Mr. Shailjakant Mishra of the Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad held a meeting with Vrindavan’s community of foreign devotees the other day, about which a summary in Vrindavan Today was given yesterday. I intend to share some of my reflections over the next couple of days.
Foreign devotee protesting the bridge at Keshi Ghat.
When foreign devotees became alarmed that the Parikrama Marg was being turned into a ring road which would disastrously transform the entirety of the town, exacerbating all the urbanization problems that were already starting to strangle it and destroying the spiritual ambiance once and for all, they were moved to protest. Indeed many devotees from the various foreign temples went there to protest and more demonstrations were planned.
At that time, surprisingly, other than a few Goswamis from Radha Raman, including Padmanabh Goswami, very few people from Vrindavan joined that protest. It was dominated by representatives of the international Vaishnava community in Vrindavan. In fact, there were many locals who held the view that the foreigners were holding back the progress of Vrindavan and its entry into 21st century prosperity.
Others were resentful, saying that the coming of the foreigners had been the beginning of the end for Vrindavan. In a way, they were right, and that is part of the problem. Especially when those who are the cause of a problem think that they know best how to cure it.
Not too surprisingly, in very short order, notice was given by the FRRO in Mathura that any foreign nationals participating in “political activities” would have their visas revoked. The devotees, attached as they are to Vrindavan, could not imagine a worse fate. They acquiesced and, with few exceptions, most dropped out of the battle.
It was a rather devilish quandary: You get to remain in Vrindavan to watch it transmogrify into what one American devotee friend feared was “just another crappy Indian city.”
Srila Prabhupada gave foreigners the right to say what they needed to say because he gave them love for Vrindavan. There are really no foreigners in Vrindavan: whoever has mamta for Vrindavan is a Brijbasi.
Though the voice of the “foreigners” was silenced on that occasion, but now Mr. Shailjakant Mishra has finally decided to give them a voice in Vrindavan’s future, which is as it should be. After all, if the Vrindavan of today is anyone’s creation, for better or worse, it is Srila Prabhupada’s. It is a sign of Prabhupada’s success.
Prabhupada said, in effect, that Vrindavan is a product that can sell. We have something here that is the most valuable treasure in the creation. If someone hears of it, they will be attracted and will come. Prabhupada proved that this was true and made believers not only of new converts from all corners of the globe, but of the residents and preachers of Vrindavan who now also travel India and the globe to attract people to the Divine Couple of Vrindavan.
Prabhupada was ahead of the curve on globalization. The problem now is: Will Vrindavan fall a victim to globalization by virtue of its own success?
Prabhupada in the Three Vrindavans
Most of the devotees at the meeting were directly connected to Srila Prabhupada in some way, disciples or disciples of disciples, and this highlighted the impact that Prabhupada had on Vrindavan.
Let us briefly look at the development of Vrindavan historically, and see how Prabhupada is present in all three Vrindavans.
First is the old part of town where the main temples are found, the town as it developed from the 16th century, including the great princely palaces that were built after the disintegration of Mughal power and the Raj. This took place along the Yamuna shores through to the end of the 19th century from Madan Mohan to Keshi Ghat and then to Vamshi Vat and Tatia Sthan.
The spiritual center of the old town, which was first envisioned by Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis, is the old Govindaji temple, which is Govinda Sthala on Goma Tila, the highest elevation in Vrindavan. This is the Yoga Peeth around which the Goswamis began to build their vision of a temple bounded town, with Madan Mohan standing at the western extremity.
The prominence of these two temples, along with Gopinath, which stood on the third of Vrindavan’s hills, stood as a symbol of their desire to call the world’s attention to the Divine Beauty that resides here.
Not surprisingly, the main cultural and religious ethos of the old town is centered on temple worship. Each temple is a yoga peeth, each one a center of the culture that took birth here and gave new form to Hinduism.
Prabhupada’s connection to this part of Vrindavan was cemented in the nine years he spent at Radha Damodar before embarking on his preaching mission to the West. This is the Vrindavan he first showed his disciples.
Prabhupada teaching Bhakti-rasamrita Sindhu at Rupa Goswami’s samadhi in Radha Damodar, ca. 1972.
The second historical phase of Vrindavan development can be confined to the area that now lies within the Parikrama Marg. Parts of this area, especially on the Rajpur side, are still comparatively less developed than along the Mathura Road or what is now Bhaktivedanta Marg.
This area was originally developed mostly by sadhus who were attracted to Vrindavan and built ashrams here. Bhagavata Nivas, Dauji Bagicha, Radharaman Bagh in Raman Reti, Madan Ter, Shriji Bagicha, Achala Vihar and other ashrams in the Varaha Ghat area, Anandamayi Ma, Shripad Baba and other ashrams on the Mathura Road, Akhandananda Saraswati, Udiya Baba, Hari Baba, and Kaladhari Bagicha in Moti Jheel and Davanala Kund, and the many other garden type ashrams that lined the Parikrama Marg.
But because of the nature of these places, i.e., to be accompanied by a greater outreach beyond Vrindavan, it looks both towards the Yoga Peeth and outside, to the world. This movement outwards is symbolized by the Krishna-Balaram temple which stands just on the edge of the Parikrama Marg on the main thoroughfare leading from Vrindavan to the external world.
The main ethos in this part of the town was bhajan and sadhan and vairagya in the tapovan, as well as the culture of spiritual knowledge for the purpose of teaching. In many ways, this was the “real” Vrindavan, which preserved the natural surroundings that would have been unchanged from the Goswamis’ times.
The area lying outside the Parikrama Marg is primarily outward-looking. Ashrams and so on were less dense in these areas and since the 1980s has started to develop in the way of modern 21st century Indian cities, with more and more people who want to live in the Dham but who still want their comforts. Here again, Prabhupada is represented by Akshay Patra, which now proposes to build there the tallest temple in the world, Vrindavan Chandrodaya Mandir.
The Prabhupada connection is symbolized by Radha Damodar in the old town, one of the many Yoga Peeths, by Iskcon in the middle town – standing right at its edge on the Bhaktivedanta Marg, and then by the ambitious projects of ISKCON Bangalore, Akshay Patra and its skyscraper temple.
These are three different Vrindavans and they should be considered so and developed accordingly.
There are still some people who come to Vrindavan expecting to find some of the idyllic pastoral environment of the Puranas, but they are becoming fewer and fewer. Nevertheless, the old town is still the spiritual center and the most authentic part of Vrindavan. The middle town still preserves in many places the authentic bhajananandi atmosphere of the Vrindavan before globalization, but with every day, this section of the city loses a bit of that authenticity. The outer part barely pretends to be anything but a show, though endowed with ethical ideals, it looks to the world almost more than to Vrindavan itself. The Prem Mandir and Pagal Baba temple are the first outposts on this outward looking Vrindavan.
Srila Prabhupada and his disciples at the opening of the Krishna-Balaram temple on Ram Naumi in 1975