Monday, June 09, 2008

Last day in Vrindavan

So I will be heading back for Rishikesh tomorrow, unless something happens. There has been a big agitation by the Gurjars in Rajasthan over the past month, which has disrupted traffic throughout the region. They are threatening to do something really big tomorrow, so this might mean that my direct overnight bus to Rishikesh will not operate. We'll see.

Today I went to Jai Singh Ghera to talk over things with Shrivatsa Goswami. When I got there, I was surprised to see an event of sorts taking place in the main hall. The Friends of Vrindavan was showing a slide show of their achievements to a group from Delhi who are walking along the Yamuna as far as Agra, taking samples of the water and generally speaking to people about bringing the Yamuna back to life. They are called the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. Most people were young college students from Delhi belonging to a group called Youth for Justice. There was also one Gopal Krishna disciple who seemed to feel a little out of place.


Their leader's name is Manoj Kumar Mishra, who told the story of how he got started on this, which is something of a retirement action plan for him. Robyn Beeche and Jagannath Poddar from FOV were there and there was a little discussion of the relative roles of NGOs and the Indian government, whether the main role was to prod the government to action or to show the way. Some of the stories that came up were a little troubling though--Robyn told me that FOV protested vehemently against paving the parikrama marg, even lying down on the ground to prevent the work from going on, but ultimately business interests and politicos who stood to gain in some way won the day. But more troubling is the plan to build another four-lane ring road for the benefit of Delhi car-wallahs so they can drive directly in to see Banke Bihari without all those darned traffic blockages.

One of the positive things Manoj said was that the river has a revitalization power that makes one hopeful that if people’s habits can be changed, nature will be able to return to its former state. By the time they got to the Chirghat and Baldauji villages a few kilometers before reaching Vrindavan, they noticed that the birds and other marine life that had been missing from the polluted waters near Delhi started to reappear.

Worth mentioning that there were several journalists in the group, two from the magazine Down to Earth, a Delhi-based environmental publication put out by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), "an independent, public interest organisation which aims to increase public awareness on science, technology, environment and development."

Shrivatsa was in good form, giving a talk on the Yamuna and the importance of spiritual leadership in these kinds of projects. It is probably true that if the sants and gurus showed a bit of leadership in these matters, it would be far better. He was pretty outspoken about the gurus who are only interested in building big ashrams without any concern for the environmental impact. He gave the example of someone with disciples in who has built a big ashram on the banks of the Yamuna, and because of his connections had a road built to it.

Shrivatsa also said that Radha Raman temple is one of only two left in Vrindavan that still use Yamuna water in the puja of the deity. But when his branch of the family has the service, they go through the rituals of bringing water from the river, but they do not actually use it in the puja. One thing I did not know (OK, if this is general knowledge, I show my ignorance of Vrindavan and the Chaitanya Charitamrita, which is where the information apparently comes from), Shrivatsa said that the tree which is just outside Jai Singh Ghera, i.e., the other Chir Ghat, is where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came and sat down and, seeing the age of the tree, decided that it was an eye-witness to Krishna’s pastimes. So this was the first actual lila-sthali that he discovered and from which all the others were subsequently marked and named.

One last thing that Shrivatsa said that I noted down was his comment that Vrindavan has become the de facto spiritual capital of India. Though Kashi and other places still have a great deal of influence, the proximity to Delhi and the resurgence of Vaishnavism has thrust Vraja into prominence. How Prabhupada would be overjoyed to hear him say that and think that his mission had truly been fulfilled! Well, as I said before, Vrindavan is becoming the victim of its own success, if four-lane highways to parachute Delhi weekenders into Banke Bihari are made a priority over all the other crying needs of this town. Better they should make everyone park outside the town and walk from outside the Bhaktivedanta Gate. That would be better spiritually for the pilgrims and environmentally for the town. But what contractors would make money from that?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

"He gave the example of someone with disciples in who has built a big ashram on the banks of the Yamuna, and because of his connections had a road built to it."

The only big ashram (not that big actually) recently built on the banks of the Yamuna is Gopinath Bhavan, a business project of Gopinath das from Holland, and which is rather a residential complex for westerners followers of Narayana Maharaja. I am not sure how much Narayana Maharaja himself can be charged with the responsibility of that development, but it is indeed a shame that the parikrama marg was paved. The fact is, dutch Gopinath beat the Delhiwallas paving the parikrama marg, but paved it was bound to be, unfortunately. This because the local influentials are really mostly interested in making quick and big money at the expense of the spiritual aspect of the dham. Ridding Vrindavan of "brijabasis" might be the effective policy to adopt here if Vrindavan is indeed to be saved from irreversible desecration.

Jagat said...

Verifying facts is not easy to do. The post has been enlarged a bit since yesterday.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it Narayana Maharaja approved or ordered anything like that. He is in 100 % support of restoring and cleaning the Dham. Look at Surabhi Kunj..etc
Plus that complex is quiet in style of Vrindavan it is big but not ugly. I think they would have paved that road sonner or later.

Anonymous said...

Parikrama marg was paved years before Gopinath Bhavan was built.

Still, there might be a connection.

Jagat said...

I get the feeling that Srivatsa was talking about something else. He said that this road was three or four kilometers long. I will ask him as soon as I get a chance.

Anonymous said...

"I get the feeling that Srivatsa was talking about something else. He said that this road was three or four kilometers long. I will ask him as soon as I get a chance."

Yes please do ask. Because the road in question could be from the other side, the Mathura-Vrindavana road which connects with the parikram marg. I cannot imagine a four lane road through Madhuvan Colony and up to the Banki Bihari area. This would mean knocking down buildings since the existing road isn't even a two-lane one. Dislocating all those institutional buildings and homes around Madhuvan Colony and into Raman Reti to widen the portion up to Banki Bihari is just not going to happen. So, what really is this talk about a four-lane road into Vrindavan? Even the Bhaktivendanta Marg, the access road to Braj off the Delhi-Agra highway, isn't more than a two-way lane. But then again, I have heard there are plans from some developers to build a 3 to 4 story shopping mall at some point along Bhaktivedanta Marg. A Shopping Mall!!! I almost feel its time to summon up sweet Jesus to come kick these merchants out of Braj. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Jagat paraphrasing Shrivatsa Goswami: "In other words, not everyone who is a Vaishnava is from Bengal, and not everyone from Bengal is a Chaitanya Vaishnava. So it seems that Chaitanya Vaishnava is indeed a better term (than Gaudiya Vaishnava)."

vyapti and ativyapti. (I had to look it up - I wish your sanskrit terms in posts would come with translations so average readers like me would not be left guessing).

I always understood that the reason for "gaudiya" in Gaudiya Vaishnavism was due to Lord Caitanya having appeared in Bengal, or Gaudadesh. The idea being that the primary importance is not on who his followers are but who Caitanya Mahaprabhu is. He is the giver of the ultimate gift, Krsna prema, made available to one and all in this age of Kali regardless of our place of birth, rank in society, etc. etc. etc. But the place of appearance of Caitanya himself has as much meaning in the context of his personality as any other aspect of his identity - the place of lila is just as important as the divinity.

In times of old it was common to name individuals after their place of birth. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, carried as last name the name of the village he was born at, Vinci. Da Vinci of course translates as, "of, from, hailing from Vinci".

Now of course not everyone named Leonardo is a great artist and a great inventor, and not everyone born in Vinci is necessarily such either. But there is no question that a certain Leonardo from Vinci is the greatest artist and inventor of the Renaissance period.

We could ignore Leonardo's place of birth and still be able to appreciate his legacy, but not the entirety of it because much of the genius of his work is inseparable from the times and the circumstances of his living.

So, how much more importance then should be attached to the place bhagavan himself as Caitanya Mahaprabhu chose to take birth at.

I myself am not Bengali, by the way, and if I could, in this life I would rather chose to be Italian. I love olives and good looking shoes, that is.

Jagat said...

I rejected two comments about the "Dutch" as irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

4 lane road in small-town India means 1 lane road.

Jagat said...

Not the Taj Expressway from Delhi to Agra.

Jagat said...

Yeah, that is six-lanes, actually.

http://www.tajexpresswayauthority.com/