Vrindavan, 2016.05.17 (VT): The past couple of weeks have been filled with activity at the various centers connected with the Radha Vallabh tradition in preparation for Hit Harivansh Mahaprabhu’s appearance day on Vaishakhi Shukla Ekadashi.
Harivansh appeared in Baad village within the Braj Chaurasi kos, even though his family lived further afield in the Sahranpur district in the northeast of current Uttar Pradesh. There is some argument about the year of his birth. The usual date given is 1503, but other astrological information has come forth that put this in doubt, so an alternative date is given as 1484. It is known without any doubt that he came to Vrindavan to stay there permanently in 1534.
The principal sites for these celebrations were of course the Radha Vallabh temple and the Rasa Mandal in Yugal Ghat, which was established by Sewak Das, who is said to have merged into one of the trees on the site when he left the world of mortals.
The Radha Vallabhi sampradaya has a strong tradition of Samaj Gayan, especially the work of Harivansh himself, i.e., Chaurasi Pada, but these are supplemented by Sewak Das’s Vani, which was one of the first Brijbhasha compositions of Harivansh’s followers and is the first work that glorifies him and his contributions to rasika upasana in Braj.
The story as related by Bhagavat Mudit in Ananya Rasika Mal, is that Sewakji and a friend, Chaturbhuj, lived in a village in Jabalpur (MP), quite some distance from Braj. One day they heard about Hit Harivansh from a traveling devotee and were taken by the dharma of exclusive devotion to Radha. But for one reason or another, they were unable to get to Vrindavan.
Then they got word that Harivansh had left the world and had been succeeded by his son, Vana Chandra. Chaturbhuj decided to go to Vrindavan and take initiation from him, but Sewak Das said, “I have given my heart to Harivansh and will not give myself to any other, not even to his son.”
While Chaturbhuj was in Vrindavan and taking initiation from Vana Chandra Goswami, Sewak Das performed austerities and was blessed by Harivansh who appeared to him and gave him initiation. Sewak then wrote his Vani. When Chaturbhuj returned, it soon became clear that both of them had received the same mantra from their respective gurus.
When Vana Chandra saw the verses written by Sewakji, he was so impressed that he not only accepted that Sewak was a direct disciple of Harivansh, but he insisted that all devotees include the Sewak Vani as part of their canon to be read and sung along with Hit Chauras, the two Brijbhasha works of Harivansh.
sevaka vāṇī kauṁ paḍhau śrī caurāsī saṁga
taba teṁ ājñā daī gusāṁī | pothī doū milī likhāī
caurāsī aru sevakavānī | ika saṁga likhata paḍhata sukha dānī
(Rasika Ananya Mal)
Sewak Dasji’s vision of Hit Harivansh was very influential in the direction the sampradaya took. When he had his vision of Harivansh, he saw him as the totality of the rasa-tattva, including Radha, Krishna, the sakhis and Vrindavan. The sampradaya therefore understands the supreme tattva to be prema itself and that Hit Sakhi or Harivansh is the manifestation of this prema, or rasa. As one baba of the sampradaya said to me, “Today, Prem was born!”
Though the Radha Vallabhi temple is the main site of these celebrations and I took daily darshan of Radha Vallabh during this time, my greatest discovery was the Radhika Vallabhji temple in Seva Kunj. This small jewel of a temple had daily Samaj of Sewak Vani and other songs of the tradition, led mostly by the current acharya, Jash Ali Sharanji. He is the disciple of one of the leading scholars of the Radha Vallabha sampradaya, Kishori Sharan Ali, who has written extensively on the literature and philosophy of the school. We will upload a photo gallery of that temple in the next few days.
[By the way, some people inquire about “Ali” thinking it is an Arabic word connected to the nephew of the Prophet, but in fact it means the same as “Sakhi” and is a Sanskrit word. It is used most frequently in the Radha Vallabh sampradaya as a devotional epithet.]
Another important site for celebrations in the Radha Vallabhi line is the Hit Ashram Satsang Bhumi on Gandhi Road. Their festival actually starts on the Ekadasi and will continue for another week.
On the last four days of the festival, a parade is taken through Vrindavan starting from the Radha Vallabh temple at about 8 p.m. and winding through the streets before arriving at the Rasa Mandal at about 11. There were two horse-drawn carriages, one with the image of Harivansh, the other with swaroops from the Rasa Lila. The kirtan was done with great enthusiasm. On arrival at the Rasa Mandal, it drove to a crescendo with the singing of “Radhe Radhe!” and men and women alike danced in front of the deity.
The Rasa Swaroops came down from their carriage and went to sit on their throne, where they were given puja and offerings by the devotees. The program ended with more Samaj singing from the Harivansh Badhai section of the Sewak Vani.