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Vrindavan pilgrimage tour

Vrindavan-Land of 4,000 Temples

South of Delhi, near the place of Krishna’s birth, is the town of 4,000 temples where the sounds of celebration constantly resound.

In the month of August, India celebrates the birth of Krishna, much as it has been doing every year for the past 5,000 years. This festival is known as Janamastami and falls in the Indian month of Vasant.

From the Delhi-Agra highway near Mathura, one can see the red temple that marks the place of Krishna’s birth. However, it is only when one ventures a few miles down to Vrindavan that Krishna’s real home is discovered. It is a town that bears the characteristics of a village with its narrow streets and many cows that wander freely around, unmolested and even revered by the Hindus who live here. Although Vrindavan is not actually where Krishna is believed to have been born, it is here that he is said to have spent a great deal of time in play and indulged in the playful act of hiding the clothes of cowherding girls (the gopis) as they bathed in the rive. The river has now meandered away and the woods that once flourished here have long since disappeared although the town maintains some wooded parkland. The details of Krishna’s life have similarly been obscured by the myth that now surrounds him. However, Krishna’s validity as a historical figure is borne out by ancient scriptures like the Mahabharata that records great battles that were once waged in this region.

Of the many roads into Vrindavan, one of these takes the traveler past the towering temple of Pagal Baba. This gleaming white temple has eleven stories in all and is one of the more modern pieces of architecture. The temple’s creator, Pagal Baba, died only a few years ago. His infectious spirit lingers on in the playfulness of his disciples who are ready to welcome one into the temple interior. It is possible to ascend to the ninth storey if the monsoon heat and one’s constitution allow. From here there is a good view over the surrounding area but at the ground floor of the temple one can see something of more peculiar interest. Around the sides of the foundations, there is an exhibition of puppets, some mechanized to move occasionally making simple gestures; they depict scenes from two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the latter being the record of Krishna’s time.

To enter the heart of Vrindava, one must proceed by foot for the narrow streets cannot by and large deal with the flow of traffic. One of the most important and vibrant temples is the Bankey Bihari, reached down an alleyway where one can expect to see devotees engaged in simple acts of worship such as ecstatically clashing small cymbals together as they move in time to ancient rhythms. The Bankey Bihari Temple houses a sacred image

of Krishna known as Thakkur Ji which shows Krishna with an almost blackened body. Devotees enter the shrine room carrying garlands of flower petals and offer them to the spirit of the statue as Brahmins move back and forth in front of the icon, occasionally drawing across the curtain to shroud the object of devotion for a moment. The curtain is then drawn back and a great cry of Thakkur Ji ! issue forth from the crowd.

It is possible to eat well in Vrindavan for people here tend to cook food in ways that are prescribed by their religion. It may be simple food but carefully spiced dishes without the excessive use of ingredients, often found in restaurants elsewhere, means one can eat a meal that is more easily digestible. Of course, if one wishes, there are the usual line of soft sparkling drinks that are to be found all over India, and the world. However, it is the glory of Krishna that people are singing the praises of here and not the crores of rupees to be made from selling such cold drinks for, even after 5,000 years, Krishna’s message is still one of universal celebration!

The Govind Dev Temple was built in 1590 by Raja Man Singh and now lies empty, its’ upper layers having been torn down during the time of the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, who doubtless considered the place one of idolatry. A line of beggars sit outside and call for alms as one approaches while monkeys play amidst the sculptured stonework of it’s interior. However, what remains of this red sandstone edifice is impressive. A few devotees take shelter here but if one takes the time to examine the art work and in particular, the vaulted ceiling, one way experience a little of the devotional fire that inspired it in the first place. There are also other temples to visit here such as the towering Rangaji Temple but if one is only visiting for the day, one may not have time to see them all for they close during the noonday hours. In fact, the majority of the estimated 4,000 temples cannot be visited for they are often private homes which, in some cases, have been inhabited for generations.

One of the most impressive temples is another new construction, the ISKON temple, which was built with funds coming from devotees overseas. Here, the marble buildings almost glow with a light of their own and there is evidence of intricate carving. It owes it’s existence to Swami Prabhupada, a Hindu devotee born in Bengal in 1896. Today, ISKON is a worldwide movement with followers from many different ethnic backgrounds, some of whom have become renunciates themselves, continually singing and dancing in praise of Krishna as they remember playful anecdotes from his life, a number of them apparently taking place in the vicinity of Vrindavan.

Krishna does seem to have been originally a remarkable individual even if he has been mythologised with the passing of the millennia.

What seems to emerge is that here was someone who managed to successfully combine the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the material, something that many people are still attempting to do in the modern world where god is generally considered to be little more than a concept.


Getting There

Vrindavan is 10 km north of Mathura which is 57 km north of Agra and 141 km South of Delhi. Mathura is an important railway junction with direct trains to many cities. The fastest train is the early morning Taj Express which takes 2 ½ hours from Delhi. From Mathura there are tempos available as well as tongas (horse drawn carriages) and three steam trains day on the metre gauge run to Vrindavan. One can also hire a taxi from Delhi to Vrindavan. Buses also operate regularly.

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