Barsana, 2011.09.14 (VT): The Radhastami celebrations at Barsana turn into a festival that lasts a week. On the Bhadra Trayodasi, which this year fell on September 10, people in Barsana run from door to door through the village with young boys on their shoulders. Dressed as Krishna and Radharani with her girlfriends, these young boys are given yogurt and sweets at each house.
This tradition is a part of the Sankari Khor pastime, which is all about Krishna stopping Radharani and her friends and asking them to pay taxes for their yogurt and other wares. It is also known as the burhi-lila festival,
It is reenacted every year in a very special way at the Sankari Khor site itself. The custom is said to have been inaugurated by Shri Narayan Bhatt, one of the 16th century stalwarts of Braja bhakti, the author of many books about Krishna lila and the Braja 84-kos parikrama.
â€¨Sankari means “narrow”. This narrow passageway is between the village of Chiksoli (Chitra) and the town of Barsana. The path becomes very narrow at this place, with the rock coming down sharply making a V. Sankari means “narrow, and khor “path”. This very narrow passage lies below Barsana, between Brahma Parvat and Vishnu Parvat. This path would separate Vilas Garh Hill from the main hill. It is so narrow that you can only walk down it by putting one foot in front of the other.
The story is told as follows:
After milking the cows every day, the gopis would carry the milk on kamvars, or bamboo sticks with ropes attached to each end for carrying loads. They would take this route to cross from one side of the hills to the other.
Taking advantage of the narrow pathway, Krishna and his gopa friends would block the gopis’ way and and demand milk, yogurt and butter as a toll tax from the gopis. If the gopis refused to give any tax, as they felt was their right, Krishna and his friends would forcibly plunder and eat their milk products. Krishna would sometimes break Radharaá¹‡i’s milk pots when she would not pay the tax.
It is said that you can still see the marks of the broken pots embedded in the stone at the spot, which is called Dan Garh or Dan Ghati in commemoration of this pastime.
The gopis started to get fed up of these daily encounters and decided one day to retaliate. Under the leadership of Lalita, they decided that they would hide in the caves and dense kunjas on the hill on both sides of the narrow pathway. A few other gopis would cross Sankari Khor carrying pots of milk, yogurt and butter on their heads. The plan was that the moment Krishna and his sakhas tried to stop them to plunder their wares, the hidden gopis would come out from their ambush and teach Krishna and his sakhas a good lesson.
The next day, thousands and thousands of gopis divided into groups and hid themselves in the dense kunjas and large caves around Sankari Khor. Then, as usual, a few gopis placed pots of milk and yogurt on their heads and made their way through the narrow passageway.
Krishna, Madhumangal and the other sakhas obstructed their path and began their usual games. At once, the harassed gopis signalled the others who descended on the surprised boys. Five to ten girls caught hold of Krishna; another five to ten caught of Madhumangal, and other groups encrircles Subala, Arjuna, Lavanga and the other sakhas.
Dominating in numbers, they slapped the boys’ cheeks until they were swollen. They tied the boys to the branches of the trees by the tuft of hair on the back of their heads and asked them, “What pleasure is there in plundering our yogurt? Will you ever do it again?”
Madhumangal folded his hands and prayed at the feet of Lalita. “Please spare me. I was very hungry. I am a simple brahmin boy who fell under the influence of that fickle Krishna. I shall never behave like this again.”
Meanwhile Radhika, Vishakha and some other gopis had captured Krishna. They slapped his cheeks a few times and then made him dress in a blouse and skirt like a woman. They even put vermilion in the parting of his hair, bangles on his arms, anklets on his feet, and so on. They covered half his face with a veil, placed a pot of yogurt on his head and began to make fun of him by demanding tax on the yogurt.
From the top of the hill, Lalita Sakhi aimed a stone at the pot of yogurt on Krishna’s head, breaking it and drenching his whole body. This is the source of the name mutki-phor, or breaking of the pot.
All the sakhis began to laugh and clap, and Shyama felt very ashamed. “Will you dare to demand tax on our yogurt ever again?” they asked. “Hold your ears and vow, ‘From today, I will never try to tax the gopis’ yogurt.'” They forced Krishna to repeat this.
Gudda Baba recounts the way it was reenacted just a few days ago:
Brajabasi men from Barsana and Nandagram square off, sitting opposite each other and sing out this most intimate pastime of where Krishna would stop the gopis and steal their yogurt.
A boy playing Krishna stops another boy dressed as Radharaá¹‡i, who tries to walk by carrying a pot. These boys are carried on the backs of two strong, sure-footed Brajabasis, who are able to scamper up the hill with ease to initiate this pastime.
What a spectacle as Kanai and Shri Ji’s representatives on each side chant wonderful bhajans in unison in glorification of their own ishtadeva. Each traditional bhajan has been passed down for the last 500 years, and you can perceive how much the present-day residents enjoy their own life-long heartfelt memorization of these songs.
First, a mahant from the Nandagram side sings a song in glorification the greatness and superiority of Krishna Kanhaiya, the mood being of tax time… “Now pay up to the Lord of Vrindaban.”
Then the Barsana vasis would counter, correctly describing the superiority of Srimati Radharaá¹‡i: “She is the queen of this forest, how dare you tax her?”
And so these loving arguments would go on, back and forth, taking the opposite sides of love.
Shri Ramesh Babaji Maharaja was seated in the center, silent, immersed in the internal bhava of the lila, while the others stand, chastise, defend, acting as external puppets of the Female or Male Supreme.
In between, the Brajavasi youth wearing sunglasses, chewing pan and sporting a comical demeanor as the “elders” performed the role play.
Behind on Vilas Garh Hill, the Brijbasi women watch the fun, dressed in a multicolored rainbow of saris, waving leaf fans and broken branches to counteract the heat of the day.
One cannot help but appreciate how this is the most powerful interactive lila where the participants become ‘extensions’ of the Deities. Such rasa, argument, and dominating conclusions, is a ‘true to life’ enactment of the Lord’ lila, an unforgettable cultural chisel on the heart of every observer.
Sources: Gudda Baba, Brij Discovery.
Pretty good video: You Tube of 2009 Sankari Khor pastimes.
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