Spring 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.
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.
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
“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.
Vrindavana 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.
“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.
The 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. It 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.
The 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.
I 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?
My 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. The 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.
We 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”.