Radha Kund, 2017.03.17 (Vishakha Dasi for VT): Catholic priest and Hinduism scholar Klaus Klostermaier has written beautifully about his experience of Vrindavan Parikrama in the 1960s. Those who have given parikrama recently will be struck by the difference between the natural setting he describes and what we see today.
Klostermaier lived in India in the 1960s, and two of those years were spent in Vrindavan. His work during this period led to his appointment to the Vatican as advisor to the Papal office on non-Christian religions.
The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Parikrama” from Klostermaier’s book Hindu and Christian in Vrindavan:
The night was fabulously beautiful. The full moon in the western sky shone so brightly that it was almost impossible to discern the starts. Crickets chirped gently. The air was filled with a soft singing as if the gandharvas, the heavenly musicians, were practising. The shaggy, thorny shrubs and trees took on the appearance of dancing nymphs. A sweet fragrance wafted from somewhere. The dry grass was softly fanned by the warm breeze. It was four o’clock in the morning and we began our pilgrimage with a view to finishing our round before it became too unbelievably hot.
‘Hare Krishna!’, Dr. Govindam called out. He was our guide, a believing bhakta, who had come here immediately after his retirement from higher civil service, wishing to dedicate the rest of his life to the attainment of Krishna-bhakti. There were three of us; besides me another young Hindu by the name of Sanat, a canditate for a doctor’s degree who also had some journalistic experience. The previous evening, Dr. Govindam had explained to us the basic rules of Parikrama: the whole walk is done barefoot, in single file; if not singing the name of Krishna, one should meditate or speak about him. Only then was punya, the profit of Parikrama, assured.
We were not the first ones. Pilgrims from other parts of the country chose these beautiful moonlit nights for their all-night trek. They sang their bhajans, beating the time with drums and cymbals! The clear and loud voices of the little children and the harsher, deeper ones of the men, the strong voices of the village women and the reserved, soft voices of the genteel ladies – all of them sang the praises of Krishna and Radha and all of them went this way in search of greater love for him, perhaps even to behold him in reality. For even today the great bhaktas of Vrindaban relate how it is possible to discover Krishna peeping archly from behind a tree, dancing his rasa dance witht he gopis during especially blessed times, or to meet Radha on a lonely path, enquiring after her lover Krishna.
‘Raman Reti’ is the name of the tract of land through with we were passing: ‘pleasant sands’. We were wading almost knee-deep in it.
Soft sand flowed up between our toes. We neither sang nor spoke. The moon shone bright and cool. Soft music flowed through the air. Drums and cymbals sounded from a nearby temple. Morning bhajans had begun. They had been playing and singing all night through – the early morning is one of those special times when the image of a god is venerated and the name of God called out with devotion and strength. ‘Raman Reti’ is the name of the tract of land through with we were passing: ‘pleasant sands’. We were wading almost knee-deep in it. On top it was cool, deep down it had stored the previous day’s warmth.
Dr. Govindam broke the silence. ‘We ought to try and imagine Krishna as a child, how he played in the sands, building sand castles, how he wallowed in it and threw it at his litle friends.’ It was not difficult to imagine this. Had we not often observed this game, played by old and young alike, in memory of Krishna? Large trees emerged from the background, banyan trees with hanging air roots as thick as arms. Some of these roots had pierced the strong brick wall of the garden enclosure. A few peacocks, shrieking sleepily, fluttered on to a higher branch. On our right, a small roadside temple in honour of Shiva: a small shrine containing a lingam lit up by a flickering oil-lamp. An almost naked Shaivite monk with long, pinned-up hair sat cross-legged in front of the lingam. Motionless, he stared at the Shivalingam in the fituful bluish light. He might have sat there the whole night – probably many nights. Perhaps years. He wanted to see Shiva. He did not bat an eyelid when Dr. Govindam bowed low and greeted him with folded hands. He wandered on through the pleasant sands. How beautiful and how enchanting it was!
Dr. Govindam throught it was his duty as a bhakta to tell me more about Krishna, his life and work, his miraculous birth and his even more miraculous redemption from the tyrant Kamsa, the marvellous deeds propounded by him when a mere infant: Dr. Govindam seems to know a great deal of the Bhagavata Puranas by heart; he recited whole chapters of the poetic Sanskrit texts from memory.
Kamsa, the tyrant of Mathura, who had not been able to kill Krishna immediately after his birth, sent Putana, the she-devil who walked the cities and villages killing little cihldren. She approached Krishna’s cradle in the shape of a lovely young woman. She took him into her arms, to nurse him with her poisoned milk. But Krishna, the redeemer of the world, not only drained her of her poison but also of her life, and Putana, the infanticide, fell dead. Krishna had accomplished his first redemptive act. But by the contact with his mouth he had not only delivered the world from Putana; he had also released her from her own evil nature. Wheover comes into contact with Krishna – be it in love or in hate, receving life or death – is redeemed.
We had leaft the ‘pleasant sands’, the ground was firm now.
The street we were now passing was bordered by walls on both sides. As little as sixty years ago, this had still been the actual riverbed of the Yamuna which had till then, bordered Vrindaban on three sides. The river has altered its course so much that it now touches the town on one side only. During the monsoons, when the river covers the fields for miles and miles, it returns to its old bed. Then only does one realize the beauty of it all; all the leftover steps and little temples, that had been built at the water’s edge, return to life, rediscovering their function.
One of these temples sheltered the image of a many-headed snake. Situated under a gigantic Kadamba tree, it was surrounded by a high platform bearing two footprints cut into the stone. ‘Krishna’s footsteps,’ said Dr. Govindam, and bent down to kiss them.