This city makes you believe that there is magic all around us!

11th Apr 2019
Photo of This city makes you believe that there is magic all around us! by shalbha sarda

I had always thought that the land of Brij is only for those willing to soak in the spiritual experience . The trees, the streets, the sand and the river, everyone has witnessed actions of the child prodigy- Krishna. They are all full of magical mysticism . But those who don’t believe in it, will find none of it. The first timers to Mathura-Vrindavan might carry an image of a serene place on the banks of the pristine Yamuna river where they can seek “thyself” under a Kadamb tree with sounds of flute coming from distant somewhere. On the surface it appears to be the most contradictory and unlikely place to find something like that . It is dirty and chaotic. But the “Brijwasis” couldn’t care any less. They are happy to be living in a land where they can claim close association with not the "lord" but the child “Krishna”. What struck me as odd and unnerving is, for them his stories are not mythology but history. They consider him to be one of them, raised within their own folds and had made it big somehow.

I might be not be a very religiously inclined person, but I love the thought of worshiping a God whose actions evoked a response of not just plain righteousness , but amusement, exasperation, anger, laughter and a complete range of human emotions. His dalliance with Radha laid the foundation of rules of love and explained its repercussions- the tease, the ache, and the tears that accompany perfect love.

The story began at-

Janam- Bhoomi- My growing years and I had always imagined this place so vividly from the jhaankis on Janmashtami and few TV series of my time. It is the place where Krishna was born. The huge premise includes a very authentic looking prison cell and a temple that surrounds it. The temple had been destroyed numerous times by Muslim invaders. It stands tall and strong today with a forcefully built mosque in its backdrop.

Photo of Janam Bhumi, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India by shalbha sarda

The Baanke Bihari temple- I have been to many renowned and crowded temples before, but nothing beats the scale of emotions and crowd as The Baanke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan. Everything else becomes invisible and inaudible besides the sea of humans flowing in the waves of devotion and the chants of “Radhe Radhe” . My head got wedged like an egg into a box of others, and arms were pinned by my sides. I couldn’t do much but just flow in the wave. I finally caught a glimpse, and just a glimpse is all you must get. The legend has it that looking at the idol for too long would make you fall in love and go crazy. An intermittent , precautionary curtain was drawn. I wanted to see a little more. For a moment the legend felt real as unexplained tears of overwhelm started flowing from the eyes of people around me . It was the transcendental form of the ultimate devotee- Radha and her all-embodying lover- Krishna. It stands as a testimony to beauty of their relationship and how easily their roles were interchangeable. I emerged out from the crowd, bemused and exhilarated, certain that I have experienced something special but not sure what! I raised both my hands and chanted Radhe- Radhe like everybody else.

Photo of Banke Bihari Temple, Goda Vihar, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India by shalbha sarda

Nidhivana-. The forest of Nidhivan suggest a place of deep eroticism and an archtypal interpretation of Krishna’s love anchored in nature’s landscape. The unusually shaped tress entangled with each other are said to be the form of Krishna and Gopis. The forest is flooded with tourists during the day time. But with the setting of the sun what happens here is a mystery that goes beyond the realm of faith. Not just the people but I could see hordes of birds, monkeys and any kind of wildlife make a hasty and a very visible retreat from the place. Within minutes, the forest becomes empty and the gates are closed. No one is allowed to watch the celestial dance of Radha- Krishna that happens every night. Those who did never lived to tell the tale. Once the gates are reopened in the morning everything is scattered and used. Research and scientists tried to reason the phenomenon. But I don’t want to get into reasoning. Instead I close my eyes to visualize Krishna - a peacock feather adorning the head, a compassionate smile on his face and I can almost hear the faint sound of flute. After all shouldn’t life be enriched by a moment of awe and astonishment where there is an appreciation of myth, a sense of mystery felt?

Photo of Nidhivan, Vrindavan, Gopinath Bagh, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India by shalbha sarda

Raman Reti- if the trees weren’t enough to testify, even the sands are redolent with the stories of Krishna at Raman Reti in Gokul. Hundreds of people roll over to wrap every inch of their body with the grains of the sand where their cow herd prince once played in his childhood. It is said to cure ailment, and soothe the body and soul. I don’t deny the soothing part, for rolling over on the sand reminded me of my childhood.

Photo of Raman Reiti, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India by shalbha sarda

Iskcon temple- it is so easy for a religion to cross the borders of nations not by force but with love and for the “god of love”. Looking at the orange clad foreigners dancing in a state of trance on a mridanga made me realize it. Their level of involvement with Krishna is simple, pure and deep. the temple was alive and reverberating with positive energy all around it. I sat there and contemplated the spiritual moment of peace and tranquil.

Photo of ISKCON Vrindavan, Raman Reiti, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India by shalbha sarda

The streets and the Ghats- Every square foot of Brij Bhoomi lends itself some fantastic tales. Even the jumble of narrow streets teeming with folks, rickshaws and glittering shop compete eagerly. One has to look beyond the typically anarchic traffic and bustle to witness the life of people here is as much on display as their monuments.

Photo of This city makes you believe that there is magic all around us! by shalbha sarda

The city has accommodated holy cows and thief monkeys that collectively appear to be more than the people themselves. The cycle rickshaws rarely use horns in the streets, they say Radhe- Radhe instead to clear the crowd.

Photo of This city makes you believe that there is magic all around us! by shalbha sarda

Mathura reminded me a lot of Varanasi just devoid of temple architecture, though as an ensemble certain parts of the town, especially the river front, do achieve a certain grandeur. It has long line of picturesque Ghats defined along the edge of the Yamuna river. Each has its own myth and reason.

Photo of Vishram Ghat: Mathura Baithakji Number 5, Gol Pada, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India by shalbha sarda

The Vishram ghat has the distinction of being the place where Lord Krishna is believed to have rested after killing his evil and tyrannical uncle, King Kansa. There are steps leading to the water but I was unable to associate the word holy to smelly dirty polluted water. I could see people were joyfully immersing themselves in the knee deep squalor. Rarely did they flap and flutter and remained diligent in their quest to seek religious fulfillment. I failed to do so and opted for a boat ride instead. The boat sailed away from the crumbling temples, sacred trees and abandoned Dharamshalas. It was much quieter in the middle. For one hour I sat amidst the strange dark silence with the boat man narrating the story of all the 25 Ghats and their association with Krishna. My thoughts go back to the love story of Radha and Krishna. Like all great love stories, they were not destined to be together. Krishna left Gokul, and never ever looked back. Though he went on to marry (a few thousand wives no less), it is said he never forgot Radha. There is no explanation. Shear spiritual connotations, maybe the lesson here is that love isn’t about being married or being with someone. Love is being connected from the soul. Who knows?

I was brought back to the mortal world by the sounds of the aartee of the river Yamuna. People were floating diyas in the river. It didn’t matter to them if the water was so dirty. Faith overpowers all five senses. Love resides in every dust particle of the city; “Radhe, Radhe” is on the lips of every living being

“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me”- Bhagvad gita verse 6.30 .

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