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