In March 2016, I had been accorded the privilege of covering Krishna Ras Times Passion Trail by The Time of India. A much-abridged version of this appeared in TimesLife of 1st May 2016. I bring to you my detailed first hand experience of this trail under the title – ‘Krishna – My Friend!’
In for a shock!
I was at Shrinathdwara. Most of us may know it by its informal name – Nathdwara – a small town around 40 km. from Udaipur.
“Here, you may chide, curse or scold Krishna as much as you like!”
“Yes. This is not a temple!”
Instantly, a million thoughts flashed through my mind! Religion, sacrilege, pilgrimage, lord, taboo, god, incredulity, devotion, belief, blasphemy, and many more – the kaleidoscope of spinning emotions was breaking every conceivable rpm limit! Deep within, these niggling thoughts sprouted from never having been told since I was a child that I could, even in my dreams, be abusive towards our gods.
Let me rewind a little!
Just 3 days before I reached Nathdwara, I had joined a heterogeneous group of about 35 people. This group came together courtesy Times Passion Krishna Ras Trail whose experience architect was none other than Dr. Pushpesh Pant, a best-selling recipe book author, a colourful human being, an academician who spent 41 teaching years at JNU and a Padma Shri recipient. These folks were from all across India. In fact, we later realised that this group represented at least 13 Indian states.
We met at ISKCON Temple in Delhi. It was here that this unusual trail started. The raison d’être of this trail was to visit and partake prasadam from numerous important Krishna temples of North India and experience the various Rasas it evoked in our senses (hence the name – Times Passion Krishna Ras Trail).
Over the next 3 days, we travelled around 800 km. in a Volvo luxury coach, visited 5 towns, took blessings in 7 significant Krishna temples, heard Bhagwad Gita and its interpretations, shared our understanding of various facets of Krishna’s life and generally cut ourselves off from the usual world we lived in.
At ISKCON Delhi, we were initiated into the significance of prasadam and what ingredients qualify for it. It was not just a whimsical discourse, but had its roots in Bhagwad Gita. Thereafter, we honoured (yes, we do NOT eat, but honour) prasadam.
The ISKCON volunteers escorted us through their Vedic Expo – a stunning display of permanent sets, video projections, dazzling play of lights and an impressive commentary that revolved around the fundamentals from Bhagwad Gita.
Next, we participated in the Shayan Aarti conducted in typical ISKCON way, with saffron-clad devotees singing, playing instruments and swaying to the devotional hymns. Honouring the shayan prasadam after the aarti concluded, wrapped up the day. Mr. Mohan Das, President – ISKCON Delhi, had facilitated this remarkable experience.
An early departure and a packed breakfast in bus next morning helped us reach Mathura in good time. We disembarked at a convenient place and made our way on foot to a location where history meets mythology – Krishna Janmbhoomi. An informational signboard told us that the place dates back 5257 years – ostensibly the era when Krishna took birth here.
This place had seen ravages of time and of aggressors. A few demolitions and a few re-builds had raised the level of this location by approximately 20-25 metres, but the trust that manages the shrine has created an access to the basement to ensure that the original place of birth is accessible.
The prasadam here was what Krishna used to steal – makhan-mishri (fresh butter infused with crystalised sugar). It was offered to us in tiny earthen pots (Kulli). Upon enquiring how we should consume it, we were told to do what Krishna used to – lick it clean with your fingers!
Our next destination was ISKCON Vrindavan. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON, had laid its foundation stone. It is spread over a large area and also houses a school run by ISKCON. Besides the usual education, this school also focusses on the education for the soul. Our group was treated to an hour-long discourse and sharing from Bhagwad Gita here. The prasadam experience was in a common dining area behind the temple where everyone sat together and ate.
Evening took us to Prem Mandir. Spread over a large area, there is only one phrase that describes this place – garish opulence. Besides well-manicured gardens in front, the structure is made from marble. The illumination keeps giving it different striking hues every couple of minutes. The precincts have permanent displays from life of Krishna – carrying Govardhan Parbat on his little finger, Raas, Shehsnaag, etc. This place also has an illuminated musical fountains show that tries hard to project Krishna Leela on a water wall.
After this, we proceeded to the holiest of the holy temple in Vrindavan – Shri Banke Bihari temple. We were just in time for the shayan aarti and the temple priest welcomed us here with saffron stoles. Legend has it that the idol of this temple is a merged idol of Radha and Krishna.
A few hours of bus journey next morning took us to Jaipur. Our first stop here was Shri Govind Dev Ji temple. The idol in this temple had been brought from Krishna Janmbhoomi in Mathura after it was salvaged from the debris that were a result of the demolition of Janmbhoomi temple by the Mughals.
We were in time for the Chhappan Bhog (an offering of 56 dishes) ceremony here. This ceremony, though not an everyday affair since it is dependent on whether any devotee has made a Chhappan Bhog offering to the temple, ends up happening on almost 25 days in a month!
Shortly afterwards, we experienced the Rachna Jhanki at this temple. This is an annual ritual that happens just for a fortnight around Holi. It is an unusual Shringar Jhanki wherein the Krishna idol is outfitted in muslin or cotton and the shringar (make-up) is done with Holi gulaal after the idol has been dressed. The experience was celestial!
The prasadam here was divine. Since we sat on the floor and honoured it, to get up off the floor after consuming it we had to dig deep into our will power reserves. The rest of the day was fruitfully utilised by the group variously – filling it with activities like shopping, visits to the monuments in Jaipur, a repeat visit to Shri Govind Dev Ji temple in the evening, etc.
Next morning, we set out on the longest drive of this trail – from Jaipur to Nathdwara. We stopped by near Kishangarh for tea and breakfast and it was around 2pm that we reached Nathdwara. The darshan at the Srinathdwara Haveli (yes, that’s right – Haveli, since this is not a temple!) was at 3.30 pm.
Krishna – My Friend!
It was here that our escort mentioned that we could call Krishna names, swear at him and scold him!
He then went on to explain the reason. This Haveli is where Krishna continues to live in his child manifestation (Bal Gopal) and hence it is not a temple. Devotees come here not as worshippers but as his friends. The way you may complain to and scold a friend, the same way you could call Bal Gopal names for things he may not have done for you or done wrongly for you.
This explanation was a revelation! Having grown up revering and worshipping our gods, seeing him suddenly as a friend was a completely new way of looking at the Supreme Being! With all the mixed feelings mentioned in the beginning, I looked back at the roller coaster we had been through in the last 4 days.
For the first time I realised that Krishna is perhaps the only god amongst the plethora of Hindu deities who is worshipped not just in one manifestation, but in many! He is adored and loved in his child avatar, seen as a saviour in his adolescence, as an eradicator of evil during various life-stages, as a beacon that shows the way in his Sarathi manifestation from Mahabharat and as a consort for all in his Banka avatar (Dandy!).
At Nathdwara, we also experienced the devotional singing of Manasvi Vyas, a prodigy who has not learnt music but has a god-gifted talent.
This journey was not just any ordinary travel. It made my soul richer through experiences curated to touch all senses. Deep within, I cannot stop thanking Times Passion Krishna Ras trail for having evoked such consciousness in me!