Vrindavan: 2017.03.25 (VT): Holi season has just come to an end in Braj and the colored dust is settling down. Everyone is settling in to the oncoming hot season, which will scorch the earth until the rains start to come in June or July.
The “festival of colors” has started to make its way to the West and seems to be becoming an international festival of sorts. People are looking for ways to celebrate life and throwing colored powders and colored water on one another seems like a lot of fun to a lot of people…
One of the pioneers of the “festival of colors” in America is Keshav Sharan Goswami, a sevait of the Venubihari temple just across the stree from the Bankhandi Mahadeva temple. He has been living in the USA for many years and founded one of the most popular Hindu temples in the greater Boston area.
It is different from most of the Hindu temples in America in that it is unabashedly promoting the mood of Braja, following the teachings and ritual of the Nimbark Sampradaya.
The temple’s name is Sri Braj Mandir and its message is “Radha bhakti.”
Keshav Sharan Goswami comes from one of the older Vaishnava families of Vrindavan, but in some ways he also represents a “globalized Vrindavan.” He was born in the post-Prabhupada era, when Western devotees had become a reality in Vrindavan, and it had become possible for young Brijbasis to mix with young Americans for the first time. Now we are beginning to see how the the effect of globalization is working both ways.
Just as the globalized world enters Braj, Braj enters the globalized world.
How Keshav Sharan ended up in America is a long story. But when Radha and Venu Gopal want their Braj mood to travel afar, they find ways to get it done. If they cannot come to Braj, Braj must go to them.
When still a teenager, Keshav Sharan made friends with American devotees in Vrindavan. Partly as a result of this, he became concerned about the unrestrained development in Braj-Vrindavan and the dangers that it represented for its traditional culture and character. In order to help battle the excessive effects of increased tourism such as the destruction of the environment, an increase in litter and refuse as the town’s infrastructure struggles to keep up with the demands of modern development, he formed the Vrindavan Preservation Society. This society still exists and is the name under which Keshav Sharanji operates the Boston temple.
Many of the members of the Venu Gopal Goswami family are initiated by the mahants of the Tatia Sthan. Indeed, their forefathers were residents of Rajpur, the village where Haridas Swami is said to have been born. Though there is a dispute about whether Haridas Swami belonged to the Nimbark Sampradaya, the sadhus of the Tatia Sthan accept this connection and the recently departed Nimbarkacharya Radha Sarveshwar Sharan frequently went to Tatia Sthan where he was always treated with utmost reverence.
The Tatia Sthan is one of the archetypal ashrams of Braj-Vrindavan. Keshav Sharanji feels that this is the model on which development of Braj-Vrindavan should take place. For this purpose, the Vrindavan Preservation Society has purchase land in the vicinty of Jaith village in the hope of recreating a “tapovana” environment as a kind of “human sanctuary” where a spiritually-oriented village in a natural setting can be created.
In Boston, the community centered around the Sri Radha Bhakti center consist mostly of pravasi Indians, but the all-attractive character of Braja Bhakti’s festive mood enchants many Americans of other backgrounds as well. I asked him about his strategy in spreading Braj Bhava and Radha bhakti.
“Radha bhakti is a very high thing,” he said, “not something that can be easily communicated to people with only a rudimentary knowledge of the bases of Hinduism, like the Bhagavad Gita. So I mostly speak from the Gita as well as the Narada Bhakti Sutra. Sometimes I also speak from the Siddhanta-sukha portion of Mahavani. But we do kirtan of the Yugal Mantra and some other padas from the Nimbark tradition, and Radha Krishna is at the center of the temple and we have no other deities on the altar, so we are following the ekanta Nimbarki tradition.
“There is so much variety in Hinduism,” he said. “It is famous as a tolerant religion. Holi is a celebration of diversity and our unity in diversity. We throw the colors of spring on each other in joyful celebration. In Sanskrit the words for color and red are closely related to the words for love and passion. Spring is the season of love, and so this throwing of colors is like an opening of the heart to love in the springtime.”
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