My bhajan these days is quite different from other times. I get up and start right away on the computer until around 6.30 in the evening. Then I go to Banke Bihari, Radha Vallabh and Radha Damodar for darshan and I also read a chapter of Chaitanya Charitamrita in front of Kaviraj Goswami’s samadhi. I hope to follow this regime until the CC is finished.
I have been quite enjoying my daily tour of these three temples, each belonging to a different Vrindavan sampradaya, each with its own mood and culture, and of course history, which includes interactions with other sampradayas, not always pleasant but often quite fruitful in terms of inspiration and exchange. So that you can say that there is such a thing as “Vrindavan culture”, which is composed of communities, or sampradayas, each with its own traditions or parampara, but sharing a broader heritage of common interests and interactions.
As a rule, a particular denomination has to define itself and does so by its doctrines and its rituals. The former can be quite subtle or strident, and the latter are largely a matter of taste and other factors. Communities are about spiritually like-minded people who assemble together in places like temples.
Banke Bihari is the first stop on my tour. I go in through Dussayat and turn left at the Sineha Bihari temple. Here we enter the narrow laneways of Bihari Para. Though there is mostly room for two people to pass, and thankfully not enough for a motorcycle, there is a constant flow of people who are going to or returning from BIhari darshan. This path leads to a side entrance of the temple where there is a Hanuman shrine, but you come in behind the main quadrangle across from the main entrance on the other side.
There is always a crowd of people. The atmosphere really is magic and joyful. People really do stand immobile and just stare at Bihariji for long moments. When my own samadhi broke I found myself weaving through a maze of tightly bound statues of people, looking unblinkingly at Bihariji, who today is not being hidden from sight every few moments. One can drink in his form to one’s heart’s content, and it seems that hundreds of devotees have gotten a taste for this ambrosia and are here, lapping it up with their eyes.
This is phool bungalow season. The sweet smelling tuberose and jasmine garlands hang from the ceiling like chandeliers. Lights changing colors beam on the white flowers.
The brahmins are dressed in their finest. They are on stage. Performers. Serving like sakhis. Taking gifts from the devotees, returning the prasad, and generally looking Goswami-ish, proud in their privileged closeness to Bihariji. One Gosai comes out with a pitcher of water and splashes the crowd, who raise their hands to the sky and joyfully cry Banke Bihari Lal ki jay!!
And here is a new mother dressed in her finest sari carrying her child to be blessed. Here are fathers carrying their children. And sadhus, so many, of so many flavors, of such colorful painted tilaks, and beads and other defining marks. All soaking in the spiritual electricity of Bihariji! Brajwasi, Goswamis, city folk, village folk…
From there I duck through more narrow lanes until I get to Radha Vallabha. Radha Vallabha has a nondescript entrance that rather looks like it was designed to keep people out, with at least three rather nondescript gates before one gets to the inner temple.
Here the crowds are not as great, the atmosphere much different. More familial, more serence. But the act of darshan, drinking in the beauty of the Lord’s form, is the principal act of worship in the prema dharma of Brij deity worship.
At present there is a daily samaj gayan of Hita Chaurasi with the chief Goswami bhajaniya, whose name I do not know. He sings in the old traditional style with subdued manjir and pakhawaj drum, but with harmonium. No mike, so the fans make it difficult to here. Still, there are twenty or thirty people sitting seriously and knowingly responding to the fairly complex tunes.
I sit for fifteen twenty minutes. I am fascinated by the Radha Vallabhis and that is part of why I am writing this essay. I will explain in a later installment.
From there I go out through Radha Vallabh ghera and out to Sewa Kunj and Radha Damodar, which is MY sampradaya. Here I sit and read Chaitanya Charitamrita, which is a defining text of my sampradaya.
Then I walk back. The whole thing is about two and a half-hours. I posted a gallery to give some idea. And over the next couple of days I want to reflect on sampradayas and their different gradations, authenticity and innovation, causes of separation and union, and so on.