A Land Aglow with Krishna Worship
BY: Florence Wickramage
Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir
Aug 3, CEYLON (DAILY NEWS) "The tinkle from the anklets on Radha's dancing feet harmonising with the haunting melodies from Krishna's flute comes floating in the cool midnight air around the temple premises on special days. No one sees them in reality". This is what residents around the Sewa Kunji temple told us.
The priest in the temple said that "Krishna has granted many favours to believers who make vows to him. Every night we hang new garlands made of fresh flowers and make a special flower-strewn bed in the shrine room.
We also keep a glass of fresh milk by the bedside. In the morning we find the flowers crushed the glass of milk empty. This is evidence that Krishna and Radha have visited the place". Krishna devotees in Mathura believe that Krishna and Radha are immortal.
From Agra, our next destination was Mathura famous for Krishna devotion and harbouring Krishna's birthplace Vrindavan. Leaving the Taj Mahal late in the evening we drove a distance of 57 kilometres to reach Mathura by nightfall.
We were happy when we saw the twinkling neon lights of the Mathura city after a tiring journey and yearned for a wash and a restful night at the Sri Krishna Sudama Dham (lodging) which was booked for us by our hosts the Indian Federation of Working Journalists.
Hare Krishna Hare Rama
Our first visit the following morning was to the elaborately built Sri Krishna Balaram Temple run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) at Vrindavan.
The whole area was filled with the Hare Krishna chant relayed over public address systems and blaring from radios in little market places and souvenir shops which lined the route to the temple.
We realised that from dawn to dusk this is the only music people around here listen to. We entered the temple and on to the right was a live-size seated statue of the ISKCON founder Bhakthivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Beyond a tiled open square is the Krishna and Radha shrine. A group of Krishna devotees - mostly western- clad in orange dress, head shaven were seated opposite the flower filled sweet scented shrine of the deity singing Krishna's praises to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals.
ISKCON has solid Hindu roots and Krishna is regarded as the 8th most important reincarnation of Vishnu. ISKCON members are known as Hare Krishnas.
Devotion to Karishna is through the basic incantation (mantra) `Hare Krishna Hare Rama' and is matched by a blend of litany and stylized dancing genuinely expressive to the sound of drums and cymbals (kirtan) which is a revival of a celebration virtually defunct in India.
Krishna worship is known as Pooja and the context for worship are many and varied ranging from a private meditation offering in the solitude of the forest or singing devotional songs with chanting the names of the Lord in a temple or fair. The worship also involves seeing the divine image which is known as the "dharshana" (vision).
The core of devotees live in strictly controlled monastic communes, totally vegetarian and teetotal, and remain celibate until marriage which is usually arranged by the institutions.
ISKCON leadership now actively encourages the study of Sanskrit and the doctrinal complexities of Vaishnavism. It regards `Bhagavata purana' as its core scripture, assigning it canonical status by calling it Veda.
We next visited the original Krishna temple located in the legendary Vrindavan gardens where Krishna danced with the gopis (cowherds). There is no garden here now but a cemented location with alleys and byways lined with shops selling religious souvenirs and flowers.
Just at the entrance to the temple were several hamlets on elevated structures where temple workers poured `holy water' in to the cupped hands of devotees.
The whole temple was filled to the brim with devotees attending the pooja and a few people who struggled their way up to the shrine through the milling throng were afforded `temple honours' - sweet smelling garlands of red oleander flowers from the statues of Krishna and Radha.
The next item on the agenda was a visit to the `Golden Temple" located on the `Jan Bhoomi' (birth place) of Krishna at Mathura. But due to a change in return travel arrangements of the group, the majority of the party left for Chennai by the afternoon.
Three of us were left behind and we lodged in at the Radha Ashram for the next two days of our tour. This afforded us an opportunity to visit another temple devoted to both Krishna and Radha known as Sewa Kunji.
Krishna devotees believe that Krishna and Radha are present at this temple. The journey to this particular shrine was through a busy marketplace in Vrindavana. The streets at certain places were so narrow that lengthy traffic blocks were inevitable.
At one spot we were stuck for more than 30 minutes and in this narrow road alone there were cars, motorcycles, man drawn rickshaws, horse driven carts, camel carts, bicycles and pedestrians - an amusing mixture of all sorts, moving forward at a snail's pace - (there were some cattle lazily watching the scene while pigs and dogs were running helter skelter on the edges of the road).
Sewa Kunji is a neglected temple save for the actual shrine which is looked after by a swami. Set amidst a clump of ancient Tulsi plants from legendary Krishna days, there were remnants of derelict constructions as evidence of a flourishing past. Devotees say this location is part of the earlier Vrindavana which was frequented by Krishna, Radha and the gopis.
The name Sewa Kunji has an interesting connotation. Once when Radha was continuously dancing to Krishna's flute-playing, she had suddenly developed a cramp and had stopped dancing. On seeing this Krishna had gone to her assistance and had massaged her leg to enable her to renew her dancing. This action of Krishna is known as `Sewa'.
The high parapet wall enclosing the Sewa Kunji shrine is filled with inscriptions of stanzas derived from Krishna devotions. Krishna believers are convinced that Lord Krishna is the supreme God. Most devotees wore bead-like chains around their necks.
These are made out of Tulsi stalks from the Tulsi plant said to be blessed by Krishna and Radha and are freely available in the market place."
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