A childhood full of pranks and divine acts, it is in Vrindavan that Radha and Krishna find themselves worshipped till eternity
For many years, it was a town I visited almost every month. What fascinated me—I don’t know but it is a different world out there. One reason could be that it was quite a comfortable drive from my home, just about two and a half hours. I knew little about the town except that the Yamuna was now just a trickle in this once thriving forested town. Peacocks and snakes inhabited the land where Krishna had spent his childhood. History says that the town had lost its religious or cultural essence until Chaitanya Mahaprabhu discovered it in 1515. Lost in divine love, he located the lost holy places associated with Krishna. The town is a treasure house of temples.
Markets, monkeys and Banke Bihari
There is something very homelike about Vrindavan. There are no large streets. You have to leave your car out and walk through the alleys to reach the most famous Banke Bihari temple. Built in 1862, the idol of Banke Bihari was discovered in Nidhivan by the great Krishna devotee Swami Haridas.
There is a back street to reach the temple and a front street. The sensible ones use the back street as the front one is always crowded. But if you want a taste of Vrindavan, then you have to be on the front street.
This is the market area where you find lassis, buttermilk, pedas, jalebis, religious items, flutes and monkeys. Yes, the town is full of monkeys and you have to watch out for your belongings. If they can’t find anything to eat in your hands, they can even take away your spectacles and sunglasses. These are the naughty and intelligent monkeys of Vrindavan. I was just listening to the shopkeeper’s warnings when I heard someone yelling, ‘mera chashmah, mera chashmah’ (my spectacles, my spectacles). Suddenly a boy rushed past me and said, “Mein lekar aata hoon, Pachas rupaya de do mujhe (I will get it for you. Please give me INR 50).” And with INR 50 in his pocket, he made some sounds at the monkey sitting on the parapet, rotating the spectacles in his hands. Then with a swish, I saw the spectacles falling out of the monkey’s hands and the boy caught them deftly, carefully returning to the owner. This is some monkey town; guess they have all learned their pranks from Krishna.
And then there were shouts of Radhey, Radhey behind me. I didn’t realize where the sound was coming from or it was meant for me. The man in front pulled me to the side, a rickshaw puller wanted way. That’s how you are greeted and called out to in Vrindavan.
Introduced to Vrindavan quite dramatically, I was told that the pedas were the best prasad to take home.
ISKCON and Maa Katyayani
There were still the ISKCON and Katyayani temples to experience before it came to pedas. It was festival time and ISKCON had prepared chappan bhog, 56 dishes fit for the god and his consort Radha. The marble temple was beautifully dressed and the intricate carvings had been coloured. Sitting on the mats, we ate the prasad on banana leaves. Nothing is to be left on the plate, so it’s best to take only a small portion of each.
Luckily, everything can be experienced on foot at Vrindavan so we walked off the sumptuous calorie-laden dishes. It was time to meet Maa Katyayani at the temple in Radha Bagh. This is the goddess who grants grooms and brides. And most single people come for a prayer here. They say the Goddess never denies and gives you the best life companion. With that assurance, it was time to weave my way through the alleys to the parking spot. But on the way, I fed some grass and spinach to the cows. The promise: prosperity and sweet pedas of happiness. Maybe it’s the beautiful promises of Vrindavan that kept me hooked for many years.