Home to the blue god, Krishna, and his spiritual consort, Radha, Vrindavan is where you can see the many shades of life.
Words & photos: Ambica Gulati
A year round destination, Vrindavan is probably a search for the love that Krishna and Radha stand for. But for me, it was just a weekend to unwind with a spa, facial, vegetarian cuisine, and generally forget the world, for religion and me are not friends. It was a trip to experience the city on invitation by Nidhivan Sarovar Portico.
A traditional Braj lunch thali waited for me—some veggies, roti, rice and sweets. And then a guide, Ashu sharma from vrindavanguide.com, took me to see the evening ceremonies which the town is famous for. As a newbie photographer, Kesi Ghat with its evening aarti was just the right place to hone my skills. This is the place where Krishna killed the demonic horse Kesi who had been sent by his uncle Kansa to kill him. Krishna had broken open his head and then bathed in the Yamuna to wash the blood off. It’s here that people come to wash away their sins but now the river needs cleansing. The dilapidated surroundings are a little depressing as the place needs a facelift.
Nevertheless, faith has many faces. Man and the elements have had an eternal relationship; prayer to the river is the one way to observe how water, air, ether, fire and earth connect. Invoking the goddess, the devotees offered flowers, milk, floated diyas, as the priests blew the conch and chanted mantras. In another corner, a religious head and his disciples created a circle of boats, holding a circle of saris tied together. The goddess was being clothed even as the sun was setting.
As the sky turned black, it was the time to see the musical fountain show at Prem Mandir.
The fountains have been installed by a Melbourne-based company and the colours added some glitz to the darkness.
For the seeker, Vrindavan reveals many truths. Widows, beggars and children throng the streets. The fragrant smoke of incense cannot hide the strong smell of an unclean city. Jostling crowd and beseeching eyes, we continued out drive to another temple—Radha Raman temple, located in the smaller bylanes.
Exquisitely carved walls, it was built by Gopala Bhatta Goswami around 1542 AD. It’s very famous among the Gaudiya Vaishnavism followers and houses an original shaligram and Radha. According to the Vishnu followers, he also resides in a shaligram. Bhajans were in full swing as the doors were closed, ony to be oepened for the last prayer before the gods slept off. We listened for a while but when holy lyrics mingled with Bollywood tunes lyrics, I called it a night.
Day 2 was simpler. The sunrise at Barsana is perhaps a splendour that you can’t miss when in Vrindavan. The region is the birthplace of Radha and among the most revered spots in Braj. Despite the monkeys, I love being atop the hill from where you can see the entire town. It was a glorious day, just enough chill to make you want to fly. As the temple doors were closed, devotees were busy with bhajans on the open terrace.
Barsana is also famous for latha maar holi, where the women actually beat up the men with bamboo sticks and prevent them from coming closer to play with colour. Legend goes that Krishna made fun of Radha’s friends. In turn, they beat him and his friends with bambook sticks when he came to play holi with Radha.
With each ray, colour seeped into the quiet hill. The rays danced into the temple. The crowd collected closer to the sanctum. Finally, the curtains lifted.
Evading the monkeys, we zoomed back, through the streets to the home of Brij Mohan Sharma. He runs an embroidery unit, making beautiful clothes for the idols in ISKCON temple. Some are made on silk, some on cotton, depending on the need and the designs given by the head of the division at the temple. The clothes even go to the temple in Hungary and he was invited to the country which awarded him for his efforts. While his son isn’t too keen on joining the unit, Sharma is content with his work. “I started my career as a worker, embroidering in a unit, and now with Krishna’s blessings I have this unit. This is the only service I do for god.”
The afternoon had not ended as we drove to Bansivat—the ages old banyan tree under which Krishna used to play the flute. Peacocks danced here then. Now, people tie dupattas, hanging their wishes on the branches for Krishna to fulfil them.
The day ended with a spa treatment and facial to brighten up my face. The weekend was over. But Vrindavan doesn’t tire and continues to draw seekers.
How to reach
It takes a mere two hours from Delhi via Yamuna Expressway. Or you could go in the train as well.
Where to stay
What to see & eat
- Banke Bihari temple in the heart of the city is the most visited temple. This is also the area to try some kachoris, poori bhajis, pedas, lassis.
- More temples include Nidhivan, Krishna Janam Bhoomi, Madan Mohan.
- Do the parikramas at Govardhan and Vrindavan,