My friend, Rupa, is going home to Mumbai in three weeks and is in some anxiety about it. His father is actually a well-known classical singer, at least according to him. Rupa also says that his father and grandfather's musical tradition (gharana) is very special and has features that are unique to it. But because he spent a lot of time over the past few years wandering around Braj, he stopped practicing for three years. He only took it up again fairly recently and has been teaching, but he feels he needs to get a little bit more from his musical guru.
Only trouble is that his father is also his music guru, on whom he depends for his perfecting his art. And his father does not care much for his Vaishnava trip. He is all in favor of him continuing the tradition, but he wants him to do it by staying in Mumbai, getting married, etc.
So Rupa is caught in a quandary. Yesterday we spent some time talking about it, and I was of course suggesting this that and the other way of approaching the problem, but Rupa was not encouraged. Finally I suggested "magic": go to your favorite temple, make some offering and pray for a solution. Go to Radha Raman, but remember that he is a bit too busy with Radha to pay attention, so perhaps one of Yogamaya's many forms--Katyayani, Chamunda, etc.--might be a better place to go.
Day before yesterday Rupa and I went for darshan to some of the main temples for Hariyali Teej. I have been living like a bit of a hermit, barely going out at all as I try to make some headway with the Paramatma-sandarbha. So I decided to accept the suggestion and we headed out around five in the direction of Bankey Bihariji.
Now, one of the things that we Westerners have a problem with is sad-achara. By which I mean a kind of habitual attitude or behavioral attitude. Me, especially, even thogh I spent ten years in India way back when, and especially when I was a babaji, adapting to the Vaishnava social milieu, the long interlude in the west, and even in Rishikesh, alienated me further from many of these cultural norms. So as we approached Bankey Bihariji, I observed that I was in this touristic mode. What one friend of mind calls the "National Geographic mindset." The most clear indication of this was the camera I brought with me -- for the first time in ages.
So I was taking photos of the crowds, the shops, which seemed to be especially colorful in view of the Jhulan season, which will bring hundreds of thousands to Vrindavan over the next two weeks. An observer rather than a participant. I remember long ago first hearing that Narayan Maharaj always began his 84-kos parikramas by educating the participants in the difference between tourism and pilgrimage.
So in my touristic mode, I went into the temple wanting to get a photo of Bankey Bihari in his "green" mood. Hariyali Teej is the beginning of the "swing" season (jhlan) and it is green becase there is supposed to be a rainy season going on here. Not that you would ever know it. But the rule in Bankey Bihari -- and, I found out, in a lot of other places, at least on this day -- is no photos. So when I started, I was immediately pounced upon by security people who tried to wrestle the camera from my hands. I managed to get out of the situation, but the photographic results were appropriately dismal. Clearly Bihariji was successful in thwarting my touristic endeavor. (This was actally the best one.)
|Radha Vallabh Ji.|
So finally, at Radha Damodar, I went in and assiduously did sashtanga pranam to Sri Jiva Prabhu, Kaviraj Goswami, Sri Rupa Prabhu and to Srila Prabhupada. The effects were immediate and transformative. When I left Radha Damodar, I was no longer a tourist, but a bhakta.
|Sri Pushpang Goswami|
For all our criticisms of the caste system and privilege to birth, there are those occasions when such a birth in a traditional family of Vaishnava teachers reveals its glory. What grandeur to be born in a family of devotees and to be trained from birth to speak poetically the glory of Radha Krishna and Braja Dham! What pointless arrogance to pretend that any other birth is its equal!
Our conversation passed from the briefest of formalities to wide-ranging topics of Hari katha. Some things I learned were in relation to the Radha Raman family history. Somehow the topic turned to Prabodhananda Saraswati, about whom I have written in the past. Prabodhananda was Gopal Bhatta Goswami's uncle and according to the Gaudiya Math, someone other than Prakashananda Saraswati.
Pushpangji Maharaj recounted that according to the family tradition they were indeed one and the same person. When Mahaprabhu was in South India, he stayed with the family of Gopala Bhatta where he learned of their illustrious uncle in Kashi. So one of the prime purposes of Mahaprabhu's visit to Kashi was to revive Prakashananda's Vaishnava samskara. When Prakashananda returned to the fold, he also returned to his earlier name, which was Prabodha.
So I asked about the relation of Hit Harivams to Gopala Bhatta.Here too I heard something that I had never known. Gopala Bhatta Goswami traveled to Nepal not long after coming to Vrindavan before he established himself permanently. On that trip, he passed through Deoband, which is on the way to the north. There he met Gopinath Acharya, who became his disciple. As a matter of fact, Gopala Bhatta made several disciples in the area, including Hit Harivams, who was also from the same area and a friend of the family. Later when the service to Radha Raman was established, Gopala Bhatta sent for Gopinath, but Harivams also was inspired to come to Vrindavan.
We did not talk about the falling out very much, but went on from there to talk about sectarianism in Vrindavan. Pushpang Maharaj was adamant that Vrindavan, being the topmost dham, is completely free from any sectarianism. I remembered Hariram Vyasa whose verses reveal a spirit of shared enthusiasm of all the great saints who were living together in Vrindavan at that time. Pushpang painted a nice picture of how Swami Haridas and so many others would gather at Radha Raman where Raghunath Bhatta Goswami would speak daily on the Bhagavatam. At that time there was a common unifying thread that only unraveled when the competitive spirit entered. No harm, competition to serve the Divine Couple is welcome. Even Radharani, who is without any equal, pretends to compete with Chandravali.
He quoted several nice verses from the Bhagavatam in glorification of Vrindavan.
vṛndāvanaṁ sakhi bhuvo vitanoti kīrtiṁ
yad devakī-suta-padāmbuja-labdha-lakṣmi |
govinda-veṇum anu matta-mayūra-nṛtyaṁ
O friend! Vrindavan brings glory to the earth, for it has attained the fortune of being touched by Krishna's lotus feet. When the peacocks hear Govinda's flute, they become intoxicated and begin to dance, seeing which makes all the other creatres by Govardhan abandon their other activities to become still and simply watch.The commentators beginning from Sanatan Goswami state that Vrindavan bringing glory to the earth ltimately means that it is more glorious than even Vaikuntha. So because of its topmost status, there is no question of anything more than apparent divisions. At the same time there is a rivalry between Chandravali and Radharani, or the semblance of one...
तद् भूरिभाग्यमिह जन्म किमप्यटव्यां
यद्गोकुलेऽपि कतमाङ्घ्रिरजोऽभिषेकम् ।
यज्जीवितं तु निखिलं भगवान् मुकुन्द-
स्त्वद्यापि यत्पदरजः श्रुतिमृग्यमेव॥
tad bhūri-bhāgyam iha janma kim apy aṭavyāṁ
yad gokule'pi katamāṅghri-rajo'bhiṣekam |
yaj-jīvitaṁ tu nikhilaṁ bhagavān mukundas
tv adyāpi yat-pada-rajaḥ śruti-mṛgyam eva ||
The greatest good fortune would be to take any birth whatsoever in this forest of Vrindavan, for here it would be possible to be bathed in the dust of any one of the cowherd community’s residents’ feet. For their entire life and soul is the Lord Mukunda, the dust of whose feet is the ultimate objective sought for by all the Vedic scriputres. (SB 10.14.34)Here Pushpangji remarked that Lord Brahma had spoken so many verses in glorification of Krishna, many of them philosophically very deep and powerful, yet Krishna remained indifferent to these prayers until Brahma began glorifying Vrindavan and its residents.
The next day, I was giving my usual class to Rupa and I began talking of our little Hariyali Teej adventure. I was talking about the glory of darshan... as described by Rupa Goswami himself. There are 64 devotional activities, but principal among them are five: associating with devotees, chanting the Holy Name, hearing the Bhagavata and similar texts in glorification of Krishna, seeing and serving the Lord's murti, and residing in Vrindavan. Of course, it could easily be said that residing in Vrindavan is best, because it alone makes all five easily possible.
aṅgānāṁ pañcakasyāsya pūrvaṁ vilikhitasya ca
nikhila-śraiṣṭhya-bodhāya punar apy atra kīrtanam
durūhādbhuta-vīrye’smin śraddhā dūre’stu pañcake
yatra svalpo’pi sambandhaḥ sad-dhiyāṁ bhāva-janmane
Though these five pillars of devotion were mentioned previously, they have been repeated here in order to emphasize their centrality to the entire devotional process. The amazing spiritual power of these five practices is difficult to comprehend. Even the smallest engagement in any one of them results in the awakening of divine ecstasy in the pure-hearted, what to speak of their effectiveness for those who have faith. (BRS 1.2.238)In the description of the power of murti-darshan, Sri Rupapada sings the following verse:
vaṁśī-nyastādhara-kiśalayām ujjvalāṁ candrakeṇa |
govindākhyāṁ hari-tanum itaḥ keśi-tīrthopakaṇṭhe
mā prekṣiṣṭhās tava yadi sakhe bandhu-sange 'sti raṅgaḥ |
Smiling, in his famous triple-crooked stance, with his big crooked glance.I recited the verse with some amusement. I remembered back a few months ago when I went to Nidhivan to see Gaurava Krishna Goswami, where Banke Bihari made his appearance to Swami Haridas. Though Gaurav Krishna and his father glorified the place and Swami Haridas, Gaurava Krishna Maharaj still quoted the paean to Govindaji as sung by Rupa Goswami. Even when talking about Banke Bihari and the exclusive greatness of Swami Haridas, he still found a place for Rupa Goswami.
His flute resting on the red twig of his lower lip
so brightened by the peacock feather on his crown,
that is the form of Hari named "Govinda."
He is not far from Keshi Ghat, my friend,
but do not go to see him, not
if you still seek pleasure in worldly company!
Look how after describing Govindaji's beauty, he even tells his friend how to find him, just near Keshi Ghat. Walk the parikrama trail. You can't miss it. But don't bother, it's too dangerous. He will enchant you with his beauty and then, it is game over!
Somehow, as I was talking I closed my eyes and Banke Bihari appeared to me clearer than I had seen him even on the previous day in the temple. I guess my mind had taken the photo after all.
I said to Rupa, there was a definite before and after: from tourist to bhakta in the course of a few hours. This was my reward.
And, yes, while describing Govindaji and the glories of darshan, I realized that I was also talking about Rupa's family problem. If you still desire worldly association... well it was too late. Not only Banke Bihari, Radha Vallabh and Radha Raman, Radha Shyamsundar and Radha Damodar, but all in one day. No looking back from that. It reminded me of another verse from Padyavali by Madhavendra Puri:
mandaṁ bāndhava-sañcayā jaḍa-dhiyaṁ muktādarāḥ sodarāḥ |
unmattaṁ dhanino viveka-caturāḥ kāmaṁ mahā-dāmbhikaṁ
moktuṁ na kṣamate manāg api mano govinda-pāda-spṛhām ||81||
Let the moralists call me foolish, the Vedic brahmins can say I am misled. My family can say that I have gone bad and my fellow sannyasis who love liberation can tell everyone that I have a mundane intelligence. The money makers will say I have gone mad and the intellectuals will say that I am way too proud, but I don't care. I am unable to abandon, even for a moment, my hopes of attaining Govinda's lotus feet.I just happened to have an extra picture of Govindaji that had been given me last year at Pandit Baba's feast at Bhagavata Niwas, so I gave it to Rupa to help him keep his priorities.