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  1. Places visited: Loharvari, Levara, Akbarpur, Kanwari, Sattvas We are now beginning to approach the borders of Braja, visiting various Muslim villages where no other yatra has gone before. There are wonderful pastimes of the Lord that took place in these areas and the Brajabāsī Muslims, with obviously deep Hindu saṁskāras, show a certain degree of respect towards the yatris. Some could even be seen tapping their foot to the resounding kirtan coming by. They have never been exposed to such a spiritual safari within their quiet villages. In some of these villages, there are still Hindu dwellings here and there. In these homes, one would find little old ladies with hands shaking, and with whatever strength they could muster just pleading for the sacred yatris to accept their offering as they lovingly distributed prasāda of rotis, deep fried chick peas, chach and chai to them. Just who knows who was handing gifts to whom? Such is the mystical reality of the Braja Yatra. Some years ago there was opposition to the yatra coming through these areas, but after local Muslims saw Shri Ramesh Babaji Maharaj paying respects from afar to the pond at Sattvas, which is the marriage theatre of Lord Krishna and Satyabhama, their hearts softened and the leaders of the village invited the yatra to come and circumambulate this pond. In the second book of the Rasīlī Braja Yātrā these places will be clearly described for all future parikrama groups to fearlessly visit and honor the pastimes of the Lord that have almost been lost to the world. We thank Sri Ramesh Babaji Maharaj for researching and bringing to light these pastimes, which came so close to being forgotten forever. Loharvari and Levara Lohar means small and vāri means flower garden. All the villages in this area are near Nandagaon. There are 16 vāris or gardens of flowers in the whole Braja. This is one of them. Levara is a village of Loharvari, which is a place of the Krishna’s cow grazing pastimes. Here the Lord’s close friends, the cowherd boys, would talk in such away that would externally make Krishna angry. They would say such things as, “Just look at yourself. You are so dark in complexion that you will never be able to get married.” They would taunt the Lord as children do to one another, each finding ways of insulting him. Krishna would get angry and would come before his mother to reveal his pained heart. Mother Yashoda would pacify little Krishna by saying, “Don’t worry, they are unnecessarily engaging in ‘long talks’, don’t be bothered by them.” In Brajabhasha they are lovara; referring to “those who engage in unnecessary long talks.” From the word lovara comes the name of the village, Levara. Akbarpur Adjacent to the village of Levara is Akbarpur where the cowherd boys would agitate Shri Krishna. Here Krishna complains to his mother about them. So the pastimes of Levara are related to those of Akbarpur. When Shri Krishna comes to his mother with these complaints, Mother Yashoda consoles him about the naughty cowherder long-winded talks. “They are lovaras,” she would say. Then she began to joke with Krishna asking him who he would accept as his best man. “Who will you take with you now?” Krishna makes his declaration, “I will take him and him, and, hmmnn, definitely not him or him!” Kanawari After this comes the village Kanawari. Kanawari comes from the word kanhawari: that is Krishna, Kanha and wari can also refer to the flower garden named after Shri Krishna, or alternatively it can mean “one who is sold out to Shri Krishna.” The gopis are so attracted to Krishna and are always talking about him. They have come to this very village to see the Lord. By being so mad for the Lord, the name Kanawari is derived from the word Kanha wari. Sattvas Then comes the village Sattvas. Sattvas is the place of Satyabhama. Satyabhama, in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is one of the Lord’s queens in the Dwaraka pastimes, but according to other scriptures Satyabhama was a part of the Braja pastimes also.The father of Satyabhama, Satrajit performed austerities to please the Sun god, Lord Surya Bhagavan, in the mood of sakhya-bhāva, i.e., as a friend. The Sungod became pleased with him and gave not only a jewel but his daughter Satyabhama. The marriage of Satyabhama and Lord Krishna took place here according to some scriptures and these local residents of Braja. The exact tree under which wedding rituals took place is still here, separated by a pond of water according to the Brijwasis and local saints. This very tree can be seen to this day on the Kund. So Sattvas is the place of Satyabhama.
  2. Barsana, 2014.10.10 (VT): Places visited on Day 3: Gulab Sakhi Samadhi, Prema Sarorava, Sanket, Purnamasi Bhajan Gupha (Kutir), Uddhava Kyari, Nandagram, Tera Kadamba, Asheshvara Mahadeva Gulab Sakhi Samadhi The party left from Barsana progressing towards Nandagaon. On the left off the main road is Gulab Sakhi’s chabutara or raised platform, which is his samādhi. Gulab Sakhi was a Muslim and a great devotee of Radharani. Once he was sitting beneath the tree behind the Shriji mandir when a temple pujari asked him, “What are you doing here?” Gulabji said, “I have the seva of offering pan to Thakurani.” The pujari asked, “What is the proof?” Gulabji opened his hand and said, “Well, here is the pan that you just offered to Shriji.” The pujari was astounded and could understand that this devotee is very dear to Radharani. Prema Sarovar Next we came to Prema Sarovar. This lake manifested from the tears of Shriji in her complete mahā-bhāva relation with the Lord. This is such a beautiful kund with many steps where the pilgrims can take darshan and snana. Here Thakurji was placed on a table and bhoga was offered. Nrisingha Baba led another rasiya kirtan. Sanket Vana Sanket Vana, came after this. The word sanket refers to signs, through various hidden indications the Divine Couple would come and rendezvous here. This place was the field of their early loving exchanges. One time Krishna said, “Oh you are a very beautiful girl, where are you from? Where is your father and mother? I have never seen you before? I am none other than Nanda-nandan.” Radharani asked, “Are you the same fellow who is always stealing the butter?” Then Krishna becomes embarrassed and felt that on the first meeting this was not an impressive start. He replied, “What it may be , but don’t worry I will not steal any thing from you. Why don’t you just play with me?” Surdas wrote this conversation in his poetry. Also Gopal Batta Goswami’s samadhi is located here. Here Sanket Bihari, the presiding deity which was returned just a few days ago after being abducted one year previously. Such a beautifully deity carved from fine hard stone is nearly impossible to make in these modern times. Uddhava Kyari Then we arrived at Uddhava Kyari, where Uddhava met with the gopis, he was sent by Krishna to give a message and here he witnessed the exalted stature of their love for Krishna. Uddhava was a great jñāni pandit, a disciple of Bṛhaspati, the guru of the demigods, however before the gopis he felt ever so unqualified in his relation with the Lord. Here he spoke his verses glorifying the gopis. He told the gopis, “Krishna is the Supreme Soul and you are the part and parcel souls, so there can no be any separation between you and the Lord. Just meditate on him and you will feel his presence.” But the gopis replied, “You say to meditate on him but we are trying to pull him out from our minds!” They are always remembering him because they do not have anything else but him. Nandagaon From there the long line of pilgrims could easily see Nandagram manifesting in the distance, a mount that has the main white temple on top. Nandagram is the home of Shri Krishna. Krishna would cow graze his cows here and have pastimes with his cowherd boy friends. Many other pastimes took place here. The mountain of Nandagram is known as Nandishwar, the head of Lord Shiva. One time Śaṅkara came to take darshan and he was wearing matted locks, skulls, and snakes on his body. Yashoda Mayi was thinking that if my little boy sees this form with its extraordinary dress and ornaments he will be frightened. So she asked Shiva to stay some distance away. Shiva was saddened and stayed at a distance came here and sat here and hoped that one day he could get the darshan of the Lord, from which he gets the name Asheshwar (“one who sits with hope”). In this mood, Mahadeva and began to play his damaru, his drum with a ball. Krishna knew he was there playing and he started to cry. Yashoda Ma wondered why her Lala was crying and the other gopis asked her, “Did you sent a guest away? Perhaps he has done some black magic?” Yashoda told them, “Oh, one baba came to see Krishna and I did not allow him to enter because he looked so strange. After he left my Lala began to cry.” Then the gopis said, “Oh then you had better go quickly and call that baba back. He must be the reason behind all this crying.” Mother Yashoda order them, “Jao jao! Go get him!” The gopis looked for him, and found Shiva with his eyes closed in meditation on Krishna. The gopis asked Mahadeva, “Hey sadhu, are you sleeping? Mother wants you to come and solve a problem with Krishna.” Shiva said, “What does she want of me? She has already told me to go away.” The gopis replied, “Don’t worry just come.” When he arrived, Yashoda explained the condition of the child and Lord Shiva said, “I am expert in the healing arts.” When Krishna saw Shiva, he became silent. Then both Lords were satisfied Lord Shiva with mantras and put some ashes in his navel and asked the gopis to lift the child and place the lotus feet of the Lord on his head. Yashoda then begged Lord Shiva to always reside in Nandagram. Lord Shiva’s prayers had been answered. This is the pastime behind Lord Shiva taking the form of Nandishwar mountain in Nandagram. Ter Kadamba We walked by the pandal setup to Ter Kadamba.After cow grazing, Krishna climbed the kadamba tree and called the cows to return to their home. Here Krishna and Balaram would play with the sakhas, cowherd boys. This place was also Rupa Goswami’s bhajan-sthali (place). He would perform his bhajan here. Once when Sanatan came to meet Rupa. While they were engaged in Hari katha, Rupa was thinking, “My elder brother is an elevated Vaishnava. How can I serve him?” He had nothing to give him. He himself used to only eat madhukari by begging from the local Brijvasis and had no possessions. At that time a beautiful little girl came with some milk products and rice, and said, “You make some kheer (sweet rice) with this, my mother sent this to you. You appear to be busy in sādhanas and discussion, so I can prepare this offering.” So while the two brothers were absorbed, she started to cook and completed it. “You can now offer to your Thakur, I am going.” and left. When Rupa offered the prasad to his brother, Sanatan, after tasting experienced aṣṭa-sāttvika bhāvas, ecstatic symptoms on his body. The Sanatan asked, “Where did you get this prasad?” Rupa replied what had happened and then Sanatan said, “No ordinary being can make such a preparation.” Rupa told him, “I was thinking how to give you some gift and then this girl just came to me.” Rupa described what she looked like and Sanatan, “Oh Radharani has come herself and served us. We have given some difficulty to her, we should be careful our of desires.” And he told Rupa never to accept Radharani’s servants, as we are all her servants. In the pandal program, Baba Shri mentions how Shri Radharani is much more merciful than Krishna. The milk goods supplied to Madhavendra Puri by Krishna cannot compare to the opulent kheer supplied to Rupa by Shrimati Radhika. As we have unlimited material desires, it is very difficult for us to understand this elevated mood of Sanatan, to never inconvenience the Supreme. Of course in this situation, is the nature of the Lord; the satisfaction in serving the selfless devotee.
  3. Day 2 Places visited: Shri Ji Mandir, Jaipur Mandir, Pili Pokhar, Brajeshwar, Padṛvan, Bhanukhar, Maheshwari Sar Barsana, 2013.10.08. At 5.00 a.m., at Maan Mandir, located on one of the well-known four heads of Brahmā, Brahmācal Mountain. This place is famous as a rasa-stali of Lord Shri Krishna and most notably the Maan lila of Radharani, Who enhances Krishna’s love for Her through jealous anger in love. The presiding deities here are Shri Shri Rādhā Maan Bhihari Lal, Who are the presiding deities on the Radharani Braja Yatra. The 220-strong group of small sannyasi children led the party to Shriji Mandir then walked along the ridge with the beautiful pre-dawn view of Barsana on both sides, first arriving at the Raja Mandir or Jaipur Mandir. These children reside at Maan Mandir who do daily sadhanas like like sannyasis, and another 120 girls who can probably quote shlokas better than most sannyasis! Ramesh Baba has personally trained these children, most of whom were born in Braja, to be future of the future of Braja. Some say it is the best Gurukula they have ever seen. This temple is most beautiful with high walls and Vedic architecture and was built by the King Jai Singh. Between the Jaipur and Shriji temples on Dan Garh is the place where the present deities became manifest. On the parikrama marg there is a small square cage that protects the spot where Radharani manifested from the ground, which is circumambulated by visiting pilgrims. In the courtyard of the Shriji temple, while waiting for the deity curtains to open, various kirtaniyas sang heart-warming bhajans while other devotees danced in the midst of the seated yatris. It was quite a sight to see the more enthusiastic dancers pull others up from the ground to join in the dancing. An increase in numbers is what creates a more festive atmosphere, a “presence in transcendence.” All the boys and girls stood to the back of Shriji Ji Mandir during the mangal arati ceremony of Shriji and Thakurji, all very well behaved and wearing clean saffron and yellow uniforms. From there, the party went down the steps towards Pili Pokhar, which is in Barsana and is also called Priya Kund. According to the Bhakti Ratnakar, Shriji used to pick fruits and flowers from the pilu tree here. ei pilu khora ethā pilu phala chhale|sakhī saha rāi kānu krīḍā kutūhale || This place is also called Priya Kund due to her rinsing her yellow hands after her marriage with Nandanandan. It is called Pili Pokhar, and place where bath turmeric of Radharani created an exotic golden color in the water, called piri ki. When Nandalal comes to play Holi from Nandagram, he rests here and later tightens His turban. Ahead he is welcomed in a place called Munh Midi (chandan on cheeks). This occasion is celebrated every year. The story of Radha and Krishna’s marriage is told in many Purāṇas, but many people ask whether this lila actually took place or not. There is some confirmation in the Bhāgavata where the word “wife” (vadhū) is mentioned three times in connection with Radharani. These references are found in the 30th chapter in the Rasa Lila. tais taiḥ padais tat-padavīm anvicchantyo’grato’balāḥ |vadhvāḥ padaiḥ supṛktāni vilokyārtāḥ samabruvan || The gopis were searching for Krishna by following his footprints when they saw those of his vadhū next to them. Then, being pained, they began to speak to one another. (10.30.26) imāny adhika-magnāni padāni vahato vadhūm [seeing] these marks more deeply imprinted he was carrying his vadhū (10.30.32) tataś cāntardadhe kṛṣṇaḥ sā vadhūr anvatapyata When Krishna disappeared, his vadhū began to suffer greatly. In the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa and Garga Saṁhitā as well as in other Purāṇas, descriptions of Radha and Krishna’s marriage can be found. But this is not accepted in all sampradayas. It is also named Priya Kund, because Shriji comes here. Nandalal arranges to come here and take a dip in this sarovar or lake. This is the kund in the song that Swami Haridasji sings about her bathing lila (Kelimāl 83). When Nandalal asks Lalitaji to be introduced to Shri Radha, she responds, “You are just a crazy village boy.” kahou yah kaki beti kaha dho kunvari kou naun/tum sab rahou ri hou hi utar deihoun,chale kin jahu dhouta bai bavarou gaun //sab sakhi mili cheeraka khelan lagin,tolou tum rahou ri joloun houn nhaun /shri haridas ke swami syama kunja bihari,lei budaki garei lagi chouki pari kahan houn jaun // Shriji is on her way to bathe in Vrishabhanu Sarovar when Nandalal comes from other side. Only Shriji can bathe in her father’s lake, so Nandalal understood that she was the daughter of Vrishabhanuji. Still he asks the sakhis, “Whose daughter is she? What is her name? She is coming with such pomp and grace.” Lalitaji hears his words and orders the other girls, “Don’t answer him. I alone shall speak with him, for only I know the proper way to deal with him!” She then said to Shyamasundar, “Only crazy people live in Nandagram. You are also crazy, so go back to your village. This is the home of our Swaminiji! Go back home!” Shyamasundar remained silent but thought, “She speaks very rudely. Now what should I reply? She speaks so rudely in answer to a single question. I dare not make another inquiry.” So, all the sakhis went back to playing. Now see the mercy and love of Radharani. She felt that they had acted unjustly to Shyamasundar. He was simply asking whose daughter she was and Lalita told him to go back to his crazy village. She did not think this was proper and so when they all started to play again, she told them, “You go on playing while I take my bath.” Shriji left them and went alone in order that Shyamasundar could get a chance to meet her on the other side. So that is how Thakurji got the answer to his questions. Shriji is so lovely and kind, as she dipped in the water, Shyamasundar then embraced her as she stood in the water. She was shocked. It is a very beautiful lila. The biggest festival of Pili Pokhar is when the people of Nandagram come to play holi on Rangili. First they stop there in the kund. When Nandalal comes to play holi, he first tightens his turban and carries his shield for protection as people welcome him. Here at Pili Pokhar, Naradaji came to see the childhood lila of Lali Radhika. Here Naradaji gave pleasure to Shriji and her sakhis by playing his vina. He then begged alms of them and did their parikrama. Shri Radhika, a most benevolent child, gave him many sweets, which she had in her hands. Due to her compassion he rolled in the dust, experiencing such a bhava on achieving her blessing. Child Shriji ran away from there with all the female children just like a group of deer running together, on their way home. At Brajeshwar Maharaj Vrishabhanu worshiped the Shiva linga with various offerings. At Padrivan Shriji collected flowers for making sanjhi, which is worshipped daily for 15 days. At Bhanukhar Vrishabhanu took his snana there at the time of the wedding ceremony. At Maheshwari Sar, Shivaji wanted to become a gopi so Parvati dressed him up as one, and because he was in a male form, dressed as a woman, she made mimicking expressions making fun of him, thinking that he looked so funny. On the next day we are off to Nandagaon.
  4. Barsana, 2014.10.06 (VT): Today was the beginning of our 40-day yatra. After the yātrā-śubhārambha-pūjā (the auspicious ritual to bless the parikrama) at Maan Mandir, Shri Ramesh Babaji Maharaj, placed the Lordships on his head with great emotion. The saṅkalpa and worship of little Radharani was performed at the Mataji Goshala amidst a packed crowd of 10,000 pilgrims. Then we walked through the village of Ranga Sakhi, the 8th of the aṣṭa-sakhīs intimate girlfriends of Shri Shri Radha and Krishna, en route to Ratna Kund. Because Vrishabhanuji was in great anxiety on seeing the beautiful jewels and diamonds sent by Nanda Baba as a dowry before the marriage, Shri Radha planted jewels in the ground that grew into small bushes with even larger more beautiful jewels, diamonds and pearls, to present to Vrishabhanuji in order to outdo Nanda Baba’s gift. This then became Ratna Kund. Naubari Chaubari palace was on the way. Here is where little Radha would play with dolls in her childhood. Then we came to Maan Mandir, where the famous māna-līlā pastimes took place, due to Krishna’s antics, Radharani becomes angered and very difficult to appease. Of course this is Her way of enhancing the sweetness of their relation. The gopis were exasperated in running up and down this hill to appease both parties, with Krishna beckoning at the bottom, waiting for Shriji to lose Her anger…which in time would always happen. The next famous place is Dan Garh, where Thakurji would cruelly tax the gopis for their milk products and feast on large amounts of makhan (butter) especially in the passage that is known as Sankari Khor, the ravine like path the gopis would use to bring their wares from Chiksoli to Barsana township. Many pranks, like breaking butter pots were performed by the gopas to unfairly steal from the gopis. However, the tables turned when in time the gopis themselves, with superior power in the Choti līlā, were able to arrest and tie the chotis (the tuft of hair also called sikha) of the gopas and bring them into submission. Then we went and paid respects to Mor Kuti. kirīṭine namas tubhyaṁ mayūra-priya-vallabha |suramyāyai mahā-kuṭyai śikhaṇḍi-pada-veśmane || O you who are dear to the mor (peacock)! I offer my obeisance to you who wear the peacock feathered crown! I bow down to the great beautiful cottage of the peacocks, the abode of the dancing mor. (Vraja-bhakti-vilāsa 4.58) Mor Kuti is above Dan Garh. Here many līlās have been performed. One is where Radha and Krishna both danced there in form of peacocks. Here Krishna became a peacock in order to attract Radha. When Shriji was observing this peacock, she said, “O my dear peacock, also dance like this.” Krishna had to abandon his peacock form and reveal his true identity as Radha’s dear one. This made Radha laugh and thus they came together and both performed a peacock dance together. Another līlā is that the peacocks of Gahvarvan always come there. Shriji said to someone, “This one is my peacock,” and Thakurji picks another peacock and says that, “That one is mine.” Then they both make wagers on whose peacock will dance better than the other. Shriji inspires her peacock to dance, and Thakurji causes his peacock to dance. Thus many līlās were performed in this way. This is the Rasa-sthali at Mor Kuti. This is the Rāsa Maṇḍala; the pure festival ground and fortune of Braja. Here līlās related to the peacock have been performed, like dances in imitation, and varieties of peacock dancing. namaḥ sakhī-sametāya rādhā-kṛṣṇāya te namaḥ |vimalotsava-devāya vraja-maṅgala-hetave || We pay our obeisances to Radha and Krishna along with their sakhis, who are the divinity of the purest festive pastimes, the source of all auspiciousness for Braj. (Vraja-bhakti-vilāsa 4.59) At Bihar Kund Lord Shiva had a desire to become a gopi, for no male can enter Lord Krishna mahā-rāsa pastimes; here Parvati performed a shringara seva of Shiva, dressing him up as a gopi.
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