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Mahanidhi Madan Gopal Das

1977, we left our Delhi train in Mathura, and bounced along the dusty road in a clickety-click, clickety-click horse cart ride to Vrndavana. “Welcome to Vrndavana, the Land of Krishna” said the sign as we approached its precincts.

“Ahh, we made it, we’re here; this is the spiritual world!”

Then Sri Vrndavtavi Mata blessed us with our first darshana of Vrndavana, and completely excited our heart with a special kind of attraction. We felt a unique sense of imperceptible peace, and some inexplicable feeling of continually resonating joy in the core of our heart.

As we wandered about the villages of Vrndavana, Varshana, Nandagrama, Govardhana and Radha-kunda all of our senses, especially our eyes, ears and nose, were captivated and transported to a subtle and mysterious realm far beyond whatever lies outside this “play land of God”, lilabhumi Vrndavana.

Now we will share some of our memories from forty-two years ago.

Legions of robust, brilliant green happy parrots chattered everywhere in the neem trees lining the Chattikara road like rows of sentinels guarding the path from the Delhi Road to the Banke Bihari Mandir. The road was so narrow that if two cars were passing, the car giving way would get scratched by the scrawny, thorny babul trees (acacia arabica) flanking the road.

The twisty, narrow roads of bricks were polished smooth from millions of loving shuffles scurrying to tiny temples or regal palaces housing the sweet Kings of their hearts. In the small “family temples” and grand mandirs, the Thakurajis were all being cooled with large cloth fans pulled by the eager hands of grateful bhaktas.

Before our Vrndavana yatra we had darshan of many Krishna murtis in mandirs in America, Canada and UK. But here in Vrndavana, we experienced the Thakurajis to be very different, extra special, close and friendly, touchable and human like. If you reach out, Thakuraji will hold your hand, whisper something in your ear and move into your heart. Here the Thakurajis are not aloof and distant. They are loving, and like gaumata they want attention and care.

Thakuraji wants to be close and near His devotees. He misses them and hankers to see them in every arati. When you take darshan of Damodar jiu, Govindadeva, Gopinatha, Radha Raman, Radha Vallabh and Shyamsundar you feel that They really like you, and appreciate your standing before them admiring Their sweet and perfectly beautiful divine forms with every drop of devotion you possess.

“O such a land! Such a wondrous experience! And such a love found in nowhere but Vrndavana!”

The Yamuna River, glistening with an undeniably rich dark blue color, immediately reminded us of our beloved Shyamsundar. Yamunaji meandered in a zig-zag way through the magical landscape, not purposely toward a goal, but lazily like a person relishing one’s self in the inner world of contentment. Like the path of Krishna bhakti, Yamunaji moved slowly, carrying the hidden treasure of her personal joy while steadily move toward her goal, the ocean.

One night at 1.30 a.m. while sleeping in our small Raman Reti guesthouse, we were suddenly awakened by some unearthly sound. It was the deep thunderous crying of what seemed to be thousands of domestic cats meowing in unison. What was that curious mystical cry? The sound abated after some time, but then again roared back into prominence at about 4 a.m.

The next morning, our Vrajavasi friend said, “O that is the peacocks in the forests singing for Radha-Krishna’s nightly rasa lila. And at 4, they are calling all the bhaktas to come for Krishna’s darshan in mangal arati!”

In 1992, by Krishna’s power alone, we did dandavat parikrama of Vrndavana. It was all just sandy plains from Keshi Ghat to the big white Jagannatha Mandir. Then believe it or not, the entire length of the parikrama marga was ONLY soothing cool and purifying white Yamuna sand. Parrot and peacock filled big tall neem, palasha, kadamba and arjuna trees interspersed with fruit orchards of ber, guava and jamun trees lined both sides of the marga. Crossing the Vrndavana-Mathura road, the parikrama marga was bordered by big trees and garden filled spacious ashrams of various saints all the way to Raman Reti.

Often we would take visiting devotees to the then tallest building in Vrndavana, the seven storied “Pagal Baba Mandir”. From its roof we would point out the Goswami Saptalaya Mandir domes, and the royal Madan Mohan temple gloriously reigning atop Dvadashaditya Tila.

This is the Vrndavana of forty-two years ago that completely captured the dry and broken heart of one 24-year-old American. Like many, we were searching for a nature loving, personal and playful God. We found Him here; Krishna and Radha in their paradise of pure devotion, Vrndavana! It was an incredible overtaking of our being. Impossible but it’s happening. We can see, smell, hear, taste, touch and feel Krishna right here, NOW in Vrndavana.

Ten years later, in 1987, by Srimati Radharani’s mercy, we happily moved permanently to Vrndavana. Then a tragedy appeared. Unfortunately, for the next 20 years (1987-2007), we painfully and helplessly watched the divine paradise that once enchanted our hearts disappear right before our tear-filled eyes.

Sadly, our hearts broken, it’s now ALL GONE! No more trees, no more parrots, peacocks or mynas, those talented maestros, and NO MORE YAMUNA! Small “family temples” vanished under the rubble of stores and apartments. Other friendly, sweet and vibrant small temples turned into sprawling complexes of marble, gold, tinsel and trim all neatly packaged in steel “monkey cages”. Thakuraji’s “devotee fans” moved by loving hands and hearts were replaced by ceiling fans and AC’s.

During the destruction of Vrndavana, we often thought and prayed, “O Radharani! You are the Queen of the trees, birds and forests of Vrndavana. And You are the one and only supreme Empress of absolutely, pure and immaculate selfless love for Sri Krishna, mahabhava. We promise You that if we ever get some money, we will buy a little land and offer You some beautiful trees as a small token of our love and gratitude for all and everything that you have and still are giving to us.”

After many years, by Srimati Radharani’s sweet will, She gave some land in Her heart’s domain, Sri Radha-kunda Dhama. By Sri Krishna’s grace there are now over thirty-five trees here for Lila Yugal’s enjoyment, including neem, campak, asoka, amla, moulshri and Their favorites, our precious Tamal and Kadamba yugal vrksh.

With great disappointment, however, we have seen that most of the devotees buying land here will mindlessly decimate all the trees, and then cover every inch of their plots with cement, buildings driveways and towering walls, leaving zero vraj raja, save and except a ceremonial “tulsi stambha”. What about serving Vrndavana, and pleasing the Queen who so kindly gave you the land, Vrndavaneshvari Sri Radha?

We met one South Indian sadhu just after he purchased a plot in Vrndavana. “Maharaja, what is your plan for your land? Are you going to cover every inch with cement like everyone else does?”

Swamiji replied, “O, No, no, this is Vraja. I promise you I will build a small ashram along the back wall and leave the remaining area for a garden with trees and flowers for our Thakuraji.”

“Yes, this is good. Actually, it’s a privilege and a special favor from Srimati Radharani to be granted some land in Her Queendom. “Your property” and all the land in Vrndavana actually belongs to Sri Radha alone. We are merely guardians meant to protect and beautify it with flowers and trees as a place for the happiness and sweet pastimes of Sri Sri Radha Govinda Yugal.”

Conversation over, construction starts and guess what happened? A big ashram manifested eating all the land, and the “promised garden” is nonexistent! Such is the age of Kali!

To all those blessed devotees moving to Vrndavana and building a home on a private plot, we humbly make the following appeal. No matter how big or small your plot is, please only build on one-third or one-half of “your land”, and leave the rest for a “Radharani Bagicha”, a beautiful garden full of fragrant flowers and happy trees! The is real residence in Vrndavana, Vrajavasa, and this is Krishna bhakti.

In closing, we pray: “O Vraja! O Vrndatavi Mata! How very much we miss you that while writing this our tears are falling on the paper. Will we ever see you again? Will we ever be embraced by you again, and fill with that special feeling of love, security, hope and happiness than only a bhakta can perceive? O Srimati Radharani! If Vraja does not return, then please I beg You to take me to Your lotus feet in Goloka Vrndavana Dhama.

Jai Jai Sri Radhe! Sridham Vrndavana ki jai!

Mahanidhi Swami

Since one can practice bhakti anywhere, why does Srila Rupa Goswamipada stress physically living in Vrindavana, kuryad vasam vraje sada? (Brs.1.2.295)

Why, because Vraja Dhama has the inconceivable power to quickly manifest bhava bhakti within the heart of a non-offensive sadhaka residing there, duruha adbhuta virya smin shraddha dure panchake …bhava janmane (Brs. 1.2.238)

The word panchake above refers to the five most potent, result producing limbs of sadhana bhakti, namely nama sankirtana, murti seva, sadhu sanga, hearing Srimad Bhagavatam and living in Vrindavana. Not only will one attain bhava-bhakti by Vraja vasa but also prema. Mahaprabhu explains, “Of all sadhanas, these five limbs of bhakti are the best. Krishna prema will appear in the sadhaka by even a slight association, alpa sanga, with them, sakala sadhana shreshtha ei pancha anga, krishna prema janmaya ei panchera alpa sanga.” (Cc. 2.22.128)

After reading this, the sadhakas living in Vrindavana may ask, “How is it then that I have not yet attained bhava, what to speak of prema, even though I have lived in Vrindavana for 5, 10, 15 or 25 years?”

The answer is that there is a certain type of “how to” mood of residence in Vrindavana. Srila Narottama dasa Thakura describes it: “One should live in Vraja with anuraga which means a continuous mood of respect, love and loving attachment; while always desiring to be counted among Srimati Radhika’s sakhis and manjaris, vrajapure anurage vasa, sakhi gana gananate.” (Pr.Bk.Candrika 56).

If one does not have this mood, however, then he will invariably commit offences to the holy dhama or the dhamavasis, and thus have to wait a long time to receive the promised bhava and prema. After one suffers for his aparadhas and deeply repents, then Sri Dhama will eventually forgive, and soon award bhava-bhakti to that sincere sadhaka.

Srila Sanatana Goswamipada reveals the matchless quality of Vraja vasa. While traveling on his spiritual odyssey, Gopa Kumara arrived in Dvaraka in the spiritual sky [not in Gujarat, India]. There he directly saw Krishna and interacted with Him in a very personal way. Nevertheless, Gopa Kumara still felt dissatisfied because there he could not find his coveted “Vraja bhava”.

Feeling compassion for him, Uddhava Mahashaya advised him to go to Gokula Vrindavana in the material world, saying, “When the saintly devotees see the empty forests, rivers, mountains and so on in earthly Vrindavana, they automatically get feelings of humility and love simultaneously. Overwhelmed, and their hearts intensely burning in separation, they loudly cry out “Alas! Alas!” as they search for their dearest Sri Krishna.” (Brhad-Bh. 2.5.242-243)

Upon arriving in this earthly Vraja, Gopa Kumara entered a similar emotional state which he describes here: “I came to Vraja and went to see the many places of Sri Krishna’s pastimes while singing my favorite names of Krishna. While loudly and sweetly singing about Krishna’s pastimes, I fixed my mind upon them. I attained such as state of ecstasy (bhava dasha), and became so emotional that it embarrasses me even to think of it. So how then can I describe this to anyone else?

“In this way, I passed many days and nights. However, I did not know whether my bhajana was bringing me immense joy or immense misery. Was I living in a forest fire or was I submerged in the cooling, sweet waters of Yamunaji? That I cannot say. Then one fine day while I was sitting in a Vraja nikunja doing my bhajana, I became immersed in an ocean of crying and fell unconscious.

“Suddenly dayalu cuda mani Shyama appeared before me. With His cooling nectar hand, Shyama personally wiped the dust from my body. Then Madan Gopaladeva filled my nose with the most uncommon and enchanting fragrance of His divine body. I awoke from my swoon and stood up.

“Vraja Nagara Shyama artfully played a sweet tune on His murali, and before I even knew it, Shyama just disappeared in a kunja. Alas! Alas! I ran behind looking for Him. But Shyama had vanished and I collapsed on the ground!” (Brhad-Bh. 2.6.3-10)

Displaying a similar mood, Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswamipada prays in Stavavali: “When will I wander around Govardhana Hill, constantly crying out like a madman, ‘O Radhe! O Krishna!’ for my most beloved Priya Priyatama? Sometimes I will stumble and fall, and then get up again dancing, singing and crying. O when will the streams of my tears shower these transcendental playgrounds?”

In his Goswami Astakam, Srinivasa Acharya perfectly depicts the mood of the six Vrindavana Goswamis, whom we are trying to follow in our present sadhaka forms (sadhaka rupena): “Greatly agitated and distressed, they wandered everywhere in Vrindavana crying out, “O Radhe! O Vraja Devi! O Lalite! O Nandanandana! Where are You all now? Are You at Sri Govardhanaji, or are You under the desire-trees on the bank of Yamunaji? Where are You?” (he radhe vraja devike ca lalite, he nanda suno kutah)

By the mercy of Sri Guru and Sri Krishna, raganugiya sadhakas who live in Vraja practicing manjari-bhava-sadhana will someday also have a similar experience of seeing Krishna, then losing sight, and then seeing their playful Lord once again while participating in Shyama’s sport of hide and seek with His beloved premika bhaktas.

O when, O when will that day be mine, sei din kabe habe mor? Srila Narottama dasa Thakura prays, “When while absorbed in transcendental bliss in Vrajabhumi will I give up my body, and go to the joy-filled divine realm of Vrindavana, e bhava samsara tyaji, parama anande maji, ara kabe brajabhume jaba, sukhamaya vrindavana?” (Prarthana 26)

To reside in Vrindavana means to experience this type of separation while performing one’s bhajana, which in essence is nothing more than crying…for mercy, for prema, for seva and for the sweet darshana of Radha Govinda Yugala. And this is exactly what Srila Narottama dasa Thakura means by saying one should live in Vraja with anuraga.

Without a doubt the best example of living in Vraja with intense anuraga is seen in the lives and writings of Sri Rupa, Sanatana, and Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswamis. By always hearing/reading their anguished, heart-rending words of separation from Radha-Madhava, a fortunate sadhaka will continuously cry and cry until the waves in the river of his tears carry him along to the lotus feet of Priya Radha.

ONLY IN VRAJA

Regarding the uniqueness of living in Vraja Mandala, the Padma Purana (patala-khanda) says, “Anyone who spends even one day in Mathura/Vrindavana will attain Hari-bhakti, aho madhupuri dhanya, vaikunthac ca gariyasi, dinam ekam nivasena, harau bhaktih prajayate.” (Brs. 1.2.237) The Brahmanda Purana says, “One achieves the bliss experienced at the stage of prema just by touching Mathura, parananda-mayi siddhir mathura-sparsha-matratah.” (Brs. 1.2.212)

Of course, this will never ever happen just by living a day in Mumbai, Moscow, Manhattan or anywhere in this maya jagat! The word mathura in Mathura-mandala means “to churn, spin or agitate”. And that’s exactly why residence here is so very special, because Vraja-dhama has the power to agitate one’s mind with thoughts and feelings for Krishna, and make one forget everything else!

From my 29 years of continuous residence in Vrindavana, I can personally say, that unlike anywhere else in the world, Vrindavana has a distinctive other worldly atmosphere or ambience. There is some special enchantment in Vraja that practically every visitor feels upon coming here. Devotion to God is imperceptibly floating in the air. It’s all-pervasive, touching every heart with a drop of joy. It’s the kind of happiness every heart hankers for. This is the taste of Krishna bhakti, and this Vrindavana is the land of Krishna’s love, waiting to embrace all who venture forth.

In Bhakti Ratnakara (chapter 5), Sri Raghava Goswami, a resident of Govardhana, became completely impatient and overwhelmed with bliss when he started narrating the glories and benefits of being in Vraja. He said, “One who bathes anywhere in Vraja Mandala, or sees the Holy Places there is freed from his sins.” (Padma Pur.) “Simply by touching the dust of Vraja, one can attain ecstatic love for Krishna.” (Brahmanda Pur.) “Living in Vraja Mandala is possible only by the grace of Sri Krishna, for without it one can’t stay a second.” (Adi Pur.)

Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja wonderfully describes the transcendental position the Vrindavana situated right here right now:

“Beyond all spiritual abodes is the abode of Vraja-loka, or Sri Gokula, which is also called Sri Goloka, Shvetadvipa and Vrindavana. Like Sri Krishna’s transcendental body, Gokula is unlimited, supreme and all-pervading. Vraja-loka spreads above and below without any restriction. Although by Krishna’s wish it manifests in the mundane universes, it only has one basic form, and not two separate ones. The soil of Vrindavana consists of thought gems and the forests are full of wish-yielding trees. But one with material eyes, sees it as a mundane place. The true form of Vraja Dhama manifests to one with the eyes of love, as a divine land wherein Krishna IS playing with His beloved gopas and gopis.” (Cc. 5.17-21)

One of best things about living in Vraja, and nowhere else in this universe, is that it enables one to see the pastimes of Radha Govinda Yugala. How is that? Shukadeva Goswami answers saying, “Sri Hari is very intimately connected with and ALWAYS PRESENT in Vrindavana, madhu-vanam yatra sannidhyam nityada hareh.” (SB 4.8.42; and 10.1.28)

Since Sri Krishna, Sri Radha and all the beautiful damsels of Vrajabhumi are still living here right now and eternally in Vrindavana, a raganuga sadhaka who lives here doing bhajana will one fine day see this:

“O, Krishna is here, living eternally in Vrindavana! And I see that Kamadeva Shyama, with His blissful smiling face, is forever increasing the lusty desires of the Vraja gopis, susmita sri mukhena vraja pura vanitanam vardhayan kama devam.” (SB 10.90.48)

In the above verse of the Bhagavata, the first line says jayati jana-nivaso devaki-janma, which means that “Krishna, the son of Devaki (second name for Yashoda), eternally lives gloriously among the cowherds of Vrindavana.” Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada explains, “The word jayati is in the present case, meaning, “Krishna is victorious and eternally in this world—in Vrindavana, in His Holy Name, and in His Hari-katha.” (Sarartha Darshini tika)

In short, living always in Vrindavana, vraje vasa sada, means at the ultimate level to always meditate upon Radha-Krishna’s asta-kaliya-lilas while, ideally if one can, residing in a nitya-lila sthali like Radha Kunda, Govardhana, Varsana, Nandagoan, Yavata, Seva Kunja, Nidhi Vana or others.

In this regard, Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada says, “One must meditate upon Radha-Krishna along with Their Vraja lilas, and never meditate on Radha-Krishna without Their pastimes, sri krishna lila sahitayor evopasyatvam, na lila rahitayoh lilayam.” (Raga Vartma Chandrika II.6)

If physical residence in Sridhama Vrindavana is impossible, however, then Sri Jiva Goswamipada advises that one can live elsewhere, but always remember Radha-Govinda’s eternal pastimes in Vrindavana. Physical/mental Vrindavana is best, but only mind in Vrindavana will also bring success in bhajana.

Srila Prabhupada explains, “When one’s mind simply becomes fixed on the lotus feet of Krishna, then one’s mind becomes as good as Vrindavana. Wherever Krishna is, there also are Srimati Radharani, the gopis, gopas and all the Vrajavasis. Thus as soon as one fixes Krishna in his mind, his mind becomes identical with Vrindavana.” (Cc. 2.13.138 p.)

Although one may live outside Vrindavana, one should not be satisfied and complacent with that residence, and never become attached to it. Rather, one should intensely hanker for that auspicious day or the life when one can physically and mentally live in Vraja Dhama absorbed in Radha-Krishna Yugala bhajana

Srila Narottama dasa Thakura beautifully expresses these sentiments in his bhajana, “hari hari! kabe habo vrndavana vasi”:

“O Hari, Hari! When will I be able to live in Vrindavana, and see the beautiful radiant forms of Radha Govinda Yugala? When will I give up the happiness of sleeping in a wonderful, luxurious bed, and smear my body with the dust of Vraja, Vraja dhuli? When will I give up the desire for tasty food, and live on begged food (madhukari) in Vraja?

“When will I wander around the forests of Vrindavana, and sometimes take rest on the cool, sandy banks of the Yamuna? When will I find relief from the scorching sunshine under the cooling shade of Vamshi Vata? When will I sit in a kunja amidst the elevated Vaisnavas? O when will that day come, when I give up everything [and run to Vrindavana]?”

Sri Vrindavana Dhama ki jai! Jai Jai Sri Radhe!