Vrindavan, 2011.10.12 (VT): Acharya Gaurav Krishna Goswami sent hundreds of devotees into paroxysms of joy on the night of the Maha Rasa in the eternal Rasa sthali of Nidhuvan, under the watchful gaze of the full autumn moon, Shrimati Radharani’s smiling face, surrounded by the trees, her beloved sakhis.
Mridul Krishna Goswami and Gaurav Krishna inaugurated the programming of the Adhyatma TV channel with a lively celebration of the Maha Rasa in the place where Banke Bihari made his appearance in the world, where Swami Haridas did his bhajan, and where his samadhi and those of his principal disciples stand.
The crowds of devotees made their way to the site of the perfomance hours before it began due to the limitations of space. Many others sat at the entrance to Nidhivan to watch on the giant screen.
While waiting, they were put in the mood by Gaurav Krishna’s latest popular bhajan, kishori kucha aise intazÄm (“Radha Kishori, please arrange it that your name always remains on my tongue”), an upbeat song using modern instrumentation, especially Western style drums, and in the current Hindustani language rather than Braja Bhasha, while emphasizing Radharani’s name. I think it is safe to say that no other person has been as effective in spreading Radha’s name in the modern world as Gaurav Krishna Goswami. The infectious, joyous and hypnotic sound of Radha’s nam sankirtan really set the tone for the evening.
The father and son team came into the site at about 6.30 and sat on the two raised vyasasans that had been built and decorated for the purpose of the program. Mridul Goswami began by speaking to the devotee audience about Nidhuvan and its glorious history.
“This is the Nitya Rasa sthali,” he said. “When Krishna left the scene of the Rasa dance with Radha, as it is described in the Bhagavatam, the Rasa that took place at Vanshi Bat, then the Divine Couple simply came here and continued their eternal Rasa, which is never interrupted. The Nitya Vihara. This is why we do not simply call this place Nidhuvan, but nidhuvana-rÄja.”
He glorified Swami Haridas, recounting his life, speaking of how his father Ashudhir, the incarnation of Govardhan, came to live in Vrindavan and how Swami Haridas himself came to Nidhuvan at the age of 25 and did his bhajan there. Many of the most famous events of his life took place here, such as the appearance of Banke Bihari, the teaching of Tansen and the visit of Akbar.
He himself said, “Whatever mercy I have personally gotten, and whatever mercy I have been able to give comes from this place. So I am begging you not to desecrate this Nidhuvan by damaging the trees or by leaving your refuse here. This garden is not different from Krishna’s personal form.
“Actually, you are not just physically present in Vrindavan, which is the only place you can truly relish the Rasa lila, but you are spiritually present there, and if you stay here and join in this glorification of the Rasa and of Swami Haridas, you will actually see Krishna tonight.
“VÄsa, dÄsa, and rÄsa. You are in the holy Dham, so that is Vrindavana-vÄsa. Here in Nidhuvan, we take shelter of Swami Haridas, and tonight, we will enter into the eternal pastime of Radha and Krishna’s rÄsa!”
lÄkha lÄkha bÄra kahau hari, eka bÄra Å›rÄ« haridÄsa
ati prasanna Å›rÄ« lÄá¸ilÄ«, sadÄ vraja vipina ko vÄsa
You may say Hari’s name hundreds of thousands of times, but if you say the name of Haridas just once, Radharani will become so pleased with you that you will live forever in the forest of Vrindavan.
Mridul Krishnaji also remembered an event from his own grandfather, Giridharilal Goswami’s life. “Once, a materialistic person from Agra insisted on hearing the Rasa Lila from him. After first, Giridharilal Goswami refused, saying he was not ready to hear about Radha and Krishna’s intimate pastimes. But after this man kept requesting him, he gave in. But on the day he began to speak, after only talking for ten or fifteen minutes, he was given a slap on the cheek by an invisible hand. He went into a state of samadhi for half and hour during which Radharani appeared to him and chastized him for telling the Rasa Lila to an audience of unqualified persons.
“But tonight, by taking shelter of Swami Haridas here in the Nitya-rasa-sthali, the door to this lila has become open to us, and we can all become eligible to experience it.”
He and Gaurava Krishna together sang a song from Swami Haridas’s Aá¹£á¹ÄdaÅ›a-siddhÄnta:
hari kau aisauÄ« saba khela |
má¹›ga tá¹›á¹£nÄ jaga vyÄpi rahyau hai kahÅ«á¹ vijaurau na bela ||
dhana-mada jovana-mada rÄja-mada jyauá¹ paá¹china meá¹ á¸ela |
kahiá¹ Å›rÄ«haridÄsa yahai jiya jÄnau tÄ«ratha kaisau mela ||
All this that you see is simply Lord Hari’s play. The world is a mirage without limit. Unless you put behind your obsession with wealth, youth and power, Sri Haridas says, you will never cross over and enter the holy land of Vrindavan.
Then father and guru turned over the program to his son, who also spoke briefly on Vrindavan and Nidhuvan, explaining the root meanings of the words. Nidhivan means the forest of treasures, or the forest which is Krishna’s own treasure, and Nidhuvan means the forest where Radha and Krishna’s loves take place in the Nitya Vihara.
But for the most part, he enchanted the audience by singing of Krishna’s flute, and its all-attractive effect on the gopis. He even played the flute, humbly saying that he was just a beginner and only practicing but since his guru had ordered him, he would play a little.
Gaurav Krishnaji mostly sang Brajbhasha songs from Swami Haridas, using traditional ragas which have been updated and somewhat simplified to make them accessible. Nevertheless, besides having a sweet voice and plenty of charm, he has clearly been trained in the classical style. Not only that, he intersperses his songs with explanations that indicate a great deal of learning, not only of Sanskrit and English, but also of the traditions of Urdu song and poetry.
Everyone was dancing and many were crying. Everyone participated in the songs also by responding.
At the end, he said, “Who are we people? Are we these bodies or are we gopis?” And everybody shouted back “gopis”. Then he said, “So gopis cover their heads, so I am going to do it too.” And he and his father also covered their heads…
The program ended at 10.
A couple of comments. It came to me that it would perhaps be a long time before this kind of performance could be experienced in any other cultural setting than India. It would seem that Radha and Krishna are not so far from the popular imagination of modern, educated Indians as some devotees fear.
To a great extent this is due to the sheer weight of the cultural heritage of Vrindavan devotionalism, which includes musical, linguistic, philosophical and mythical elements that are still so undeveloped in western Vaishnavism.
And, just as the audience has a natural inherent access to Radha and Krishna rasa, the performers or purveyors of that rasa are also gifted in their own right.
Birth does make a difference. At least on several occasion, both Mridul Krishna and Gaurav Krishna made references to the “blood” of Haridas that flowed through their veins. At one point, Pundarik Goswami came into the audience with Sanjeev Kishan Thakurji. It reminded me of his program the other day, when the same thought crossed my mind.
It does make a difference to be brought up in this environment, to have the sense of being the heir of Swami Haridas, born to the service of Banke Bihari and to be trained in the Bhagavatam and the founder’s musical legacy. When combined with such immense talent, the grace of Shrimati Radharani and a natural humility, the overall effect is very powerful.