From Delhi,the heart of Indian tourism,myself and my wife Poonam reach Mathura, a distance of 145km by train,late in the night and get the last bus for Vrindavan 11 km further. As a matter of fact, Braj, culturally the land of Krishna,the colourful cowherd who also guides the world even today with His exposition of the philosophy of karma through Bhagvad Gita, comprises of the cities Mathura,Agra and Bharatpur(Rajasthan).It is 10:30p.m. as we enter the premises of RamKrishna Math with a sprawling hospital(providing very affordable services to poor people) and beautiful gardens.But the serenity of the Math,apparant even in the night, is disturbed by monkeys vigourously moving around amidst the trees and even screaming at times.Yes,Vrindavan is full of naughty,but normally harmless monkeys,who sometimes snatch away your spectacles too! Soon we meet the concerned Swamiji who amicably guides us to and hands over the keys of our simple but adequately equipped appartment,where we stay for three days.
Next morning, after having a simple but wholesome breakfast of chapatis,potato-cauliflower curry at the Math, we proceed to Mathura by an auto-rikshaw. This ancient city,the birth place of Lord Krishna, has a mention even in Ramayana, the oldest Indian epic. At present,it is an industrially developed place,contributing substantially to the economy of U.P. and has access by train from all the major cities of India.A strategically important place for the defence of the nation,it is also a hub of educational institutions in U.P. But,for the people of India and many in the West,THIS is the place of all aura,aroma and charisma of Lord Krishna! Obviously and accordingly with the historical and epical importance,we first locate the obscure, insignificant, underground temple (resembling a prison cell, constructed by Marathas) of Laddu-Gopal sharing a common wall with an elegant Mosque constructed by Aurangzeb,destroying the ancient Keshav Dev Temple.
The zealotry of invadors of the likes Mahmud Ghazni, Sikandar Lodhi slowly poisoned the sentiment of Hindus. We spend some time in the cool, fragrant- with- flowers, pleasant cell,while a group of old ladies melodiously sing laurels of Krishna in Brajbhasha(the Braj variant of Hindi). Then we move on to the new,main temple complex,constructed in the late 1960s after a movement led by late Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya,also founder of the temple of learning, Benaras Hindu University,the largest residential university in Asia admitting students and faculty of all religions!He said,"India is not a country of Hindus only.It is a country of the Muslims,the Christians and the Parsees too.The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of different communities live in mutual goodwill and harmony." In todays enlightened India and world,religious fanatism is a brutish phenomenon of the Old Stone Age and should be rightly dealt with. But all the important religions still carry the same respect and impact, as their common crux is nothing but a completely fructified philosophy for the benifit of all people.
We drift here and there, in the massive temple with big corridors and well ventilated halls,before we come into the great assembly hall in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum housing beautifully carved marble statues of Radha and Krishna aesthetically decorated with flowers. Here,in the almost empty hall(being noon time) we find a small group of white people sitting in a circle in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum and a cute,young lady among them dancing in tune to the cultural Rasiya music bieng tastefully played on the speakers in the hall.As the music and dance end,their guide puts a garland of marigold flowers around her neck as a token from the Lord and all of us clap with amusement as the lady bows courteously with all the charm and smile on her radiant face.Slowly,we move out of the temple and land ourselves up in a well known sweetmeat shop opposite to the temple!We order 2kg.of the famous Pedha for taking home,and indulge ourselves in a glass each of great,chilled,creamy Lassi with the fragrance of keora(pandanus odoratissimus:botanical) in big Kulhads (earthen pots).We also enjoy hot Samosas with sweet Imli ki chutni(made with tamarind and cumin). Our stomachs are full and we contentedly,lazily move out uttering "Radhe....,Radhe.....", the name chanted most adoringly and melodiously in Braj!
We engage an auto-rikshaw and go to the important Krishna shrine, Dwarkadheesh temple,built in 1815 by Seth Gokuldas Parikh, the Tresurer of Gwalior.This beautiful temple,with a very modest entrance due to a crowded,narrow lane in front,has its main deity Krishna and artistic images of Radha and other Gods around.Particularly, a frame of Krishna and Sudama meeting is very impressive.This temple,at a small distance from the river Jamuna,is the greatest crowd puller during the festivities of Janmashtami and Holi.We spend some time in the
cool,calm,ventilated temple eating the Prasad of Kheer(a sweetened rice and milk porridge with dry fruits and nuts).Comming out of the temple in the narrow,usually filled with people lane,we move towards the river,listening to vibrant classical music based on different festivals of Brajbhoomi, played on speakers by shops selling C.D.s and D.V.D.s. Enthralled by the music,we just stop at a shop by the side and buy some music, listening to some more for selection.
devotees having continuous Darshan,a curtain is drawn on Him at regular intervals!Definitely,we come out of the holy,historic temple in a very joyful state of mind. Moving amidst a veriety of people from different places(including whites) in the narrow lane,we stop before a sweetmeat shop and have small kulhads of Khurchan(A simple but tasty,mildly sweet, dessert made from the scrape after reduction of milk,with a pinch of cardamom powder added). As the taste excels, we carry some to the Math,to enjoy after a tasty,gratifying,dinner.
may leave the temple with anyone of the spellbound,true devotees continuously having
several important places of Mathura.First we go to Govardhan,a hill full of greenery and rocks, where cattle grazed in the days of Krishna.He once lifted the hill sheltering all the people and animals under it; protecting them from torrential rains and havoc caused by the arbitrary wrath of rain and thunder god Indra,for not getting the usual offerings from the people under Krishna's guidance.There is a huge,impressive Goshala(shelter for stray cows) by the side.You have to be barefoot to climb this holy hill.Then we proceed to Nandgaon,where Lord Krishna spent his childhood,fostered by king Nanda and his wife Yashoda.We visit the spacious temple and then proceed to Barsana,the childhood days town of Radha,Krishna's beloved Gopi. Philosophically,Radha and Krishna constitute the Absolute Truth and both of them are found together in every temple as also in the majestic Radharani temple on the verdant hill Ghevarvan in Barsana.In the unique Lath-maar(charge with staff) Holi festival in this place,ladies charge men with well oiled lathis,while thy protect themselves with leather shields amidst bursts of colours! This correlates with the romantic mythological episode of Radha with other Gopis teaching a lesson to krishna and his friends for stealing their clothes at a bathing Ghat!
Then we visit Radha Kund and Shyam Kund, considered to be supremely holy,which are full of devotees from
East and West and were rediscovered by Gauranga(a golden hued body)or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,who propounded the philosophy of
devotion through Gaudiya Vaishnavism in early 16th century.Since the beginning of his Bhakti movement,Chaitanya had Muslim and Hindu participants and later in the 20th century histeachings were taken to the West and the whole world by Swamy Prabhupadananda with the movement known as The International Society of Krishna Consciousness(ISKCON).Krishnalogy is studied in several academic institutios of the world today! Salimullah Khan,a noted linguist maintains,"Sixteenth century is the time of Chaitanya Dev,and it the time of Modernism in Bengal.The concept of Humanity that came into frution is contemperanious with that of Europe." We move further by bus to the picturesque Kusum Sarovar,a place full of Krishna's favorite Kadamb trees and beautiful monuments on its bank, constructed by Jawahar Singh,in honour of his father Raja Surajmal(early 18th century) and his queens.Having beautiful gardens on the other side, the 60ft deep lake is an ideal spot for leisurely swim around the sunset time! This was the fragrant place with a veriety of flowering trees where Radha and Krishna met clandestinely!
It's evening as we reach the beautiful ISKCON temple in marble displaying Gauranga, in the light of the twilight hour! This temple,The Krishna Balram Mandir(has the divine brothers in the central altar),established by Swamy Prabhupadananda in 1975 is the first ISKCON temple in the world; also having his Samadhi on the left near the entrance. Here at Raman Reti near Jamuna,the divine brothers herded their cows.The first altar has Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu as deities and the third altar has the eternal couple of Radha and Shyam
with their confidential Gopies Lalita and Vishakha. This clean, live temple is full of people,energising music,dance and a sense of all pervading Happiness throughout the day,with complete freedom of movement and access to all sections! The temple has a great courtyard enclosed by gallaries with beautiful paintings depicting Krishna's episodes.It also houses momento shops in one of which I buy a T-shirt witha beautiful image of Radhe,Shyam; and of course,two vegetarian food joints serving mouth-watering sweets and snacks of the kind in Mathura,but bigger in size! I just love the Kachori I eat and we carry a Kulhad of Rabdi(a milk delicacy) as an
after-dinner sweet to the Math.
Next day morning after breakfast, ,we walk to Nidhivan,a grove of jasmines having the Samadhi of Swamy Haridas,the divine saint-singer. We find a number of playful monkeys all around in the cool atmosphere,as we move along the narrow paths
amidst the aged shrubs.But at present nobody believes that Lord Banke Bihari and Radha came to this place for relaxation after dancing Rasleela with other Gopis at Seva Kunj,another unbecoming,monkeys infested grove at present!Since last
250 years the scenic,fragrant forests of Vrindavan with the local fauna of peacocks,cows,monkeys and a veriety of birds have been whittled away by the local kings and subsequently by wreckless developers in the process of unruly
urbanisation.We spend some time in these legendary places and then move in the Kunj Galiyan(very small lanes) leading to where-we-don't-know! In a place we come across a huge camel seemingly charging at us with a small cart behind it and a
person driving it sweetly shouting Radhe...Radhe....Yes,this is the most beloved word in the land of Banke Bihari that solves all the problems for all the people with love and devotion! We too, just rush into an open door by the side and come backto see the cart past us!Soon we affectionately bid good-bye to Mathura,Vrindavan.
We proceed to Agra by bus from Mathura and reach the place by 14hrs.Our aim is only to see The Taj as we have to board the train for Hyderabad the same night! Understanding the importance of the value added time we have at our disposal,we reach the complex as quickly as possible,buy tickets and enter the Great Gate by 15hrs.by hook or by crook,in spite the long week end queue.Hmm.....we see the glimpse of the Wonder of the World through the arc of the darwaza and rejoice at our success!Ya....we have made the happy,around the sun set hours;the most gratifying time to be in the dreamy,extensively treatised, Taj Mahal complex!We
romantically drift amidst the lush gardens trying to find the best and most soothing places to relax with different views of Taj.The nuances of Taj, as the sun starts setting are surely the most memorable with its various golden hues. Surely,the soul of Mumtazmahal, who died during the birth of her 14th child, blesses all for health,romance,peace and well being!The sun has set and along with the crowd we happily bid good bye to a memorable moment in our lives.
Our tour complete,I fall asleep in the train,sweetly recollecting the good time we had.I dream that it is full moon night and I am again in gardens of Taj, gloriously luminescent. "Hey,behold", I also see Lord Krishna,Radha and the Gopis playing Raas to sonorous heavenly music! "Oh Lord,how come you are here," I devotedly ask Him,completely charmed."Surely,this is the right place for Us in Braj at present",answers the Lord dancing pleasantly.
Raja Ram Atre