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Braj Sanjhi festival: The gopis use Sanjhi as an excuse to meet Shri Krishna

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hands-of-grace-sanjhi-paper-art-10.jpgBy Krishnaa Kinkari

Vrindavan, 2018.09.27: 

At this time of year, Sanjhi Lila is celebrated in the temples of Vrindavan. Brajwasis celebrate the festival by making their own sanjhis and Rasa Lila troupes perform various versions of this Lila accompanied by padas and ragas, many of which were composed hundreds of years ago.

"From the last day of the month of Bhadrapad to the middle of Ashwin for 15 days, the festival of Sanjhi is celebrated. It is so called because of the worship of the Sanjhi design takes place at dusk. The designs are made by young girls on the walls of their homes on each of the 15 days in order to procure a fine husband. The lila as sung by the Ashta Chaap poets of Vraja is so sweet. It conjures up visions of the late afternoon when the suns heat starts to diminish, the cows are expected home, cooking fires are lit and the day mellows. The lovely maidens bathed and finely dressed begin to make their designs. Little do they know that Krishna disguised as a young girl and unknown to his beloved Radha, joins Her in the Sanjhi worship, helping Her to obtain Himself as Her husband! The Sanjhi's themselves are intricate designs in flower petals and coloured powder, clay and sometimes powder in water." (From The Vraja Festival Calendar Ed. Krishnaakinkari)

The pada below is often sung during Sanjhi Lila performances. Written by the famous blind devotional poet Surdas, it gives us a glimpse of the playfulness of the gopis, whose interest in Sanjhi puja was mainly sparked by their idea of using it as an excuse to meet Shri Krishna.

Raga Gori

Sakhiyana sanga radhika pyari
Vinata sumana vana mamhi ho
Sanjhi pujana ko at atura
Hari thade kadama ki chamho ho

Sakhi bhekhna de mohana
Kolai cali apune geha ho
Puchi kirati yahoo ko sundari
Taba kahyo meri saneha ho

Sanjhi khela vida kari sabako
Dou paudhe seja manjhara ho
Sagari rata sura ke svami
Basi sukha kiyau apara ho

Translation: "Radhika goes to pick flowers in the forest with her girlfriends. Anxious to join the worship of the Sanjhi, the Lord stands beneath a Kadamba tree dressed as a gopi, and the girls take Him home with them. Radha's Mother Kirati asks Her who this lovely girl is and Radha says she is their dear friend. After making Sanjhi and seeing everyone off the two of them retire together. Having the company of Surdas's Lord for the whole night brings Her endless happiness.

This lila is known as a mis Lila, where the Gopis use an excuse to get to meet their Lord: here, the worship of the goddess. Similarly, going out to sell yoghourt and butter and fetching water from Sri Yamunaji, are mis Lilas."

The poet Puruṣottama Dāsa also describes Sanjhi Lila using this Pada:

Sāṅjhī ko Pada, Rāga Khamāca

Sāṅjhī bhalī bana āīre
Śrī Rādhe Vṛṣabhānu lalī
Barana barana phūla bīne ke
Apane hātha banāī re||1||

Nanda gāma te sakhā bheka meṅ
Āye kuṁvara kanāī re
Puruṣottama prabhu kī chabi nirakhata
Naina nirakhi sacu paīre.||2||

The lovely days of Sanjhi puja are here and Sri Vrishabhanuji's daughter Radha has come to the forest and is picking flowers of all colours and making the Sanjhi designs with Her own hands.[1]

The youthful lad Kanhaiya has come from Nandas village disguised as a cowherd boy. The poet Purusottamdas now gazes at the Beauty of the Beloveds. They feel great joy as they look into Each Others' eyes. [2]

Sanjhi is now being recognized as one of the traditional Braj art-forms. While the most dedicated artists practice their craft all year round, villagers use this yearly festival as a reason to get together and make sanjhi designs from cow dung, flowers, coloured powders and other materials.

Braj locals will tell you that making sanjhi is said to be a favourite pastime of Radha Rani: She spends hours making elegant and intricate designs in the hope that Shri Krishna will come to take a glance when He is bringing the cows back home after grazing.

Some of the best sanjhi artists in Braj will also get the chance to exhibit their work in the yearly Sanjhi Mela at Brahma Kund. This year, the three day festival begins on Friday 28th September.

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