I think I can say, that every time my family and I have made an attempt to go to Vrindavan, our place of pilgrimage, something has to go out of control. This time we were visiting the inauguration of our spiritual leader’s final resting place. On the 8th of October, the flight I was to travel by from Bangalore to Bombay was overbooked and I couldn’t get a seat, as I was holding a staff ticket. Thus dejected, I had to go back to my grandparent’s home in Bangalore. So, my father bought a ticket for the next day, 9th October, and I flew to Bombay. I met my parents at the airport and then we few to Delhi. From Delhi, Vrindavan is a 4-hour journey by car. And Radhakund is an hour’s journey from Vrindavan.
Vrindavan is a place of pilgrimage for many Hindus, especially the Vaishnavas and the followers of the Bhakti cult. Vrindavan is a town in the Mathura district of the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. According to Hindu Mythology, Vrindavan is where Krishna enjoyed his childhood and youth.
Radhakund is both, the name of a sacred pond as well as the name of a town that is named after the pond. The mythological story behind it is related to Krishna. He killed a demon who had taken the shape of a bull. So, the gopis headed by Radharani teased him of being sinful and asked him to bathe in all the holy water bodies of the world. He instead summoned them and created a pond called Shyamkund. When he accused the gopis and Radharani of being impure for siding with the demon, they dug a hole in the ground. The Deities of the holy water bodies requested to be of service to Radharani and then they filled the pond and the pond was named Radhakund. Krishna said that Radhakund would be even more glorious than Shyamkund. Pilgrims visit this site to this day.
On the car ride, I was lost in thought. The hustle and congestion of the city was far behind and we were travelling on a deserted highway that passed by nearly deserted fields where there were huts that looked deserted too. I simply smiled softly to myself. I kept thinking of the loneliness of the surrounding area. It was almost inhuman.
As we approached Vrindavan, I started to feel a wonderful sense of calm and peace. Vrindavan for me has been an extremely spiritual destination. The experience of being in the place is something I have always cherished with every visit. There is no one adjective to describe the emotion of being there as, if we try to assign one, a part of the emotion isn’t expressed. But if I could, then I would say it would be a mixture of serenity, over flowing happiness, calm, peace, beauty, strength, humility, awe, power, dignity, being, detachment, love and much more.
We left for the temple when we arrived at Vrindavan. It was a wonderful feeling coming back to the temple after three years. There are three altars for different forms and expansions of Krishna. And in each altar, there are two kinds of deities, one that is generally worshiped and is larger, and the other that is worshiped specifically during festival times and is smaller.
That day, just like any other day, the deities were wearing well embroidered clothes, this time of cream and red colour. Jewellery of beads, gold and semi-precious stones are normally used. Flower decorations are very widely used in the temple altar. They are used to make patterns on columns, backdrops and clothes and are even used as ornaments for the Deities.
We stayed for the aarti (worship) in the temple. The aarti is done using materials representing the five classical elements, namely ether, fire, water, earth and air. First a conch shell is blown, the sound of which is considered auspicious and was thought to represent ether. Then, to make the room aromatic, agarbatti (incense sticks) are lit, offered and placed aside. Then, to prevent the evil eye from having its effect on the deities (which is ironic), a camphor lamp is lit and offered. Then a ghee lamp, representing fire. Then water in a smaller conch shell is offered. Then flowers, representing earth. Then finally a chamara (yak hair whisks) and a peacock feather is waved at the deities, symbolizing air.
Kirtan (to glorify), is glorifying God through song, musical instruments and dance. Mostly done during the aarti, people join in and dance and sing along. That day, in one part of the temple, a group of women were performing the kirtan. Though the tune was simple and so was the rhythm, the reverence and love with which she was singing was captivating and soothing. The same could be said of the instrumentalists. The experience of being present when such a kirtan was going on was amazing.
Later, we left the temple to spend some time with family friends who had already arrived at Vrindavan before us. After taking rest in the afternoon, we proceeded toward Radhakund. Radhakund is a very congested village/town so much so that even a car could get stuck on the road. There are many temples, shops, houses, that nearly look attached to each other. The kund(pond) itself looks like a square, with stone steps leading the way in. Shyamkund on the other hand is more like an irregular polygon. On the banks, we can find people selling small baskets of offerings.
Hilarious congestion situation on a relatively wider road in Radhakund. I took this picture standing on one end and the two cars are on the other end of the road.
After paying our respects to the holy pond we proceeded to the samadhi (final resting place) of our spiritual leader. The samadhi itself is in the compound of another temple which is right in front of Radhakund (the pond) called Gopalji Mandir. The temple is also very small.
The new samadhi and its designs were made of marble and the artwork was done by the Balinese devotees. The doors were of wood with gold colour plating on some of the designs. The walls of the samadhi were decorated with flowers. There were small items made by them out of leaves and fruits. The samadhi alter was made of wood that had gold colour plating for enhancement. On top of those, were decorations made by flowers. The internal structure of the building had been very artistically crafted with a pleasing aesthetic sense.
There were two fire sacrifice pits made of brick. Offerings were made of dried rice coated with turmeric, dried fruits, berries and grass, a kind of material that looked like a larger form of popcorn (even though it wasn’t popcorn), and a pot of ghee from which ghee is poured through a mango leaf. A lot of the paraphernalia was symbolic of Lakshmi-Narayan / Radha-Krishna. Fire sacrifices are an important part of any kind of inauguration in Hinduism. Fire is believed to be both a witness and a messenger in a fire sacrifice. The first few incantations give the location and time of the sacrifice (in relation to mythological understanding of space and time) and invite the gods, demi-gods, and other holy beings to bear witness to and bless the occasion. The fire sacrifice is also sometimes considered as a kind of spiritual formality.
When the fire sacrifice was over, there was the ‘kalash abhishek’ where the priest inaugurated the building. After that, there was a cultural program where devotees from Bali performed the traditional Bali welcome dance. They used a fusion of traditional Bali and Indian instruments. The Bali welcome dance was performed by four female dancers. They wore white shirts and silk skirts. The skirts were very detailed. They had decoration even on their hair. I had to go on the terrace to see the dance as everyone was standing and I was too short. After that there was a Manipuri kirtan. Manipuri kirtan is an expression of the sorrow of the soul being separated from the divine and its wish to re-join God’s activities in the spiritual kingdom.
Photo of Bali welcome dance taken from terrace. Only two of the dancers can be seen in the photograph
It was a wonderful feeling to pray in a holy place. It acted something like a catalyst for joy and peace of mind and heart. It provoked questioning of self and self-awareness and a need to take responsibility of my actions and be ethical in my endeavour. Also, praying in a spiritual place helped me to connect with what I would believe to be a higher power and for those few moments, acknowledge my almost tiny existence in the role playing of the universe.
Later, it became time for food to be prepared. The area used for the sacrifice was later used as a kitchen. Huge pots were holding many kilograms of groundnuts, millet kheer, vegetables, and others. There were many men and women who were cutting kilograms of vegetables and fruits into relatively smaller vessels to be sent for cooking. Whatever food is cooked is first offered to God and is eaten as his blessing. This food is called prasad in Sanskrit and means ‘mercy of God’. In temples, everyone sits on the ground and prasad is served on leaf plates.
I had an interesting experience on that particular day when they were serving the prasad. I was looking at the crowd who had come and realized that most of them were people of low income. When I compared my condition to theirs, I felt sad. I also felt angry with the government for being irresponsible and indulging in countless scams and corruption cases instead. But I later calmed down and prayed for the people’s well-being.
There are many shops that sell spiritual items and memorabilia in Vrindavan. In Vrindavan, there is a very famous bazaar, Loi Bazaar where most of these shops are found. Just like in Vrindavan, Radhakund too has many shops which are not confined to a particular area as the township is very small. You can find shops that sell idols, worship items, clothes for the idols, clothes for yourself, paintings, video recording, audio recording, offerings, books, and many other things. Most of the travel in and around Radhakund and Vrindavan happens in electric rickshaws. To travel in these rickshaws requires good bargaining skills. These rickshaws travel from Vrindavan to any other holy place near it too, like, Radhakund, Govardhan etc.
There are many individuals who part take pilgrimages to Vrindavan. But the two people I would like to mention are my mother and her best friend, Anula and Radhapriya respectively. My mother is a working woman who has a very busy life. Due to her busy life, her health reduced considerably. But she makes it a point to frequently visit Vrindavan and especially Radhakund. She will prepare for over 6 months, keep the dates fixed and visit the temples she wants to visit, no matter what my dad’s or my plan is. She will also make sure she gets enough prasad to distribute to all her friends, pray for each one of them at every temple, spending nearly an hour just praying for their well-being. And Radhapriya, is an arthritis patient. She can hardly walk too much without getting tired. But over the past two years, she has travelled to all the temples, holy water bodies, shrines, forests and groves in and around Vrindavan. She has gone to places frequent pilgrims may not even have heard of even if it may be in a town like Radhakund itself which the visit many many times. I wanted to mention them as I feel their dedication is very commendable. They both are women firstly and despite their health issues travel to their spiritual destinations not very concerned about anything much apart from their goal of pilgrimage. I felt their efforts were worth highlighting.
My pilgrimage to Vrindavan ended on the 13th of October. After reaching Bombay, I jumped into my bed, knowing that the next day Homework would haunt me. But at the same time, there was a warm feeling, a happy feeling, which I knew would keep me going until my next trip.
There were many memorable experiences in Vrindavan and Radhakund that I cherish every time I think of the trips we made. This time, the whole atmosphere of festivity during the inauguration was what made this trip different from the rest. Looking back, if I had more time, I would have gone to many more places, but this trip was in many ways, just as fulfilling as my previous ones. I guess, I just have to wait for the next plan and jump in with both feet ready to record another few pages into my diary.