Vrindavan, 2016.05.17 (VT): Topi Kunj, one of Vrindavan’s better known kunjas of the Nimbarka sampradaya holds its annual festival for four days, culminating on the Vaishakh Shukla Ekadasi, which this year fell on May 17th. Samaj Gayan from Mahavani was held on each day, with the final day being a meditation on the beauty of the Divine Couple in their flower bower and covered in sweet fragrant flowers. This is in keeping with the Phool Bangla season.
The program began with song 52 from Yugal Shatak by Shri Bhatta. The rest was from Utsaha Sukha 56-59 of Mahavani.
phūla mahala phula vāri meṁ phūla siṁgāra kiye |
śrī haripriyā baiṭhe do ū phūle phūla hiye ||
In a palace of flowers, on a bed of flowers and dressed in flowered costume,
Haripriya sits and looks at the Divine Couple, his heart swelling with joy.
Mukhiya Rup Kishore Das led the Samaj. Topi Kunj is a small temple of the haveli style providing an intimate atmosphere. Other than the group of experienced and mostly renounced bhajananandi male voices and a few devotees from the ashram, there was no one there. I am particularly enchanted by the pakhawaz drum and the single set of manjira, expertly played. This is the standard for Samaj Gayan in all the rasik traditions.
To be able to participate in this beautiful sung meditation on the Divine Beauty in the Holy Dham of Vrindavan is not given to all, but is something that requires many births of sukriti.
Recording of the Samaj. (Actually quite pleased at the quality of the recording.
The original name of the ashram, which is customarily inhabited by up to 50 renounced sants, was Mukunda Dev Pradhana Peeth, or the main seat of the Nimbarki line descended from Mukunda Dev, one of Hari Vyasa Devacharya’s twelve disciples.
The seventh descendant from Mukunda Dev was Ramdas, who wore a distinctive hat all the time. This Is how the place came to be called Topi (hat) Kunj. It is said that all the mahants of Topi Kunj were siddhas.
In the modern era, the temple and deity service was established Madhav Das Bhaktamali (1862-1944). Madhav Das was born in a brahmin family in Deeg within the Braj Chaurasi Kos. He came into contact with sants from the Nimbarka sampradaya when still small, and when still very young he ran away to Vrindavan to live with devotees. His parents sent out people to look for him and they found him and brought him back.
After the death of his father he went to Jagannath Puri on pilgrimage with his mother, and seeing the sadhus there, he was inspired to take up the life of renunciation, but as he still felt responsible for her, it was impossible for him to leave everything. That night he had a dream in which Lord Jagannath came to him and told him that his mother would be leaving her body soon and that he should go to Vrindavan and dedicate himself completely to bhajan. In the dream Jagannath told him that the proof that what he had seen was true would come the next day when he went for darshan and he would be given a lotus flower by the pujari. As is often the case, on waking he did not pay much attention to the dream and had forgotten it, but when he was standing in front of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra, the pujari recognized him as a great devotee and gave him a flower that was at the Lord’s feet. This prodded his memory and he remembered the dream. On their way back from Puri, his mother left her body, and so Madhava Dasji never went back home but went straight to Vrindavan and took initiation from his guru Kalyan Dasji in 1886.
He spent time in Barsana where he stayed in Gahvar Van and there had darshan of Radharani, and again at Narayan Bhatta’s chatri. This is considered to be where he attained siddhi.
He learned Bhagavata and other shastras and finally became well known as a speaker of the Bhaktamal, Nabhaji’s legends of the saints. This is how he got the name Bhaktamali. Although he was installed as his guru Kalyan Dasji’s successor as Mahanta of Topi Kunj and was able to build it up, he himself preferred to stay in Ban Bihar in Raman Reti, living in natural surroundings with the trees, parrots and peacocks.
The famous teacher of Bhakta Mal, Jagannath Das Bhaktamali (1898-1984), who lived in Gyan Gudri, learned from him. It is through Jagannath Das that most of Vrindavan’s current speakers on Bhakta Mal owe their inspiration.
At one time during a bhandara, some sadhus raise the controversy about whether renounced Vaishnavas should be given gifts of money (dakshina). Madhav Das had taken the position that because Vaishnavas always served their deities, they needed money for incense and other elements of the seva. So he approved of the custom of giving money donations to renunciates. He was handing the gifts out from a waterpot (kamandalu) made out of a gourd, which seemed to contain an inexhaustible supply of coins to distribute to the devotees.
In Ban Bihar, he was once seen cutting the grass and was asked why he was doing it. He answered that Radha and Krishna were engaged in their lilas in the wooded area and he did not want them to cut their feet on the sharp and tough grass that was growing there.
Madhav Das’s successor was Sanat Kumar Dasji (1888-1978). Born in a village in Madhya Pradesh, he had an inborn detachment from the ways of the world and ran away from home at the age of 15 when he heard the family discussing his marriage. His first stop was Chitrakut where he spent seven years in intense austerities. Then he went to Ujjain where he prayed to Mahakaleshwar for the blessing to live in Braj. But like many other sadhus, he was afflicted with wanderlust and before finally taking shelter of the Dham, he traveled the length and breadth of India visiting all the holy places.
One day he was bathing in the Narmada River and by some miraculous fashion was given the Shalagram Shilas that can now be seen on the altar at Topi Kunj. He came to Vrindavan and saw his guru Madhava Das for the first time at Jugal Ghat after bathing in the Yamuna.
When his guru first told him that he wished to make him his successor, Sanat Kumar Dasji was reluctant because he wished to keep clear of any distractions in his bhajan, but his guru gave him the blessing that by serving as Mahant of Topi Kunj he would be given the opportunity to serve the Vaishnavas and saints and that this would make his dispassion to the world grow tenfold.
He was reputed to have miraculous healing abilities and he is said to have cured people of cancer and other diseases simply by his touch. His divine intervention was also said to have been the cause behind Hanuman Prasad Poddar’s being released from house arrest.
He was a great devotee of the Mahavani and Yugal Shatak of Shri Bhatta, which he had memorized. Two days before leaving his body, he announced to all his disciples and the Vaishnava community the time of his departure. The devotees gathered in Topi Kunj and started singing from Mahavani. About two hours before he entered the eternal pastimes, he asked his disciple and current mahant Lalita Sharan Dasji to place him on the ground so that he could merge directly with the dust of Vrindavan. He left this world while murmuring some verses from the Sahaj Sukh section of Mahavani.
More photos here. Gallery.