Radhe Radhe is the common greeting all over Vrindavan! Vrindavan was a surprise package for me. I wanted to make good use of my trip to Delhi and travel was on the agenda. While I was having a late night chat with my daughter, Esha, she got a call from a friend, Khushboo, who said she was going to Vrindavan the next day. On an impulse, Esha asked me if I would like to go and I jumped at the chance. I was up early and ready the next morning. I took a cab to Khushboo’s house in Noida. From there we set out for Vrindavan. Robin, Khushboo’s husband, Deep, her brother, Zarna, his wife and little imp Zara (all of 2 1/2 years old) made up the rest of the motley group.
Just as we entered Vrindavan, we sighted a herd of Nilgai or Blue Bull antelopes. We stopped to take pictures of these majestic creatures.Vrindavan is a temple town in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, India. Krishna was born in Mathura but grew up in Vrindavan. There are over 5,000 temples in Vrindavan, big and small. These temples are dedicated to the worship of Radha and Krishna and considered sacred by Vaishnavites. It is the site where according to Hinduism; Lord Krishna spent his childhood and adolescent days, as a cowherd, prancing with his Gopikas and his beloved Radha. The town is about 11 km away from Mathura, Krishna’s birthplace and 161kms from New Delhi.
The ancient Sanskrit name of the city, Vṛindavan, comes from its groves of vṛinda which mean Tulsi or Holy Basil and van means a grove or a forest. Two small groves of this Holy Basil still exist at Nidhivan and Seva Kunj.
We drove down straight to the ISKCON temple and checked in, to a room. We walked down to the restaurant and came across many foreigners who are Krishna devotees and were dressed more ethnic than we were; women in sarees and sporting a bindi and bangles, men in kurtas, wearing a dhoti and sporting a choti or tiny pigtail. Lunch was late and we were all very ravenous.We ordered for thalis which had generous portions of papad, salad, pakode or fritters, dal, sabzi, rice, raita, roti and kheer for dessert. All items were replenished if needed. After that sumptuous meal, we all were just thinking of a siesta rather than a tour of the temples. We got precious 15 minutes for a power nap as we were waiting for the auto walas. Our car couldn’t navigate through the narrow lanes of the city, thus, we hired two auto rickshaws which were more like golf carts. Little Zara, who is a Krishna devotee, changed from a trouser to a lehenga and was chanting Hare Rama, Rama Rama.
The Sri Krishna-Balarama Temple was built by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). The principal deities of this temple are Krishna and Balram, with Radha–Shyamasundar and Gaura-Nitai alongside and they are just awesome. And adjoining the temple is the samadhi of Swami Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON. The devotees were chanting his name in gay abandon, clapping and swaying to the music and little Zara joined in of course
Vrindavan has an ancient past, connected with Hindu history, and it is an important Hindu pilgrimage. One of its oldest existing temples is the Govinda Dev temple, built in 1590, with the town founded earlier in the same century. Vrindavan is enveloped in eternal devotion to Lord Krishna, the timeless hero, the lover of Radha and the cowherd-prince. The history and significance of Vrindavan was lost over time until the 16th century when it was rediscovered by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In the year 1515, He visited Vrindavan, to locate the lost holy places related with Lord Sri Krishna’s transcendent pastimes. He wandered through the sacred forests of Vrindavan in a spiritual trance of divine love. It is alleged that with His divine spiritual power, He was able to locate all the main places of Krishna’s pastimes in and around Vrindavan.
Lakhs of devotees of Radha Krishna visit these temples every year and participate in a number of festivals. Lord Krishna was raised in the cow herding village of Gokul by his foster parents Nanda Maharaj and Yasoda. Krishna’s early childhood pastimes in the Vrindavan forest where he, his brother Balarama and his cowherd friends engaged in childhood pranks are legendary.
We visited the Madan Mohan Temple next; located near the Kali Ghat. The original idol of Lord Madan Gopal was moved from the shrine to Karauli in Rajasthan for safe keeping during Aurangzeb’s rule. A replica of the original idol is worshiped at the temple.
Next was the popular and famous Banke Bihari Temple, built in 1864. I found it strange that every few minutes the curtains were drawn in front of the richly decorated idol and after the main prayers the curtains are drawn apart to give darshan to all the devotees waiting in anticipation. The curtain before the Deities is not left open like at other temples but every few minutes it is pulled shut and then opened again.When asked, the reason given was that the charm and beauty of Shri Bankey Bihariji was so dazzling that if one stares long enough into His eyes, the person could fall unconsciousness.
Radha Vallabh Temple, set up by Hith Harivansh Mahaprabhu has a crown of Radharani instead of an idol, placed next to Lord Krishna in the sanctum sanctorum.
Radha Damodar Mandir, located at Seva Kunj was established in 1542. The main deities are Radha–Damodar.
We then went to Kaliya Ghat, where Krishna performed the celebrated pastime of Kaliya Daman or the subduing of the envious serpent, Kaliya. Previously, Kaliya Ghat was one of the ghats (series of steps leading down to a water body) on the banks of River Yamuna but in due course, the Yamuna changed its path and now Kaliya Ghat lies at some distance from the Yamuna. Because of the deadly poison of Kaliya, all vegetation and life forms near this lake had died. Except for an ancient Kadamb tree, which still exists since the time of Lord Krishna; this tree was showered with nectar and is still thriving. It is also considered the tree of divine blessing, as it is said that any wish that you make after circling the tree seven times will be fulfilled. All of us religiously circled the tree and made a wish. A marble slab engraved with the tiny feet of Krishna can also be found here.Nidhivan is one of the most famous, religious and mysterious places in Vrindavan. It has many interesting stories or myths. It is actually believed by the people of Vrindavan that Radha and Krishna appear every night and play Raas Lila in Madhuban. But then no one dares to enter and watch Radha and Krishna Yes, it is true that Radha-Krishna and Gopikas appear every night in Madhuban or Nidhivan. They dance together as they did in Dwapar Yuga. Nidhivan is surrounded by Tulsi trees which are twisted into strange shapes. It is said that each tree represents Radha and Krishna. People say that all trees become Gopikas at night. In the middle of the forest, there is a temple of Radha and Krishna. There is one room or Kunj also in a separate spot where Radha and Krishna take rest after dancing. The priest makes the bed, keeps drinking water, sweets and brushes every night before closing the temple and in the morning the bed looked used, water drunk, sweets were eaten and the brushes used. Legend has it that no human has witnessed the Raas Lila of Krishna and Radha in this forest. It is said that those whoever went there at night to watch this tryst of Radha and Krishna, never came back. Some died and others became mad. Maybe myths, maybe legends but most believe it to be true.
All the groves of Vrindavan are notorious for monkeys that have a special fascination for bags, cameras, and spectacles. We were just laughing off the warnings all day but then one cheeky monkey actually ran away with the specs of Zarna’s brother, outside the last temple. A random man came and said that he could get them back for 200/- !! He bought a Frooti to lure the monkey and got the specs back. Now, what could be a better business than train the monkeys to grab your belongings!
Colorful dresses, souvenirs, and flowers for the Lord, were being sold outside every temple.
This is how an eventful day came to an end and we set back for the tired drive back to Delhi, ruminating over the day’s events. Thank you Khushboo and Robin for a memorable trip.Vrindavan was surely an eventful city-Radhe Radhe.