photo by Govinda SwamiVrindavana means harmonious living, and a daily reminder that lifestyle here is the presence of all kinds of animals. They become part of the landscape, part of the daily life.
The cows were the very life of the inhabitants of Vraja, and I find them everywhere here in present-day Vrindavan. Cows are very affectionate animals, and while passing them in the street I always try to give them a little pat and rub under their chin. Just yesterday I stopped to pet a rather impressive looking large bull, and he was so smitten with the bit of affection, that he began licking my arm with his huge rough tongue!
When I see the cows everywhere, it is easy to have them disappear into the background and see them as a nuisance on the already congested roads. But I try to remember their place in Krishna’s heart, and the importance of them being here in their home. One person who has truly seen the cows of Vraja is Kurma Rupa, one of my personal heroes. Ten years ago, upon seeing the plight of the abandoned cows here, he began feeding and taking care of 10 of them. From that early beginning, he formed Care for Cows, which now feeds and houses over 400 cows, all of whom were brought to his safe haven from dejected, often severely injured, starved, and abandoned situations. People from around the world, who understand the importance of taking care of cows in Vraja, can sponsor the maintenance of a cow. The first day I visited Care for Cows, I was lucky to find Kurma Rupa there.
photo by Shyam Gopal“When you take care of cows,” he shared with me, “you don’t need anybody to tell you that you are doing the right thing. You just know it in your heart, because it pleases Krishna so much.”
The cows and bulls at Care for Cows are all fed and maintained nicely, but thrive most of all on the love and affection they receive there. While I was there the cows were let out of their pen for the morning feeding. One cow, instead of running to the feed lot, came over to our little group. Kurma Rupa began petting her and speaking to her lovingly. “Jhanava here is one of our best preachers,” he said, “because she is good at melting peoples’ hearts and convincing them to take care of cows. You see how affectionate cows are, that she would rather come here and get some love than go to eat.”
Unfortunately as Vraja becomes more and more industrialized, hundreds and hundreds of cows roam the street, hungry, neglected, affection-starved, and many times injured. Care for Cows is a shining example of cow service and educates visitors and locals alike in the importance of taking care of these animals.

photo by Govinda SwamiThe other prominent animal here is the monkey, and they remind me of Krishna’s mischievous nature. They have been here since Krishna’s time on the earth, and like him, they enjoy stealing food from people. They can be a nuisance for visitors as they can be aggressive and grab food and other personal items right from your hand, though I have had no problems personally with them…yet.

The green parrots are a delight to see, they are Srimati Radharani’s personal messengers, bringing love notes back and forth between Radha and Krishna. They have bright green feathers and red-beaked faces and fly all over Vraja. One temple just a block from where I was staying feeds the parrots every day at 3:45pm. The person who runs this temple spreads about six hundred pounds of bird seed all over the courtyard. At 3:45 he makes a loud bird sounding call, and all the parrots and pigeons in the area come flying to this temple. photo by Radha MohanIt was an amazing sight, seeing literally over a thousand green parrots and pigeons flying down for their meal. As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together, and so they made a beautiful formation with the bluish pigeons in the middle and the green parrots forming a large circle around them. When they flew away the wind made from so many of them flapping their wings was strong enough to create a dust storm and a strong blast in my face.

The horses, camels, buffaloes and donkeys I see are used to pull carts and loads, and are usually taken care of due to their service to their masters. It is nice to see that there are still animal-pulled carts here, and I hope that the locals can see the benefit of that over the numerous problems of fuel-fed transportation.

photo by Govinda SwamiThe pigs are enormous, ugly, and produce copious amounts of little piglets that are cute and pink for but a short amount of time. They are part of the natural garbage system here, though with the introduction of plastic bags and styrofoam, the amount of trash the pigs cannot consume is enormous and everywhere.
A friend of mind who lives here in Vraja said to me the other day, “No matter what people try to do to make Vrindavana more technologically advanced, it will always be a village.”
And that is a fact. It is Krishna’s rural village, and so the animals stay a part of it.
But due to Vrindavan becoming industrialized, with the dusty roads and thick forests giving way to cement streets and high-rise apartments, the situation of the animals is a precarious one. With their natural habitat and food system being destroyed, many of the animals are in a sad state. Some are being pushed out as well. Peacocks, which once flourished in Vraja and whose singing delighted the hearts of the Vraja inhabitants, are now no where to be seen. With trees being cut down and the air polluted, they have retreated to the outskirts of Vrindavan where one can still find fields of green with tall trees and quiet air.
photo by Govinda SwamiI want my children and future generations to be able to visit here and see the animals from Krishna’s pastimes and the beautiful village of Vraja. In the twelve years since my last visit here, so much of that rural beauty has been replaced with construction. Imagining Krishna going down the soft sandy pathway here in Raman Reti with his hundreds of cowherd boyfriends and their thousands of cows and calves, is becoming more and more difficult. When I came here 20 years ago with my then 3-year old brother, we walked to the Yamuna and when we turned a bend, he expected to see Krishna sitting there with his friends eating lunch. “Where are they, he asked?” Such was the strength of the holy place.
Will we be able to protect it, caring for the animals and forests and rivers, so that we will get glimpses of the place Krishna roamed in ages past?

The cleaning of Radha Kund

The cleaning of the holy lake happens approximately once every 20 years and it turns into a festival. The last time this happened was 23 years ago. During the cleaning there is a unique chance to see the original lake named Kancan kund which is usually covered by water.
This video is available on Glimpses of Vraja DVD.

Radha Raman temple

The celebration of the appearance of the Sri Sri Radha-Raman deity. According to tradition, young priests, the sons of the chief Goswamis, fetch water from the holy Yamuna river. The ceremony continues with the bathing of Sri Radha Raman with different liquids: saffron water, ghee, milk and yogurt. Crowds of visitors seize the opportunity to see Radha Raman on this special day.
This video is available on Glimpses of Vraja DVD.

photo by Shyam GopalMy experience in Vrindavan was all positive.

I was amazed by the society of monkeys that roam the town. I didn’t even mind (in fact it was a highlight of my visit) the monkey who took my glasses right off my face. At the time, I was quite worried because I have very poor vision and had no spare pair with me. However, in just a few minutes the monkey (smart as they are!) traded my glasses for food. It was such an unusual experience that I will remember it throughout my life. It always brings a laugh when I tell the story to friends.

The wonderful people I met at the ashram will always be remembered fondly. The quest for knowledge and learning and openness was a refreshing change from the norm.

The accommodation at the ashram was superb. I will definitely return if the opportunity ever presents itself again.

photo by Shyam GopalMy first time in Vrindavan was in 1995-1996, when together with my husband we went there to study and we had the experience that it is “an incredible India”. Although we were warned about the dirt, polluted water, difficult weather, etc, just by entering the outskirts of Vrindavan, I was literally transformed. There was something in the air that made me feel like I was in the holiest place in the world. People would greet each other saying “Jaya Radhe”, indicating who is ruling over this place. photo by Govinda SwamiThe cows were frolicking freely on the streets, not disturbed by people. The chirping of peacocks, parrots and millions of other birds and the ringing of bells, announcing temple worship, were heard from all directions.

Now, everytime I get a chance to go to this most amazing place, I just hanker to be immersed in the spiritual emotions which are so strong there that you can almost touch them with your hand.

Here is a story I’ve personally heard when I was in Vrindavan last November.

photo by Shyam GopalWe were walking on the path by the back fields, marveling at the beauty and serenity of the old Vrindavan, undisturbed by vehicles. On the way, we met a farmer who was beaming with a huge smile. We stopped to talk to him. He told us he has four daughters and a son, and that all his gardens had recently been destroyed by the heavy flood during the rainy season. He lost 200 000 rupees, which is a fortune not only for a poor farmer. When we heard that, we couldn’t help but ask him why he was so happy. After all, in our understanding he must have been suffering a lot of distress and anxiety. His answer shows the glory of a real devotee of the Lord: he said, “Happiness is the heart full of love”. He then walked on, while we stood staring at him in admiration, hoping to one day achieve that “heart full of love”.

photo by Shyam GopalThe first time I went to Vrindavan Dham was in December 2008. The moment I stepped into Vrindavan, I felt like I was at home. When I went to Radha Raman Temple, I felt like I knew each and every brick, every floor tile, every person and of course Shree Radha Raman ji. It was as if I had been away for some time and I was now back home. I am dying to go and see Shree Radha Raman ji. Jai Shree Radhe!

photo by Govinda SwamiBefore going to Vrindavan I heard so many times that this place is special. Before my trip I read so many books about this Holy Vrindavan. I thought I was ready for this special trip but … the adventures were coming….. 🙂
At Delhi airport my friend and I decided to go to Vrindavan not by taxi but by public transport (thinking we could manage it). That was our mistake, we underestimated this country. India is very extraordinary! It took us eight hours to get to Vrindavan (If you take a taxi, usually it takes  you about 3 hours…) photo by Govinda SwamiThere were so many adventures on our way: the bus got broken several times, I had to stop the bus because I didn’t feel well, we had to take different motor-rickshaws packed with a huge bunch of people. When we arrived at Krishna-Balaram Mandir (the ISKCON temple) we were sooooo happy to reach this special place finally!
photo by Shyam GopalOur friend found a very nice ashram for us.  Our room was simple and a little bit austere but we loved it. Our ashram was situated in a temple. Whenever we were going out of our room, immediately we could find ourselves in the temple room. Every morning we were woken up by sounds of indian musical instruments and sweet melodies of mantra Radhe Syam. This experience is unforgettable!
I liked to spend my mornings in different Vrindavan temples (by the way, there are more than 5000 temples in Vrindavan, that’s impressive, isn’t it..?) I was sitting in a temple, meditating, chanting the Maha-Mantra and watching the people in the temple. photo by Govinda SwamiI was very fascinated by how every early morning people would rush to one of their favorite temples and they would stand in a queue to buy a garland or sweets for the Lord, they would crowd the temple room, trying to pass their offerings to the temple pujari so that he could offer them to the Lord. And only after making these offerings would they go to work. This happens every morning!!! While I was watching the Vrindavan style of life I remembered Moscow mornings…people are rushing to their work, they are standing in a queue to buy cigarettes or newspapers,  then they are stuck in huge traffic jams. Everybody is aggressive and angry, all their thoughts are only about  work, money and (I hope) family…
photo by Govinda SwamiI love Vrindavan! God is in the centre of everybody’s life and the result is: Vrindavan inhabitants are peacefully happy!
I wish I could go to Vrindavan every year and experience this spiritual happiness. When you are surrounded by sadhus, spiritually happy people, you become happy as well, it’s contagious!!!

A Misty Morning

One of these early winter mornings in Vrindavan…
This video is available on Glimpses of Vraja DVD.

photo by Shyam GopalVrindavana, Vrindavana!.. Here cows are wandering along the streets, dogs don’t bark at passers-by, but at one another when they cannot get on with each other. Sluggish buffaloes resting and chewing grass with their young can be seen everywhere. Monkeys jump from twigs to roof, from roof to wires, from there on travelers, and steal their glasses and fruits. Hogs are happily grunting in town waste water and eating up tailings at disposal tips. photo by Shyam GopalPeacocks are calling here and there, and at times they can be seen sitting on the fences or on the trees, or dancing, with their beautiful tails open. Big green parrots are merging with the trees, but by scrutinizing their leaves you’ll see – here they are, Vrindavana’s dandies! Beautiful black and headlong-streaming Yamuna river with its sweet water is half embracing the town of Vrindavana. Everywhere grow, and at every home people are growing, small trees of holy basil, Tulasi, or Vrinda. Vridavana is named after this graceful plant, Vrinda, and “vana” means “forest”. The forest of Tulasi-trees…

photo by Shyam GopalIt is not so easy to go to Vrindavana. In the holy Vedic scriptures, it is said that even those who are of the highest rank and those who are wealthy or well-educated, cannot enter Vrindavana without God’s grace. It is great fortune to come to Vrindavana. Vrindavana is God’s embassy on earth, his home, holy land, where every grain of sand or a stone is a jewel, every step is a dance, and every word is a song. “Hmm” – you will probably smile. Well, if you don’t take it on trust – then test! I had no faith before. “All right! It is the holy land, and it is wonderful of course. And what next?” This is what comes next: all cherished desires are fulfilled in Vrindavana. The point is that when one comes here, something starts to take place, something strange. The heart aches. The soul longs to find its place in the world, and find out who is behind everything. Answers to all these questions come in Vrindavana.

photo by Shyam GopalWhen I came to Vrindavana for the first time, I got off the taxi, looked around and became afraid. I thought I will understand nothing, because everything around me appeared so ordinary, and even weird for us Westerners – waste water, hogs on the streets… But I remembered how I had read in a book that when one comes to a holy place, one should bow down to it and ask it to bestow its mercy upon one. So I did that. When I arose, I was completely transformed. I did not expect that a place I had never seen before would welcome me as its family member. As if by magic, or with the help of an affectionate relative, I at once found a room in a hotel. It was a good and really inexpensive one, and I didn’t have much money at that time. photo by Govinda SwamiI went to the Hare Krishna temple and met my girlfriend from Moscow there. She invited me to assist her in making flower garlands for the deities in the temple. It is special mercy to do something for God in his home. Then I met another acquaintance, and for the next few days, she was my guide to the different places in Vrindavana, on which she spoke. By then, I liked being in Vrindavana so much that I did not want to leave at all. And you know what happened then? My return ticket could not be confirmed, and I was told that it could be only confirmed for another date, a week later! I got everything I wanted – visiting many temples, personal service to God, staying longer – all these things I got at once!

A remarkable, for me, story happened there. When I made a flower garland for the first time, the priest did not put it on the deity of Krishna. I was upset because I decided that God did not accept my service. My acquaintance requested me to make a garland once again, and when I came to the temple the next day, I found that Krishna was wearing my garland! Usually there are special garlands made for Krishna and Radhika, his beloved; they differ from others. On the morning the priests dress the deities in new attire and put fresh garlands on them. photo by Shyam GopalSo on that day, Krishna was wearing his usual garland as well as the one I made for him – two at once! Can you imagine my joy – God reciprocated with me, accepted my garland, which I made for him. He showed me that he knows the heart and desires of everyone. On that day, faith appeared in my heart that God is a person, and that he is not indifferent to me. He reciprocates, he always answers our prayers, requests, questions, he fulfills our desires and guides us to him, in different ways, but to the same place – the eternal abode of God, where everything is eternal, and filled with knowledge and bliss of love, where every grain of sand or stone is a jewel, every step is a dance, and every word is a song – to Vrindavana.