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Chain Bihari and the Warrior Queen: the hidden life of a Vrindavan school principal

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Vrindavan, 2017.09.26 (Vishakha Dasi): There is a gigantic, mysterious gate just across from Jai Singh Ghera. Many times I wondered what was inside, but the gate is angled in such a way that you can’t see in easily. Its faded appearance and muddy entryway were somehow intimidating for me, and I never got up the courage to go in.

Later I learned that this building is the home of my former coworker, the principal of the Sandipani Muni School, Shri Seemant Sharma. And so yesterday evening I went over for a visit.

The building is huge, almost like a palace. You have to pass through two large courtyards before reaching the actual temple. Seemant Sir, wearing a crisp white dhoti, performed the Sandhya aarti himself, as his young son Harsh Vardhan banged on the gong. When aarti was over, I asked him to tell me about this amazing place.

Seemant Sir and his family are disciples of Shri Radha Sarveshwar Sharan Devacharya Maharaj (Shriji Maharaj) and thus part of the Nimbark Sampradaya. Their family deity has been with them since time immemorial.

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The irresistible Shri Chain Bihariji

“Our Thakur’s name is Chain Bihari.” Seemant Sir explained, “Bihari means Krishna, and Chain means “rest”, aaraam. After killing the demon Keshi at Keshi Ghat, Krishna took rest at this place. That’s why this deity was given the name Chain Bihari.

“This deity was worshipped by my ancestors. I have a record of eleven generations of our family, and Thakurji was already with us before that. Throughout the generations we lived right here, in this very place, because we are real Brajwasis.”

The temple, he says, was built by the famous Maharashtran queen, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar. After her husband died in battle, Ahilyabai’s father-in-law forbade her to commit Sati and instead crowned her the queen of the kingdom.

Ahilyabai was a fierce warrior, but she was also very spiritual. She gave generously of her private wealth in charity. She also built and renovated many temples all over India, from the North to the South. She was greatly loved by her people, as this nineteenth-century English poem by Joanna Baillie indicates:

For thirty years her reign of peace,
The land in blessing did increase;
And she was blessed by every tongue,
By stern and gentle, old and young.
Yea, even the children at their mothers feet
Are taught such homely rhyming to repeat
“In latter days from Brahma came,
To rule our land, a noble Dame,
Kind was her heart, and bright her fame,
And Ahilya was her honoured name.”

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Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar

According to Seemant Sir, once Ahilyabai was travelling up the Yamuna River on a ship. When she reached Vrindavan, she and her entire army took rest on the riverbank. Seemant Sir’s ancestor, whose name was Mayaa Ram Pauranik, was performing some rituals nearby.

Ahilyabai had some cancerous tumors on her back, and was on her way to Delhi seeking treatment. She told Mayaa Ram ji about her ailment. He gave her some ashes from the sacred fire and told her to apply them on the tumors. Within two days the tumors disappeared, and the Rani was so thankful that she built this palace for Mayaa Ramji’s deity, Shri Chain Bihariji.

Seemant Sir’s altar also includes smaller deities, whose names are Shri Tulsi-Shyam and Shurpura Bihari. These deities were given to the family by different saints over the years. There are also a number of shaligram shilas, several swaroops of Gopalji, a triangular copper plate with mantras inscribed on it, and a number of tiny deities of devtas, including Shivji, Ganeshji and Gau Mata. A murti of Queen Ahilyabai herself is there as well, just to the right side of Chain Bihari’s singhasan. 

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Maharani Ahilyabai’s murti at Chain Bihari Mandir

The temple also houses the samadhi of a Gaudiya Vaishnav mahatma named Narahari Das Babaji, who used to live in the temple around 100 or 150 years ago. The rooftop offers a beautiful view of Cheer Ghat and Yamuna Maharani.

A number of Bengali widows live in the palace for free in exchange for a little seva. “It’s a huge building, and hard to maintain on a local Principal’s salary. Unfortunately, people only visit a few famous temples in Vrindavan; they don’t even know temples like this exist,” Seemant Sir says, “But perhaps one day I will be able to rennovate this place.”

As we did some catching up, our conversation turned to the economy. There are not very many jobs in Vrindavan, and the jobs that do exist do not pay very well.

Seemant Sir admitted that if he had gone to Delhi or Mumbai, his salary might have been exponentially greater but, “I don’t want to leave Vrindavan. Whatever we have by the grace of Krishna is enough for us. Yes, life is expensive nowadays, but just think of our ancestors – they had even less facilities than we do, yet they didn’t leave Vrindavan. We are also here to stay.”

 

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