Ghar Ghar Tulsi, Thakur Pooja
Darshan Govind Ji Ko
Ali Mhane Laage Vrindavan Neeko
Shri Krishna is worshipped in every home of Vrindavan, and in every household grows the sacred tulsi plant. This is the place where Shri Govinda lives eternally, and those who come here can see Him face to face. O friend, I love Vrindavan so much! – Mirabai
Vrindavan, 2017.09.14 (Vishakha Dasi): Many come to Vrindavan only to visit one or two of the largest, most famous temples before going straight back home. This is of course completely valid, but it is also true that they miss out on the irrisistible charm of Vrindavan’s small temples. How exciting it is to wander from temple to temple through the narrow lanes of this sacred town, having darshan of Shri Krishna “in every home”!
The opportunity to explore goes beyond the Banke Bihari temple, ISKCON, Prem Mandir, and even the sapta devalay – the “seven ancient temples”.
Yes, it is really true. Every few steps through Vrindavan’s kunj galis (narrow lanes) is an ancient wonder, a hidden miracle waiting to unfold before your eyes. Some estimate that there are more than five thousand temples in Vrindavan.
Recently a friend and I explored a beautiful lane called Chhipi Gali.
Chhipi Gali is the tailors’ lane. Women go there to get their blouses stitched and to buy discount bangles, nail polish and other accessories. The lane is more or less parallel to Loi Bazar, with several random, snaking inlets that are also counted as part of Chhipi Gali.
Meaning of Chhipi Gali
We asked many residents of the lane, what is the meaning of Chhipi Gali? There was no real consensus, but the answers we got were basically three:
1. Shri Radha and Krishna used to play luka-chhupi (hide and seek) here, and thus it is called Chhipi Gali
2. Chhipi is a Braj Bhasha word for tailor, and this is where the tailor shops are. Further, hundreds of years ago there was a famous tailor in this lane who only made clothes for Shri Krishna. Thus it is called Chhipi Gali.
3. Chhipi comes from the word chaap, referring in this case to block-printing. There used to be an artisan who did block-printing work in this lane, thus it is called Chhipi Gali.
Some research is in order to verify these statements. However, they do seem to reflect the beliefs of the lane’s residents at this time.
Chhipi Gali’s Govinda, Gopinath and Madanmohan
When Shri Krishna’s grandson Vajranabh wished to make a murti (deity) of Shri Krishna, he consulted Parikshit’s mother Uttara, who had seen Krishna with her own eyes. According to her descriptions, Parikshit had three murtis made. When the work was finished, Uttara was called to judge the sculptor’s work.
Uttara told Vajranabh that the first murti, Madanmohan, had Shri Krishna’s lotus feet, but the rest of him didn’t exactly look like Krishna. Likewise, the second deity Gopinath had Krishna’s handsome broad chest. And the third deity, Govinda, had Krishna’s lotus face. For this reason, it is a popular belief that if one takes darshan of Govinda, Gopinath and Madanmohan in a single day, it is equal to seeing Krishna himself in person.
When Aurangzeb’s Mughal army was about to invade Vrindavan, Govinda and Gopinath were moved Jaipur and Madanmohan was taken to Karauli, where they still reside today. Pratibhu Vigrahas or replacement deities of each were established later, after the threat of the Mughals had passed.
Chhipi Gali is almost like a miniature version of Vrindavan, in that it has temples representing most of the major spiritual traditions of Vrindavan. It even has its own temples of Govinda, Gopinath and Madanmohan.
Shri Madanmohan Temple
Traveling from Kishorpura towards Loi Bazaar, take a right turn into Chhipi Gali. You will see a very unassuming doorway on your right. There is no signboard and no indication at all that it is a temple, but if you peek inside, you can tell that it is, indeed, a temple. This is the Shri Madanmohan Temple of Chhipi Gali.
The temple caretaker is named Shri Prafull Brajwasi. According to him, the temple’s deities of Shri Radha-Madanmohan used to reside in Chandan Nagar near Kolkata. He does not remember exactly who brought them to Vrindavan or when, but it was approximately 250 years ago.
Once an important port on the Hoogly River, Chandan Nagar became a French colony in 1673, and remained so until it was captured by the British in March of 1757. But the city was returned to the French again in 1763. It was around this time that the servitors of Shri Radha-Madanmohan brought them to Vrindavan. Perhaps all the political and social upheaval gave them with the opportunity to take shelter of the Dham.
Thereafter, Chandan Nagar changed hands again several times – back to the British in 1794, again to France in 1816, and to Pondicherry in 1850. Decades of war stripped Chandan Nagar of some of its former glory, and by then Shri Radha-Madanmohan were long gone. But their temple still exists in Chandan Nagar, where the gaddi or seat of the Divine Couple is still worshipped with great love and reverence.
Shri Gopinath Temple
Just down the road from the Madanmohan temple, tucked into a narrow side-street, is the temple where Shri Radha-Gopinath once resided. Unfortunately, several years ago the temple premises was divided and sold to four or five different parties. We made an attempt to visit the temple anyway, but the door was locked.
It is not known what happened to the deity of Shri Madanmohan. Some neighbors advised us that Gopinath was still inside, while most insisted he was gone, and still others were unaware there was ever a temple there to begin with.
The sad story of the Radha-Gopinath temple of Chhipi Gali is a reminder of the unstable economic situation in Vrindavan, which sometimes prompts people to abandon historic buildings and the cultural heritage of this town; a heritage that has weathered Mughal invasions and British rule, yet is faltering before the onslaught of modernity. Hopefully the government will notice and take action to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.
Shri Govinda Dev Temple
As you proceed through Chhipi Gali getting closer to Pratap Bazaar, you will find the temple of Shri Radha-Govinda on your left. Again, the building is not well marked so you may need to ask the local shopkeepers for directions.
The deities of this temple were established by the Kundu family from Bengal, and are currently cared for by descendants of Shri Nityananda Prabhu. Shri Radha-Govinda are quite tall and gorgeous, and their temple is full of beautiful green plants and creepers.
The temple itself is quite beautifully designed in the Haveli style with an open courtyard and beautiful sandstone pillars. Though the temple was not particularly large, the architecture was really quite stunning. It would have been easy to believe the temple was built in the 1700s, but that is not the case.
One of the temple caretakers, whose name unfortunately I do not recall, said, “I was not born yet when this temple was founded, but as per what I know, it is 102 years old.
A wealthy gentleman named Shri Krishna Das Kundu founded this temple and then handed it over to my father, Shri Lalit Mohan Goswami, to look after the deity.”
A painting of Shri Krishna Das Kundu can be seen in the temple near the altar, and across from it on the facing wall is a portrait of his father, Shri Gopal Das Kundu.
Standing in Chhipi Gali’s Radha-Govinda temple, it comes to mind that if this street were in any other place, it would be the main spiritual artery of the city. But this is Vrindavan, where every lane is overflowing with history and spiritual bliss.
To be continued…