Pic courtesy Times Food Passion Tribe
The Temple Food Trail took off with a gourmet blast and I was sure the rest of the days would be equally stimulating and interesting. We were on the way to Vrindavan and headed to the Banke Bihari temple for the evening aarti and then an Ekadashi dinner at Iskcon.
Every time we got onto the bus we were giving attendance and we all felt as if we had gone back on a school trip! The journey was short and we reached the hotel- Nidhivan Sarovar Portico. We were greeted at the hotel with glasses of masala buttermilk which was very refreshing. What a coincidence it was that at the TOI guest house my room number was 304 and again at Nidhivan it was the same. After stretching and relaxing in our rooms we assembled in the lobby. The hotel was a little away from the city and the view from my room was lush green fields. I had been to Vrindavan a few months ago and I warned the group of the monkey menace but no one was ready to believe me. The lanes in Vrindavan are very narrow and the simian brigade is always on the lookout for easy prey. They jump suddenly from the buildings above and run away with your bag, camera, eatables, anything shiny or even your spectacles. Then a stray person from the crowd pops out and asks if he could help. He will ask for money, go after the monkey and entice it with food and bring back the stolen goods. I know it all sounds very far-fetched and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself when I was in Vrindavan a few months ago.
Our bus couldn’t go into the narrow lanes of the mandir and we piled on to these loud rickety auto rickshaws which dropped us off a few yards away from the Banke Bihari mandir. It was a Sunday and an Ekadasi at that. There were hordes of devotees moving towards the temple for the evening aarti.
My eyes were busy devouring the mouth-watering prasad and bright flowers on sale on either side of the lane to be offered to the Lord. brilliant marigolds and delicate pink lotus garlands were piled on baskets and the rabri, ladoos, pedas (sweets made with milk and sugar) and the lassi malai maar ke ( yogurt smoothie with cream) served in huge glasses was to die for. It wasn’t named The Temple Food Trail for nothing!
Now why Krishna was called Banke Bihari? Krishna was the Supreme party animal, who knew how to find rasa in every aspect of life, he got the name Banke Bihari, Banke as his posture was bent in three places (as the statue of Krishna normally is – hands folded holding a flute; waist curved, and leg crossed in a standing pose) and Bihari means Supreme Reveler. Another version says that Banke Bihari is a colloquial pronunciation of “Van Ke Vihari”, or the one who dwells in the jungle, as Krishna was known to, during his childhood wandering with the cowherds and the Gopis. The idol was established at the same spot in Nidhivan before being moved to the present location inside the temple. The black stone image of Shri Banke Bihariji – installed in the Shri Bankey Bihari Mandir, Vrindavan is certainly worth a visit; it is said to fill you with positivity and infuse you with a fresh zest for life!
There are many legends surrounding Lord Krishna in Vrindavan which seem unreal and should be taken with a pinch of salt but then faith overcomes all myths and the legends seem very real. Legend has it that a princess saw the idol of Banke Bihari and fell madly in love with him. Her love lured the Lord to her and he had to be cajoled to come back to his abode. Now a purdah or curtain keeps the devotees from getting a long look of Him, and get mesmerised in devotion. Pujaris regulate the curtain at intervals on the pretext that it is to ward off evil from the cherubic child-Krishna Shree Banke Bihariji. Brijwasis believe that one can still hear the Lord’s flute and hear Him whispering Radha’s name, and the sound of her anklets can be heard in Vrindavan.
The temple was crowded with hundreds of devotees and the devotion was so palpable with the chants of Radhe Radhe renting the air. We managed to get a closer view of the lord but were jostled quite a bit and then the head priest took us aside and applied tilak and gave us saffron scarfs.
We weaved our way back to the Iskcon temple which is much more spacious and bigger. ISKCON is one of the most magnificent and beautiful temples of Vrindavan.It is popularly known as Raman-Reti. The temple has three ornately carved and gold leafed teakwood altars; on the left is the altar of Sri Gaura-Nitai, in the centre is Sri Krishna and Balarama and the third is that ofSri Radha-Shyamsundar and Lalitha-Visakha, her friends. The Temple’s complex is also the final resting place of the philosopher and founder of ISKCON, Swami Prabhupada. A white marble tomb pays respect to his life and contributions.
The power of Divine Love attracts his devotees who flock here from far-away parts of the globe. The Temple complex is impressive, well-maintained and engrossing. The marble idols are beautifully decorated and draw you towards them. You can see many devotees of foreign lands playing musical instruments, singing Hare Krishna Hare Rama and dancing in gay abandon. Even our group let down their inhibitions and swayed to the strains of the chanting under the fragrant Kadamba tree in the courtyard. Vasanthi, in our group,has learnt dance and she played the flirtatious Krishna while all of us were her Gopis.
We were then led to the house of Swami Prabhupada which holds his relics and had the good fortune of meeting his first disciple Swami Garg Prabhu who addressed us. We were given Prasad of Makhan mishri and then we went to the dining hall. So when does ordinary food become prasadam? When it is offered, isn’t it? But for an offering to be successful, it has to be accepted. When the Lord accepts what we offer to Him, it becomes prasadam. And I have found that prasadam usually is universally very tasty.
Generally, Iskcon serves rich food but as it was Ekadasi we were served Vrat ka khana(fasting food) which is without grains. There was a Kuttu ke aate ki puri (buckwheat pancake) , a creamy cheese curry, a cutlet,sabudana khichdi, sabudana kheer, French fries, fruits, a glass of creamy flavoured milk in a clay glass ; simple meal yes, but a sumptuous one that was light on the stomach.
After this simple fare which was food for the soul, a weary but peaceful group went back to the hotel and crashed for the night. We had to leave early in the morning as the next stop on The Temple Food Trail was the Pink City of India – Jaipur.
Stay on the ride with me for the whole experience…….