Before you get ready to see Lord Krishna at Brindavan, you have to watch out for the monkeys! They snatch your cell phone and glasses. At every corner, vigilant citizens shout out to visitors to take off their glasses and to hide their phones. What use is a cell phone to these cheeky imps – I wonder; naughtiness fills the air of Brindavan thanks to these monkeys.
It is also the place where Krishna and the gopis still dance every night!
Frozen into dancing forms, the trees of Nidhivan come alive every night. It is believed that as the sun dips beneath the horizon, Krishna enters the Rang Mahal in the Nidhivan gardens, and dresses his favorite gopi, Radharani. The garden closes at 5 p.m. every day for the Lord to make his way to the garden where gopis await him. The trees come alive unfurling their twisted limbs to dance with him as his gopis. Not even the monkeys dare enter Nidhivan after dark where this nightly divine dance occurs.
After the Raas Leela dance, the duo Radha and Krishna rest on the sandalwood bed in the Rang Mahal. It is found unmade every morning, the sheets askance. The water in the silver jar placed by the bedside is gone as is the pan (betel leaf with areca nut) and the neem datun (herbal tooth-brush). The tour guide narrates this as he sings his way down the path of the garden watched keenly by the monkeys. Red color streaks some of the trees. Holi, the festival of colors, is still more than a month away and already the gods are sprinkling fun upon the city. The guide asks us to twirl, clap our hands and laugh in happiness. It is the place to dance!
In Nidhivan, Krishna and Radha had once appeared before Swami Harisen, guru of Tansen, Emperor Akbar’s court singer. Swami Harisen was singing when Krishna and Radha appeared before him and became one form, it is believed. The resulting statue of Krishna bent in a sensual “S” shape, curving at the waist and neck, was named Banke Bihari.
We head to Banke Bihari temple where this statue is now established. As we peer at the statue of the Lord, every few minutes the priest draws a curtain breaking our gaze. Staring continuously at the beauty of the dark idol of Bankey Bihari Ji is not recommended. The curtain breaks the spell that Bihariji’s beauty casts on the devotee. It ensures that the devotees cannot look at the Lord for a long time at a stretch and be overpowered by divine love.
The bells toll for the evening worship. Unlike other temples where the loud bells of the morning service or mangal aarti, wake up the lord sometimes as early as 4 am, in the temple of Bankey Bihari he sleeps in late. Shayan Sewa, the evening service aarti prepares him for the night.
We had entered the temple just as the evening service or aarti was starting. The beauty of the temple, with a central courtyard and Rajasthani palace design overwhelms us. The priest distributes sweet, milky pedas and draws a streak of red on our foreheads.
A small commotion ensues as we exit onto the street. I had forgotten to take off my glasses as I fiddled with taking a picture. Before I knew it a monkey had swiped them off my face. All the boys in the neighboring lanes started shouting at the same time. One chased the monkey and the other ran to me. “He took your glasses! Two hundred rupees and we can get you your glasses back,” they shouted urgently as I groped blindly. “Yes. Yes!” I affirmed, and quickly struck a deal. Just as I was thinking about what the Brindavan monkeys wanted with my Warby Parkers – voila! – the boys threw a fruity drink at him. He caught the drink and dropped the glasses. Rs. 40 for the fruity drink, Rs. 160 for the quick thinking boys and Warby Parkers for me, a bargain deal. I heaved a sigh of relief as I stuffed them into my pocket. It was time for a snack.
We headed to the shop of Titu Cheele wala, steps down from the Banke Bihari temple. Titu folded yummy cottage cheese filling into mouth-watering crispy savory chickpea-flour pancake and spooned some mint chutney over it. “How much do you reckon I could sell the cheela for in the US?” asked Titu. When I demurred, he confessed that he was in talks with a franchisee in London who had said the pancake would easily sell for 8 to 10 pounds a pop. I nodded in assent, and left the business planner behind to head back to the hotel. Lord Krishna stepped into Nidhivan with other things in mind.
The ISKCON temple I learnt wasn’t that indulgent about the nighttime activities of the Lord. They still woke him up at 4 a.m. with the morning service or mangal arti. Devotees were swaying to the chants of Hare Krishna when we entered the temple at 4 a.m. A line of dhoti-clad young boys sang gustily to the lord. The gentleness of the linen clad congregation harmonized with the wisps of fragrant smoke that filled the soft dawn light. Magic filled the air. Sounds of conch shells trumpeted through the air. The doors opened and the Lord made His appearance. A bright light illuminated his being. The girls gathered around the tulsi plant to offer their prayers and the men formed a circle in the courtyard. A sweet-smelling flower passed through the congregation. We inhaled its fragrance. The soft light of the lamp washed us with its promise of enlightenment. Soon it was time to leave for the Radha Valabh temple that woke the Lord at 7a.m.
The Radha Valabh temple is special as the devotees present marijuana or hashish to the Lord. The story goes that a very diligent priest who served the Lord had one failing – he loved to smoke marijuana. When the temple authorities threw him out of his job, the Lord appeared in the dreams of the other priests looking very sad. On enquiry, “I’m not getting any hashish these days,” said the Lord. On hearing this, the temple authorities realized the mistake they had made and instantly reinstated the priest.
We entered the Radha Valabh temple. A number of women were singing softly as they sat in the little marble square in front of the garba griya or the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The singing, starting gentle, picked up rhythm and as the time approached to open the doors to the deity, a frenzy of singing erupted. Loud shouts and gusty hailing ushered the Lord into a new day. Thrusting hands were warned that the prashad would only be given to those who waited patiently for the blessing. We emerged from the temple clutching a packet of sweet powder, our reward for good behavior.
A trip to Brindavan is incomplete without a visit to Prem Mandir, the latest addition to the temple tour. Inaugurated in February 2012, the 54-acre site on the outskirts of Brindavan is dedicated to Lord Radha Krishna and Sita Ram. It took about $23 million, 30,000 tons of Italian marble, and 1000 artists toiled for about 12 years to build the complex. Tableaus that recreate scenes from Krishna’s life surround the marble temple. As evening approaches, the white marble façade is lit up. Awash in many shades of changing lights, the temple is a beautiful sight. Spiritual master Kripalu Maharaj conceived and established the temple. Shimmering green, red, and purple lights signal the end of our day.
It is time to retire for the night. Outside the Prem Mandir, on the wall above the fruit vendor, sits a monkey clutching a green woolen cap. A grey haired man below tosses him an orange. The exchange is completed as we head to our hotel.
It is now time to leave the city to Krishna and his gopis.
How to get to Brindavan
By Road : Brindavan is situated on Delhi-Agra NH-2. Another road that leads there is the new Yamuna Expressway. Delhi is about 200 Km away. It can take about 4 hours to traverse this distance.
By Train : The major railway station nearby is Mathura on the Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Mumbai main line. Several express and passenger trains connect Mathura from other major cities of India like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Gwalior, Dehradun, Indore, and Agra. A rail bus runs between Brindavan and Mathura station 5 times a day. Vrindavan or Brindavan itself is a railway station.
By Air: The nearest airport Agra is 67 km away. The nearest international airport is Delhi.
Ritu Marwah’s travel tales reflect her deep interest in history. Her well-researched articles are informative while making for interesting reading.