Chandan Yatra at Krishna-Balaram temple in Vrindavan. This video brings you both the festival atmosphere and the sneak view of the preparation behind the altar curtain.
Chandan Yatra at Krishna-Balaram temple in Vrindavan. Chandan Yatra is a festival which is celebrated during the hot season. Temple Deities all over the India are covered with sandalwood paste known for its cooling effect. This video brings you both the festival atmosphere and a sneak view of the preparation behind the altar curtain.
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.
I 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, 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.
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.
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”.
Before 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…) There 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!
Our 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. I 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…
I 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 day by the holy Yamuna river..
This video is available on Glimpses of Vraja DVD.