Jump to content

Shri Vraja Dhama

Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
    633
  • comments
    0
  • views
    25,839

Entries in this blog

A108-AI

fb4-1.jpg

16.12.17 (VT) Sanjay Krishna Sulil Maharaj is currently giving Bhagavata Katha in Vrindavan’s Fogla Ashram, near ISKCON. The Katha is being held daily from 3-6.30pm until 19th December.

fb3-225x300.jpgThe program began on 13th December in a truly festive spirit, as devotees carried Thakurji on their heads in a procession on Bhaktivedanta Marg with a band that enlivened the spirits of the hundreds of participants and onlookers.

Speaking to a packed hall yesterday, Sulil Maharaj reminded audiences that God is always with us, helping us to acquire the good qualities that enable bhakti (loving devotional service), wisdom and renunciation.  Out of great kindness, the Lord teaches everyone in the way they can best understand.

Sulil Maharaj said that Sri Vrindavan has always been the land of sants and sadhus (great devotees and renunciates) and that those who have dedicated their life to the service of God are very close to Him and should be considered to be His incarnations. Maharaj also reminded audiences that reading and listening to the Srimad Bhagavatam is an important part of life.

 

A108-AI

Fish and eggs seized in Vrindavan

jagran-8-780x519.jpgVrindavan’s status as a Tirtha Sthal (pilgrimage site) is changing the attitude of authorities, who, after years of turning a blind eye to the sale and consumption of meat, are starting to crack down on meat sellers.

During raids on meat sellers on Thursday, half a dozen shops were raided and the owners arrested. The raids were carried out by police, under the instruction of the City Magistrate, in conjunction with food Security Officers Dr. Sobhnath and Dr. Shailendra Rawat.

When the inspection team arrived, some shop owners hurriedly locked up their shops, but police broke locks and forced their way in. Police seized 14 trays of eggs and 15 kg of fish from  Azad Kureshi’s home, which is on the upper story, above the shop. Kureshi’s son, Zakir, was arrested for the sale of restricted items.

Despite the longstanding ban on selling meat in Vrindavan, goats, chickens and trays of eggs were a common sight in the area near Vrindavan Mosque, which is also one of the main routes to Loi Bazaar, however, after the recent crackdowns, things look set to change.

 

A108-AI

Cheer Ghat or Chain Ghat?

This is a continuing series on Vrindavan Parikrama. The previous installment took us to Govinda Ghat and Hit Harivansh’s Raas Mandal. Now we continue down the path to Cheer Ghat.

Malhar_Rao_Holkar_I.jpg

Malhar Rao Holkar

Vrindavan, 2017.12.07 (VT): After passing Govinda Ghat we come to another beautiful ghat, with a large kadamb tree tied with colourful, sparkly women’s shawls. This place is commonly known as Cheer Ghat, the place where Shri Krishna famously stole the clothes of the gopis while they were bathing in the Yamuna River.

However in Mathura: A District Memoir, F.S. Growse gives two names for this ghat: Cheer Ghat or Chain Ghat. It may be that Chain Ghat is the original name of this Ghat, as another Cheer Ghat is located near Shergarh, a good distance from Vrindavan town. Whatever its original name may be, we can be fairly sure that the current ghat was constructed by Malhar Rao Holkar in the 18th Century.

Behind Cheer Ghat or Chain Ghat is the temple of Chain Bihari, which was constructed by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar, Malhar Holkar’s daughter-in-law. The caretakers of the temple explain, “Bihari means Krishna and chain means rest. Krishna rested here after killing the demon Keshi. That’s why our deity’s name is Chain Bihari.”

IMG_4894.jpg

Queen Ahilyabai’s murti at Chain Bihari Mandir

After her husband died in a battle, Queen Ahilyabai was supposed to commit sati according to the family customs. But her father-in-law Malhar Rao Holkar forbid her from doing so, and later she was crowned Queen of the kingdom. She was a fierce warrior but also very spiritual, and she gave generously of her private wealth in charity. She also built and renovated many temples all over India.

According to the Chain Bihari temple caretakers, once Queen Ahilyabai was sailing up the Yamuna river towards Delhi. She had several tumors on her back which she wished to have treated.  On the way, she and her party stopped in Vrindavan to take the blessings of the holy

IMG_4887.jpg

Shri Chain Bihariji

land. There she met a Brahmin named Maya Ramji. When she told him about her ailment, Maya Ramji gave the Queen some ashes from his sacred fire. After smearing the ashes on her back, the tumors disappeared. The Queen was so thankful that she had the a temple built for Maya Ramji’s deity, Chain Bihari.

According to the Vrindavan Prakash Mala, about two hundred years ago women used to bathe in the Yamuna here and offer colourful shawls to the deity of Cheer Bihari at the ghat. Although the Yamuna River no longer touches the ghats, it still flowed by until recently. Unfortunately, the government’s ongoing construction on the riverfront is causing the river to recede further. But people still come to offer pooja and remember Shri Krishna’s beautiful lilas here.

 

A108-AI

FB_IMG_1512492518449.jpgOn the occasion of the disappearance day of Sant Gaurshiromani, it is fitting to hear the lila describing how he learned to read the words written between the lines. We usually think of the phrase ‘read between the lines’ as  referring to a reader’s ability to understand what is said-without-being-said, but, Gaurshiromaniji did not engage in speculation – he saw words that appeared in gold letters in between the printed lines.

Sant Gaurshiromani was from a family of scholars; however he took no interest in studies until he was 20 years old. When he was 20, people shamed him into taking interest in scripture and he started attending Bhagavat Katha programs. During one program, he demanded of the speaker: Why are you doing vandana (worship) after opening the Bhagavatam? The sage answered that it is written in the Bhagavatam that vandana should be conducted. Gaurshiromaniji demanded that the sage tell him which verse instructs devotees to conduct Bhagavat Vandana.

The sage said, look there, it is written between the lines. But the young Gaurshiromani could not see and told the sage, “there is nothing there”. The sage smiled and told him that, in order see what is written between the lines, you need divya dristi (transcendental vision).  The sage went on to tell the young Gaurshiromani that, if he wants to see the words, he must take initiation from a qualified guru and follow specified rituals for one week. The sage promised: If, after completing these requirements, the words still do not appear, I will cut off my tongue.

Believing the sage, Gaurshiromaniji took initiation from Chaitanya Das Maharaj and followed the prescribed rituals. On the 8th day, he returned to the sage. The sage showed him the Bhagavatam and, there it was, written clearly in gold letters: “Vandana”.

Gaurshiromaniji was overcome with emotion and tears fell from his eyes. At that moment, he made the decision to dedicate the rest of his life to transcendental pursuits and, together with his family, he relocated to Sri Dham Vrindavan.

Sant Gaurshiromani left his body in 1891, after many joyful years of residence in Sri Vrindavan Dham.

This lila describes how transcendental vision is bestowed on those who follow the instructions of a bona fide guru with a genuine desire to know the truth.

 

A108-AI

IMG_6519-780x520.jpgVrindavan, 2017.12.05: After already being admonished by the courts for its construction work on the Yamuna floodplain, the government is now being accused of stealing land from Vrindavan’s residents for their projects. Vishal Sharma, a resident of Vrindavan, has accused the government of taking over his personal property on the riverbank. The accused allegedly said the land belongs to the Irrigation Department and that they will make a park there.

Unable to personally prevent the government officers from taking over his land, Sharma says he decided to bring the matter before the District Magistrate, Mr. Arvind Malappa Bangari. Sharma has reportedly submitted his complaint to the DM in writing. The DM in turn has ordered the heads of Vrindavan and Mant police to investigate the matter and provide an explanation.

 

A108-AI

Belvan Mela Begins on Thursday

Vrindavan, 2017.12.05 (VT): Across the Yamuna River from Vrindavan, about five kilometers across an ocean of green fields, lies Belvan. This is the place where Goddess Lakshmi performs tapasya to attain Shri Krishna in Vrindavan.

Five thousand years ago, Belvan was a forest of bilva trees. Shri Krishna and Balram used to come to come here to eat the delicious bilva fruits.

Thoughout the month of Paush (December to January) a fair – the Belvan Mela – is celebrated here each year. Devotees gather in the temple to worship Goddess Lakshmi and to feed her khichri, in order to keep her warm and healthy through the winter’s bitter cold. Devotees from all over Braj attend the festival.

The Story of Lakshmi at Belvan

Screenshot-2017-12-05-11.43.59.png

P.C. “Krsna Katha”

Once the goddess Lakshmi heard about Shri Krishna’s Raas Lila from Sage Narad. After hearing the story from him, she wanted desperately to be a part of it. She decided to go to Vrindavan, but she was unable to even cross the Yamuna river and enter there. And so she stayed in nearby Belvan, doing tapasya with the hope of someday attaining Krishna in Vrindavan.

The saints of Vrindavan say that Shri Krishna and his Raas Lila can only be attained by taking shelter of the gopis and following in their footsteps. He cannot be attained by mere tapasya.

Lakshmi didn’t follow the path of the gopis. The gopis did simple chores like milking cows, churning butter, picking up cowdung and making patties from it. She didn’t know that the gopis are the emobdiments of perfect love, and Radharani is the Queen of them all. Lakshmi did not take shelter of Radharani. And so she was never able to enter Vrindavan.

In the Shrimad Bhagwatam, after Shri Krishna defeated the poisonous serpent Kaliya, Kaliya’s wives said, “What good deeds did our husband do? He received the dust of your lotus feet, which Lakshmi could not get even after doing tapasya for thousands of years!”

In addition to the Lakshmi temple, Belvan has a sacred lake called Krishna Kund and a baithak of Shri Vallabhacharya.

 

A108-AI

jagran-2-780x325.jpg04.12.04 (DJ, VT) The most famous preachers from around Braj met yesterday to discuss ways to promote the welfare, protection and humane treatment of cows in India. Speakers at the program included Ramesh Baba and Devi Chitralekha, both of whom are leading cow protection activists as well as being renowned Bhagavatam Katha speakers. Both sants run goshalas (cow sanctuaries) and both care deeply about the welfare of cows.

Ramesh Baba said that now all levels of Government are controlled by the BJP, which uses Hindutva as one of its voter cards. But, if the government is serious about running the country according to the edicts of Hinduism, more action needs to be taken to protect the nation’s cows.

Chitralekha Devi encouraged people to keep cows in their homes and tend to them nicely. She also expressed discontent with the lack of recognition given to cows at a national level.

Mahamandaleshwar Chitra Shuksanand Maharaj drew attention to the irony of the mistreatment of cows in Braj. He said that Lord Krishna chose Braj to appear and give the message of bhakti (devotion) to the whole world. But, today, many cows in Braj live in miserable conditions.

Fuldor Maharaj said that it is very sad that the Hindu society is sleeping. There are strong laws against cow killing, however these are not being enforced. Society needs to wake up and realize that cows are an important part of the Srimad Bhagavatam and their protection is central to Hindutva.

In Sri Caitanya Caritamrita Adi Lila, chapter 17, verse 166, Caitanya Mahaprabhu confirms:

go-ange yata loma tata sahasra vatsara

go-vadhi raurava-madhye pace nirantar

Cow killers and cow eaters are condemned to rot in hell for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the bodies of every cow they eat from.

 

A108-AI

jagran-1-780x470.jpg

Yamuna Maharani Dressed in 101 saris. Sunday, Mathura: Devotees at Vishram Ghat adorned Yamuna ji in 101 Saris. Devotees managed the feat by standing on boats and holding up the chain of 101 saris. In this novel offering to Yamuna Maharani, devotees drew attention to the beauty of Yamuna Maharani, which is sometimes overshadowed these days by the constant commentary on the need for Yamuna cleaning. Tourists were thrilled to see the spectacle and shots of the scene were clicked by thousands of spectators. The sari offering was followed by dancing and singing of bhajans in praise of Yamuna Maharani. Read more (Hindi)

jag3-2-300x200.jpg

P.C. Jagran

Daoji declairs that winter has begun. Sunday, Baldev: BJP District President Tejbir Singh cut the ribbon which marks the beginning the one month of festivities, which is held every year at the beginning of winter. Local legend has it that Baldev once appeared on this purnima (full moon) covering himself with a quilt to declare that winter has begun. Daoji will now use His quilt until Vasant Panchami (festival marking the beginning of spring). The festivities included an abhishek and an extra helping of Daoji’s favourite food – makhan misri. Read more (Hindi)

download-300x178.jpgSudevi to collect visa today. Monday, Radha Kund: Sudevi received the news that her visa formalities had been completed on Sunday and is going to pick up her visa today. Sudevi’s 35 years of tending cows from income she brings in from rental properties in Germany softened the hearts of authorities, who made a rare exception by extending her visa. Sudevi now has one year before she has to worry about visa problems again. Word about Sudevi’s love of cows is spreading. She has made a name for herself by her tireless service for 1200 cows, calves and bulls, many of whom are injured and would otherwise be left to die.  The paper edition of Jagran today reports that Sudevi is so attached to the heard that she doesn’t even use the milk that they give – she saves it the surplus milk for feeding orphaned calves and buys milk for herself. Read more (English)

mukesh-arya-bandhu_1512112439-470x320-30

P.C. Ashoka News

New Mayor gives thanks for his victory. Sunday, Mathura: The newly elected Mayor of Mathura-Vrindavan, Dr Mukesh Aryabhandu, was joined by his family for a visit to the Kali temple in the Cantt. area of Mathura. He told reporters that he had prayed to the Maha Kali for victory. The tradition of praying to mother Kali before entering into a contest or battle was created by Lord Ram, who is said to have prayed to Her before engaging in battle with Ravan. The mayor told reporters that he is determined to clean the city and provide better facilities for devotees coming out from outside.

 

A108-AI

Govinda Ghat and Raas Mandal

IMG_7915-e1512310659819.jpg

Shri Krishna with Kaliya and two nagapatnis at Govinda Ghat

Vrindavan, 2017.12.03 (VT): After passing Shringar Vat we come to a place called Govinda Ghat. This Ghat is sometimes wrongly called Kaliya Ghat. The original Kaliya Ghat is located toward the Raman Reti side of the parikrama; however, the deity of Shri Krishna dancing on Kaliya Naag here at Govinda Ghat is extremely charming.

Unfortunately the Yamuna River no longer flows at Govinda Ghat, and only three steps of the ghat are still above ground. The area in front of the ghat is being used as a makeshift parking area.

Two “Nanda Mahals”

Near Govinda Ghat are two temples, both of which are called Nanda Mahal – in other words, Shri Krishna’s house. The original Nanda Mahal is, of course, in Nandgaon, which is about fifty kilometers from Vrindavan. Vrindavan’s numerous Nanda Mahals are all “extras”, so to speak. However, the two Nand Mahals at Govinda Ghat are still worth a visit as they offer beautiful and unique darshans.

The first “Nand Mahal” adjoins Govinda Ghat itself, and has a beautiful and well-pampered Deity of Shri Vrindavan Bihari with Nanda and Yashoda, as well as a captivating deity of Dauji (Balaram).

IMG_7922.jpg

View of Govinda Ghat from Himmat Bahadur’s Kunj

Himmat Bahadur’s Kunj

On the opposite side of the alleyway is another so-called “Nanda Mahal”, which is historically known as Himmat Bahadur Kunj. This fascinating temple is made of red sandstone in a style similar to Vrindavan’s oldest structures. It was constructed by an ascetic Shaivite warlord named Gosain Anupgiri aka. Himmat Bahadur of Bundelkhand, probably sometime in the late 18th century. Bahadur’s samadhi is also on the premises. In Vrindavan: A District Memoir, the British Magistrate F.S. Growse refers to the ghat adjoining this temple as “Himmat Bahadur’s Ghat.”

Raas Mandal

IMG_7931.jpg

Raas Mandal with trees growing out of the building

Behind Govinda Ghat is the famous Raas Mandal. It is said to have been established by Shri Hit Harivansh himself. Some believe this was the first ever Raas Mandal in existence, although there are other sites claiming the same title. Raas Lila Anukaran, or the sacred plays depicting the lilas of Shri Krishna, have been performed here for centuries as an act of faith.

In ancient times, this Raas Mandal was in the open air, but now a concrete building has been constructed around it. However, no trees were cut down to make the building. Even today, two large trees can be seen growing out of the Raas Mandal’s sides and roof. These trees are said to be the final resting places of Shri Hit Harivansh’s followers Shri Damodar Das “Sevak” and Shri Dhruvdas Ji. The Raas Mandal also has a small shrine to Radharani in the form of her Holy Name.

IMG_7890.jpg

Shrine to Shri Radharani inside the Raas Mandal

The Raas Mandal is sometimes referred to in literature as “Mahat Sabha”, because many holy men have gathered there to share Harikatha and to watch the Raslila plays. Shri Hit Harivansh, Swami Haridas and Hariram Vyas are some of the personalities who are said to have spent time here.

Legend has it that once, during the course of a sacred play at the Raas Mandal, Shri Radharani’s anklet broke whilst she was dancing. Shri Hariram Vyas immediately broke his sacred thread (yagyopavit) and used the string to repair the broken anklet, which he then placed back on her lotus foot. This created quite a stir. But for Hariram Vyas, Radharani’s comfort was more important than anything else, including social and religious propriety.

 

A108-AI

I take shelter of Cheer Ghat, where the unmarried gopīs worshiped Katyayani Devi in an incomparable way by plunging into the spotless Yamuna water, keeping their clothes on the shore, and where Krishna later embarrassed them by stealing their clothes, climbing into a kadamba tree and making erotic jokes about them before returning them.


kātyāyany-atulārcanārtham amale kṛṣṇā-jale majjataḥ
kanyānāṁ prakarasya cīra-nikaraṁ saṁrakṣitaṁ tīrataḥ
hṛtvāruhya kadambam ujjvala-parīhāsena taṁ lajjayan
smeraṁs taṁ pradadau subhaṅgi-murajit taṁ cīra-ghaṭṭaṁ śraye

Note: The hemanta or dewy season lasts two months from approximately mid-November until mid-January. The first month is called Mārgaśīrṣa. This year the full moon day of this month, i.e., the end of the month, is today, Dec. 3, 2017.

Stavāmṛta Kaṇā Vyākhyā: In this verse Raghunath Das Goswami praises Cheer Ghat, the place where Sri Krishna made wonderful rasika jokes with the maidens of Vraja that were engaged in worship of the goddess Katyayani.

In the 22nd Chapter of the 10th Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavata, Sri Shuka Muni described how the Vraja-kumaris engaged in the service of Katyayani Devi and how their garments were stolen. Amongst it it a wonderful description of their peerless worship of Katyayani:

hemante prathame māsi nanda vraja kumārikā;
cerur haviṣyaṁ bhuñjānā kātyāyanyarcana vratam
āplutyambhasi kālindyā jalānte codite’ruṇe;
kṛtvā pratikṛtiṁ devīm ānarcur nṛpa saikatīm
gandhair mālyaiḥ surabhibhir balibhir dhūpa-dīpakaiḥ;
uccāvacaiś cāpahāraiḥ pravāla-phala-taṇḍulaiḥ
kātyāyani mahāmāye mahā-yoginyadhīśvari;
nanda-gopa-sutaṁ devi patiṁ me kurute namaḥ
iti mantraṁ japantyas tāḥ pūjāṁ cakruḥ kumārikāḥ

Sri Shuka Muni said: “In the first month of the hemanta season the gopīs from Nanda’s Vraja began to worship the goddess Katyayani Devi by eating haviṣya (unspiced and unsalted grains). O King! Every morning at sunrise they went to bathe in the Yamuna and worshipped a sand deity of Katyayani on the shore near the water with offerings of fragrant perfumes, garlands, garments, ornaments, incense, lamps, fresh leaves, fruits and raw rice, praying to her: “O Goddess Katyayani! O Mahamaya! O inconceivable one! O Supreme Goddess! O expert player! Make the son of the cowherd king Nanda my husband! We offer our obeisances unto you!” Repeating this mantra the Vraja-kumaris worshipped Katyayani Devi.” (Bhāgavata 10.22.1-4)

In this way they continued their worship for one month with great steadfastness, and on the final day of this month of vows their most coveted Sri Krishna fulfilled their desires by stealing their clothes and making rasika jokes about them, all in accordance with their feelings for him.

uṣasy utthāya gotraiḥ svair anyonyābaddha-bāhavaḥ;
kṛṣṇam uccair jagur yāntyaḥ kālindyāṁ snatum anvaham
nadyāṁ kadācid āgatya tīre nikṣipya pūrvavat;
vāsāṁsi kṛṣṇaṁ gāyantyo vijahruḥ salile mudā
bhagavāṁs tad abhipretya kṛṣṇo yogeśvareśvaraḥ;
vayasyaivāvṛtas tatra gatas tat-karma-siddhaye
tāsāṁ vāsāṁsy upādāya nīpam āruhya satvaraḥ;
hasadbhiḥ prahasan bālaiḥ parihāsam uvāca ha
atrāgatyābalāḥ kāmaṁ svaṁ svaṁ vāsaḥ pragṛhyatām;
satyaṁ bruvāṇi no narma yad yūyaṁ vrata-karṣitāḥ

Every morning the maidens of Vraja would rise before dawn, call each other and then walk hand-in-hand to the Yamuna to bathe, loudly singing Krishna’s glories. On the final day they came to the bank of the Yamuna like every other day, placed their garments there and began to play in the Yamuna water, most blissfully singing Krishna’s glories. Krishna, who is the Lord of the kings of yoga, knew what they were doing and came to the bank of the Yamuna with his friends to grant them the fruits of their penances. Very quickly Sri Krishna stole their clothes from the shore, climbed into a kadamba tree and began to make many jokes about them with his laughing friends. When the cowherd maidens noticed this, he told them: “O cowherd maidens! Come, if you like, to the kadamba tree, find your own clothes and take them back from me. You are all ascetic girls, so I am not kidding with you. I’m speaking the truth! (Śrīmad Bhāgavata 10.22.6-10)

Seeing Sri Krishna and hearing the joking words the thief of their clothes spoke according to their feelings, the maidens of Vraja floated in oceans of transcendental bliss, but out of embarassment they could not immediately come out of the Yamuna water. With his erotic jokes Krishna brought them to the base of the kadamba tree and embarrassed them even further before returning them their clothes and fulfilling their desires by accepting them as his sweethearts. The place where Sri Krishna stole the clothes of the cowherd maidens is known as Cheer Ghat. Raghunath Das Goswami says: “I take shelter of this Cheer Ghat.”

kātyāyanī vrata kore, kṛṣṇa ke pāvāra tare,
jala magnā gopa kanyā gaṇa
rākhilo vasana nikara, kṛṣṇa sabā agocara,
tīra hoite korilo haraṇa
kadamba tarute bose, samujjvala parihāse,
lajjita korilo kanyāgaṇe.
punarāya sahāsyete, vastra dāna kore yāte,
āśraya kori cīra ghāṭa nāme

I take shelter of Cheer Ghat, where the cowherd maidens plunged into the Yamuna, performing a vow to please Katyayani Devi to get Krishna for a husband, where Krishna stole their clothes from the shore, where they had kept them, without being noticed and sat in a kadamba tree, embarrassing them all by making erotic jokes, and where he finally returned them their clothes with a smile on his face.

katyayani-temple.jpg

The Katyayani Peeth in Vrindavan. PC: Dainik Jagran


anantadas_thumbCommentary of Sri Radha Kund Mahant, Pandit Sri Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj is named Stavāmṛta Kaṇā Vyākhyā (a drop of the nectar of Stavāvalī), and was published in Gaurābda 503 (1989 A.D.) from Sri Krishna Chaitanya Shastra Mandir, Vrajananda Ghera, PO Radhakunda (district Mathura), U.P., India.

Devotional songs in Bengali that follow each commentary were composed by Dr. Haripada Sheel.

 

A108-AI

swamitrivikramananda.jpgVrindavan, 2017.12.02 (VT): Swami Trivikramananda aka. Sudanshu Maharaj, the father of Vrindavan’s healthcare system, left his body on Monday night. He was the longest-serving Secretary of the Ramkrishna Mission Sevashram hospital in Vrindavan.

About six decades ago, Swamiji came to Vrindavan from West Bengal. Here he dedicated his entire life to serving the poor and helpless. His was named secretary of Ramkrishna Mission Sevashram in 1972, and continued this service till his retirement in the year 2000.

Although Ramkrishna Mission Sevashram was officially founded in 1908, the organization grew exponentially during Swamiji’s tenure. Under his capable and energetic leadership, many reputed doctors joined the staff, some on full salaries, some on honorarium and others for free. Housing for workers was constructed and a rest area for patients’ families was created. In 1980, a nursing school was opened at the Sevashram, and a maternity ward was added in 1986.

Also during this period, grants from the State government allowed the Sevashram to begin offering mobile medical services, as people from remote villages found it difficult to commute to the hospital in Vrindavan. Rural health awareness seminars and women’s literacy programs were added to the mobile unit’s itinerary. Many other updates to Ramkrishna Mission Sevashram’s facilities were made under Swamiji’s guidance, and the entire period of his tenure was one of rapid growth.

Devotees were allowed to have their last darshan of Swamiji at Ramkrishna Mission, and his last rites were performed on Tuesday at noon on the bank of the Shri Yamuna River.

Vrindavan Today’s managing editor Jagannath Poddar said, “Sri Sudhanshu Maharaj’s disappearance is a great loss for Vrindavan. He was a great devotee and lover of Vrindavan. I went to see him last summer with my daughter Jahnavi, and he was literally crying when he heard about the merger of Vrindavan with Mathura. He was completely dedicated to Vrindavan and his presence will be greatly missed.”

 

A108-AI

Vrindavan, 2017.12.02 (VT): Despite a ban by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Irrigation Department continues to develop the Yamuna riverfront in Vrindavan. New construction is being done in addition to the existing sheet-piling, which is endangering Vrindavan’s water table and which cost taxpayers 40 crores (about 6.2 million US dollars).

Workers are currently laying a foundation for an unknown structure just upstream from Vrindavan’s historic Keshi Ghat. They are also using heavy machinery to move a large amount of sand, changing the shape of the riverbank and shifting the river’s course away from the city.

0333.jpg

Ongoing riverfront construction, December 2017

While the State’s plan for developing the riverfront has not been publicly released, Vrindavan’s residents are highly concerned. In fact, the secrecy surrounding the riverfront plan has merely added to the people’s sense of dread. The Yamuna riverfront is the lifeline of Vrindavan, both spiritually and historically. From the spiritual perspective, it is the site of the Raas Lila, and from the perspective of heritage, it is home to Keshi Ghat, the last of Vrindavans 32 ancient ghats still to touch the water.

The riverfront project is a holdover from the previous State government led by Akhilesh Yadav. The work started in 2016 on a large scale, but in April of 2017, the new CM Yogi Adityanath ordered an inquiry into the matter. It was found that the previous government had begun the work without tender notifications or receiving bids, with a budget of Rs. 177.81 crores. No environmental clearance certificates were sought or granted by the relevant ministries either. However, even aftery the inquiry, the work continued.

The government’s “mystery project” on the riverfront has already caused a great deal of damage. In addition to moving the river and installing the infamous sheet piling, the project horrified locals by installing a large sewage pipeline directly in front of the ancient Keshi Ghat. The pipeline was only partially installed before it was banned by the Allahabad High Court. However, the government has continued to ship in construction materials for building the pipeline, despite the ban.

Due to concerns about the project’s devastating effect on Vrindavan’s ecology, local environmentalist Mr. Akash Vashsitha brought the case before the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The NGT favored Vashishtha, and by May of 2017, the government’s representatives assured the court that no further construction work would be done.

The NGT’s order under the Honorable Justice Swatanter Kumar reads: “The learned council appearing for the respondents upon instructions from Mr. Sanjeev Kumar Tiwari, AE submits that they are not doing any other work except sheet piling work and dredging is connected thereto. They will continue that work only and no other except this.”

However, the work is continuing on the floodplain, in clear violation of the court’s order. Speaking to Vrindavan Today, Mr. Vashishth said he is ready to bring the matter before the court once again.

layingafoundationatyamuna.jpg

The convener of the Braj-Vrindavan Heritage Alliance (BVHA) Sri Naresh Narayan said, “Soon we will have a meeting to discuss a number of dire issues facing our community. The construction on the riverfront is a major disaster for Vrindavan’s heritage and environment. We will soon file a PIL in the Supreme Court to protect the riverbed and the pristine ghats. The prominent environmental lawyer MC Mehta has already promised to represent us free of cost.”

On behalf of the BVHA, Dr. Aruna Vishwanathan recently met the Environment Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan. She raised the issue of Yamuna before him and showed him the papers documenting the history of the riverfront case. He asked her to send a proposal and promised to intervene on the environmental front.

Local resident Dhananjay Gautam said, “When Sri Sri Ravishankar was fined and crucified for holding a program on the Yamuna floodplain, what to speak of the construction work and pollution in Vrindavan which are outright killing the river’s ecology?”

“The concept of developing the riverfront is a good one, but it needs to be planned properly. The plan should have been made by consulting community members first. Wetland development should be prioritized, with a sanctuary for birds and peacocks. Ideally, if new ghats are to be made, they should be made on the opposite side of the river. This would help retain the ethos of the ancient architecture and keep river flowing at the old ghats.“

 

A108-AI

Vrindavan, 2017.12.01 (VT): Swami Satyanandaji, the venerable sadhu who formed the Kripa Vilasa ashram near Hari Nikunj, Vrindavan, entered into maha samadhi on Sunday, 26th of November 2017. For two days, Kripa Vilas Ashram was open for devotees to have a last darshan of their beloved Swamiji who was  abundantly adorned with flower garlands and surrounded by kirtan and recitations of scriptures. On the 29th of November 2017, Wednesday,  Swamiji’s bhu samadhi (burial) followed a recitation of the 18th chapter of  Srimad Bhagvad Gita.

1-Maharajji-300x290.jpg

The outstanding feature of Swamiji’s teachings is his ability to harmoniously reconcile jnana (knowledge) and bhakti (devotion). Swamiji teaches both as equally valid, traditional methods for the direct experience of the Ultimate Truth. After spending years pursuing a solitary quest for God, and receiving  shiksha and diksha (special instructions and initiation) from Shiva Himself, Swamiji wandered  throughout India as a monk. Finally, Swamiji  took shelter at the lotus feet of Sri Krishna in Vrindavan.

The whole of Kripa Vilas Ashram reverberates with gentle voices saturated in the tender bhava of Swamiji’s bhakti, repeating constantly, “Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama”.

Innumerable devotees, who had gathered at Swamiji’s lotus feet, in spite of absence of publicity of any kind, were blessed by the long life of their Guruji; a life which lasted for more than 102 years. For his disciples and those who had the good fortune to meet him, Swamiji’s outstanding life of pure devotion and humble simplicity, which was also full of gentle elegance and intelligence, will always be a beacon of love and compassion.

As Swamiji used to say, “Man may live without air, but never without grace”. Jay Sri Krishna!

6-Last-Darshan-1-1-300x208.jpg

 

A108-AI

This article was first published by Vaisnavacharya Chandan Goswami on his personal blog in 2015, under the title “Etiquette of Devotee Association“. It is being shared here with the permission of the author.

Sanatan Goswami asked Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, “How can one become blessed in this life?”

Mahaprabhu replied, “All the scriptures proclaim that by spending a single moment in the company of an accomplished devotee, all success is attained.”

sadhu-sanga, sadhu-sanga-sarva-shastre koy
lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi hoy
(Chaitanya Charitamrit 2.22.54)

All success and in a fraction of a second! Who doesn’t want that? Apparently, many of us don’t! We all follow saintly figures, or someone who has more sacred love and a better understanding of the path of devotion than we do, in order to learn and become a better devotee just like that blessed person is.

Screenshot-2017-11-29-16.20.34.png

The author delivering Harikatha in Argentina

Unfortunately, when it comes to learning things that are good for us, we often find our senses preoccupied with social activities. In the evenings, we used to play a game called dhoondo, where a boy or a girl would run and hide in a room of our labyrinthine building. Then that child would call out “Radhe!”, and we would hear “Radhe!” echoing from all corners of the house. We would race through the corridors and tear through each room in search of the one who was crying “Radhe”. At last, we would catch him or her, thus ending the game.

We are all playing this game with Krishna in the labyrinth of His material energy, Maya. Some people hear the call coming from the office or family. Others hear the call from the haunts of pleasure. Many hear it coming loud and clear from status and prestige. These days, Maya comes in the form of mobile phones too. I often see easily-distracted devotees scrolling through their mobile screens or swiftly getting up in the midst of devotional meetings to attend calls.

Within my own family, I remember I used to ask our women, “Why do you not stay in the temple for some time after taking darshan?”

They would reply, “Because we find that some people there want to catch up on gossip, so our personal bhajan gets affected.”

Fortunately for us, the poet Achal Ram lovingly makes us aware of our failure to attain all possible success from devotees’ association and from visiting temples:

गप्पें न मार भाई सत्संग बीच आके ॥
हरि की कथा है ज्योति, जग की कथा है तोथी ।
बन्द कर दे तेरी पोथी, जप राम राम जाके ॥
हीरा बिके जँवाहरा, मत बेच वहाँ तूँ चारा ।
भक्तों को लागे खारा, क्यों हँसता दिल दुखा के ॥
सत्संग बीच आना, गप शप नहीं लगाना ।
चुपके से उठके जाना, सन्तों को ना खिजा के ॥
जेहि हरि कथा न भावे, वो अपनें घर को जावे ।
यों अचलराम गावे, चरणों में सिर झुका के ॥

guppe na maar bhai satsang beech aake
hari ki katha hai jyoti jag ki katha hai tothi
bandhan kar de teri pothi jap raam naam jaake
heera beeke jawahara mat bech vahan tu chara
bhakto ko laage khaaraa kyun hastaa dil dukhaake
satsang beech aanaa gup shup nahin lagaanaa
chupkese uthke jaanaa santon ko naa khijake
jehi hari kathaa na bhaave vo apne ghar ko jaave
yo achalraam gaave charanon mein sir jhukaake

Translation of the Poem:

“O brother, do not gossip when you are sitting in the midst of devotee association (satsang). Hari Katha is a divine light, but gossip is darkness. Chant the Holy Name and shut your book of material life. Why sell hay at that market where the devotees purchase the finest diamonds? Why do you enjoy hurting devotees’ hearts with your gossiping? When you attend any satsang, do not gossip. Quietly leave this blissful gathering without upsetting the saints. Those who do not have taste for Hari Katha, go back to your homes. So sings the poet Achal Ram as he bows at the lotus feet of all devotees, including the gossipers.”

As soon as we arrive at the temple or devotional gatherings, we see our friends and acquaintances; maybe it has been a while since we last spoke to them, and the meeting becomes a reunion where we all sit together catching up, and once distracted, we may even end up messaging on our phones during the religious services. Ironically, we leave our material lives behind when we go to temples and satsangs so that we can talk to our Lord, listen to lectures and songs that glorify Him, and learn more about Him and His love from saints and other devotees. The association of saints promises to enrich us with the priceless gems of divine wisdom, but distraction means there is no real hunger or motivation on our part to attain these blessings. Instead, we tend to seek out friends and acquaintances and engage in fruitless conversations with them before heading home.

Of all the places I have travelled in this world, I personally found two places most conducive for Vaishnav practice; places where devotees can transform their lives by learning the art of fruitful association:

1. One finds so much peace and serenity in the temples of Buddh (Buddha). Anyone who visits Buddhist temples will notice how the devotees who belong to this faith come and worship with mindfulness. They do not chat amongst each other. They are fully focused on their chanting and on their Lord.

2. No importance is given to material discussions or gossiping right after entering the premises of Tathiya Sthan in Vrindavan, and there is a strict rule of stepping outside the ashram if anyone wants to indulge in idle talk.

UgrashravasnarratingMahbhrata.jpg

Ugrashrava narrating Mahabharat to sages in Nimisharyana

When a Vaishnav has entered a satsang or a temple, leaving all worldly distractions behind, his highest duty is to try and direct all his efforts into one-pointed meditation on his Beloved. Achal Ram protects the sincerity of focused devotees with his honest advice, “Those who have no taste for Hari Katha should return home, and those who only want to hear Katha should come and attend the satsang. Do not engage in gossiping, and when leaving, do so in a manner that will not upset or disturb the saints and other devotees.”

When our eyes and ears are diverted away from devotion, how will we recognise the sound of Krishn’s flute, whose melody is the only thing that can free us from this maze of Maya? We must train our senses by attending satsangs with sincerity, so that we can trace the sound to its Source and say, “Caught You at last!” just as one would in the game of dhoondo. This is possible only when there is a burning fire within us to seek the company of saints. Just by seeing a saintly figure, we are reminded of God; what to speak of a moment sincerely spent in his or her company?

One only has to learn these simple lessons to become a better devotee and achieve the life-changing results of satsang that are promised by our scriptures.

Radhe Radhe!

 

A108-AI
raskhan.jpg

One of Braj’s great Muslim-born poet-saints, Raskhan

(Vrindavan, 2017.11.29): Fifty Muslim saints who wrote about Shri Krishna and his lilas will be commemorated in an open-air memorial park near Mathura. The project is being implemented by a local organization with funding from the State government.

The essence of Vrindavan is to make a relationship of pure love with Shri Krishna. People of various religions have fallen in love with Krishna over the centuries, and some of them dedicated their lives to him without ever changing their religion. A number of Muslim saints, particularly Sufis, wrote songs and poetry about Vrindavan’s Darling.

Fifty Muslim poet-saints from the 16th to 18th century will be featured in the memorial park. The story of each saint will be inscribed in stone along with samples of his or her work. Visitors will also be able to listen to the songs of each saint through a special listening device.

Raskhan-samadhi.jpg

Ras Khan’s samadhi in Mahavan. Picture from Braj Discovery.

A budget of four crores has been alotted for the project, which will be located in Akbarpur Village, about 40 Kilometers from Mathura on National Highway 2. The village’s sacred lake, known as Banamali Kund or Akbar Talav, will also be renovated.

Amongst the chosen saints is one of Braj’s best-loved poets and a Muslim by birth, Ras Khan. Ras Khan was born around 1548AD. His birth name was Sayid Ibrahim, but Ras Khan was his pen name (Khan is a common Muslim surname, but in Hindi it means “a treasure-trove”. Thus Ras Khan means “a treasure-trove of sacred delight”). Ras Khan fell madly in love with Shri Krishna after seeing his picture in Delhi, and immediately started off towards Vrindavan to find him. There he took initiation into the Pushti Marg and received the full blessings of the Lord.

One of Ras Khan’s famous songs goes thus:

How gorgeous Shri Krishna looks
Covered with fine dust
His hairstyle is so charming
As He plays and snacks in Yashoda’s front yard
The anklets on His feet chime sweetly
And He wears a yellow dhoti
This vision of my Love is worth more
Than a million treasures to me
How fortunate the crow
Who tastes the buttered breadcrumbs
Offered by His lotus hand

Other Muslim poet-saints who will be featured include Amir Khusro, Raheem, Dariya Saheb, Kare Khan, Karim Baks, Insha, Bazind, Adil, Maksood, Wahid, Afsos, Kazim, Lateef Husain, Farhat, Kazi Ashraf Masood, Alim, Mahboob, Nafis Khalili, Saiyad Kasim Ali and Taz Begum.

 

A108-AI
Radhavallabhji-disguise-cowherd.jpg

Shri Radhavallabh Lal cowherd boy dress during khichri festival

Vrindavan, 2017.11.28 (VT): Each winter, a khichri festival is held in the ancient temples of Vrindavan. Every day for one month, khichri is offered to Shri Radha and Krishna, starting on Margashirsha Shukla Dwadashi.

Khichri is the ultimate winter comfort food. A simple dish made of lentils and rice, it is very healing, and it balances the Ayurvedic doshas. Different varieties of this Indian superfood are offered to the Divine Couple each day throughout the festival.

Heating spices like saffron, nutmeg, cloves and pepper are added to the recipe, along with different kinds of nuts and lots of pure ghee. On the side, Shri Radha and Krishna enjoy various types of achar (spicy Indian pickles), pakoras (fried fritters), dahi (yoghurt), jam, butter, and sweets. Sweets made with sesame seeds are a special favourite offering during the winter.

This song by Shri Gunamanjari Das Goswami of the Shri Radharaman Temple describes the scene:

खिचरी सहचरी प्रात राधिकारमणजी को ।
सुरभी को घृत डार थार आगे लाई
कचौरी अचार चार साग धरे तापर ।
पापर कचरी दधि मोदक मलाई ॥
मीठी मीठी बात करें दीठी सों दीठी भरें ।
अँगीठी सुगंध धरें सीत बीत जाई ।
चौकी पे बैठै आन रूचि सों लगे खान ।
प्रान वारती सु आरती करत आई ॥

khichari sahachari prat radhika-ramanaji ko
surabhi ko ghrita dar thar age lai
kachauri achar char sag dhare tapar
papar kachari dadhi modak malai
angithi sugandha dhare sit bit jai
chauki pe bethe an ruchi so lage khan
pran varati su arati karat ai

Shri Priyaji (Radharani) feeds Radharamanji delicious khichri soaked in cow ghee, with fried kachoris (wheat rounds stuffed with spiced lentils), spicy pickles (achar) and four kinds of vegetable dishes, all accompanied by papad, wild cucumber (kachari), yoghurt and sweets. Gazing longingly into Each Other’s lotus eyes, the Lovers share sweet conversation whilst the coal stove gives fragrant warmth. Radharamanji sits on a low seat (chauki) and happily enjoys the luscious khichri. When He finishes, Yashoda Maiya offers her very life to Him in the form of aarti. (English translation from the book Shri Radharaman Gita).

Radhavallabhji-Sakhi.jpg

Shri Radhavallabh Lal disguised as a sakhi during khichri festival

At the Radhavallabh temple, Radhavallabhji wears different disguises after Mangla Aarti throughout the festival. Despite the deepening cold, devotees flock to the temples throughout the khichdi festival to enjoy the special darshan of their Beloveds, hoping to get a taste of the special khichri prasad.

Dr. Chandra Prakash Sharma, an ardent devotee of Radhavallabh Lal said, “This khichri is cooked by the Goswamis with their own hands. It is very dear to Thakur Shri Radhavallabh Lal, as it warms one from within during the cold season. The khichri is distributed to the devotees after being offered to the Lord.”

 

A108-AI
23213454_1970288553295323_15552117210166

Sadhus residing at Surya Kund (P.C. Vitthal Rukmini Das)

Vrindavan, 2017.11.26 (VT): Today is the disappearance day of Siddha Madhusudan Das Babaji.

Madhusudan Das Babaji was born in a prestigious Brahmin family in Bengal. He didn’t want to get married, but his parents arranged his marriage anyway. But on the wedding night, he ran away to Vrindavan.

One day on the bank of the Yamuna River, he met a sadhu who gave him initiation. Madhusudan Das Babaji was in a trancelike state when this interaction took place. When he came to, the sadhu had disappeared. Madhusudan Das Babaji did not even know the sadhu’s name. He only knew that he was a Gaudiya Vaishnava in the line of Gangamata Goswamini.

23843472_1783033505330081_73463714412229

Siddha Madhusudan Das Babaji’s Samadhi (P.C. Anjana Aggarwal)

Madhusudan Das Babaji approached Siddha Krishnadas Babaji of Govardhan, hoping to learn about about Bhakti from him. But Siddha Krishnadas Babaji refused to teach him because he didn’t know who his Guru was. He asked him to visit Siddha Jaikrishna Das Babaji of Kamyavan, but he also denied him.

Siddha Jaikrishna Das Babaji instructed Madhusudan Das Babaji to take full shelter of Harinaam, the Holy Name of Krishna. He told him that Radharani herself would help him.

Unable to get any teachings, Madhusudan Das decided to commit suicide. He went to the bank of Radhakund with a huge stone from the Govardhan Hill. He tied one end of a rope around the Govardhan stone, and tied the other end around his neck.

He jumped in Radhakund and sank to the bottom. At the bottom of the kund, he saw something bright under the water and picked it up. Suddenly the rope came loose and he rose to the surface. He saw that the thing in his hand was a palm leaf. And on the palm leaf was written the names of a list of gurus.. He felt this must be the details his own lineage.

23213313_1970289433295235_61768859186084

View of Surya Kund ghats from above (P.C. Vitthal Rukmini Das)

He went back to Siddha Krishnadas of Govardhan and Siddha Jaikrishnadas of Kamyavan, but both of them said the writing on the palm leaf was not very clear. They sent him back to Radha Kund and asked him to pray to Radharani. This time, Radharani herself appearead and read out the contents of the paper to him, assuring him that this was his own guru-parampara. 

Thus blessed by the Queen of Vrindavan herself, Siddha Madhusudan Das Babaji moved to Surya Kund and spent the rest of his life immersed in worshipping Radha and Krishna. He also delivered Shrimad Bhagwatam Katha from time to time. Siddha Madhusudan Das Babaji left this world whilst giving advice about Bhakti to a group of devotees.

23215661_1970290159961829_20692985928579

Nitai-Gaur at Siddha Baba’s Samadhi mandir, Surya Kund

Each year devotees come from all over Braj Mandal to attend the festival of Siddha Madhusudan Das Babaji, enjoying kirtan, prasad, and darshans at Surya Dev Mandir and Siddha Baba’s Samadhi.

Glories of Surya Kund

Surya Dev is Radharani’s ishta-devta; she always prays to him to help her meet with Krishna. Every afternoon in the eternal Lila, Radharani and her sakhis come to Suryakund to worship Surya Dev. Krishna also comes, disguised as a priest, in order to tease and delight her.

 

A108-AI

Ranapat Ghat and Mirabai

IMG_8073.jpg

Two of the four chatris. One now contains a mini barber shop.

Vrindavan, 2017.11.25 (VT): Between Imlitala and Shringar Vat, we missed a very important site called Ranapat Ghat. The legend of this ghat is related to Mirabai. Opening onto the ghat is a a temple, which houses the beautiful deities of Shri Radha-Kant Ju.

According to legend, the King of Mewar, who was Mirabai’s brother-in-law, made this temple for her when she came to Vrindavan. However, Mirabai refused to stay in it, preferring instead to live in the wilderness of Vrindavan forest. Some say she lived in a gupha (underground cave) where Mirabai Mandir is now. Others believe she lived in a chatri at Brahmakund, where she could easily enjoy the darshan of the King of Vrindavan, Govind Dev.

IMG_8063.jpg

Shri Radha-Kant Ju

The legend goes on to say that, although Mirabai didn’t live at the property, she would come every day to worship the deities of Shri Radha-Kant which her family had installed there. Unfortunately, just over half a century ago, the deity of Shri Krishna was broken, and another deity was brought from Gokul to replace the broken one. However, the deity of Radharani is from Mirabai’s time.

The Ranapat Ghat property consists of the ghat itself, four chhatris (gazebo-like structures made of sandstone), the temple, a living area and a garden. According to Mathura: A District Memoir by the British magistrate F.S. Growse, Ranapat Ghat was built by the King of Udaipur. About 330 years ago, the property was purchased by Guru Prasad Roy, a friend of the King’s family, for 3,675 rupees. Since then, the property adjoining the ghat is known as Guru Prasad Roy Kunj.

In the late 18th Century, Shri Hit Chandra Lal Goswami of the Radhavallabh Sampraday described this kunj, saying a very dedicated female devotee lived there at that time. He also mentioned that the kunj was sheltered by two very large trees – one tamal and one neem. His description with elaborate commentary can be found on page 48 of the Vrindavan Prakash Mala.

 

A108-AI

jagran-14-780x519.jpgYesterday, lakhs of people came to see the abhishek and shobhyatra (auspicious procession) in honour of Banke Bihariji’s appearance day. An abhishek was held in the early morning hours at the place where Bihariji appeared, proceeded by aarti and a procession from Nidhivan to Bihariji temple.

The procession made its way through the streets of Vrindavan’s market place, showering auspiciousness on all. Thousands danced and sang popular Bihariji bhajans as well as music composed by Swami Haridas. People from across North India, foreigners, villagers and Vrindavan locals followed the procession with great joy, losing themselves in the music of Bihariji.

People from far and wide proclaim that Vrindavan’s Banke Bihari is special. There are many stories of miracles surrounding Bihariji and, it is said that Bihariji appeared to fulfil the desire of Haridasji, who only wished that more people could experience the joy of absorption in Thakurji’s lilas.

Bihariji appeared in Nidhivan, the place of Radha-Krishna’s ras lila. Swami Haridas would sit in Nidhivan and become completely absorbed in intricate classical melodies. While Haridas was playing and composing music, Radha-Krishna danced before his eyes. Despite his enjoyment and complete absorption in playing music for Radha Krishna, Swami Haridas realized that not everyone could experience Thakurji through music. He wanted that more people could have a tangible experience of Sri Krishna’s most attractive form, so, he wished for a special, most attractive Thakurji. To fulfil Haridas’ desire and give darshan to as many people as possible, a combined form of Radha Krishna appeared in the form of the deity Banke Bihari.

The curtains of Bihariji are constantly opened and closed because the strength of the attraction between Thakurji and His devotee is said to be too strong for either to withstand.

Yesterday, Rajbhog Prasad and sweets were distributed to devotees after the Rajbhog (midday) aarti. In the evening, devotees followed the Swami Haridas float back to Nidhivan for the closing of this year’s Bihari Jayanti festival.

 

A108-AI
vitthalvipul.jpg

Shri Vitthal Vipul Dev ju

Vrindavan, 2017.11.24 (VT): Yesterday was the appearance day of Swami Vitthal Vipul Dev ji.

Vitthal Vipul Dev appeared in Rajpur in Braj Mandal in the year 1532AD. He was a nephew of Swami Haridas and he was also his first disciple. From the age of 30, Vitthal Vipul Dev renounced worldly life and offered himself completely to the worship of Shri Radha and Krishna. About forty beautiful sacred songs (pads) were written by him.

One day in Nidhivan, Vitthal Vipul Dev requested Swami Haridas to reveal the eternal lila of Radha and Krishna to him. Swami Haridas ji told him to look within a nearby enclosure of tangled vines. When Vitthal Vipul Dev looked inside, he saw Shri Radha and Krishna in their eternal lila. Accompanying them was Swami Haridas in his sakhi swaroop.

Overwhelmed with bliss and filled with gratitute, Vitthal Vipul Dev Ji went and bowed in front of his Guru. Swami Haridas smiled and told him to go inside the tangle of vines, adding, “Whatever you find inside, bring it out.”

appearance-place-1.jpg

Banke Bihari’s appearance place in Nidhivan

Vitthal Vipul Dev went inside the vine enclosure. Inside there was a gupha (cave). When he went inside the gupha, he saw Radha and Krishna had joined together to form the black stone deity of Shri Banke Bihariji. He brought Banke Bihari out of the cave and handed him over to his Guru.

When Swami Haridas left this world for the eternal lila, Vitthal Vipul Dev found it hard to go on. From that day forward, he tied a bandage over his eyes. Perhaps, after the divine illuminating form of his Guru had left this world, he did not wish to see anything else.

Soon after, a Raas Lila play was held and Vitthal Vipul Dev was in the audience. At the climax of the play, Shri Radharani came forward and held his hand. She made Vitthal Vipul Dev stand up and asked him to open his eyes.

Removing the bandage, his eyes fell on the lotus face of Radharani. Suddenly there was a flash of light, and Vitthal Vipul Dev was gone. He had entered the eternal lila in his sakhi swaroop. (V)

 

A108-AI

This is a first person account of the incident, which has been handed down through the line of Bihariji Goswamis:

68a0c58602328e4d7b709f42e93d564d-essentiMy name is Vijnani Khatri. My family owns a flourishing perfume business in Amritsar. Our business is very well established and we are known as manufacturers of best quality of itwa* (perfume), rosewater and other products. Our customers include the royal families of Dehli, Awadh, Jaipur, Nabha, Jammu, Jodhpur etc. Ours is a religious family and we do service for sants (saints), cows and the impoverished. Sants from all over India visit  Amritsar and oblige us by accepting our hospitality and conducting satsang sessions in local temples and halls.

One day, when I visited the santniwas (sadhu residence), I came across a sant who had passed through Amritsar only a few days back during a long pilgrimage to the Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath and other holy places. I was surprised to see him returned from the arduous and time consuming journey. Moreover, such a yatra does not just involve travelling to the pilgrimage sites; along the way, sants also conduct satsang sessions at various places and are never in hurry to return to their kutia (hermitage).

I greeted the sant in his usual style, “Jai Shri Hari.”

He replied, “Jai Shri Haridas.”

Smiling at him, I asked, “Revered Sir, what has happened to you? You are back from your pilgrimage so soon, you have also changed your greeting. How has this Haridas fellow’s name come in place of Hari? I am surprised.”

The saint laughed heartily, “Yes, you may be surprised, but, as you know, the universe is full of surprises. Shri Hari gave me a pleasant surprise, this time in the form of Swami Shri Haridasji at Vrindavan. I stayed in Vrindavan for some time enjoying the divine company and there I realized my goal. I am now so contented that I don’t want to go anywhere. I just meditate on the Vrindavan satsang of Swamiji and chant the holy names- Jai Jai Shri Kunj Bihari Shri Haridas, Jai Jai Shri Vrindavan Nidhivan Vas.”

CB6sUDXUoAEXyPd-300x216.jpgI became curious to know about Swami Haridas and his satsang. I had visited many places, met many saints and had attended satsangs in many places, including Vrindavan, but I had never heard about this Swamiji. Moreover, the glow I saw on the face of the saint and the shine in his eyes while talking about his Vrindavan visit was unprecedented. I wondered, if the mere remembrance of those moments can make the saint so joyful, how much joyous would Swamiji’s darshan be? I wanted to know everything, urgently. Seeing my eagerness, the sant smiled, and said “Shant ho jao (be at peace); come, sit with me and I will tell you everything I know about Swamiji.”
A Sant’s vision of Sri Haridas:

“Swami Shri Haridas is an ascetic of highest order staying in Vrindavan at present. His personality is so magnetic – with shaven head, flawless skin, big pinkish eyes, shining teeth, a childlike innocence and a friendly smile. He has a fair complexion and a tall, well built body. He is so attractive that once you see him it is difficult to take your eyes off his face. His way of praying is through music. He himself composes poems in praise of the Lord in classical form and then he sings these in Nidhivan as well as on the banks of the Yamuna.

vinod-baba-201x300.jpg

There is a small temple in Nidhivan dedicated to Shri Kunjbihariji, the revered Lord of Swami Haridas. I heard the story from local saints and disciples of Swami Haridas that Shri Shyama Shyam appeared in person in Nidhivan for a very brief period to the presence of a group of saints, enjoyed the music of Swami Haridas for a moment, talked to him and granted a black charming idol before disappearing. This deity is worshipped as Shri Kunjbihari or Bihariji or Banke Bihariji or simply Thakurji. The beauty and charm of Thakurji is beyond description. Only those who have darshan in the temple can know about it. I have visited so many places, so many temples – but have no hesitation to say that Bihariji is Bihariji, there is nothing to which He can be compared. After having His darshan, I decided not to go anywhere else but to return to my hermitage and meditate on Him. If any time I feel like travelling, I will go to Vrindavan to see Him. So, now you have heard my story.”

Hearing the story, my mind became immersed in thinking about Bihariji and I became keen to visit Vrindavan, to bow to Swami Haridas and have darshan of his beloved Thakur Shri Bankey Bihari ji Maharaj as a matter of urgency. As I reached home, my sister could see that I was lost in certain thoughts and gently asked about it. I narrated the entire story as it was told to me by the sant in the evening and also mentioned to her that I wanted to go to Vrindavan as soon as possible. We decided to go to Vrindavan as soon as possible as there seemed to be no good reason to delay a visit to such a rare personality.

Accordingly, I made arrangements to look after the business in our absence and we left  Amritsar for Vrindavan. On my sister’s suggestion, we took a small container of a recently extracted itr to offer to Swamiji. This itr was extracted from a rare variety of exotic flowers and was of a unique fragrance. We had not yet started selling it. After completing a journey that took several days, we reached Vrindavan and asked for directions to Swami Haridas’s place. It was afternoon and we were directed to the banks of the Yamuna; here we saw Swami Haridas sitting in the sand surrounded by saints and pilgrims.

Swamiji, his eyes closed and fingers moving swiftly on the strings of a tanpura (musical instrument), along with a few of his disciples, was singing in the praise of Lord. It was a rare combination of vocal and instrumental music and the voices were so melodious that everyone was lost in the music. I do not remember how long the sitting continued but, during this time, nobody moved. It appeared to me as if everything around us, including birds that continuously chirp in the trees, the monkeys that are always performing aerobatics and even the water of Yamuna, -everything and everybody- remained stand still during that time. Finally, the recitation was over. It appeared to me that suddenly everything and everybody came to life. Birds started chirping, monkeys started jumping around and the water in the Yamuna started flowing.

images-207x300.jpgSwamiji moved his Tanpura aside and looked around. Everybody bowed to him, so did we. While bowing, I placed the container of itr at his feet. He looked at me, smiled and said, “Bahot achchhe samay par aye ho” (you have come at a very important moment). Saying this, Swamiji opened the container and emptied it in the sand. I got the shock of a lifetime. What type of swami he was? Did he have even slightest idea of what I offered to him? However exalted a saint may be, he has no right to hurt the sentiments of visitors like this. I was agitated but restrained myself. One thing that surprised me the fragrance of itr was totally missing, though the entire container was emptied.

Swamiji commanded his principal disciples, “Jao Vitthal, Jagannath, jao. Thakurji ki sayan sewa ko samay aa gaya hai. Jake Thakurji ki sewa karo aur sab bhakton kon Bihariji ke darshan karvao.” Hearing their master’s command to perform the evening rituals, Vitthal and Jagannath left. As Vitthalji and Jagannathji proceeded to the temple, everybody followed them.

We reached a small temple in Nidhivan. The priest entered the inner sanctum of the temple through the side door and we all sat in the front verandah singing “Jai jai shyama, Jai jai shyam, Jai jai shri vrindavan dham’ and other melodies. After a few minutes, the main door of the inner sanctum was opened and I had my first glance of Thakurji. I was surprised that the temple was undoubtedly filled with the sweet fragrance of the itr that I had brought. I was sure nobody else could produce this fragrance as it was the result of my efforts of several months. Swamiji had emptied the container in the sand for all to see. He didn’t even a single drop, or even the empty container to Vitthalji or Jagannathji to bring it to the temple. So how was it possible that the  fragrance was so prominent her? Even after the entire contents was poured out, the fragrance had not lingered on the banks of the Yamuna.

Nidhivan-trees-300x169.jpgI looked here and there as if trying to locate the source of fragrance but to no avail. Confused and bewildered I looked at Bihariji, surrendering to Him and telling Him – I do not what is happening here. I have come to you and you must tell me what is this all about? I felt He was looking straight into my eyes. It seemed as if He was pulling me towards himself through his vision. I thought I would lose my consciousness, so I tried to take my eyes off Him but I could not. During those moments, everything around me got blurred and I felt I was migrating to a different plane of consciousness. Then I had a vision of eternal Vrindavan – Shyama Shyam playing holi in the nikunj! And I saw the container I had brought being emptied in the pot of colours that they were spraying on each other!

So that was it! By the grace of Swami Haridas, I had an experience of the eternal Vrindavan. Swami Haridas ki Jai! Banke Bihari Maharaj ki jai!

*The extract of flowers, preserved on sandalwood oil as base, is known as itwa (or Attar). Itr is known to have a soothing effect on our nervous system and has been used in aromatherapy since time immemorial. Even apart from this, the pleasing fragrance of Itr enhances the pleasure of the moment and makes everybody around happy. Itr is extensively used in daily sewa in the temples all around India and is considered to be a very special offering.

 

A108-AI
IMG_8037.jpg

Samadhi of Siddha Balram Das Babaji Maharaj at Jharu Mandal

Vrindavan, 2017.11.22 (VT): Next on our parikrama we visit Jharu Mandal.

For lovers of Shri Radha and Krishna, it the greatest honor to sweep Vrindavan’s sacred groves. Whenever they found time between their other practices, the great saints of Vrindavan’s history used to sweep the holy dust. Most of these saints were renounced; they did not own any posessions. Jharu Mandal is the place where the saints kept brooms, which remained available for anyone to come and use them.

Today, sweeping or “Sohni Seva” as it is known in Braj, is still one of the most cherished services one can do. A strong tradition of Sohni Seva is still maintained in places like Tatiya Sthan, Nidhi Van and other temples and shrines. It was by sweeping Vrindavan that Shyamananda Prabhu found the anklet of Radharani and received her special grace.

In later times, Jharu Mandal became a place where various saints lived. One such saint was a woman named Radha Dasi. Radha Dasi was completely absorbed in her devotions. Due to her intense schedule of spiritual practices, money became a problem. In addition to her own needs, she had deities of serve, and that too required money.

Jharu-Mandal.jpg

The footprint of Shri Krishna on Radha Dasi’s grinding stone.

Unable to find time in her schedule for work, Radha Dasi used to wake up before 3am to grind wheat, which she got by begging, and make flour. She would then sell the flour for a few paise, or use it herself.

One day Shri Krishna came while Radha Dasi was grinding flour and said, “Ma, it’s the middle of the night! Why aren’t you sleeping?”

“Lala,” said Radha Dasi, “I don’t have time to work during the day, so I have to get up very early.”

Shri Krishna then placed his lotus foot on the grinding-stone. His touch left a beautiful footprint.

“See, Ma!” Krishna said. “Now devotees will come to see my footprint, and they will give donations. You don’t have to strain yourself anymore.”

Siddha Balram Das Babaji’s samadhi is also located on the premises.

 

A108-AI

VRI Celebrates its Golden Jubilee

Vrindavan, 2017.11.22 (VT): The Vrindavan Research Institute (VRI) is celebrating is fiftieth year of preserving Braj Culture. The festival begins tomorrow and will last for several days.

On November 23rd, the celebration begins with an exhibition of Sanjhi, one of Vrindavan’s famous folk art forms. Acharya Srivatsa Goswami of the Sri Radharaman Temple will enlighten the audience about folk art traditions of Braj. Temple sanjhi will be created by local masters, while children will make simpler folk Sanjhis, which are reminiscent of rangoli.

palm-leaf-e1511331680513.jpg

Palm Leaf Manuscript at VRI (P.C. jiva.org)

On November 24th, there will be a discourse in memory of VRI’s founder, the late Dr. Ramdas Gupta. Regional folk dances will be presented after the talk. A painting competition is scheduled for November 25th.

The Vrindavan Research Institute was founded by Dr. Ramdas Gupta in the late 1960s. Gupta was previously involved with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. VRI is devoted to the preservation of Braj culture, and its efforts include a library of manuscripts and archival material, as well as a newly-renovated cultural museum. The University of Agra recognizes VRI as a research centre for PhD studies in Hindi and Sanskrit.

Recently, VRI made news when it came forward to preserve a neglected relic from the British era, which was about to be hauled off to the landfill.

 

A108-AI
IMG-20171119-WA0021.jpg

Radhavallabhji in winter, 2017

Vrindavan, 2017.11.21 (VT): Deities throughout Vrindavan are beating the winter chill through the loving offerings of their devotees. In each temple, the Divine Couple Shri Radha and Krishna are dressed in warm sweaters and shawls. Stylish mittens, and socks embroidered with golded threads, adorn their hands and feet.

Food and drinks that are considered heating from an Ayurvedic perspective are offered in this season; Gur (jaggery), nuts, ginger, cloves and so forth are part of the winter offerings. For their daily bath, the water is heated to a comfortable temperature, and warming attars (fragrance oils) like saffron and heena are applied to their bodies for comfort. And at night, the Divine Couple sleep wrapped in a soft, warm blanket or comforter (rajhai).

Does God feel cold?

One may wonder, does God feel cold? God doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t experience hunger, thirst, and so on. He is not affected by anything. This is true everywhere except Vrindavan. Vrindavan’s Krishna is not just God; he is more than God. He is the Supreme Being who is bound by love.

RRjiwinter.jpg

Radharamanji in winter, Feb. 2017

In Vrindavan, love is supreme. Krishna is beyond hunger, but his mother’s love makes him feel hungry. It makes him crave the food she makes for him. He is beyond cold; yet the winter chills him, for his devotee stands ready with a soft blanket and a cup of warm milk.

Once there was a devotee named Krishnaprem. He was from England, but had converted to Vaishnavism and took initiation in the Radharaman Temple tradition.

One night in winter, Krisnaprem had a dream that his deity of Gopal – the Child Krishna – was shivering with cold. He woke up and went to the altar. There he found that he had accidentally left the window open, and it was actually very cold.

Looking at Gopal he said, “Oh! Do you really feel cold?”

Two teardrops fell from Gopal’s eyes, and Krishnaprem realized his mistake. He immediately closed the window and covered Gopal with a warm blanket.

 

A108-AI
Shringar-Vat.jpg

Shri Krishna decorates Shri Radha

Vrindavan, 2017.11.20 (VT): We continue our Vrindavan Parikrama by taking darshan of the beautiful Shringar Vat.

When the Raas Lila began, Shri Krishna played his flute and all the gopis came running. He danced with every gopi, giving equal attention to each one. But the glory of the Raas Lila could not reach its supreme state unless Shri Krishna enjoyed fully with Shri Radha. So Radha left the Raas, and Krishna followed her.

Now alone, Shri Radha and Krishna played with each other freely. Shri Radha’s clothes and jewellery were disturbed during their play. Shringar Vat is the place where Shri Krishna arranged his Beloved’s clothes, tenderly placing her jewellery back in the right places, gently combing her curly locks and decorating her with flowers.

Shringar Vat is the place where Nityananda Prabhu chose to sit and meditate when he came to Vrindavan. There once was a large banyan tree to mark the place. Now only a stump remains, and a new younger tree offers its shade to the holy spot.

In the 18th Century, a descendent of Nityananda Prabhu, Shri Nandakishor Goswami, came to live at Shringar Vat. He established the deities of Nitai-Gaur there.

The boy who herded cows with Shri Krishna

IMG_8013.jpg

Shringar Sthali, where Shri Krishna decorated his Beloved.

A young Brajwasi boy used to take care of Nandakishor Goswami’s cows. People called him “Bhondu” (simple-minded) because he was very naive, but also very pure at heart. Born and raised in Vrindavan, the boy had a natural love for Shri Krishna and longed to meet him. Bhondu knew that Shri Krishna herded cows in Vrindavan’s pastures like he himself did. He was ecstatic that one day, he would probably meet him.

And so it happened that one day, Bhondu met Shri Krishna in the pasture. The two became close friends. Shri Krishna and his friends used to share their lunches, which were packed by their mothers and brought from home. But Bhondu didn’t have a packed lunch to share. So he started bringing food from the temple kitchen when he went out for cowherding.

Nandkishor Goswami noticed the missing food and started keeping a closer eye on the kitchen. One morning, Goswami Ji noticed Bhondu on his way to the pasture with the cows, carrying a huge bundle of groceries on his head.

Nandakishor Goswami said, “Child, where are you going with all that food?”

Bhondu smiled and said, “We are going to makde dal-bati-churma today.”

“Who is ‘we’?” asked Nandakishor Goswami.

“Me, Krishna, Balaram, Subal, Shridama…” Bhondu rattled off the names of Krishna’s cowherd boy friends from the nitya lila.

Krishna and Balaram…?”

“Yeah! You know Krishna! That boy who wears a peacock feather and yellow clothes. He’s really nice. We’re friends now.”

IMG_8011-1.jpg

Remnant of the banyan tree where Nityananda Prabhu meditated on the Lila

Goswami Ji didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t wrap his mind around what he was hearing. But Bhondu was not a liar either.

“Why don’t you invite your buddy Krishna and his friends here for lunch instead? Tomorrow is Gopashtami, so it’s the perfect day to invite them.”

“Oh yes! That’s a wonderful idea! I will! Thank you Goswami Ji!”

Bhondu bowed to Goswami Ji and headed out for the pasture.

That day, Bhondu invited Shri Krishna to Shringar Vat for Gopashtami lunch, but Shri Krishna said, “No, I won’t go.”

“But I promised Goswami Ji you would come!” said Bhondu.

“What do I care what you said to Goswami Ji?” said Krishna.

Bhondu felt insulted and started to walk away. “Goswami Ji is like my Guru. If you are going to insult my Guru then I’m not going to play with you any more!” Bhondu separated his cows from Shri Krishna’s cows and started off in a huff.

Shri Krishna was shocked and started to cry. He blocked Bhondu’s way and said, “Wait! Don’t go! Listen to me!” Bhondu didn’t want to listen, but he stopped for moment and looked at Krishna.

IMG_8001.jpg

The Ghat at Shringar Vat – Yamuna once flowed nearby

“Listen, I couldn’t say this in front of Balaram and the other cowherd boys. Shringar Vat is a place where I go to meet Radharani. It’s our secret place. I can’t take the boys there. Please understand, brother!”

Bhondu smiled, “Oh, is that it! Well, if Goswami Ji comes here and cooks for you, will you eat?”

“Sure I will!” Said Krishna. “But tell him not to bring anyone else with him!”

Bhondu told Goswami Ji what had happened. He could hardly believe what was happeneing, yet somehow, his hope was greater than his hesitation. The next morning he excitedly got all the provisions ready to make dal-bati-churma for Shri Krishna. Smiling like a child, Goswami Ji brought all the cooking implements from the kitchen across the Yamuna and out into the fields at Bhandirvan.

IMG_8008.jpg

Nandakishor Goswami’s Nitai-Gaur

He was blissful beyond words when he saw that Shri Krishna was actually there waiting for him surrounded by all his cowherd friends. Goswami Ji cooked for them and fed them to his heart’s content. But as soon as the feast was over, they all disappeared. Goswami Ji fainted out of shock and separation.

In a half-conscious state, Goswami Ji heard Krishna saying, “Don’t worry. I am always with you. Go home and write about my lila.” According to Shri Krishna’s instructions, Nandakishor Goswami wrote two books called Shri Shri Rasakalika and Shri Vrindavan Lilamrit.

 

Sign in to follow this  
×