other by the strong rope of our love for our Beloved Blue Boy of Brindavan. May that bond remain forever in the heart of all the gopis who had come on this pilgrimage.
O Radha! Beloved of Krishna! Lead us Shyam, the dark darling of the world!