In the 17th century, somewhere in a forest of Uttar Pradesh, a musician of high spiritual quotient was immersed in chanting melodious songs on Lord Krishna. His transcendence became so powerful that an idol of Lord Krishna emerged from the ground of that forest. The musician was Swami Haridas, the forest was in Vrindavan and about the idol, its story begins in a while…
The forest land of Vrindavan in Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh finds its mention in epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata as the playground of Lord Krishna. It is where he spent his childhood and performed various unfathomable miracles. While the forest of Vrindavan has condensed to a few square kilometres, the land still holds its spiritual aura and a profound religious charm that attracts millions from practically every country and every religion in the world.
As you enter Vrindavan from Chhatikara Mod, you will find a myriad setup of hotels, eateries and residential societies (some under construction) around you. On the small street called Parikrama Road, amidst all the buildings, are present a large number of what can be called tourists or pilgrims or locals. While there are over 2000 temples in Vrindavan, some are clearly more popular than the rest.
The first popular temple is the ISKCON (International Society on Krishna Consciousness) Temple, also known as Sri Krishna-Balarama Temple and Angrezon ka Mandir, is a New York based religious society that believes in Krishna and epics like Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā. Enter this 1975 built temple, its domes and flooring carved in white marble, and the second thing you’ll notice after its grandiose, is the impeccable hygiene in the temple. At the open hall outside the sanctum sanatorium, a number of foreigners and Indians wearing saffron and white clothes are enjoying the high of Hare Rama Hare Krishna kirtan. The trance of their chanting, amplified by simple mridanga and harmonium is powerful and spiritual and not merely religious. You may visit the ISKCON Temple in morning or evening (it’s closed during afternoon hours), but don’t miss the aarti and kirtan. In summer, the kirtan begins at 9:00 am and at 4:30 pm; in winter, it begins at 9:00 am and 4:00 pm.
Bankey Bihari Temple
Next on the list is the Bankey Bihari Temple located a little less than three kilometres from the ISKCON Temple. You can walk if you want to shop, eat or simply observe. If not, opt for a rickshaw ride, which is quite an adventure in the narrow streets of Vrindavan. Bankey Bihari Temple is the most renowned and visited temple of Vrindavan, often synonymous with the town. Built roughly in 1864, this is the place where Haridas established the Lord Krishna idol that emerged in the forests of Nidhivana.
The idol of Krishna is black, with eyes that many believe you can’t gaze into for too long. The curtain in front of the idol is pulled every few minutes. If folklore is to be believed, a man once looked at Krishna’s for such a long time that he fell in love with him, went mad and never left the Temple after that, thus making the curtain inevitable, forever.
The idol is pampered like, well, a God. He’s woken up gently at 9:00 am because it is believed that Krishna went for ‘raas’ or night sporting in the nearby Nidhivana and must be therefore tired. On occasions like Janmashtami (birth of Krishna), Holi, and Akshaya Tritiya in the month of May, the Temple is decorated with fresh flowers, the idol wears a silver crown, sits on a silver swing and devotional singing and dancing goes on all day. At the Temple, be prepared for a crowd and even monkeys eyeing whatever you have in your hand, including your sunglasses. In the summer, the Bankey Bihari Temple opens from 7:00 am to 12:00 noon and again from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm. In the winter, the Temple timings are 8:45 am to 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm. The whole experience of Bankey Bihari Temple will be thrilling if you are a believer and to say the least, fascinating, if you are not.
While these are the most popular temples of Vrindavan, others places you may visit are Rangaji Temple, Dvarkadhish Temple, Madan Mohan Temple, Govind Dev Temple and the famous Nidhivana, where no one is allowed to stay after sunset, as that is when it’s believed that Krishna arrives for ‘Maharaas’.
If Vrindavan is famous for something beyond temples, it’s the food and culture. After you’ve done the temple circuit, treat yourself to delicious kachoris, refreshing sweet lassi and delicious rabri. Various bright and fascinating items, both handcrafted and machine made are available in the countless shops in streets where you can find clothes and jewellery for idols of every size, CDs and cassettes (they still exist in this part of the world!) of bhajans, ornaments, frescos and paintings. On your way back, don’t forget to buy another delicacy of Mathura, sweet pedas.
Vrindavan is the land of animated streets, tolerant locals, hurried tourists, delicious food and countless temples. You are sure to be spellbound by at least one of these.