Chapter 6: The Epicenter of Devotion

(Draft version)

Adios fatherland! I am going to motherland - Bharat[1] - the land of the Vedas, where every particle vibrates with the Tapa and Moksha of the Rishis[2] over thousands of years. I am going to my birth town Kanpur, on the banks of the Ganges. I am going to celebrate my birthday in the arms of my mother. I am going to celebrate the birth of creation, Navratri, the nights to revere the divine mother with my mother divine.

Bharat - that ancient land which has that subtle soft essence that attracts each visitor not knowing what it is that pulls them back to this land again and again. It is the heart of the people who gentleness, hospitality and family feeling, Apnapan, makes one addicted to this place. Like wine is to France, machinery to Germany, spirituality is to India. There are more spiritual personalities, Pandits, Swamis, Babas, Rishis, per square mile in India than in any other country in the world.

I reach Bharat and feel so lucky that I can sit on the banks of the Ganges in Kanpur and meditate. Under me are layers and layers of an ancient civilization where so many have attained Samadhi. The vibrations still present in the subtle realm have purified the environment to make my meditation so deep and effortless; I simply have to close my eyes.

I wanted to go to Rishikesh in this visit to India, but it was too far from Kanpur for Mummy to be able to make that journey. I had looked at the map for any other spiritual/religious places in a radius of 2-4 hours from Kanpur. There’s no shortage of historical religious places in India! My eyes fell upon Mathura-Vrindavan where I also wanted to go because of its association with Krishn.

Our initial plan was to go around Dussera, the tenth day after Navratri. However; do to some obstacles and inability to find accommodation we postponed it to the following week. Even that wasn't working out for some problems. We were going to go with my nephew, Gaurav, and his maternal grandfather, Nana-ji. So the dates kept shifting and then finally Gaurav decided the dates, we would leave on Sunday for three nights. It was then that I found out that Monday was Sharad Purnima. Sharad Purnima was the full moon night of the full blossoming of divine love; the night of Krishn’s divine dance, Raas, with the Gopis of Vrindavan. Somehow He made sure I was there that night.

A little bit about Nana-ji. My parents and I would attend his talks on Ramayan at Gaurav’s family home which is almost next door to us in Kanpur. Though a householder, he has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in the spiritual realm. Now that he’s retired from his job I suggested to him, jokingly, that he should become a ‘Babaji'! It’s great that I can learn so much from him, and have spiritual dialogues with him as a family member. He can answer a lot of my questions, be my spiritual/religious Wikipedia. He's a resource into the spiritual/religious network and now our spiritual guide on the Mathura-Vrindavan trip.

So we’re off to Mathura-Vrindavan. I can’t wait to be with my Krishn. Will I get a vision of Him? Will He give me darshan[3]?

दिल में दीया जलाई के चली में हरी के पास
मन में बांसुरी सुनाई के आए गोविन्द मेरे पास
प्रेम भाव भर आई है चली में गिरिधर के द्वार
आनंद कृपा भर भर के आए गोपाल मेरे पास
हरी में लीन हुई में मिल गए सागर में साथ

Dil mein diya jalai ke, Chali mein hari ke paas.
Mann mein bansuri sunai ke, Aaye Govind mere paas.
Prem bhav bhar aai hai, Chali mein Giridhar ke dwar.
Anand kripa bhar bhar ke, Aaye Gopal mere paas.
Hari mein leen hui mein, Mil gaye saagar mein saath.

With a lamp lit in my heart, I proceeded towards the Lord.
In my heart I heard his flute, as the Lord came closer to me.
The ecstasy of divine Lord overflows as I come closer to the Lord.
The Lord’s blessings shower me as the Lord comes nearer.
I merge into the divine Lord, we become one in the ocean of consciousness.

With Mummy being so devoted to God, Gaurav also spiritually inclined, our journey to Mathura was full of interesting spiritual stories and conversations.

We arrive in Mathura around sunset. Our stay has been arranged by Gaurav’s uncle who is a senior manager in the Mathura Refinery. We had made bookings at another guesthouse in Vrindavan near the Banke Bihari temple, but Gaurav and Nana-ji suggested against it. So here we are at the Refinery colony. Very green, open and lots of peacocks. Looks like Vrindavan! Gaurav’s uncle, Mr. Tiwari, comes outside to welcome us. We sit down in his modest living room. Indians are very warm hosts and everyone is family. He confirms that he was able to book two rooms in the company guesthouse so looks like it’ll be here that we stay. Not exactly what I wanted, it would have been better if we stayed in Vrindavan. Anyway, things happen. Mr. Tiwari being a local started educating us on the places of interest, their timings, and suggested a schedule for us. I ask him about how long he has been in Mathura and found out that his family has been here for five generations!

Nana-ji and Mr. Tiwari spoke about Swami Guru Sharananadi-ji Maharaj and his Karshni ashram in Mathura. He’s a highly esteemed saint of present day and has a beautiful ashram in Gokul. Apparently Mr. Tiwari has close contacts there and can arrange for us to be given special treatment and be escorted around. So we decided to go there this evening itself and be back for dinner. On the way Tiwari-ji – whom I address as “Bhaiya” (brother) – tells us that the land the ashram is on and all the surrounding area had belonged to his family.
We get special parking at the ashram, left our shoes in the car and walked onto the sand. This place is called “Raman Reti”. Raman refers to divine play and Reti is sand, so Raman Reti is the sand where Sri Krishn engaged in his divine plays, and walked barefoot on this land during his childhood. It was already dark so it was hard to get a broad perspective of the ashram. First we met with lots of indigenous cows in a pen. They looked so clean and healthy unlike the cows elsewhere. Then my eyes fell upon a beautifully carved temple, a Shiv temple I was told. There was another one next to it and then the main temple. We entered the hall of the main temple. There was a beautiful statue of Radha-Krishn. Bhaiya explained the other statues of the Guru lineage of Swami Sharananda-ji. The hall was full of devotees and Sadhus (monks), but it wasn't crowded. The temple and the whole ashram seemed pristine. We were then escorted through the rest of the ashram. There were Kutirs (hermitages) for monks, as any monk can come to this ashram, get food and lodging for free. We proceeded to the back of the ashram where there was a humongous bathing pool for the devotees. Nana-ji has stayed here for a nine day retreat. He told us a story of how the founder of this lineage, a Khan from Pakistan became a devotee of Krishn and then he came here. Even though departed it seems he comes here to bathe in the middle of the night in his subtle body. One day a night guard saw a man around 2:00 am coming and bathing in the pool and was rather scandalized. Nana-ji tells me that there three things which are considered scared in this area and should be given reverence: Raman Reti; the river Yamuna; and Vrindavan, where Radha-Krishn danced the Raas. So Nana-ji takes some sand from the ground and touches it to my forehead. Our short visit to this ashram came to a close, it was truly a treat.

Now Bhaiya says we will visit Nanda Baba’s house in Gokul. Nanda Baba was Krishn-ji’s foster faster, and this house is where his own father, Vasudev, brought Krishn-ji the night Sri Krishn was born. Baal Krishn and His foster parents, Nanda Baba and Yashoda, lived in this house till Krishn-ji was five. Since this land had belonged to Bhaiya’s family, he said that his nephew was in charge of the premises, and would keep it open till we arrive as it was getting late. I found it ironic that I was visiting this house at night and Krishn-ji was also born and brought to this house in the middle of the night. The house was within a fortress, we could see the walls from the road. Nanda Baba was the local landlord and chieftain.

We arrived at the premises and there are a large number of steps leading up. We help Mummy climb up one step at a time. We walk through the compound and into the house. As I approach the house and start walking in, I feel overpowering vibrations of sacredness, a fragrance of loving bliss, it's like submerging in a ocean of divinity. My heart felt an immense expansion and I felt transformed into bliss. These divine vibrations are felt in all sacred places or at sacred times or around sacred souls. The house is built of rocks, and there are lots of beautifully carved ancient pillars in the hall. In the main hall is a temple of the baby Krishn, Nanda Lala, His older brother Balram, His foster mother Yashoda and Nanda Baba. There are just a few people in the temple and we get special darshan. Bhaiya and his nephew tell us about this house and the carvings on the pillars. We circumambulated the hall around the pillars and just as I finished and came back to the front, the temple pandits started the Ᾱrti[4] with bells, chimes, and singing - divine timing! I sit down on my knees with flooded hands, close my eyes and dissolve into the sacred presence of the place. There is a very ancient, sacred, silent feeling here that I sense. I wish I could sit here alone a little longer. I bow down and get blessings. 

We finished touring Nanda Baba’s house and then Bhaiya said he will take us to a Shiv[5] temple. Shiv-ji had come to see Nanda Lala after he was born. This temple is connected with that event. Bhaiya’s nephew also came along riding his motorbike in front of our car. We drive through this ancient holy place of Krishn at night; there was a sanctity about it. On the way Bhaiya shows us the Brahmaand Ghat, the river shore where Nanda Lala showed Yashoda His universal form. The temple was about to close and we arrived just in time. Mummy is a Shiv devotee so she was elated to be there. The two priests waited for us to finish our darshan with the divine.

After this superb welcome at Krishn’s birth town it was time to go back. I told Bhaiya that he must have been Krishn’s relative, it just felt like that, with his family lineage being from Mathura and all this land belonging to his family. It felt like I was being hosted by one of Krishn’s own family members, that they welcomed me, found a place for me to stay, and took me to all these places of Krishn. Things just happened that night; we just flowed with them, like a raft on a river. It was like Krishn’s divine hand was behind it. We were all in bliss driving back to Bhaiya’s home. Bhaiya’s wife had graciously made some dinner for all of us, which we were happy to consume after a long day. Then we headed to our guesthouse for the night. In bed I thought, “I’m in the land of Krishn. I can’t believe I’m here where He lived; this is the divine place of Radha and Shyam. Will I see Him? Will he come?”

Guesthouses in India are very nice; you get lots of pampering, personalized care and are usually very reasonable. This guesthouse was very well maintained, the food was good, and the service was excellent. Mummy got a break from house work!

We got bed tea early next morning, the morning of Sharad Purnima, and were ready to head to Mathura. We were going to visit the Dwarka-dheesh temple, Krishn’s birth place, and the rest depended on time. The afternoon we planned to spend in Vrindavan. Nana-ji told me to keep my smartphone in the car else it can either be pickpocketed or snatched by monkeys. Nana-ji knew a priest, in Mathura-Vrindavan known as Punda, who lived near the temple and the ghats (piers). We first went along the river Yamuna’s shore, through all the ghats where there were lots of small shrines, shops, morning worshippers, and small alleyways. Everyone greets each other with Radhe-Radhe here. We found the priest, Chaturvedi-ji, in one such alleyway who would now be our escort for the Dwarka-dheesh temple. Dwarka-dheesh is one of the names of Krishn. Dwarka is the name of a city in Gujarat, it was the capital of Krishn’s kingdom, and dheesh means king. Incidentally, my great-grand father built a Dwarka-dheesh temple in our ancestral town of Makarand Nagar, Kannauj, so our family deity is Dwarka-dheesh. As in a lot of temples, there is a series of steps that led up to the temple. All the temples have timings for darshan when the door of the shrine is opened for the audience. We had planned to be there before the doors got shut. As I entered, again that sacred feeling, those divine vibrations. There was a huge crowd waiting to take darshan. The inner temple (shrine and hall) was surrounded by an open veranda, within the outer walls of the temple. The shrine and hall were on a raised platform climbed by another series of steps. In the middle of the hall was a pair of railings with people on both sides leaning over to see the idol in the inner shrine. There’s always a mad rush at these public places. It’s very important to keep one’s focus on the Lord and maintain that deep connection with Him within; otherwise you would get lost in the chaos and loose this chance to experience the bliss. Most people are single mindedly cramming for their personal darshan with the Lord, unconscious of others around. Some with their eyes closed saying reciting a prayer, unconscious of the loud crowd. Nana-ji helped me get through a pile of people and lean over the railing to see the idol of Dwarka-dheesh and Radha-rani. You usually get only a few seconds before being pushed out. The temple is beautiful, around five hundred years old. There are beautiful murals on the ceiling. I spent a little time being on my own around the temple, to get its sacred feeling. I then circumambulated the main hall and shrine as is customary in Vedic worship. It was just amazing to see the amounts of people that come here, day in and day out. I wish I could visit this temple without this crowd, like last night’s temple; we are more concerned with the pushing and shoving than being in the presence of the divine. After the temple visit I did bought a few puja things from a shop near the temple. Then we walked back to the car.

It was time to see the birth place of Krishn. The roads were jam packed because of Sharad Purnima. Gaurav decided to enlist a Punda, against Nana-ji’s wishes, to be our guide. His name was Pandit Chaturvedi. A short fair person, I was very impressed by the clean pressed clothes he wore. Krishn’s parents, Devaki and Vasudev were imprisoned by Devaki’s demonic brother Kansa. So Krishn was born in a prison cell. Several temples were built and then destroyed by the Muslim invaders of Bharat. Today a temple and a mosque share a common wall. Due to the tense religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims about this place, there is a lot of security here. The Pandit kept addressing me as “Rani” (queen) rather than the usual “Behen” (sister). He was quite sweet and quite diligent about explaining everything. The temple was very nice and very clean compared to the Dwarika-dheesh temple. As I gazed around I thought that somewhere far below the earth surface lay buried the original birth place of Krishn. Krishn walked this earth more than five thousand years ago, about the same time as the Indus Valley Civilization. We were probably walking on top of the original city of Mathura and Vrindavan. No significant excavation or carbon dating has been done here, unlike Dwarka. Pandit Chaturvedi not only escorted us back to our car but also helped us find a car tire shop to get air as someone had deflated our car tire while it was parked. Gaurav thanked him and gave him his modest fees. Just as we were about to push off he came to my window and said to me personally (in Hindi), “When you drop the ‘I’, you will get the darshan of Krishn.” I was quite taken aback with such a philosophical statement coming from an ordinary pandit. Then we left and I looked back at him walking away. I was longing for Krishn darshan, how did he know? And why was he addressing me as “Rani”, did he know who I was? Who was he? I thought about what he said, that when you drop the “I”ness, the veil that separates me from the divine; then Krishn, who is already there, will be seen. Krishn is my Atma, my soul, my consciousness. My longing to see Krishn was to be achieved within. Krishn, the divine, is within. This morning during my meditation when I was longing to see Him, outside, nothing happened, but I felt something inside. As soon as I turned my attention inward I could feel a ball of bliss. That was Him!
In the early evening of Sharad Purnima we visited Nidhi Van, or Nikunj, the grove where the mystical dance with the divine, Raas, first took place on this very full moon night. It is considered the most sacred place in terms of divine love, the epicenter of devotion.
The Raas Leela of Krishn and the Gopis[6] symbolizes the eternal cosmic celebration of creation and consciousness, the dance of duality. Krishn is consciousness and the Gopis are creation. The hundred and eight Gopis represent all the elements of creation (Tattva). He is the care taker of creation, Gopal, and holds all the elements together. The longing of the Gopis, the urge to merge with their beloved was like gravitational force of the sun. I know, I feel it. The sun holds the rays (Gopis) together. They dance to His tune, the tune of the flute He plays. So also the mind forever longs to merge back into the soul. I long to be with Krishn night and day, I beg Him to come, there is no power within my being stronger than this urge. And the Gopis…they were with Krishn when He walked this earth! Even the Devis and Devatas were here with Krishna to be with Narayan. Why? Because only in a human form can one experience the intoxication of devotion, what to talk of the Gopis would who were with their beloved. The immense attraction between Krishna and the Gopis is Ras (the sweetest nectar) and when the mind is full to the brim, on this full moon night, it is Raas Leela. When Narayan danced here with the Gopis, it moved the entire cosmos to dance in rhythm. Such is the story of their divine play, Leela.
Krishn was an Avatar of Narayan, the perfect manifestation of the conscious life force in a human nervous system. To sustain human life and excel we need nourishment and prosperity. Lakshmi the spiritual consort of Narayan symbolizes this aspect. Radha-rani was the manifestation of Lakshmi and the consort of Krishn. In Vrindavan you will not find any idol of Krishn without Radha, where ever there is Krishn, there is Radha. Radha was actually older than Krishn. Lakshmi is older than Narayan! Krishn was around ten years old at the time of the Raas Leela.

Now this garden of love is an enclosed orchard of Tulsi (Holy Basil) trees. What was amazing is that the ground is dry and parched, yet the trees are full of healthy leaves. The grove is shrouded in mystery; no one is allowed to stay here after overnight. I was told that even the monkeys, birds here leave at night. It is believed that Radha-Krishn and the Gopis still have the Raas here every night. There are stories of people who dared to stay overnight became dumb, blind or insane by the next morning because it’s beyond human capability to witness the proceedings of the night.
There’s an enchantment I felt on that spot in the groove where the Raas took place. For most of the visit I was with Mummy, Nanaji and Gaurav, but I did take a few moments to be alone on the platform where the Raas took place, and there is a "magical force" there and I started walking in the steps of the Raas. It was enchanting and it captured my mind. Nanaji saw me and realized that I have gone into another state. I think he was a little afraid so he took me by the hand and brought me along with him.

A famous devotional saint Swami Haridas used to meditate here and sing to Krishn. It and it was here that his devotion invoked the apparition of Krishn. Swami Haridas asked Krishn not to leave and forever give him darshan and so Krishn granted an image of himself, the famous idol of Kunj Bihari now called Banke Bihari-ji[7].

Swami Haridas was a great devotee of Sri Krishn. He was also the Guru of Mian Tansen, the famous singer in the court of Emperor Akbar. Akbar came in disguise with Tansen to hear Swami Haridas sing here in Vrindavan. Swami Haridas sang to the Lord in ecstasy, in a transcendental state, it was so pure and overpowering that even Akbar was swept away in the tidal wave of divine love.

Initially the idol of Banke Bihari-ji, or Thakur-ji, was in Nidhivan, now the idol is in a temple in Vrindavan, probably the most popular temple here. We went to visit this temple the next morning. There were beautiful flower stalls outside the temple, so colorful, fresh and fragrant. I love flowers. We got some to offer Bihari-ji. We were able to get a side entry into the temple and avoided the long lines because of Mummy’s knee condition. Again there were a lot of excited people, high decibels, chaos, pushing and shoving as I somehow managed to help Mummy climb up to the main shrine. A priest shouted to us to give him the offering we brought for Bihari-ji which he would take inside and then would wait for him to bring it back after it was offered and blessed, called Prasa̅d. We got to see the idol from the closet point to the inner shrine for a few seconds. After darshan I helped Mummy back out and found a place for her to sit. I told her that I would go back from the main entrance to receive darshan because I was not satisfied and I wanted to be alone. So I went back in and slowly paced forward with my eyes transfixed at Banke Bihari-ji. He seemed alive, and a tremendous amount of energy seemed to emanate from the shrine. Luckily it wasn’t too crowded and I could stand there and get my timeless moments of silence in union with the Lord. It’s hard to take your attention off him and leave, but I felt the others were waiting so I headed out. I received special Prasa̅d from a temple priest and at that moment I felt like I had come back home to my father, Krishn, and was being treated like family and being honored by Krishn through his priest. I felt so humbled and like a child. I then did Pradakshina (circumambulation) of the temple and we spent sitting outside the temple before leaving.

Our trip to Mathura-Vrindavan was drawing to a close. I had learnt and experienced so much during this trip. Nani-ji told me so many beautiful things about devotion on our drive back. There were endless stories about Radha-Krishn and the Gopis of Vrindavan that we were leaving behind. This land and the people here are forever soaked in the sweetness of devotion, in the dance of ecstasy, their hearts full of longing for the Lord.

मैतो प्रेम दरशन की प्यासी
क्यों कान्हा मोहे दर्शन दीजो नाही?
सबको दर्शन दियो प्रभु तुमने -
हरिदास को निधि कुञ्ज में
मीरा को यमुना तट पे 
सूरदास को भी आधी रात में 
मुझसे ही क्यों तुम मिलत नाही ?
आई थी में तेरे कुञ्ज में बिहारी
प्राण से गोविन्द! गोविन्द! पुकारी   
बस एक आड़ बीच में रह जाए
आएँगे एक दिन गिरिधारी
अभी तक सिर्फ झलक दिखलाइ
मन को साफ करुँगी में
दिल में फूल सजाऊँगी में 
गोविन्द कैसे नहीं आएँगे फिर
इस बार जाने नहीं दूंगी में
बस ये तड़प सागर में मिल जाए
पूर्ण होए यह जीव प्राणी

Mae to prem darshan ki pyasi
Kyo Kanha mohe darshan dijo nahi?
Sabako darshan diyo prabhu tumne –
Haridas ko Nidhi kunj mein
Meera to Yamuna tatt pe
Surdas to bhi aadhi raat mein
Mujse hi kyu tum milata naahin?
Aae thi mein tere kunj mein Bihari
Praan se Govind! Govind! Lalakaari
Bus ek aadha beech mein reh jaae
Aaenge ek din Giridhari
Mann ko saaf karongi mae
Dil me phool sajaaongi mae
Govind kaise nahin aaenge phir
Is bhaar jaane nahin doongi mein
Bus ye tadhap saagar mein mil jaae
Purna hoe yaha praani

[1] Bharat – Known in the west as India.
[2] Rishis – “Seers”. Realized beings.
[3] There are two types of darshan. 1. When the devotee receives a vision of the divine. 2. When a devotee views and pays homage to an idol of the divine.
[4] Ᾱrti – A religious ceremony to honor the divine, like in a catholic mass.
[5] Shiv – A Hindu God.
[6] Gopis – known for their highest unconditional devotion for Krishna.
[7] Banke means bent in three places, it’s the pose in which Krishna stands. Bihari means supreme enjoyer. 

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