Radha Kund, 2017.01.05 (Vishakha Dasi for VT): The village of Karhala is the the home town of Champaklata Sakhi, one of Shri Radharani’s eight close female friends (ashtasakhis). It is near Barsana, not far from Vishakha Sakhi’s village, Kamai.
To reach Karhala you need to take a rural road, which resembles a tunnel flanked on both sides by tall thorn bushes, which, I must warn you, will scratch your car abundantly, but through which you will get intermittent visions of beautiful green fields.
Once you reach the village, you must wind your way through the very narrow and muddy streets, asking locals the way until you find a white wall with an open gateway.
Inside is the spacious, very clean and peaceful campus of Champaklata Sakhi’s temple. Nearby is a large jhula (swing) and a lake called Kankan Kund. And directly in front of the temple, adjoining it, is a large raas manch (Raas Lila Stage) where the yugal mahamantra is sung to the constant beats of the dholak.
According to residents of Karhala, this is the birthplace of the Raas Lila tradition. (You can read more about the different possible origins and inspirations for the tradition here). It originated with a saint named Shri Ghamand (Uddhav) Devacharya. Shri Ghamand Devacharya was from the Nimbark Sampradaya; one of the twelve disciples of Shri Harivyas Devacharya.
About five hundred years ago, with the rediscovery and renewal of the bhakti tradition in Vraj, Vaishnavs from many different places began to visit the holy land on pilgrimage. However, few were able to understand the native dialect, Braj Bhasha. The language barrier meant they were also unable to understand and relish many sacred texts which reveal the eternal lila of Shri Radha and Krishna.
Thus there was a need to present the lila in a way that was beyond language. And so, Shri Ghamand Devacharya developed the concept of the Raas Lila; or I should say, Shri Krishna caused it to be manifested through him.
Since that time, Brajwasi Brahmin boys take on the roles of Shri Radha and Krishna and Their companions, to present the vani of the rasik saints onstage. This is more properly called Raas Lila anukaran: a depiction, if you will, of the eternal Raas Lila and other lilas of Shri Radha and Krishna.
On my first visit to Karahala village, we met the priest of Champaklata Sakhi’s temple. He was short in stature with a very gentle presence, and a voice that was sweetly rough in a way that only Brajwasi voices can be. He had startling bright blue eyes and his name, he said, was “Radhe.”
“Your name is Radhe?” I asked, “Not Radha Vallabh or Radha Kant or something?”
“No, just Radhe.”
A couple years later when we visited again, I remember asking him if he had been in Raas Lila plays when he was a child. He said yes, that he had portrayed Radharani. I also clearly remember how, when I touched his feet, he was wearing the most amazing slippers creatively sewn from plastic cement bags.
The last time we visited, Radhe was not there. We were told he had left to serve Shri Radha and Krishna in another village. But I digress.
Gesturing towards a large painting on the altar, Radhe explained the lila it depicted with the fluidity of a person who had told the tale hundreds of times.
When Shri Krishna decided to initiate the Raas Lila tradition, He came to Ghamand Devacharya ji and instructed him thus:
“Bring young Brahmin boys from Karhala village and teach them to enact My lilas. I give you one of My crowns, along with the crown of my Beloved Shri Radha. When the performance is about to begin, place Our crowns on the boys’ heads.
“At that moment My Beloved and I will manifest through the children to enact Our lila and bless the devotees.
Ghamand Devacharya did as Shri Krishna instructed. He found two handsome, talented and intelligent young lads – one dark and one fair. After taking their parents’ permission, he trained them in the roles of Radha and Krishna. When he felt they were fully ready, Ghamand Devacharya ji made preparations for them to perform in public.
The night before the Raas Lila was to debut, Shri Ghamand Devacharya suddenly felt that he should have the boys try on the crowns. Perhaps he wanted to test whether or not Shri Radha and Krishna would really appear. But the moment he placed the crowns on the two boys’ heads, they vanished without a trace!
Ghamand Devacharyaji was shocked and extremely upset. He started crying. His weeping was so pitiful that Shri Krishna felt compelled to return and help him.
“What happened? Why are you crying?” asked Shri Krishna.
“I placed the crowns on the boys’ heads just as You said. But when I did, the boys vanished!”
“I see,” said Shri Krishna. “Well, what is the problem?”
“There is a very big problem! What about the boys’ parents? What will I say to them? Shall I tell them that You have given me a crown, and that when I placed it on their children’s heads, they disappeared? Surely they will die of sadness, but not before killing me too. Please, oh Dearest One, please have mercy and bring the boys back!”
Shri Krishna grinned broadly and replied, “The boys are in Golok now. They aren’t coming back. But don’t worry. My Beloved and I will personally enact the Raas Lila tomorrow in front of the audience. And thereafter, we will stay in Karhala and live in the homes of those two boys.”
In this way, Shri Radha and Krishna played the role of those two boys for the rest of what would have been their natural lives.
Shri Radha and Krishna in Karhala