Vrindavan, 2017.10.22 (VT): At the end of Loi Bazaar if one takes a turn towards Nidhivan, one finds the grand entrance of Shahji Mandir. The temple’s real name is Lalit Nikunj, but it is called Shahji Mandir because it was built by two brothers from Lucknow named Shah Kundan Lal and Shah Phundan Lal. Its other nickname is Tedhe Khamba Mandir, after its oddly-shaped pillars.
The temple’s construction was completed in 1867. Made of Italian marble with an unusual mixture of Indian and European styles, the temple was originally intended for the ancient deity of Radharaman. Radharaman, however, preferred to stay in his current traditional sandstone temple, where there is adequate space for his Goswamis to reside. The Shah brothers’ own deity of “Choto Radharaman” now presides over the Shahji Mandir. The two brothers’ samadhis are also there, just outside of the temple’s main entrance.
Shah Kundan Lal and Shah Phundan Lal were disciples of Shri Radha Govinda Goswami of the Shri Radharaman Temple. They were also extremely wealthy: employees of the last Nawab of Avadh, Wajid Ali Shah. Their grandfather Shah Bihari Lal sponsored the present temple of Radharaman. The brothers were devotionally inclined since childhood, but when their father sent them to Vrindavan with a golden throne for Radharamanji, they received his darshan for the first time.
After seeing Radharaman once, it was as if they were under a magic spell. All their other desires fell away and they wanted nothing more than to serve him day and night for the rest of their lives. After their father and grandfather passed away, they moved to Vrindavan. They left their army – and their shoes – on the other side of the Yamuna River and entered the holy land to stay. They passed their days writing poetry for Radharaman under the pen names Lalit Kishori (Kundan Lal) and Lalit Madhuri (Phundan Lal). “Lalit Madhuri”’s contribution to Raas Lila songs and dialogues is well-known to this day.
After moving to Vrindavan, Shah Kundan Lal made a vow never to leave the holy land, and his brother followed suit. He had so much love for the dust of Vrindavan that he found it impossible to even think of easing the call of nature upon it. So he used to pass urine and stool in pots made from Agra clay and have them couriered out of Braj for disposal.
When people die in Vrindavan, the body is carried on a stretcher through the streets before being burned or entombed. But Shah Kundan Lal made it clear early on that when the time came for him to die, he did not want his body to be carried through the streets. He wanted it to be dragged through the streets instead, so that his body would be caressed by the blessed dust of Vrindavan.
Just a year after the brothers moved to Vrindavan, the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 occurred. Shah Kundan Lal had once helped a rebel group and given them shelter on his property, and so a warrant was issued for his arrest. The trial was to be held in Mathura.
Everyone was very worried but Shah Kundan Lal said, “Is there any weapon sharper than the eyes of Govind Dev? If one who has been wounded by those arrows just once, why should he fear any other weapon? I am ready to stand before the British government and bear any consequences this trial brings, for the eyes of Govind Dev are upon me and they are my protection.”
Shah Kundan Lal went to the court singing kirtan along with a large crowd of devotees. When the judge asked if he had sheltered the rebel group, he immediately admitted that he had. When the judge asked him if he knew the punishment for treason, he replied, “Yes, the punishment is death.”
When the judge warned that he may be hanged, Shah Kundan Lal said:
“You may hang me if you wish. But my last wish is that you hang me in Vrindavan. And let there be kirtan around me when I die. If you do that, I will regard such a punishment as the greatest reward.”
The magistrate was so astonished by Shah Kundan Lal’s fearless devotion that he let him go.
On Kartik Shukla Pratipad of 1873 Kundan Lal took sannyas. The next morning he told his brother “I have gotten the call from Radharani. It is time for me to go. Please make a platform out of Braj Raj and decorate it like a kunj (forest bower) and place in it a picture of our beloved Radharaman.” When the kunj was ready, he sat on the platform of Braj dust and asked his companions to begin kirtan. He also sang along. Soon he entered an ecstatic trance and suddenly left his body while gazing at the image of Radharaman ji. Shah Phundan Lal also left this world in a similar manner in 1885.
When Shah Kundan Lal passed away, the lanes of Vrindavan were filled with soft Yamuna sand and his body was gently dragged over it. The body was taken on parikrama around Vrindavan passed the ancient temples, before it was laid in samadhi.
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