Vrindavan visit - Saavan and Jhoolan
The same cooking fire is in use that was started by the founder, Gopal Bhatt Goswami, 500 years ago at Radha Raman temple, Vrindavan!
The rains are here in Vrindavan. The proof is in Yamuna ji's doubled width. Greens of all variety touch the skyline across fields and the river side. Jhoolan Utsav, beginning August 1st, 2008 in Vraj Mandal (Vrindavan, Barsana, Gokul, Mathura, Nandgaon, Mahavan…) is an annual event that both Brajwasis and non-resident devotees look forward to.
The sun is still strong here, no matter that summer is technically behind us with the advent of monsoons, Saavan and Chaturmaas. Humidity has a say no doubt. However, devotees from all over the place - India and abroad are making a beeline for Vrindavan. The festivals of Hindola, Hariyali teej, Krishna Janmashtmi and Radha Ashtami are supplemented by the daily gaiety of jhoolan songs, phool banglas and raslila.
It is only the festival of Holi that can compare with this jocund monsoon celebration in Vraj. Even as Holi in Vraj is an all-new experience, doused in colours of love for divinity, Saavan in Vraj is revelry of a different kind.
Weekend phool banglas
This weekend at Bihari ji’s temple was like any other – decorated with flowers and fairy lights. The phool-bangla made of fresh flowers scented the air. Roses, gerberas, marigold, jasmine, and even fruit – apples and sweet lime, along with leaves, golden kalash and other accessories came together under the expert hands of local florists in the evening.
Family visit to Vrindavan
Their colour and fragrance probably induced Bihari ji to step out of his room and sit in the verandah. His green attire embellished in fine zardozi embroidery, was a gift from a devotee from Faridabad. In fact a family had offered the phool-bangla, and all worship items for the day in thanksgiving to the Lord.
Chaukhat puja at Banke Bihari temple
A weekend being an easy opportunity to visit Vrindavan from Delhi, nearly all weekends find Bihari ji celebrating with a host of devotees from there. It is a beautiful sight when entire extended families – with the eldest grandma, down to the youngest kids congregate for a special visit to Vrindavan and in particular Bihari ji. Bihari ji’s temple officially opens at 8.30 am in summer, but it is a delight seeing such families sitting down for Chaukhat puja at Bihari ji’s silver doors at 6.00 am or so.
The chant of Vedic mantras fills the air, which is not heard otherwise during the day when hundreds of devotees mill around – some singing to Bihari ji – ‘Banke Bihari mere ghar aana, mere Krishna Murari mere ghar aana…,’ or simple cries of ‘Banke Bihari Lal ki Jai!’
Radha Raman Ghera
Banke Bihari temple is now managed jointly by the Goswami families and the government, while other temples in Vrindavan, such as Sri Radha Raman temple, near Nidhivan, though not in the thick of tourist attraction, still follow the exact traditions set by the founders. Radha Raman temple has 40 Goswamis. Each of them take their turn at organizing the daily worship and festivals here.
500 year old cooking fire in Vrindavan
It was a special privilege for me to see the 500 year old kitchen at Radha Raman temple this time.
The kitchen complex is well divided into courtyards, rooms and the main room for cooking. The wood stoves have been in use non-stop for all these 500 years! The same fire is in use that was started by the founder, Gopal Bhatt Goswami!
History meets culture and lives
The entry to the kitchen complex is guarded by an ancient iron and sal-wood door. A small niche at the entrance to the stove-room is where Giriraj ji sits and smiles - overlooking all needs of the people who receive the prasadam here.
The Prasad itself was a leaf-platter full of several dishes. Karhi, dal, rice, sweet-rice, kheer, chapati and pumpkin-sabzi, among other items filled up the sumptuous platter to capacity. Not possible for a single person to eat up all the goodies!
Credit for the delicious prasad which is first offered to Radha Raman ji and Radha Rani, goes to the young Goswamis who cook in this ancient kitchen. The food is cooked with love for the Lord and as a result is always delicious, no matter if it is cooked for the daily bhog or a special festival such as Janmashtmi when thousands of devotees get a taste of the prasad.
Haweli sangeet and Raag seva
Similarly, Sri Radha-Vallabh temple, which is quite close to Banke Bihari temple has a well kept kitchen. Raag seva, or worship through classical music is part of the daily routine here, just as at Radha Raman temple also. The music in dhrupad-dhamaar may not be easy to sing along with; Dhrupad-dhamaar is difficult to sing even for trained classical singers, leave alone others. The tradition is kept alive here in the right spirit. This music has a special name - Haweli sangit, and there are few accomplished Haweli sangit singers left outside of Krishna temples. The older ones being Surdas, among others.
Real Braj music is far from popular music videos
While, bhajan music videos that rake in the moolah may be traditional Rasiya folk songs and Bollywood inspired racy devotional numbers, the old Haweli music still holds fort at the age-old temples of Vrindavan as well as Nathdwara. Haweli music remains hidden here, quite distant from the digital world.
Swami Haridas – Tatita sthan, Vrindavan
Swami Haridas, who was also mentor to Akbar’s court musician Tansen had worshipped Krishna through classical music and self-composed verses. His followers still follow suit at a lesser known place to visitors.Tatiya-wala sthan as the Brajwasis know it, is on the Parikrama marg, behind Rangnath ji temple. It is an ancient forest grove, where Sri Kunjvihari and Sri Haridas are revered. Classical music, to the verses of Sri Haridas soothes the ear here. The singers? Young devotees, who live in this temple-ashram. Their faces are smeared with Gopi-chandan. A camphor-sandalwood tilak is given to all visitors here. It is electrifying yet soothes the mind and body.
Monkeys sat on trees as these young monks sang blissfully. Rain had forced the sand to settle down with footprints on it. The trees washed by the monsoon rains swayed to the tune of Jhoolan songs. Saavan has truly arrived in Vrindavan.