Read about Vrindavan Part 1
Read about Vrindavan Part 2
Written by Rukmini dd
Monday, 07 November – The Hills of Varsana
It became a familiar sight to watch Maharaj launch himself into the bus and claim the front seat. Once aboard, he would often break into fluent Hindi (Dutch or English in the same breathe). He dealt with our driver or some locals, taking charge of every situation – and in India there are always “situations”. The bus ride was never his favourite part of the day. He could’ve easily opted to take a private car and a smoother journey for himself but he made the sacrifice merely to be with us.
Whilst the bus was stalled at a train crossing, Maharaj munched on a couple bananas. Breakfast is never an issue for him on parikrama although he often would consider us and and allow us time to satisfy grumbling tummies whilst he just continued speaking or singing; the glorification of Krsna should be nirantara – incessant.
And then the hills of Varsana rose up in front of us. Adi Kesava and Maharaj planned our route just before exiting the bus. Maharaj was very eager to go to a particular kund, which was to be our last stop. As we walked in to the small town, we suddenly found ourselves lodged between the sharp juncture of two hills with vertically flattened rocks. Maharaj climbed halfway, choose a spot on the rocks and began bhajans at what appeared like a common village crossing.
“Sancaricor, where we are now, is where two hills join; the perfect location for Radha and Krsna to meet. This narrow passage way is the perfect location for the dhankeli lila, where Krsna demanded yogurt and butter as tax. One wonders, ‘Doesn’t it get boring?’ We are always looking for something new, different. On the spiritual platform the pastimes is so sweet one can’t get enough therefore it just continues in different varieties.”
Our next stop was Ciksoli, or the village of Citradevi and it was a climb! Around Varsana are the villages of the astasakis, the eight principal gopis. Here Krsna and his friends would steal yogurt and butter from the storehouse of Citra’s family. On one occasion they were caught and escaped via the window, only Madhumangal got stuck and the elder gopis found him and punished him ‘in the place that mothers do’. The temple was beautiful artwork with a substantial hall to host guests and our kirtan party. On the way back down, Maharaj bumped into Bhakti Caitanya Swami. Vrindavan gifts us the darshan of sages at every turn. We did a quick walk through Srimati Radharani’s garden, which has taken some effort to reinstate, before bracing ourselves for the heights of the Varsana hills.
“We can’t pinpoint these places, we rely on the locals and some places are just there to recreate the transcendental nature of the dham.” We are blind in Vrindavan. What can we see? We move forward, walking in Maharaj’s giant footprints. We sit when he sits, move when he moves, bow when he bows. All we can hope to do is just keep moving, up the devotional terrain, higher and higher, ignoring the complaints of tired bodies. “Keep moving, don’t fall,” was the mantra. Often times he would look over his shoulder to ensure that none of us fell by the way side.
After a brief pause at the Rajastani temple and a stolen darshan, we moved forward. Panda’s block our path every few hundred meters calling, ‘dhaan, dhaan’ beseeching us to pay for our entrance into this holy place, much in the mood of their Lord. I couldn’t help but feel that ascending the hills of Varsana was but a metaphor for the path back to Godhead. And suddenly we were there at the Sriji temple, a breath taking wonder with a view to stop hearts. The pujaris gave Maharaj preferential darshan and he shared the mahaprasadam with each of us with his own hands, calling for kirtan. After all, should we reach the spiritual world, what would we do? We would do what we always do; chant Hare Krsna.
Varsana gave us many moods of mercy, but solitude was not one of them. Maharaj searched for quiet, meditative spots but it was not to be. We descended from the Sriji temple to the kund that Maharaj was anxiously wanting to visit.
When Srimati Radharani was cooking for Krsna because of Durvasa Muni’s benediction, Mother Yasoda was very pleased with her. She wondered,”Who is this girl, is she the Goddess of Fortune”’ Yasoda was convinced that this girl was the best match for her son. Spontaneously she smeared tumeric on Srimati Radharani’s hands. “What is this?” Srimati Radharani enquired, alarmed, “This means you are now engaged!”
“I’m too young, what will my parents say?”
“Just show it to your parents, they will be happy.” Radha was embarrassed. Lalita said that its just tumeric so she could wash it off. There was a pond nearby, with deep blue water and Sri Radha washed her hands. As she looked at that that pond she became absorbed in remembering Krsna. She washed her hands and just kept washing and washing till not only the tumeric but her very own golden colour entered the water.
“And so we remember Lord Caitanya because it is by his mercy that we may come here. Local residents are here by their karma, not us. So we respect the local residents, who knows what pious activities they have performed to be here? But for us, Srila Prabhupada created our piety.” Maharaj mentioned that it was easy to see that even in India, a land of saints, Srila Prabhupada his purity and unique love for Krsna stood out. At Peelu Pukor our feet touched the earth again and connected to the ground in gratitude.
Wednesday, 09 November – Brahmanda Ghat and Raval
As we piled out of the bus at Brahmanda Ghat, Maharaj was the first to quickly circumambulate a sacred tree and appease the pujari with a donation before moving to the actual ghat; only to find a host of local ladies bathing. So he hauled back all the brahmacaris and sent the female disciples down to scout out and let him know when the coast was clear. It was a hilarious start to the day. After our numerous attempts to get them to ‘juldhee, juldhee’ (move quickly) eventually Maharaj descended and settled on a spot midway on the stairs. He began bhajans with some of his classical, never-out-of-fashion tunes. Kirtan began slow and meditative with a gradual build-up and this seemed to be more his mood in the parikramas. He tried to keep the drummers from speeding up but eventually he couldn’t help but reach rocking. The holy name is a natural pivot in all our parikramas and a significant way we gain entrance in this sacred places; to simply serve in singing.
Maharaj opted for us eat to breakfast, since ‘eating’ was quite the mood this of place, it was where Krsna supposedly ate clay. Once Krsna returned from the forest with the cowherd boys. All of them complained in unison to Mother Yasoda that Krsna had ate clay. “It’s a lie,” Krsna said, “A political entreaty. A plot for revenge.” He was innocent. He didn’t do anything. But Balarama testified that Krsna did indeed eat clay. “Even your big brother agrees,” countered Mother Yasoda. “Oh Mother,” crooned Krsna, “How can you think of that of your own son? I can’t believe that my own Mother thinks I’m a liar.”
Within our minds we visited Nanda Maharaj’s palace, quite nearby, and placed the dust on our heads. And more bhajans at the side of the Yamuna. Every holy name must be pronounced to perfection, each unlocking a different mood in the melody.
After Maharaj ate few ‘powder apples’, the tasteless India variety, he motioned to wash his hands at a water pump. A kind villager was pumping water and allowing a cow to drink. Maharaj humbly waited. The cow caught sight of Maharaj and paused to let him wash his hands. Maharaj offered his pranams to the cow before leaving. Who knows who the animals in Vrindavan really are?
Our next destination was the birth place of Srimati Radharani, Raval. As we exited the bus it was evident that other parikrama parties were both inside and around the main temple in Raval so we entered the temple only to offer our obeisances to the Deities which included a Deity of Radha in childhood form. We crossed over to the nearby gardens and found shelter under a sacred tree which is all you need in Vrindavan. We didn’t realise at first just how sacred that kalpavriksa was; a Tamal tree entwined with a Kadamba tree, representing the Divine Couple. It had been a tiring journey for Maharaj. He had given so much of himself in and around these parikramas that in the first kirtan he almost fell asleep. He switched gear to speaking about our connection to this sacred place.
A theme throughout the parikramas has been that Vrindavan is covered but can be perceived by adjusting our consciousness. Maharaj added that sometimes the dham itself manifests through the external layer, like in the form of the sacred trees where we resided. He explained that the essence of such a sacred place, if we meditated according to our lineage, was to see that we are “simply the servant of the servant of the servant, a hundred times removed” because if we don’t bring such high pastimes back to the level we can assimilate then we risk taking them cheaply. Being very much over our heads in such a setting, he directed us to pray to Srimati Radharani for her mercy; that we may serve with a little love that our worldview may change and for a drop of taste, “What could one drop of taste not do for us?” We had come to Vrindavan looking for Krsna. Maharaj assured us that even if we didn’t find Him, the search was blissful and we would have secured the next drop of mercy that would help us forward. That was how we were to survive – drop by drop.
With these prayers buried in the soft earth of Raval we returned to our buses, dragging our feet. It was such a blessed place. No-one really wanted to leave.