Fifteen years ago during my first visit to Vrindavan, a baba I met at the Radha Raman mandir told me about the Tatia-sthan ashram and gave me a tour of it that left an indelible impression on me. I remember being impressed with the tranquility of the ashram and its beautiful wooded nature. He (the baba who gave me the tour) told me that this was “asli Vrindavan” the real Vrindavan. Everything there was rather simple and pristine.
The Namdev Kaladhari ashram was founded over two hundred years ago in the area of Kemervan, between Davanala Kund and what is now Sheetal Chaya. If you take the road across from Fogla Ashram that leads to Moti Jheel and walk about 50 meters or so, on the right hand side you will come to a nondescript gate with no real sign. But once you pass the large metal gates you find a treat: a Vrindavan that remains unchanged, almost unaffected by all the chaos and commotion that lies on the main streets.
Here lies a Vishnuswami Sampradaya ashram, following in the line of Sant Namdev (of great historical importance in Maharashtra, as well as to the Sikhs), that is focused on a life of service and inner cultivation of the spirit. This huge bageecha has numerous beautiful old trees, some of which are several hundred years old. Jai Ram Baba, the current mahant (head) of the ashram, mentioned to me that his guru had said that some of these trees were great yogis in previous lives – vriksha bhakts. He aslo mentioned how his grand Guru Sri Vaishnav das babji did continuous japa here for about 24 years, sleeping only about two hours a day. It is indeed a tranquil place steeped with spiritual moods. day.
There are several aspects to the Namdev Kaladhari bageecha, and some are quite unique. (1) For one there are over 40 Kadamba trees!!! and a host of other traditional trees of Vrindavan. (2) There is a goshalla with about a 100 cows, oxen and calves, (3) there is a simple temple with deities of Sri Sri Radhe Shyam; Sri Sri Sita Rama Laksman and Hanuman, Gopal, Shalagram Shilas, and a deity of Vishuswami. (4) There is separate Kundesvar Mahadev mandir next to, (5) Vishram kund, where Sri Krishna and his cowherd friends took rest.
The essence of the ashram is seva (service), where in anyone is welcome to come and take prasad every afternoon. The Namdev Kaladhari bageecha was set up as a refuge for traveling devotees. Anyone was welcome to come and take prasad and stay up to three days. At present, at any given time, an average of 15 to 20 Babas are living happily in there.
The current mahant of Namdev Kaladhari ashram, the ninth in the line coming from the founder Sri Brij Mohan Das Babaji, Sri Jairam das babaji, has been here for over 50 years.He came here as an eight year old and decided that he wanted to live the life of a baba and surrendered at the feet of his guru Sri Vrindavan Das Baba. On the 29th of this month (April), the 16th disappearance day festival of Sri Vrindavan Das Baba will be celebrated. Mahants from all over Vrindavna will attend. All are invited to attend the ceremonies and prasad at noon.
The ashram, like all others, depends on donations. Jai Ram Baba narrates how shortly after his guru attained samadhi, he was all tense with the responsibilities of the ashram and some troubling issues that he was confronted with. He had a dream vision in which his guru appeared to him and told him to sit on the “gaddi” (acharya’s seat) and do his sadhana and everything will be all right; sure enough the issues resolved themselves and things worked out.
Jai RamBaba was born in Kamai, the village of Visakha Sakhi, near Barsana, and he has a unique relationship with the Brajabasi of these villages. The ashram has relationships with about 50 villages in the Braj area who donate wheat and hay for the cows, and who come to stay at the ashram when they come on pilgrimage to Vrindavan. Every year, devotees from the ashram go to the nearby villages to collect donations of wheat, which are stored in silos, and grass for the cows, which is stored in a shed by the goshalla.
During the months of February and March, it is wedding season in Braj and baba is invited to bless the weddings of young Brajvasi couples especially in the Barsana area, where he is well known. On some days he has to attend three or more weddings.
The Sri Sri Sita Rama deities at the temple came to India from Pakistan during partition. Apparently there was a Kaladhari bageecha in the Lahore area, but due to the troubles during partition the sadhus moved the deities to the ashram her e in Vrindavan. Also on the main altar are Sri Radha Krishna, and numerous shalagram shilas and Gopal deities.
The ashram here is quite eclectic, as sadhus from different Vaishnava lineages often stay there, and continue to do so. Other than sadhus from the Vishnuswami sampradaya, babas and sadhus from the Nimbarka, Ramanandi, and other Vaishnava lineages have performed their sadhana here. Even several western Vaishnavas have lived here over the years as well and built a relationship of faith with the mahant. In fact I met a German devotee who has been visiting and staying at the ashram for 30 years. Jai Ram Baba also goes and visits his disciples and well wishers in countries like Poland, Portugal, Italy and Germany every year or so.
Jai Ram Baba is intent on preserving the rustic, simple lifestyle that is reminiscent of the way that sadhus lived in a time gone by. He mentioned that at one time there were a lot of peacocks, but over the years monkeys had taken over and no
w there are none left.
For over 50 years the ashram has given shelter to batches of Nepali students who come to Vrindavan to learn Sanskrit. There are about 20 students currently staying at the ashram. They each stay for 5 to 7 years on average while they complete their shastric studies.
The Namdev Kaladhari ashram is a beautiful peaceful garden/ashram, where some of the beauty and simplicity of pre-modern Vrindavan is still intact. Stop by for darsan, to see the cows or have a cup of chai with some Braj sadhus.
Trick question : How does one identify a traditional Braj ashram?
Answer: They still use ashes and braj dirt to scour and wash dishes.
The post Asli Vrindavan Series (1) : Namdev Kaladhari Bageecha, Vishram Kund, and “Vriksha bhaktas” appeared first on Vrindavan Today.