Radhastami at Varsana, Part I

The festival of Radhastami, the appearance of Radharani, is being celebrated at Varsana for almost a week. Crowds of people join to circumambulate the holy place and participate in the festival. This video is available on the Glimpses of Vraja DVD: http://www.vrindavanexperience.com/shop/

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Janmastami Celebration

For the last few days, Vrindavan has been celebrating Janmastami, the birthday of Krishna. We offer you our brief report of the event. Listen to the sounds and submerge yourself into the atmosphere of the festival:

Krishna-Balaram Mandir, evening kirtan by Govinda Swami on the day before the festival
      Kirtan on Janmastami Eve | download

Krishna Balaram Mandir, Mangala Arati early morning on Janmastami day, by Govinda Swami
      Mangala Arati | download

Roaring kirtan at Krishna Balaram Mandir on Janmastami night. Listen to the full length track below and check this short video we filmed on iPhone (sorry for the quality, but it was simply impossible to use any bigger camera in such a crowd 🙂 )

 

Janmastami night kirtan at Krishna Balaram temple in Vrindavan, full length soundtrack
      Janmastami Night Kirtan | download

photo by VishakhaThe appearance day of Srila Prabhupada, the very next day. Guru Puja performed by Govinda Swami
      Guru Puja to Prabhupad | download

The offering to Srila Prabhupada by Govinda Swami
      Offering to Prabhupad | download

Gurvastakam prayer sung by Govinda Swami
      Gurvastakam | download

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Vrindavan. Yamuna. Javat

Vrindavan. Yamuna. Javat.

The filming of the documentary. April, 2011

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The Secret of Vrindavana

I just returned from a profound experience at the residence of a devotee named Prema Kishore, a Canadian man who I’m guessing is in his early 60s. He has lived here in Vrindavana for over 20 years, and it is definitely his home in every sense of the word. He has some land, cows and bulls, gardens where he grows flowers for the Radha-Shyamasundara deities at Krishna-Balarama Mandira, and a beautiful, yet modest house.

This morning, along with my brother, Amala-purana, and his fiancee, Nadia, I went to visit Prema Kishore, arriving a little after 9am. He had just begun bathing a bull named Balaji, and when he saw us approaching he called out, “Radhe Shyam!” Prema Kishore gave us some brushes and a bar of soap, asking us to join him in cow seva, “the real mood of Vraja,” he said. “Get in cowherd boy mode,” my brother said, as he hiked up his dhoti and discarded his socks and shoes. I followed suit with my skirt and shoes, and soon my feet were squishing in the soft clay and grass with the warm water from the hose splashing between my toes. After we had cleaned and brushed Balaji’s white coat, the sisters Ganga and Yamuna came. These two cows are beautiful, with gorgeous black eyes, white coats, big humps on their backs, and gentle demeanors. All of Prema Kishore’s cows are indigenous species of India, and these two he purchased in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Ganga has a bull-calf named Bhima, and a heifer named Nandini, who was conceived on Prabhupada’s dissappearance day and born on his appearance day just four months ago. Yamuna has not had any calves, yet three years ago her udder swelled with milk, and ever since she has been giving milk for Giriraja, the Lord of this little haven of Vraja.

Prema Kishore personally found this particular Giriraja stone, who has an imprint of a cow on his back, and a face with an endearing smile naturally engraved on the other side. At that time, Prema Kishore promised Giriraja that if he came home with him, he would always have fresh milk to offer him. That is Prema Kishore’s explanation for Yamuna providing milk without ever having calved, just at a time when Ganga had started drying up. This is just one example of the magic of this place, and the very real connection devotees like Prema Kishore have to their deity.

These sisters are the two milking cows Prema Kishore has, and he said they are inseparable. After brushing, lathering, and rinsing them, we were ready for the next round. Saraswati, Triveni, Bhima, and tiny Nandini followed in quick succession, as we brushed them from heads to hooves, from noses to tails, until all of them were cleared of mud and dung and gleamed in the sunshine.

Yamuna was then fed and milked, and then Ganga’s calf Nandini was brought to drink a little milk and be next to her mom as Ganga was milked. Ram Charan, Prema Kishore’s helper, squatted while he milked with fast adept hands into a stainless steel bucket that he held between his knees. Ganga licked Nandini’s back, throughout the milking, showing us the affectionate nature of the mother cow.

Once the morning activities of bathing, feeding, and milking were done, the cows and bulls all ran off, tails upraised, down the path to their grazing area.

Carrying the bucket of fresh milk, we then followed Prema Kishore upstairs to a spacious rooftop adjoining his living quarters. With the warm sun upon us, we prepared for our next activity for the morning, churning yogurt into butter with a hand-pulled wooden churning rod. Prema Kishore began, showing us the rhythmic way of pulling back and forth, churning the yogurt until frothy bubbles began forming on the surface. For the next hour we took turns between the four of us as Prema Kishore shared with us not only his butter churning skills, but his deep spiritual wisdom. He explained his dependent relationship with his cows, telling us how he is maintained by them in a very real way, and that respect for what cows give us humans is not at all theoretical for him. His life is simple, yet wealthy in all the ways it is important. He has land, friends, cows that give him dairy products, which he consumes, and also trades for vegetables from his neighbors, and he has a peaceful heart. ”I find this churning very relaxing,” he said to me. “It calms the mind, and the rhythmic work is peaceful.”

I thought of us in America, surrounded by our machines that are supposed to save us time, but we run through our lives alone and stressed out, with no time. We’ve replaced high quality life skills like cooking, baking, gardening, and caring for animals with an industrial lifestyle that is good for making money, but not for living.

“Paper money has no value,” Prema Kishore explained. “Devotee families who are like-minded should get together and produce a functioning life-style that has true value. You find a community area where the cows can graze during the day, and then in the evening they go home to their individual respective homes. If you have land, cows, and the skills and ability to grow your own food, that is the greatest security and wealth,” he finished as he looked down at the big steel bucket now filled with floating butter.

The simple activity of churning butter, especially when done with friends as the gopis of Srimad-Bhagavatam did, accomplishes so much for mental, physical, and emotional well-being. It strengthens your arms, calms the mind, gives you the opportunity to talk and get to know your friends, and of course gives the valuable product of fresh butter!

Prema Kishore scooped out the fruits of our labor into a bowl, and then put the butter directly in front of his Giriraja, whom he had brought outside to enjoy the sun and watch us churn.

“I have to watch out for the monkeys,” he said, as he looked at Giriraja’s enormous smile with the big bowl of butter in front of him. “The other day I left the door to the roof open and came back to find a monkey sitting next to Giriraja, his palms and face full of butter. Then I saw Giriraja’s cheeky smile, and guessed that the monkey must have been invited to enjoy the butter with him,” he says with a laugh, “as the monkeys were many thousands of years ago with that naughty butter thief, Krishna.”

With a smile he hands my brother and me cups of the cold fresh buttermilk, chach as it is called here. It can be drunk with added sugar or salt, and is an elixir for all things related to digestion. He also gave us a little bit of the residue butter left on his hand from scooping it out. “The best face cream,” he explained as he smoothed it on his face, arms, and hands. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he literally lives off the gifts his cows give him.

After having our fill of buttermilk, and with the noon sun on our faces, I thanked him for his time and wisdom and we headed back to our home for lunch. While walking back, I thought of Prema Kishore’s words, and the impact that they, as well as his example, had had on me.

photo by Amala PuranaI yearn for a simpler life, where those things that are important take precedence over everything else. Here in Vraja, the people I have encountered don’t try to do too much, and what they do may seem on the outside to be trivial and basic. But to them taking care of their cows, in the case of Prema Kishore, or chanting in kirtana for a few hours a day, like my brother does,photo by Nanda Heintz or simply making one garland for Radharani, like Nadia does, all these things are considered a day well-lived. And really they are. Just a simple activity of devotion here in Vraja is so worthwhile and fulfilling and satisfying. And that is the way of the simple cowherd community, whom we aspire to follow.

Those cowherd men and women, boys and girls, they are just thinking of how to do something for Krishna everyday, something to make him smile. And Krishna is also just a simple cowherd boy, who is pleased just by simple things. You take care of his cows, his friends, those devoted to him, serve his Radha, and sing his name and you bring a smile to his lotus face. He loves his cows and cowherd village, and so when you serve those whom he loves he will take notice. It’s all so simple actually. This is the secret of Vrindavana, and I feel today that I had a small glimpse of it. This village is being covered over by those who don’t know this secret, and trash, pollution, population, high-rise apartments and condominium, cars and motorcycles are overtaking it. But if you’re lucky enough to come to this practically unknown little village, I hope you can walk down a dusty path away from all of that and find someone like Prema Kishore who knows the secret of Vraja and is living the simple yet oh so wealthy life.

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Radhika Raman. The sacred journey.

The passing away of Sriman Radhika Raman Das Brahmacari, a true Vaisnava. On March 28, 2011 he left his body in the sacred Yamuna river in Vrindavan…

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Yamuna Jivana

photo by Govinda SwamiSpring time… by Aindra Prabhu’s mercy, I was in the 24-hour kirtan in Vrindavan. We had intense service everyday, which was full of nectar. Aindra Prabhu was inspiring me so much. He used to say: ‘The more you put energy in kirtan, the more you’ll get spiritual benefit!’ It was a simple sentence, but because he was saying that with such conviction and experience, it left a deep impression on me.  That was the day of the boat festival. The deities were going to swim in the Yamuna. photo by Govinda Swami

I decided to go a little before and take bath in the Yamuna. It is well known that Keshi Ghat is a very, very auspicious place to do so. I got there, contemplating the upcoming kirtan while putting on my gamcha and offering dandavats to Yamuna Devi. Those who have been in Keshi ghat know that the river there is very deep. I went into the water, held the last step with my outstretched arm, and dived three times. When I came up the third time, I was eye to eye with the two blazing eyes of a black snake, which was poised to bite me. In a second I realized that I might never get to be part of kirtan or eat Radha Shyamasundara’s maha cheese cake again in this life time! But Krishna gave me a chance. I dived deeply, swam some distance by stream and came out, like one newly-born.Photo by Govinda Swami

We can see the value of these opportunities to chant Hare Krishna, especially in Vraja dhama. There is the tendency to lose our Krishna consciousness, but all kinds of troubles are meant to wake us up and provoke a kind of “earthquake” in our consciousness.  So it is far better to keep ourselves alert in service to the Lord’s Holy Name, dhama and His devotees, as says Bhaktivinoda Thakura:

 

jamuna-jivana, keli-parayana,
manasa-candra-cakora
nama-sudha-rasa, gao krsna-jasa
rakho vacana mana mora

photo by Govinda Swami“Lord Krsna is the life of the River Yamuna. He is always absorbed in amorous pastimes, and He is the moon of the gopis’ minds, which are like the cakora birds that subsist only upon moonlight. O mind, obey these words of mine and sing the glories of Sri Krsna in the form of these holy names, which are full of nectarean mellows”.

Otherwise, we risk having meetings with snakes and facing other unwanted happenings.

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Govardhan

A morning at the holy Govardhan hill.
This video is available on Glimpses of Vraja DVD.

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photo by Govinda SwamiI arrived to the Krishna Balaram temple but was too late for the morning arati, having been in the car from Delhi airport most of the night. I sat down doing some meditation, enjoying being back in Vrindavan and waiting for the altar to open. The minutes were crawling on quite slowly and I had been waiting for months. Now it was only a few minutes and finally the doors opened. The priests were blowing their conch, and seconds later the curtain was drawn.
photo by Shyam GopalI was standing right in front of Him, and he was smiling, happy to see me (?) again. I realize how great his love is, he is not a piece of marble, marble cannot radiate love like he does, and marble cannot communicate.

The kirtan was more and more powerful and reaching its climax. The mridanga player was making a big show, like a transcendental rock artist, and suddenly the kirtan was over and everybody bowed down to the floor in a dandavat pranam.

I had forgot the Bhagavad Gita book at home, so I went to the Goura Nitai bookstall to buy some new books to read on the journey I was about to undertake. Standing by the counter, I noticed some pendants looking like Sri Radha’s feet, and I heard somebody telling me to buy one of them and put it into my shirt pocket. What could I do but accept the request?

A few minutes later, we were sitting in the car heading for Gangotri but before, to Meerut and Rishikesh. We stopped in New Delhi for lunch and some shopping, and a couple of hours later we reached Meerut Abu lane, Babajis house.
Abhir and Prithi came to meet us. It was good to be back with my brothers and sisters in Meerut.

We were sitting and talking with Abhir and Prithi, when the small voice from inside said “Now you can give Sri Radha’s feet pendant to her”.
I picked up the little box from my pocket, gave it to Prithi and told her, “I am bringing you Sri Radha’s feet from Vrindavan”. She was speechless. Abhir then told us that it was her birthday that day and that in the morning, she had prayed for long to Sri Radha that she wanted to always be in Sri Radha’s devotional service. Then a few hours later, I was bringing the pendant with Sri Radha’s footprints.

I then told her I’m only the mail man here, the givers of this gift are Radha and Shyamasundar and they were using me as postman since I was coming here. Time in Meerut is always too short. We had to reach Rishikesh by the evening and were trying to get there in time for Ganga arati. Soon, we were on the road again.

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Ter Kadamba

A quiet beautiful place on the way from Javat to Nandagoan.
This video is available on Glimpses of Vraja DVD.

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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.

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