Vrindavan, 2018.03.17 (VT) Shri Lilanand Maharaj (Pagal Baba) wanted to build a temple that would attract visitors to Vrindavan. Seeing that so many Delhi residents traveled to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, he embarked upon a mission to build a temple that is as grand as the Taj Mahal from the outside, but is full of the wonderous dieties, fulfilling a spiritual purpose at the same time as being pleasing to the eye.
Shri Lilanand Maharaj’s ‘Madness’
Different reasons have been suggested about why Shri Lilanand Maharaj started calling himself crazy (pagal). Some have interpreted his self-professed madness as his complete absorption in the joy of kirtan, an absorption that he helped to spread across India.
One thing that strikes visitors to the famous nine-storey ‘Radhe Govind Pagal Baba’ temple on Mathura-Vrindavan Road is that Pagal Baba wanted to surround himself with as many deities as possible – from the museum on the basement level to Vaman Dev on the 6th story, the temple is filled with what seems like every avatar of Vishnu.
On every altar, there is a picture or statue of Pagal Baba. The pictures are placed in such a way to give the impression that Babaji is participating in Thakurji’s lilas. His photo is placed between Gaur and Nitai, so he seems to be watching them dance and, in his samadhi temple, Durga Ma, Lord Shiva and Brahma ji are placed above his statue, so they are eternally putting their lotus feet on his head.
Perhaps another reason that Lilanand Maharaj started calling himself ‘pagal’ is that no one can tell a crazy person what he should do. As is clear from the unique design of the temple, Pagal Baba wanted to worship according to his own impression of Thakurji’s pastimes and glories. Baba Shri had his own style of worship — take for example the famous red handkerchief that he used to put on the heads of people who came to him. This handkerchief was said to possess magical powers and many people were cured of intractable diseases by its touch.
A third reason for his self-professed madness is that when someone values spiritual goals over material goals, their choices can seem nonsensical to more materialistic minded persons. Pagal Baba’s frenzied devotion was like a kind of spiritual madness, and, it was infectious — he attracted thousands of followers and inspired many to give up all their material attachments and follow him in the ‘madness’ of devotion.
Baba’s red hankerchief
There are many miracles are associated with Baba’s hankerchief. In one incident witnessed by many, Baba brought a woman back to life on the last day of a sankirtan program in Ranaghat. Baba touched her with the small finger of his left hand while shouting, “Jai Radhe Govind”, then swept his hankerchief over her and told her to get up, which she did immediately. It is said that whenever he put the hankerchief on someone’s head, their wish would come true. The hankerchief is with him in the samadhi temple next to the main temple. The walls of the temple are marked with people’s wishes (mostly related to marriage and finding work), and these are interspersed with thank you notes.
Pagal Baba Temple design
The temple has 9 levels. Each level has its own set of deities, which are (unfortunately) placed on top of each other.
The basement level has a museum showing different avatars and different lilas. Entry costs Rs 5.
The ground floor (level 1) is home to Radhe Govind. Being the ground floor, this level has the biggest floor space. Aarti is held here as is the 24-hour kirtan seva.
Level 2 has no Thakurji. There is an arch that forms a kind of one-dimensional temple dome for Radhe Govinda.
Level 3 has Krishna-Balaram, reminding visitors of Shri Krishna’s cowheard pastimes in Vrindavan.
Level 4 is home to Nanda Yashoda and baby Krishna. Baby Krishna looks so sweet and adorable in Yashoda Mother’s arms that after taking darshan on the way up the stairs, many visitors will exit the staircase to have another darshan of this adorable scene.
Level 5 shows the court of Shri Ram. Hanuman here is particularly cute, with long hair and adoring eyes.
Level 6 shows Vaman Avatar and Bali Maharaj. From this level the external staircase becomes a narrow internal staircase that must get jammed on busy days. Vishnu’s dwarf form has been reserved for the upper level as, being small, he doesn’t require much space.
Level 7 gives darshan of Laxmi Narayan, presiding over the wealth of Vrindavan.
From the upper levels, visitors get an amazing view of some of Vrindavan’s newer colonies and some of the last remaining farmland in the town.
Level 8 has the ‘aum’ symbol engraved on a granite cuboid. This could be a statement that the sound of creation is one of the highest forms of the Divine, and could also have been done for practical reasons, as the carving does not require much space. Aum is not often worshiped in Vrindavan and its presence on the top level of the temple creates an aesthetic harmony of form and meaning.
Baba Shri’s life journey
Shri Lilanand Maharaj was born in Mymensingh, a district that is now in Bangaladesh, on the day celebrated as Durgasristhi during Navaratri, in October 1899.
As he was the oldest son in a Brahmin family, his parents went to great efforts to ensure he would get a good, traditional education, however Lilanand ji refused to take interest in studies. Seeing that he was turning towards renouncing the world at a young age, his parents arranged for his marriage. He was married to Sudevi for many years. Later, after the couple took vanaprastha and began travelling, she died, after which Lilanand Maharaj began his life’s work.
Baba began travelling India, preaching the glories of Harinam. He traveled to Bihar and Assam and Gauripur, holding programs and announcing himself as the pagal baba (mad ascetic) and word about him spread through India. During this time, five ashrams were established:
1) Shantipur Ashram in Gwalpada District, Sapat Village, where Baba Shri built a small hut where he could do kirtan.
2) Birendra Nagar Ashram in Darang District, to which Baba Shri travelled after leaving Sapat.
3) Lila Kunj Ashram, in Gyan Gudri, Vrindavan, established by Deshbhakt Raja Mahendra Pratap.
4) Shri Nivas Aagan Ashram in Jasidih, close to Vaidyanath Dham
5) Liladham Ashram, in Vrindavan – the temple we know as Pagal Baba Mandir. Construction began in 1970 and the temple took five years to complete. It is said that Pagal Baba was disappointed that so many people traveled from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and so few people stopped to visit the Holy Dham of Sri Krishna. So he wanted to build a beautiful temple that would attract people to Vrindavan.
He also wanted to build a hospital, which is near the temple, but has been left unfinished.
Baba Shri left his body in Vrindavan on July 24, 1980.
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