by Drutakarma dasa
Among the sacred cities of the world, Vrindavana is probably the least well known. Yet this small town in northern India ranks with Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca as a center of worship. It was in Vrindavana that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, displayed His transcendental pastimes during His appearance on this planet some five thousand years ago. Over the course of centuries, the places of Krishna’s pastimes were lost to human memory, until they were rediscovered in the sixteenth century by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself in the role of His own devotee.
But Vrindavana is more than a place of historical importance. According to the teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the earthly Vrindavana is a replica of Goloka Vrindavana, Lord Krishna’s eternal abode in the spiritual sky. Great souls with transcendental vision can actually perceive this and worship Vrindavana as nondifferent from the Lord Himself.
This consideration led one of Lord Chaitanya’s dearmost associates, Sri Gadadhara Pandita, to say to Lord Chaitanya as He departed from the city of Jagannatha Puri on His journey to Vrindavana, “Wherever You stay is Vrindavana. Although where You stay is Vrindavana, You still go to Vrindavana just to instruct people.”
Srila Prabhupada explains, “It was not essential for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to go to Vrindavana, for wherever He stayed was immediately transformed into Vrindavana… . He said that His very mind was Vrindavana (mora mana—vrindavana). Because His mind was Vrindavana, all the pastimes of Radha [Lord Krishna’s eternal consort and the personification of His supreme pleasure energy] and Krishna were taking place within Himself. Nonetheless, just to teach people, He visited bhauma-vrindavana, Vrindavana- dhama in this material world. In this way the Lord instructed everyone to visit Vrindavana-dhama, which is a very holy place.”
The Lord departed Jagannatha Puri at the end of the night, unseen by others. Taking only two brahmana assistants with Him, He avoided the main roads and passed into the Jharikhanda forest. Chaitanya’s biographer, Krishnadasa Kaviraja, states that while Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was passing through the jungle, all the does and five or seven tigers came and began to follow the Lord. “Seeing the tigers and deer following Him, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu immediately remembered the land of Vrindavana. He then began to recite a verse describing the transcendental quality of Vrindavana: ‘Vrindavana is the transcendental abode of the Lord. There is no hunger, anger, or thirst there. Though naturally inimical, human beings and fierce animals live together there in transcendental friendship.’ When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said, ‘Chant Krishna! Krishna!’ the tigers and deer began to dance and chant “Krishna!”’
After passing through the Jharikhanda forest, Lord Chaitanya arrived in Benares and proceeded to Prayaga, finally arriving at Mathura, where forty-five centuries before, Krishna had taken birth in the prisonhouse of King Kamsa. Immediately after Krishna appeared, His father Vasudeva had carried Him across the river Yamuna to the region of Vrindavana, where Krishna displayed His childhood pastimes for the pleasure of His devotees. In Mathura, Lord Chaitanya met a brahmana devotee of Lord Krishna, who served as His guide to the Vrindavana area.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja states, “The mind of Sri Chaitanya was absorbed in ecstatic love at Jagannatha Puri, but when He passed along the road on the way to Vrindavana, that love increased a hundred times. The Lord’s ecstatic love increased a hundred times when He visited Mathura, but it increased a thousand times when He wandered in the forests of Vrindavana. When Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was elsewhere, the very name of Vrindavana was sufficient to increase His ecstatic love. Now, when He was actually traveling in Vrindavana Forest, His mind was absorbed in great ecstatic love day and night. He ate and bathed simply out of habit.”
While in Vrindavana, the Lord rediscovered many important places of Krishna’s pastimes. Among such places are Radha- kunda and Syama-kunda, two ponds that featured prominently in Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes five thousand years ago. When Sri Chaitanya asked the local inhabitants about the location of these two places, they were not able to tell Him. By virtue of His supreme knowledge, the Lord then located the two ponds (in areas that were then being used as rice fields) and took His bath there. He prayed, “Of all the gopas [Krishna’s confidential spiritual associates, the cowherd girls of Vrindavana], Radharani is the dearmost. Similarly, the lake known as Radha-kunda is very dear to the Lord because it is very dear to Srimati Radharani. In that lake, Lord Krishna and Srimati Radharani used to sport daily in the water and have a rasa dance on the bank. Indeed, Lord Krishna gives ecstatic love like that of Srimati Radharani to whoever bathes in that lake even once.”
The Lord then visited Govardhana Hill. Seeing it from a distance, He was overcome with ecstasy, and when He arrived He fell down upon the ground as if mad. Dancing and chanting, He recited this verse: “O My friends, this hill supplies Krishna and Balarama [Krishna’s elder brother in His Vrindavana pastimes], as well as Their calves, cows, and cowherd friends, with all kinds of necessities—water for drinking, very soft grass, caves, fruits, flowers, and vegetables. In this way the hill offers respect to the Lord. Being touched by the feet of Krishna and Balarama, Govardhana Hill appears jubilant.”
In this spirit, the Lord visited all the places connected with Lord Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana. Eventually, the Lord returned to Puri in Orissa. On the return journey He gave confidential instructions to His chief disciples, Srila Rupa Goswami, and Srila Sanatana Goswami. He advised them to reside in Vrindavana and reconstruct the places of Krishna’s pastimes.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja states, “Srila Sanatana Goswami collected some books about archeological excavations in Mathura, and wandering in the forest, he sought to renovate all those holy places.” Sri Kavikarna-pura states in Chaitanya-candrodaya: “In the course of time, the transcendental news of Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana was almost lost. To enunciate explicitly those transcendental pastimes, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, at Prayaga, empowered Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami with the nectar of His mercy to carry out this work in Vrindavana.” In addition to discovering the sites of Krishna’s pastimes, Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami, along with other followers of Lord Chaitanya, erected many beautiful temples that pilgrims may still visit.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), following in the footsteps of Lord Chaitanya and His confidential associates, also assisted in the renovation of Vrindavana as an important place of pilgrimage. He was especially eager to give Westerners the opportunity to visit Vrindavana, which lies off the main tourist routes and lacked accommodation suitable for those unaccustomed to the austere facilities preferred by Indian pilgrims. For this purpose Srila Prabhupada established the Krishna-Balaram temple and the adjoining international guesthouse, with clean, nicely furnished rooms with baths. A first-class vegetarian restaurant provides nourishing, spiritually purifying meals of krishna-prasadam,food offered to the Supreme Lord with love and devotion.
In the opulent temple itself, very much beloved by the residents of Vrindavana, are found exquisite Deities of Krishna and Balarama, who five thousand years ago played with Their cowherd friends in the very same area, called Ramana-reti. On separate altars, worshipers also may find Deities of Radha and Krishna—and of Lord Chaitanya, whose visit to Vrindavana in the sixteenth century reestablished its importance as a place of pilgrimage.
The price of passage to Vrindavana cannot be calculated in monetary terms. Srila Prabhupada once said, “Sometimes, materialistic people who have no spiritual understanding go to Vrindavana as tourists. One who goes to Vrindavana with such materialistic vision cannot derive any spiritual benefit.” The real price is purification of consciousness through the process taught by Lord Chaitanya: chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and avoiding the sinful activities of meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Anyone can start their journey to Vrindavana by putting Lord Chaitanya’s process into practice in their own life. (Travel preparations can also include a visit to the nearest ISKCON temple, where you can experience the spiritual atmosphere of Vrindavana. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Because we live in the temples of Radha-Krishna and continuously hold hari-nama sankirtana—chanting of Hare Krishna—we consequently live in Vrindavana and nowhere else.”)
Knowledge of Vrindavana and the opportunity to visit this important holy place are great gifts to humanity, and we are indebted to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers. If life is a journey, we should carefully choose our destination. Lord Chaitanya taught that life’s goal should be to return to Goloka Vrindavana, Krishna’s eternal abode in the spiritual sky. A journey to the earthly Vrindavana can be a vital part of that greater journey.
Vrindavan is a town in north central India, about ninety miles southeast of Delhi. Traditionally acknowledged as the place of Krishna’s childhood pastimes, it is known as one of the holy dhamas—residences of the Supreme Being—and is one of the most frequented pilgrimage sites on the subcontinent.
Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the extraordinary pastimes Krishna performed in Vrindavan during His childhood. The Introduction to the Bhagavad-gita As It Is explains that the Vrindavan on earth is a replica of Krishna's eternal residence in the spiritual world. And the Brahma-samhita says Krishna, the Supreme Person, is simultaneously all-pervading and eternally living in that eternal, spiritual Vrindavan.
Even today, residents of Vrindavan commonly greet each other with shouts of, "Jaya Radhe!" meaning, "all glories to Krishna's beloved companion Srimati Radharani!"
Photo shows the front gate of the Krishna-Balarama Temple in Vrindavan, India