| October 11 – 25, 2006 |
Dhruva das and I arrived in Delhi after our short trip to Bangladesh and took a taxi to Vrindavan. Though I have been to Vrindavan many times in the last 35 years, coming into that transcendental abode is always a fresh and exhilarating experience. I wanted to enter Vrindavan in the proper frame of mind, so during the three-hour drive I started to read from one of my favorite books, Vrindavan-Mahimamrita.
grnanti suka sarikah sucaritani radhapates tad eka paritustaye tru
latah sadotphullitah saramsi kamalotpaladibhirdhusca yatra sriyam
tad utsava krte manah smara tad eva vrndavanam
“Always meditate on the blissful abode of Vrindavan, where parrots are constantly singing the nectarean characteristics of Radha and Krishna and where trees, creepers, flowers, fruits, and twigs increase the beauty of the land. They are always joyful because they are fully engaged in the service of the Lord of Radha. May I always meditate on such an enchanting abode of ecstasy.”
by Srila Prabhodhananda Saraswati, 17 sakata, verse 97]
The next day, we began our Vrindavan parikrama along with 250 other devotees by visiting the Madan Mohan Temple near the Yamuna River. As we began walking down the dusty path, I had the feeling that this year’s parikrama would be full of nectar and unlimited mercy.
It didn’t take long for my expectations to come true.
After our visit to Madan Mohan Temple, I had an idea. “Let’s make a quick trip to the Vraja Mohan Temple,” I said to Dhruva. “I’d like to offer my respects to the Deity of Narottam das Thakur.”
Over the years, my disciples and I have helped restore the Vraja Mohan Temple to it’s original beauty. It is one of the places in Vrindavan where I go for spiritual shelter and inspiration.
We went to the temple and paid our respects to the Deity. Then the pujari, a friend of mine, came up to me. “Maharaja,” he said, “I have been waiting for you all year. I have a wonderful surprise. Come to my room.”
We entered his simple quarters, and Dhruva and I sat on the floor. The pujari reached up onto a shelf and brought down a small wooden box. He opened it slowly, took out a beautiful Salagrama-sila, and put the sila in my hand.
I was speechless.
“We were digging the foundation for a new guesthouse behind the temple,” he said, and we broke into the remains of an ancient temple five meters underground. We discovered this Salagrama in one of the rooms. I’m giving it to you as gratitude for all the help you and your disciples have done in restoring our temple.”
Later, Dhruva and I walked back to where we were staying, carefully holding the auspicious Deity. “This is only our first day in Vrindavan,” I said to Dhruva. “Just imagine what other transcendental wonders await us.”
Then I quoted one of my favorite verses by Srila Rupa Goswami,
madhavya madhuranga kanana pada praptadhirajya sriya vrindranya vikasi saurabha tate tapiccha kalpa druma not-tapam jagad eva yasya bhajate kirti cchata cchayaya citra tasya tavanghri sannidhi jusam kim va phalaptir nrinam – “O handsome, fragrant tamala desire tree blooming in Vrindavan forest and embraced by the madhavi vine of the goddess ruling this forest, O tree, the shade of whose glory protects the world from a host of burning sufferings, what wonderful fruit do people find at Your feet?”
[Srila Rupa Goswami, Utkalika Vallari, verse 66 ]
Two days later, I took the devotees on Govardhana parikrama. We walked slowly, having bhajan and describing each holy place as we stopped there along the path. When we arrived at the sacred Govinda Kunda, where the surabhi cow bathed Lord Krsna with her milk, I asked my Godbrother Chaturatma das to tell the pastime to the devotees, and I went to sit alone some distance away on the bank of the lake.
I was tired and hot, and the cool breeze off the lake quickly refreshed me. The whole atmosphere was enchanting, with white cows grazing nearby, green parrots flying about, and peacocks in the trees. I was reflecting on the spiritual significance of the place when suddenly a young village girl, around eight years old, came and sat beside me without saying a word. She began gazing out at the lake, just as I had been doing. We sat like that together, just meditating on Govinda Kunda for well over half an hour. Once in awhile I’d look over at her and smile. She’d acknowledge my gesture by slightly tilting her head to the side, as Indian people do.
Finally she turned to me. “Baba,” she said and reached out with her closed hand, in a gesture of offering me something. I put out my hand, and she put a beautiful Govardhana sila in my palm.
She smiled sweetly. “Giriraja,” she said and ran off to play with her friends nearby.
The small sila was brown with a white triangle in the middle. I looked at it for a long time. Then I walked the few steps to the kunda and bathed the sila in the sacred water.
As I walked back to where the devotees were, I thought about my good fortune. The best way to receive a Govardhana sila is directly from a Vrajavasi, someone who lives in Vrindavan, and I, without even asking, had been blessed with such a sila from the hands of a young girl who lived at Govardhan Hill.
When I showed the sila to the devotees, everyone was amazed.
But the desire tree of Vrindavan dhama had still more fruit to offer.
The next day we continued our Govardhana parikrama from where we had left off. When we reached Uddhava Kunda near the end of the day, I was happy to see my old Vrajavasi friend, Giriraja das. He has been the pujari at Uddhava Kunda for over 50 years.
We rushed forward to greet each other. As we hugged, I meditated on my good fortune to be holding a pure Vaisnava like him.
He once told me that his father did Govardhana parikrama five thousand times before conceiving him.
After we sat down, I spoke to the devotees for over an hour about the transcendental importance of Uddhava Kunda. Giriraja das sat patiently by my side. He does not know a word of English, but his face would light up every time I said a name of the Lord or one of his eternal associates, like Uddhava.
Just as I finished, he reached onto the altar, picked up a large Govardhana-sila, and put it in my hand. Once again I was surprised by mercy that had come of its own accord. I was amazed to see that the sila very much resembled the smaller one I had received earlier at Govinda Kunda.
“I have been worshiping him for thirty years,” Giriraja das said. “He was given to me by an old sadhu who lived in a small cave in Govardhana Hill, near Govinda Kunda.”
As Giriraja das spoke, I looked again at the sila in my hands.
It seemed to become more and more precious.
All the devotees crowded around to see the sila. Giriraj das took my hands and looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I am an old man,” he said. “I may die soon. I am giving you the most cherished thing I own. I am giving you my life.”
I could not find a way to reciprocate with his kindness, so I fell down at his feet and offered obeisances for a long time.
The next morning I started my worship of the two Govardhana silas. Many devotees came throughout the day to look at their beauty. I was thinking that I had received the pinnacle of grace in the holy dhama.
But there was more to come.
Soon after our Govardhana parikrama, we visited Uchagaon, the appearance place of Lalita devi, Srimati Radharani’s closest sakhi. For days I had prepared myself by reading about Lalita devi – her personal qualities, her special mood, and her service in Radha and Krishna’s pastimes. As hundreds of us walked along the dusty road leading to the hill where Lalita’s village was, I was thinking about my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. Only by his grace could I even set foot in such a holy place.
As we were crossing a bridge over a small river, I noticed two of our devotees speaking to a farmer on the other side. The farmer was an older man, typical of many Vrajavasis – dressed in a simple white dhoti, old shoes, a vest, and an old chaddar. I thought it odd that the devotees were speaking with him for so long.
“They certainly don’t speak the local Vrajavasi dialect,” I thought, “and surely a poor farmer like him doesn’t speak English.”
When I reached the group, I was surprised to hear the farmer speaking English fluently. I listened for a moment and then spoke to him. “Sir,” I said, “how is it that you speak such good English?”
He smiled. “When I was very young,” he said, “I had a desire to learn English.”
After the other devotees left, I also discovered that he was learned in the Vedic scriptures.
“Many of Radha and Krsna’s pastimes took place in this area,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
He extended his arm and pointed. “Up on the hill is the place where Lalita devi appeared,” he said. “She’s the leader of all the sakhis.”
“And just over there” he continued, “the gopis declared Srimate Radharani to be Queen of Vrindavan. And on that side, just behind those trees, Radharani performed the marriage ceremony of Lalita and Krsna.”
He chuckled. “Radharani became so happy that her veil fell off and landed on a rock,” he said. “You can still see the impression of that veil on the rock. It is called the citra-vicitra sila.”
“You know a lot,” I said.
He laughed. “Everyone out here knows these things,” he said. “This is all we talk about.”
His expression became serious. “But it’s quickly changing,” he said. “With material progress and Western influence, our culture here in Vrindavan is being negatively affected. Now people are more interested in watching television and Bollywood videos. Even out here.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
I asked the farmer to go with us up the hill to Uchagaon.
Along the way we continued our discussion.
“I’m happy being a farmer,” he said. “With my knowledge of English, I could have had a good job in a city, but that would have meant leaving Vrindavan. And this, I would never do.”
When our party reached the temple on top of the hill, I gave a talk about Srimati Lalita devi, recounting a number of her transcendental pastimes. My respected guest sat next to me and seemed to enjoy the talk.
But as I spoke I felt increasingly embarrassed. “This gentleman was born in Vrindavan,” I thought, “and he has been living here his whole life. He knows these things better than I do. Who am I to speak in front of him?”
After my talk, the farmer and I sat down to take prasadam together, and I noticed he was carrying a small bag.
“What’s in the bag?” I asked.
He smiled, opened the bag, and took out an English edition of Krsna Book.
“What?” I said. “Where did you ever get that? This book was written by my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada.”
“I found it on a bus two years ago,” he said. “I’ve read it seventeen times.”
“Seventeen times?” I said.
“Oh yes” he said. “It’s my favorite book. It’s all about Vrindavan.”
He paused for a moment. “I’ve heard about how your spiritual master went to the Western countries and delivered so many people. I want to read more of his books, but I can’t afford them.”
Here was more mercy for me: an opportunity to serve a genuine Vrajavasi.
“If you give me your address,” I said, “I’ll send you the entire collection of Srimad Bhagavatams.”
“Please do,” he said, “and in English.” “Of course,” I said.
“But don’t wait too long,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m over fifty now,” he said. “I want to start traveling.” “To all the holy places in India?” I said.
“No,no,” he said. “I plan to travel throughout Vrindavan and share with everyone what I’ve learned from your spiritual master.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “If people in these villages were to know his message, Vrindavan could be saved from the onslaught of Western culture.”
His bushy eyebrows went up. “Just as your spiritual master went to the West and delivered so many people,” he said, “so his teachings can restore Vrindavan’s culture to it’s original glory.”
As we parted, we hugged. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for increasing my faith in the holy land of Vrindavan and my spiritual master, and in his transcendental books, as well.”
Srila Prabhupada writes:
“Better you yourselves do as much as possible to spread Krsna consciousness there by distribution of literature, kirtana and prasadam. That will be as effective as my personally coming. I am very keen on the distribution of my books and I am very indebted to all of you for your untiring efforts to see that every man and woman in America gets one of my books. If they simply read one page, even if they do nothing else, they can become perfect.”
[Letter to Hari Basara , April 20, 1974]