Powered by thousands of years of devotion to the most loved form of Krishna—as Radha’s other half– Vrindavan is brimming with divine energy. Nidhi Van, the place of Krishna’s raas leela or dance of divine love with Radha and other gopikas, is regarded as sacred today as it said to have been millennia ago. That the lord appears there every night, as does Radha with the other gopis, is a reality for the devout. Nobody is supposed to hang around the place after nightfall, which is regarded as a strictly private time for the celestial couple. Nobody does. There are dark stories about the fate of those ancients, who, out of fool-hardiness, dared to stay around Nidhi Van after the prohibited time. Folk tales say they turned into stones and statues.
No such risks are reported in the other old temples, but they remain shut to the public in the afternoon in keeping with the norm in most Hindu temples. The afternoon break of four hours partly explains the scramble in the morning, especially at popular places. The Banke Bihari temple, for instance, is difficult to enter or exit. The jet black and bent idol of the combined form of Krishna and Radha placed here has a fascinating story behind it. Lord Krishna, along with Radha, is said to have given darshan to devotee Hari Das, who lived in Nidhi Van about 550 years ago. Dazzling light is said to have filled the place when they appeared; when they left, Hari Das found the idol on the spot. For about 400 years, the idol remained in Nidhi Van, but was later established in the Banke Bihari temple, built in 1868.
It is as though all roads in Vrindavan lead to this temple. There are thousands of people in the many streets that take you to the four gates of Banke Bihari. Of course, entry and exit are allowed only through designated gates. The heaps of shoes devotees leave outside, at the risk of losing both or one, tell a story of care-freedom. There are boards to indicate the places that do an organized job of shoe-keeping, but most devotees prefer to walk barefoot to the temple.
Such is the throng of moving people that you almost get softly pushed to the gates. The disorderly crowd causes no annoyance, though. As long as nobody pushes you sideways to land you in the shallow and open drains of the narrow streets, you are safe. You know the drains by the whiff, but even that fails to affect you. There is something in the air that fills your senses, and keeps all else at bay.
All along the streets, there are shops, one smaller than the other, selling pedas, flowers, tulsi and marigold garlands. It is impossible to resist buying them, never mind if the priests inside the temple don’t offer them to the idol on your behalf. You cannot get close to the idol to offer it yourself. In fact, you are not even allowed to see it for long.
Unlike idols in other temples, where you have open darshan, here it is restricted. The organizers keep pulling and drawing the curtain in front of Banke Bihari. It is said to be vibrating with life and emitting the same light today that dazzled Hari Das, and most people may not have the capacity to withstand it. Of course, devotees always find a way around such restrictions. They keep standing inside for long to have their fill of Banke Bihari. They don’t care if the temple workers keep smacking them with folded newspapers to remind them to move. Joyful cries of “Banke Bihari ki jai” rent the air all through.
As you come out and move towards the entrance where you had left the shoes, you realize that you simply had not cared to know the way to the temple, and are now lost. You walk and walk, knowing you would reach the entrance sometime. I did, in an hour, after constantly asking for directions along a distance of barely 200 meters. You have had it if you are walking without your glasses because you were warned the monkeys snatch them and mobile telephones away to wangle eats out of you. The young woman with me walked rather blindly through the milling crowd. By the end of a three-hour-long exercise to and fro — for less than 60 seconds of darshan– there were stars in our eyes.
We want to experience looking at Banke Bihari again. We want to test our capacity to tolerate the light from his eyes. We will go there in peak summer when hardly any tourists go there. We will memorize the way to the entry and exit points. We will not get lost, not in the streets. We will look into his eyes knowing that Banke Bihari responds to all longing. He is, to borrow Guru Gobind Singh’s words in Jaap Sahib, our “Gobinde, Mukunde, Uddare, Apare.”
The temple is undoubtedly special among a host of other such places I know, but the magnetism of Radhe-Krishna is everywhere in Vrindavan. It is a city that wakes up, lives and goes to sleep with the words “Radhe-Radhe.” There is no other form of greeting here. That itself creates a current, and you feel it right from the time you look at the board welcoming you to Vrindavan. By the time you leave it, you are fully charged.
The author is a Delhi-based journalist
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