My wife seems to have been smitten by some religious bug. Though I am myself a reasonably religious person (except for after 7 on some days, when the “spirits” of United Breweries, Seagram and Johnnie Walkers of the world, keep on hovering around me and I along with some of my friends or office colleagues drag ourselves to the nearby bars), probably to cover my shortcomings my wife has been making some extra effort as some kind of an “insurance”.
On one of these bouts last weekend, she asked me to plan a visit to Vrindavan. I have lived with her under the same roof for over three decades and have every intention to be there till I live and hence told my driver to be on the wheels by 6 in the morning. That’s how our jaunt to Mathura – Vrindavan started.
Vrindavan is around 140 Kms from our house and it takes two and half hours to reach therein the early hours of the morning. It is just 15 kms short of Mathura, on the banks of river Yamuna.
Right from the days when my daughters were growing up, we would take a stop over at “Dabchik”, a resort on the highway, close to Hodal. That’s what we did this time too and had an early breakfast. Dabchik has a small restaurant, but are known for good food. The lush green lawns around the resort always make me feel comfortable and additionally, the camel, elephant rides and joy rides are an added attraction for the children (though on couple of occasions some of my firang colleagues enjoyed these rides too). The complex has some neat cottages for overnight stay too.
As you draw closer to Vrindavan, you can feel some kind of change in the environment (Fiza mein badlav aa jaata hai), especially close to the highway where we take a detour for Vrindavan (I read somewhere – “as you cross the Mexican border from Texas, you feel some load off your shoulders”).
The hawkers and fruit sellers, the rickshaw pullers, asking for a side were chanting “Jai Shri Radhey” or “Hare Krishna” taking us to a different world – a world where Lord Krishna spent his formative years.
The distance from the National highway to ISKON Temple is around 5 kms. In the good old days, the entire route used to spread the aroma of sweet smells, with peacocks freely playing across the road. Being close to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, countless migratory birds could also be seen. Once we also sighted a “Neelgai” too. These days with commercialization taking a firm grip, the chirping of the birds and the dancing peacocks have become a rarity.
There are about 4000 temples, big and small, in Vrindavan, apart from a few ghats, used by the Hindus for ritual bathing.
Though all the Vrindavan temples have an equal reverence, the ISKON Temple has a special place in my heart owing to my personal involvement in setting up of an ATM in the temple compound around 5 years back on my first visit to Vrindavan (I work for an ATM manufacturing company).
The Shri Krishna Balram Temple was established in the year 1975 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON). The temple is situated in Raman Reti (the enjoyable sands), where Lord Krishna and Balram sported with their cowherd friends.
The principal deities are Lord Krishna, his brother Balram (also fondly known as Dau) and Radha ji (Krishna’s consort).
The temple has three altars. The first altar houses the deity of Shri Gaura Nitai, the incarnation of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Krishna, his brother Balram (also fondly known as Dau) are worshipped in the central altar and on the third altar Radha ji and her friends Lalita and Vishakha are worshipped.
Hare Krishna devotees from around the world are visible here throughout the year.
Adjoining the temple is the Samadhi of Shrila Prabhupada, built in pure marble. Vrindavan was so dear to Srila Prabhupada that he chose to remain here eternally in Samadhi in front of the holy temple.
Banke Behari Temple
Despite the grandeur of ISKON Temple, the Banke Bihari Temple, built in 1864 is still the most revered and vibrant shrine in Vrindavan. This Brindavan temple was originally established by Swami Haridas, a great Krishna devotee, known for his soulful devotional bhajans (was also the guru of the famous musician Tansen). He discovered the sacred deity of Banke Bihari (also popularly known as Thakur ji) at Nidhivana, where Banke Bihari was originally worshipped.
The deity was moved to Vrindavan on completion of the temple in 1864. The most interesting thing about this temple is that, unlike most of the other temples, the curtain is not left open. The curtain is put shut every few seconds and drawn back with a great chanting of Thakur ji. This is probably done with a view to shroud the icon for a moment. It is believed that the brilliance of eyes of Thakur ji can make a person unconscious, if seen for too long a stretch. Another notable feature is that the lotus feet of the deity can be seen only once a year, on Akshaya Tritiya, which falls sometimes in April / May.
If you are fond of some good “chaat”, lassi or mouth-watering sweets, the market outside the temple is the place
Radha Madhav Temple (Jaipur Temple)
The Radha Madhav Temple, popularly known as Jaipur Temple was built by Sawai Madhav Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur, in the year 1917. The temple dedicated to Shri Radha Madhav took 30 years in making. It is Vrindavan’s most opulent and imposing temples.
The workmanship of the hand carved sandstone is simply mesmerizing. Each of the huge pillars holding the roof are carved out of single solid rock. It is believed that the Maharaja financed the railway line between Mathura and Vrindavan, just for the transportation of huge slabs for the temple construction. The principal deities in the temple are Shri Radha–Madhava, Anand Bihari and Hansa-Gopala.
Passing through the dingy and narrow streets of Vrindavan, we reached Nidhi Vana. The place was once a forest (size now cut down to meet the local requirements), where Swami Hari Das discovered the deity of Banke Behari. Nidhi vana is also believed to be the “kridasthali” (playground) of Radha and other gopis. As per the popular belief, Lord Krishna rested here with Radha. The shrine inside has a bed, which is decorated by the priest every evening. No one is allowed to stay inside the shrine after dusk, because as per the popular belief the Lord visits the spot with Radha.
The Samadhi (memorial) of Swami Hari Das is also within the complex.
Bansi Batt & Gopeshwar Temple
Our young guide took us to Bansi Batt, where Lord Krishna used to relax and play his flute under the Kadamb tree. It is believed that the tree from Lord Krishna’s childhood days is still there. The popular belief is that Lord Krishna used to take as many forms as the number of Gopis and perform “Raas”.
It is also believed that unable to resist His temptation to watch Krishna’s “Raas Leela”, Lord Shankar, one day came in the form of a Gopi at Bansi Batt. Needless to say that Krishna recognized Him immediately and with a smile welcomed Him. We were told that under the same very tree, Krishna kneeled in front of Him, calling Him “Gopeshwar”. Near Bansi Batt, there is an ancient “Mahadev Temple”.
From the banks of Yamuna, we returned back to ISKON Temple to buy some pictures (photography is strictly prohibited in the temple and its precincts) right on time before the doors of the temple closed.
Most of the temples being closed between 12.30 to 4.30 P.M., we decided to take some rest at the nearby Thakurji Ashram Vrindavan, which provided us a clean air conditioned room. We took our lunch and my wife, so used to taking an afternoon siesta, took a good two hours’ nap.
Thakur ji’s Ashram also houses a temple known as “Shri Brindaban Behari Temple” The above picture speaks of the grandeur of the temple.
Radha Madana-Mohana Temple was our next place of halt.
This is one of the first temples built in Vrindavan by Sri Sanatana Goswami, at a time when it was just a forest. The temple is closely associated with Shri Chaitanya. As per the folklore, the original deity was moved to Karauli in Rajasthan for safety during the attack on Vrindavan by the soldiers of Aurangzeb.
Today the replica of the image is worshipped at the temple.
What an amazing ancient temple amidst the whiff of newly constructed ones.
Radha Vrindavan – Chandra Mandir
It was nearly 5 P.M. and before hitting the highway, we visited the Shri Radha Vrindavan – Chandra Mandir (managed by The Krishna Heritage Consortium). Believe me we were totally mystified by the imposing grandeur of the deities of Lord Krishna and Radha Rani. What a beautiful complex !
Akshaya Patra Vrindavan
And now the best part of our visit to Vrindavan – The Akshay Patra Kitchen, housed in the complex, which provides wholesome food to around 100,000 children in over 400 Government and semi Government schools in and around Vrindavan and Mathura Distt.
The Akshaya Patra project which started in Bangalore in June 2000, with meager 1500 students, slowly progressing to 2 lac children, had its next port of call at Vrindavan. The dream to provide food to the under privileged children was fulfilled thanks to entrepreneurs like, Sunil Mittal of Bharti Foundation. The meals here are predominantly, wheat based to fall in line with the local preferences, though at times rice meal is also served. The temple authorities took us to a tour of the kitchen, where we could see a “Roti making machine” operated by LPG, which could churn out 10,000 chapattis per hour. Along with this we were shown the wheat kneading machine, the vegetable and rice cooking machines, which not only ensure total hygiene but also timely deliveries to the children. We were told that the kitchen also has the support of a similar set of electrically operated machines.
Now, my dear friends this is called the welfare of the poor, in the real sense of term.
We were shown the proposed design of the bigger temple in the same complex, the construction of which will start on the 40 acres land shortly.
On our way back, we saw 2 new temples coming up – The Gita Mandir being built by the country’s leading industrial group, the Birlas, which houses the Gita Stambh, a pillar with the entire Srimad Bhagwat Gita carved on its surface. The other is called “Prem Mandir”, an astounding complex, which is being constructed under the auspices of Shyama Shyam Dham Samiti.
As mentioned above, Mathura is only 15 kms from Vrindavan. I had a chance to go to Mathura in the last week of January and visited the famous “Krishna Janambhoomi Temple” and “Dwarkadhish Temple”, about which I would endeavour to write in my next post.
Thanks for visiting.