Bhaktivedanta Marg and the Three Vrindavans

Much of the talk about Vrindavan on this site is meant to serve as a partial archive of Vrindavan's changes as it undergoes this period of intense development. Old-timers like myself have a great deal of nostalgia for the old Vrindavan, especially the Parikrama Marg as it was in the past. But we have to recognize the inevitability of the changes that are coming.

It is likely that what I say here won't be new to most observers of the Vrindavan scene. I am reminded of Hit Kinkar Sewak Sharanji, whom we call the pioneer of Vrindavan environmentalism, and the attempts he made in the 1980's to promote an environmentally-friendly development in Vrindavan with a strong green belt to act as a bulwark against the encroachment of aggressive modernity. He thought that Vrindavan should be "developed" as a kind of "human sanctuary," in the sense that it should be an oasis from the modern world, in which the local society could pursue the spiritual duties of the human form of life as prescribed in the shastras and as exemplified in the lives of the saints of the Braj tradition.

Clearly that ship has sailed. I have seen several plans for development of Vrindavan provided by external or internal agencies; for the most part we have to trust the administration and the different levels of government, which are all acting primarily in the interest of economic development. From the very beginning I have been under the impression that plans are made and then sprung upon an unwitting population, which is often intentionally kept in the dark.

I was ambivalent, and still am pretty ambivalent about most of this development. But I am a son of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, and if anyone is to "blame" for all this, it is he. But I cannot fault him for it, for he was clearly an instrument of a higher will... and he brought me from a distant land and made me fall in love with Vrindavan and an aspirant to be a resident of Braj, a Brajavasi.

And this was only because he himself loved Vrindavan so much. I heard somewhere that when Srila Prabhupada was in New York, the devotees would find him sitting surrounded by pictures and objects that reminded him of Vrindavan, which he tried to recreate for himself in the midst of the American concrete jungle.

Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami's samadhi, 1972

A few years ago, I had the strong impression that the Madan Mohan temple was built to stand like a lighthouse on the top of Dvadasaditya Tila, to act as a beacon to the world inviting it to come to this land and so to benefit from the gifts of prema bhakti that were safeguarded here.

Sewak Sharan once wrote that Vrindavan was a place for introspection and bhajan, not for loud noise-making, publicity or preaching. It is true that over the past 500 years there have been plenty of bhajananandis in Vrindavan, but the predominant ethos here quickly is that of the temple culture, the Rasa-lila and classical haveli musical tradition, and the preaching of the Bhagavatam. So despite the fundamental depth of the introspective and meditative aspects of the bhakti tradition that developed in Vrindavan, the external orientation has always been a part of it.

And that orientation was solidly cemented into place in the modern era by Srila Prabhupada. It is taking increasingly clear shape and that is what I want to look at here, with a view to contemplating the future of this holy town, my sacred home.

Three Vrindavans


The inspiration here comes from the three phases of Srila Prabhupada's direct and indirect accomplishments in Vrindavan and how each of these three phases represents a different segment of the current town and its development.

(1) Prabhupada's engagement in Vrindavan began at what could perhaps be called its "Holy of Holies" for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Radha Damodar temple in Seva Kunj.

Even today, Srila Prabhupada's destiny as a world preacher of Lord Chaitanya's mission was given its aura of divine sanction through his period of residence at Radha Damodar, in close proximity to the very founders of that mission: Rupa Goswami, the one of whom it was said that he knew the mind of Chaitanya and manifested his desire in the world. This is where Jiva Goswami, the greatest scholar this sampradaya ever produced, the one who gave the world a coherent interpretation and explanation of the Bhagavatam, and who inspired its English translation to which Prabhupada dedicated himself. And it is also where Krishnadas Kaviraj, the author of the definitive biography of Chaitanya, Caitanya-caritāmṛta , has his samadhi memorial.

When Prabhupada lived there up until 1965, and up until the construction of Krishna-Balaram in Raman Reti, this really was the only Vrindavan. Although there were numerous temples that were established over the years after the first flowering of the town in the 16th and 17th centuries, and though it had definitely grown in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially along the Mathura Road, because of the presence of the connection to the earliest saints and temples, this remains the holy center of Vrindavan. This is also where the Yamuna used to flow, and where it still meets the town at Keshi Ghat.

This old Vrindavan is the central part of the town, from Kaliya Daha at one extremity following the Yamuna as far as Tatia Sthan, which would form the other extremity. Its true center is the Govindaji temple, which is the site of the night time Yoga Peeth. The other Yoga Peeth, for the daytime, is at Radha Kund. These are the two poles on the horizontal axis in my diagram above.

When I associate Prabhupada with Radha Damodar, I associate him with this most powerful zone of Vrindavan, its spiritual center.

Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami's samadhi, 1972,

After returning from the West with his disciples, Srila Prabhupada first brought them to Radha Damodar and let them experience the dust of Vrindavan first hand. But Prabhupada's mission was to sprinkle that dust further afield. He built Krishna-Balaram and the modern phase of Vrindavan's development started with that act.

(2) India is a vast country and it is easy to overestimate influences. Yet it is true that Prabhupada was visionary: He intuited the coming of globalization and wanted to make sure that Sanatan Dharma was also globalized as a response to it. He saw that India would also be inundated with the tidal waves of Kali Yuga and so he went to the very source of the wave to give bhakti a form that could survive in the midst of this increased influx of rajas and tamas. And so the movement of Vrindavan's growth started outwards from its center, taking a giant leap along the Raman Reti axis as far the edge of the second Vrindavan at the Parikrama Marg.

With the coming of the British Raj, Rangaji, Lala Babu's temple, the Jaipur temple and many others were constructed, especially along the Mathura Road, And that continued throughout the British period and the early phase of independent India, with the Ramkrishna Mission and Anandamayi Ma on Mathura Road, and Hari Baba, Akhandananda Saraswati, Udiya Baba and others built sprawling ashrams in the Motijheel and Davanala Kund areas. Raman Reti still remained quite rural but was still an important center for Gaudiya Vaishnava bhajan due to the presence of Ramkrishna Pandit Baba, Gauranga Das Baba, Kripa Sindhu Das Baba and others, who created a recluse community of true monastics. And there were many other places in Vrindavan for bhajanandi Vaishnavas also, from all the sampradayas. This is the middle Vrindavan.

The Parikrama Marg is the periphery that includes both the old Vrindavan center and the newer set of developments that followed on after the inauguration of Krishna Balaram in 1975. Peaceful ashrams have turned into loudspeaker blaring sources of kirtan or Bhagavata lectures, the streets are festooned with announcements of festivals and celebrations, kirtans and katha. The old town also has some of this, but there the sounds of temple bells, of people shuffling off to mangal arati at Radha Damodar or Radha Raman, are far more prevalent.

(3) Outside the Parikrama Marg we have the newest developments; this is the empire of the Mathura-Vrindavan Development Authority (MVDA), which has grown in the period after the liberalization of India’s economy and opening of its markets to the world. It is a new frontier with the Prem Mandir being the first step, on to Bangalore ISKCON's Akshaya Patra and the bid to build the tallest Radha-Krishna temple in the world. It is clear that the India of the future wants to be here. The Bhagavata lecturer Devakinandan Thakur's massive temple inauguration in 2016 is another sign that Vrindavan's face to the world, its aishwarya, is to be manifested in even greater measure in this “outer” Vrindavan.

Bhaktivedanta Marg

The road that stretches from Vidya Peeth to ISKCON and then to Chattikara is given various names. At Vidyapeeth Chauraha it meets the old town. There it crosses another road that on the south connects to the main road leading to Mathura, which is now called Mahatma Gandhi Marg. This road also belongs to middle Vrindavan with its numerous 20th century ashrams. Towards the north that same road enters the old town and is called Banke Bihari Road, which leads to the famous Bihariji temple. From Vidya Peeth to the Parikrama Marg it is popularly known as Raman Reti Road. From the Parikrama Marg to National Highway 2 (NH-2) which connects Delhi to Agra, it is popularly known as Chattikara Road since the village of Chattikara lies there at this juncture.

When the Krishna Balaram temple was built, the entire was officially or unofficially renamed “Bhaktivedanta Marg,” but not so long ago the town authorities decided to rename part of it after the painter Kanhai Chitrakar . Moreover, in recent days there has been a new controversy as the UP Government considered renaming the road after Jagadguru Kripalu, the inspiration for the Prem Mandir, which is now the most popular spot for visitors in Vrindavan.

But if we look at this thoroughfare as running through the three Vrindavans, three circles or āvaraṇas from Radha Damodar, to Krishna Balaram, and then to Akshay Patra and Krishna Bhoomi, we can see that there is a connection of the three phases of Srila Prabhupada's contribution to Vrindavan. One, Vrindavan in itself, then the Vrindavan of Prabhupada's own shaping, and now the third Vrindavan fully manifesting in the world after the end of his worldly pastimes.

This progressive development can be looked at as a process of externalization of bhakti which is accompanied by the reverse effect of an admixture of the world.

In other words, bhakti is an inner spiritual experience which was most clearly manifest externally in the early temples of Vrindavan, and then that preaching of the Vrindavan mood bubbled or expanded outward.

The influence of Bhaktivedanta Swami is quite pervasive in almost all manifestations of modern bhakti in Vrindavan. and is especially prominent in the latter two spheres, as well as being solidly established in the inner sphere. Therefore Bhaktivedanta Marg is the most appropriate name for this road. I personally will cease referring to it by any other name.

The NH-2 is the cutoff point for the road, but it continues on from Chattikara and heads towards Radha Kund, one of the most significant holy places of Braj, especially for the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. I will talk about this in a moment. So the two poles of this road are Radha Kund and the old Vrindavan. Both of these places have Yoga Peeths, i.e., they are spiritual nexus points.

But first the meaning of the other pole, the other Yoga Peeth, must be understood. Most of these esoteric significances have been discussed and will be discussed in due course. But all energy passes between two poles, and though Braj has many such poles or powerful spiritual centers, these are the principal. Of the two centers, Radha Kund is actually more antaranga than even Vrindavan, as Rupa Goswami himself stated.

vaikuṇṭhāj janito varā madhupurī tatrāpi rāsotsavād
vṛndāraṇyam udāra-pāṇi-ramaṇāt tatrāpi govardhanaḥ |
rādhā-kuṇḍam ihāpi gokula-pateḥ premāmṛtāplāvanāt
kuryād asya virājato giri-taṭe sevāṁ vivekī na kaḥ ||
The holy place known as Madhupuri (Mathura) is superior to Vaikuntha, because the Lord appeared there. Superior to Mathura is the transcendental forest of Vrindavan, because of Krishna’s rāsa-līlā. And superior to Vrindavan is Govardhan, for it was raised by Krishna’s divine hand and was the site of various loving pastimes. And, above all these, Radha Kund stands supreme, for it is flooded over with the ambrosial prem of the Lord of Gokula. Where, then, is that intelligent person who is unwilling to serve this divine Radha Kund, which is situated at the foot of Govardhan Hill? (Upadeśāmṛta 9)
Implications of this understanding
Implications of this understanding
I see the above vision of the "shape" of Vrindavan and this particular axis, like a Sushumna channel connecting the two Yoga Peeths. The energy of the external manifestations of bhakti carry on expansively. The world -- especially the modern world -- is attracted to displays of aishwarya. But the process of spiritual life is always a movement from the external to the internal, from aishwarya to madhurya.

I therefore draw the following ideas for the future of Vrindavan :

(1) As far as possible, the inner part of Vrindavan must be developed in a way that preserves the architectural heritage and shows it in its best light. Old buildings of architectural merit should not be destroyed or covered with plaster or shop signs or hoardings. New buildings should be strictly controlled to follow architectural guidelines. Streets should be safe for walking, especially at certain hours of the day. This means placing serious limitations on vehicular traffic of all kinds.

Here as traditional as possible an atmosphere should be enhanced and preserved. And this does not have to be anti-tourist/economic development. It should be seen as pro-tourism, but a more sophisticated and cultured tourism than will be found in the outer Vrindavans, appealing to those who tend to the inner orientation.

I would also recommend that the Govindaji temple in some way be given the kind of attention that recuperates its status as the Yoga Peeth and original spiritual center of Vrindavan Dham, a position that was lost with the temple's desecration in 1669.

The model that should be followed here is that of Europe, where the heritage of old towns is kept intact and the environment caters to the peace, comfort and sattvik pleasure of visitors. Here, modernity should definitely take a back seat.

(2) The main feature of the second Vrindavan is the Parikrama Marg, which also encircles the Old Vrindavan. Here again, the Parikrama Marg should be promoted as a tourist as well as pilgrim activity. The Parikrama Marg should also be developed with that view in mind.

Those portions that come near to the Yamuna should be especially beautified with greenery, buildings, especially old buildings and temples, should be renovated and so on. A lot of this has already been started through the initiatives of the Braj Tirth Vikas Parishad and the work of the Braj Foundation.

Pilgrimage walks like the Braj Parikrama traditions are being revived in Europe and have even become an attraction for people who are not necessarily religious. They may not accept the particular beliefs of the religion with the pilgrimage tradition, but are attracted by the spiritual and contemplative features of pilgrimage. This is something that needs to be researched and written about in a way that promotes the activity in the interests of attracting people to Vrindavan for spiritual purposes.

Certain limitations on cars and traffic in the second Vrindavan are also desirable, but this needs to be done in a way that causes the least inconvenience to everyone.

(3) The outer Vrindavan should be governed, as it is, by the MVDA. Let it be developed as a modern city, but with the natural promotion of devotion to Radha and Krishna and so on in the form of ostentatious mega-temple projects, etc., according to the best intelligence of those who would preach and present the concepts and teachings of the tradition to educated persons living in the modern world.

But there is no point or possibility of the external forms of bhakti completely usurping the traditions and insights of the past. The Marg itself points to the inner sanctum of the old town and old temples. The responsibility of the Goswamis is great.

(4) As far as possible, the section of road from Chattikara to Radha Kund should be very much controlled. Let the road to Radha Kund be lined with trees. If possible, let some of the agricultural land be reclaimed for forest. Let the path to Radha Kund be one that calms the mind and spirit. Radha Kund is the thousand-petaled lotus of Braja Dham,

Development in Vrindavan is proceeding at lightning speed. Let's make sure that we understand what we are doing before we act, with a clear awareness of the spiritual meaning of Vrindavan. After all, being a spiritual capital also means genuine insight and not simply political posturing.

Originally posted on Vrindavan Today.


Prem Prakash said…
I hope you visions for controlled development come to pass before it's too late. Will there be a day when anyone even hear His flute over all those loudspeakers? Yea, I know the gopis hear His whisper over the loudest worldly calls but, still...
Great article, It is informative article for all , I really appriciate this article.
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