Local lore here in Vrindavan says that many years ago this tree in the courtyard of the Syama Rai temple in Vrindavan was to be cut down to give more room for visiting pilgrims. However, one night the pujari had a dream. In the dream the tree appeared and begged the pujari not to cut him down. He said in a previous life he was a Vaisnava in Kasi
( Varanasi ) who was always praying to take birth in Vrindavan. In his next life he took birth as that tree and was fully satisfied having constant darshan of the deity of Krsna in His form as Syama Ray. So he remains in the courtyard to this very day!
Yesterday, just after arriving back in Vrindavan, we walked through the tiny streets and alleyways of the town to the bhajan kutir of Srila Krsna das Kavriraj Goswami, the famous author of the epic Caitanya Caritamrita, There we saw his worshipable murti, as well as the Radha Krsna deities of his first disciple, Mukunda das Goswami. We were also privileged to have a rare darshan of what the pujaris there say is the original Caitanya Caritamrita written by Kaviraja Goswami himself. They also showed us a painting that Kaviraja Goswami is purported to have painted. Many thanks to those pujaris! An amazing first day back home, in Sri Vrindavan Dhama!
Today on our parikrama of Radha Kunda we came across a large assembly of local sadhus listening to my good friend Pundrik Goswami from the Radha Raman Temple speaking on Srimad Bhagavatam. As soon as Goswami saw me he had me escorted up to the front. Towards the end of his lecture he asked me to come sit on the stage with the older sadhus. He then asked me to speak to the assembly, but as it turned out there wasn’t enough time. After the program I mingled with a number of the well known babajis and shared with them the preaching I am doing in western countries under the order of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. Many were appreciative. It was a special opportunity in a very special place.
We have discovered a new treasure for our Kartika parikrama group next fall: Kishori Kunda. Situated at the base of Javat, Kishori Kunda is the site of a number of Radha and Krsna’s pastimes; including when Radharani dresses up as a cowherd boy during Gopastami to facilitate meeting Her beloved Lord. While living at Javat, Radharani bathes each day in Kishori Kunda and Krsna often decorates Her lotus feet with ankle bells there. Lokanatha Gosvami did his bhajan at Kishori Kunda. During the rainy season he would stay under a tree there with an old quilt and torn clothing. When it would rain he would put his Deity of Krishna, Sri Radha-Vinod, in the hollow of a tree and stay outside in the rain. After exploring Kishori Kunda we visited Javat and the many wonderful Vrajavasis living in that sacred village.
Today we visited the village of Pentha Gaon, where all the residents of Vrindavan entered under the shelter of Govardhan Hill as Krsna held it up with the little finger His left hand.
In the village there is also a large tree trunk, which is worshipped daily by the people. When the gopis were searching for Krsna after the rasa dance, Krsna hid behind this tree. While doing so, He asked the tree not to let anyone know He was there. But when the gopis came and asked the tree where Krsna was the tree immediately replied, “Right behind me!” In this way the gopis found Krsna. Krsna, however, was upset with the tree and He playfully grabbed and twisted it many times. One can easily see these twists in the tree. 40 years ago a carpenter unfortunately cut the tree in half.
Yesterday we traveled through the countryside of Vrindavan on dusty roads to the village of Phalain, where we took darshan of Prahlada-kunda. Prahlada-kunda is said to be the home of the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja and the place where the Holika-dahan festival – a precursor to the famous festival of throwing of colors – is celebrated. Every year, during the full moon night in the month of Phalguna, the Vrajavasis celebrate the death of Hiranyakasipu’s evil sister, Holika at Prahlada- kunda. When Hiranyaksipu was unsuccessful in trying to kill his son Prahalda Maharaja, he approached Lord Siva and asked for the ultimate weapon of destruction: the fire that Siva employs to destroy the cosmic manifestation. With that benediction Hiranyakasipu built a huge funeral pyre and put his sister Holika on top of it, with Prahlad in her lap to make sure he didn’t escape. Holika had a benediction from Lord Brahma that she could never be burned by fire. When Hiranyakasipu lit the fire it burned for a long time. But in the end, Prahlada was seen blissfully chanting the holy names and Holika was burned to ashes. The acaryas say that her offense to a pure devotee, Prahlad Maharaja, nullified the benediction of Brahma. The Vrajavasis, honoring the sraddha, or deep faith of Prahlada Maharaja, burn an effigy of Holika each year to celebrate the pastime. Prahlada Maharaja lives eternally on Lord Nrsimhadeva’s Vaikuntha planet, but Krsna remembered Prahlada every year when He was present in Vrindavan by celebrating His devotee’s strong faith in divine protection at the festival at Prahlada-kunda.
Today we visited a number of places related to the Brahma Vimohana Lila in which Lord Brahma steals Krsna’s cowherd boyfriends and cows. We took darshan of an ancient tree the boys took prasadam under, the exact place where Brahma stole the boys and cows, the cave he hid them in and the kunda where his tears of remorse filled up as a lake. Quite an adventure for one day!
Today we visited Bhayagaon, the village of fear. The fear refers to when Nanda Maharaja bathed too early one morning in the nearby Yamuna river and was arrested by the servants of Varuna. He became fearful but was soon saved by Krsna. Bhayagaon is also where Jiva Goswami, having once displeased Srila Rupa Goswami, was ostracized by Rupa and lived in a cave for sometime performing numerous austerities and chanting the holy names. Eventually, Rupa Goswami lovingly accepted him back. We spent a lot time in the cave meditating on the many instructions to be learned from the pastime.
Today we were blessed to visit the original Chir Ghat, where Lord Krsna stole the clothes of the gopis. There we embraced the same tree that Krsna sat in 5,000 years ago. Nearby we took darshan of the goddess Katyayani, whom the gopis prayed to get Krsna as their husband. The whole experience was very deep and mystical and was enhanced by the extraordinary beauty of the Vrindavan countryside.
I am visiting one of ISKCON’s most successful projects, New Govardhan, a rural community of devotees in New South Wales, Australia. Established in 1979 and set on 850 acres of land, the project is home to 1,000 devotees. Next weekend they will host the famous Sacred Sounds Kirtan Retreat.
The Sacred Sounds Kirtan Retreat in Australia started off today with a lineup of some of ISKCON’s most well known and loved kirtan singers. The holy names reverberated loudly throughout all the hills and valleys of this gorgeous community.
Kirtan Melas are meant for immersing ourselves in the nectar of chanting Hare Krishna. That we did on the second day of our Sacred Sounds Kirtan Retreat at New Govardhan in Australia!
This year’s Sacred Sounds Kirtan Retreat at New Govardhan, Australia was attended by devotees from all over the country and internationally as well. Each year more devotees come, eager for chanting the holy names for hours on end with a number of ISKCON’s best kirtaneers. Coupled with inspiring talks and delicious prasadam everyone agreed it was the best retreat to date. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!