Written by Rukmini dd
This is the last part of the Braj Parikrama 2016 series of posts.
India is the land of making easy things impossible and impossible things easy. No-one of western decent would have thought that muddy pits leading to Chir ghat were passable with a bicycle let alone our big bus, but we prayed and our driver hit the pedal. It was at least an hour and half before we could disembark, hitching up our saris and dhotis. Maharaj later compared it to the Vitarani river described in the Bhagavatam; a river of unspeakable substances that separates us from the spiritual world. “It’s the price we pay,” he said, putting things into perspective.
In search of the main temple, our harinama team part took a detour through a remote village. The residents ran out of their simple homes to greet us with bright and eager “Radhe Radhe” smiles. The energy was very different from our usual visits. No one tried to hit us up for a donation. Even the dogs seemed well cared for. It was easy to see that despite the occasional jeans-clad teenager, culture still existed; cows, patterned cow dung patties and rice husks all received an eco-friendly thumbs-up.
After a wrong turn or two, we reached the village mandir. A 4m wide wall art boasted a 3-D depiction of Krsna sitting in a Kadamba tree and beckoning the gopis to rise from the Yamuna and receive their clothes which he had stolen. It was this pastime that made this village glorious. On the left was a tiny alter with sweet pair of Radha Krsna Deities. Adjacent to the altar was a tall Kadamba tree with multi-coloured fabric tied on its branches. Maharaj perched himself on a low wall and began a mellow bhajan. Villages dutifully visited the temple offering their respects. Kids gathered nearby and an eccentric looking pujari, with long hair and a 15cm thick wooden belt across his waist, kindly kept their curiosity in check. Maharaj broke off into ‘Hare Haraya Namah’, petitioning the mercy of Krsna’s names, Lord Gauranga and the previous acaryas. He switches to a popular melody of Madhava Prabhu with a KK swami flavour, takes it up a few gears into a dancing kirtan and ends mellow once more.
Dry sand stretches out in front of us where the Yamuna once flowed. Maharaj begins with poetic verses glorifying the Yamuna which he had penned down in a little notebook. Some verses were by Visvanatha Chakravati Takur and others from the Gopal Champu. He elaborated on the sacred place in which we found ourselves; a little further back was Ramaghat, a place dedicated to lord Balarama. And further ahead was Nandaghat, where Nanda Maharaj was arrested by Varuna for bathing at an improper time just so that Varuna could get the darshana of Krsna. Maharaj recollected how the previous year we had an unexpected detour to Tapovana, the forest of austerity, before reaching Chirghat. And austerity in devotion service became a theme that he latched onto. Chanting 16 rounds, following the 4 regulative principles and eating only Krsna prasadam was our austerity as followers of Srila Prabhupada.
He mentioned that the spiritual world is a place of worship, when the devotees saw each other they would offer arati. The relationships were not cheap. The Gopis didn’t see Radha as just “the best gopi” but as guru and worshipped her as such. That is culture of the spiritual world and our movement is meant to be transparent to the spiritual world.
It was the disappearance day of Srila Gaura Kishore Das Babaji Maharaj as well as ekadasi and a kind devotee prepared a light but sumptuous lunch for us. Back in the bus our driver eventually found Ramaghat (which was meant to be our first stop), yet it was still quite a hike away and Maharaj and Adi Kesava decided against it. As we neared Vrindavana our bus was stopped and prevented entry. After some conversations between the driver, the police and Maharaj, all of which was undecipherable to me, we were ordered off the bus. Maharaj got into manager mode, rallied some auto-rickshaws, stacked us into them. And what seemed like an impossible ten inches to squeeze into became possible. Because India is such a place where the easy becomes impossible and the impossible becomes easy.
The final day of our parikrama was reserved for Unchagaon. The birthplace of Srimati Lalita devi has been one of Maharaj’s favourite places of pilgrimage. Year after year he chose to go back to this quaint village. He sometimes would watch Bhakti Caitanya Swami’s DVD on the ‘Hills of Varsana’ to remember this sacred place.
Unchagaon, or the “high village” lives up to its name and we climbed to the white domed temple that housed deities of Sri Sri Lalita Behari. Lalita devi is 27 days older than Srimati Radharani and is definitely the gopi in charge. She tries to protect Sri Radha from an unreliable Krsna. One should never enter a temple empty handed; we enter with the offering of the holy name. As the bhajans warmed up the local pujari and some children of vraja joined in the dancing with care-free flourish. A little girl ran to her home and returned with rotis, subji and a canister of butter-milk and offered then to Maharaj and the devotees. Maharaj summarised the different holy places we would visit that day and soon we were on our way.
Descending the high hill we veered to the right to find the Dauji Temple, housing unique deities of Balarama and Revati. This Lord Balarama is black in complexion, being fully absorbed in thought of Krsna. Lord Balarama is the giver of spiritual strength; definitely a place to pray. There was also a deity of Laddu Gopal belonging to Narayana Bhatta Goswami, a disciple of Sri Gadadhara Pundit. Narayan Bhatta Goswami continued the work of Srila Rupa and Sanatana Goswami by escavating holy places in Vrindavana. it is said that Laddu Gopal would speak to him, directing him in his service.
On our way to Narayan Bhatta Goswami’s samadhi we stopped at the “Triveni Koop”, a well, said to be made by Krsna’s flute, containing the waters of three sacred rivers. And we got drenched with the mercy. At the samadhi Maharaj gave an indepth commentary on the Hansadutta. Approaching the Dham through the books of the goswamis was one of his aims in this parikrama. It was a multidimensional presentation. The Hansadutta is a discussion between Srimati Lalita devi and the swan that she choose to send an urgent message to Krsna about Srimati Radharani’s intense separation. Sri Lalita also represents guru tattva and the swan a neophyte disciple. Hidden in the verses of the Hansadutta is also the intricate dynamics of the guru disciple relationship. Lalita tries a variety of arguments to convince the swan to follow the path to Krsna. She gives him arguments both material and spiritual and tries to cajole him on, even though the swans own enthusiasm may be lacking or superficial. She encourages him that if he follows this path he will become a paramahamsa just by carring the message of the pure devotee. The swan not only has to be convinced but the swan has to embark on a process to become purified. In the end we never know if the swan goes or not. Maybe it is a question that each disciple has to answer for themselves. A brilliant presentation indeed.
During this final parikrama we were privleged to have to company of Medhavi prabhu, a disiciple of Srila prabhupada. Medhavi Prabhu is a thoughtful yet such a quite persona that he managed to pass unnoticed for almost half the parikrama. Maharaja recognised him and received him warmly. We then journeyed down to Deha Kund, a lake at the base of two temples housing Sri Sri Deha Behari and Sri Sri Rasa Behari. Maharaja explained that Deha Kund is a place where we remember that our body, mind and words are all for Krsna. It is a lake of atmanivedanam or complete surrender; A place where the unsurrendered can hope and pray.
We then crossed over to the other side of the village to “Saki Parvat’. There the unthinkable happens; Krsna marries Lalita. We stayed only brief moments before climbing up the hill to the Chapan Katori. As always, Maharaj is the first up the hill. We settle down over the enlongated rock formation with 56 depressions resembling bowls or katories resembling an ” all- natural” dining table where Krsna and the cowherd boys would gather for lunch.
In the distance was the hills of Varsana enhanced by a gentle haze. Maharaj drew everyones attention to the hills as he spoke the final words of the parikrama. It had been a spiritual adventure; priceless, precious and profound. He had truly given all his energy, and then some more, determined to do it justice. On a physical level he had to detach himself from his body just to endure it. On a spiritual level our souls were dancing. And now it had reached its conclusion. We must take Vrindavana with us; it is more than just a place, it is a state of consciousness; a place for Krsna’s pleasure. He tasked us to come back, again and again, with others and to show them the holy places that he had kindly shown us. In this way the glory of Vrindavana will always reach fresh ears and penetrate deeper into our hearts.