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?