Destination: Vrindavan, the holy pilgrimage for Hindus- A Dham! by Sonal Kulshrestha
Vrindavan- the place where Krishna grew up, is about 10 km from Mathura. The town, in Mathura district, is known for its Temples of Krishna, the most popular one being the Banke Bihari Temple (built in 1862, it's said)- one of the oldest shrines at Vrindavan. It's a place where you go to 'find' Krishna. The story goes that once a devotee stared so intensely at Lord Krishna there that Krishna followed him home, touched by his devotion. So the curtain at the Banke Bihari Temple is constantly pulled shut to break the gaze of the devotees. That is something really uinique about the Banke Bihari Temple of Lord Krishna. The story lured us to Mathura over a decade ago during one of our visits to India when my mother-in-law introduced me to Banke Bihari. Since then, I have harbored a special attachment for Him. So this summer, during our visit to India, our whole family rented a van (an 18 seat-er) and off we headed to visit two shrines- #1 Banke Bihari Temple in Mathura and #2 the Taj Mahal in Agra (that's another story).
How to get there-
If you have never seen the Taj Mahal in Agra, it's a good idea to take a road trip to the monument that symbolizes eternal love, and make a couple hours stop at Vrindavan. Note that Vrindavan will be on your way to Agra only if you take the highway from Gurgaon, a Delhi suburb for all practical purpose but technically falls in Haryana state. If you take the very convenient express highway to Agra from Greater Noida (again, practically a Delhi suburb, but technically falls in U.P state) then you'll by-pass Vrindavan. It took us about 2 hours to reach Vrindavan from Gurgaon. We spent about 2 hours there and we reached Agra in another two and half hours. We reached there around 8 pm and were mesmerized by the almost casino style lights in some of the temples there. The town was buzzing with activity- you could feel the devotion everywhere in the whole lane of temples one after the other, including the Iskcon temple.
While there-Take the car as far as cars can go, then you can take a rickshaw. The rickshaw puller will charge you about Rs. 10 per person and wade through really narrow alleyways before dropping you fairly close to the temple entrance. Buy a pooja thali at the entrance, go in and immerse yourself in the magic of devotion for there's something certainly very mystical about staring at Lord Krishna there- in between the curtains opening and shutting.
Must-eat there- Right in the alley that leads up to the temple, you get the BEST ALOO TIKKI you would ever have eaten- I kid not! So on your way back, be sure to totally devour that. Of course, we always skip all the chutneys and the accessories for the aloo tikki chat to avoid the consequences that we'll surely suffer caused as a result of our weakened immune system that years of living in America causes. But don't worry- the naked tikki is just as yummy- the yummiest ever! Even the kids loved it!
Really interesting facts:
All the current priests at Banke Bihari Temple have inherited the priesthood position there from their fathers and fore-fathers. Their hours of duty there gets divided amongst their sons and that passes on from one generation to another. And so it happens that the priests there may have as less as an hour of duty at the temple, so they often have another job too.
The attire of Radha and Krishna at the temple is changed almost every hour due to the number of offerings made, some of the saris being as expensive as Rs 60,000.
Millions of Radha-Krishna devotees visit Vrindavan each year.
There are numerous interesting stories relating to how the temple came into being and others relating to Krishna and devotion to Him. Read up on those. My in-laws told us several of those stories on our way there, as a result, the kids showed great devotion in doing the 'darshan' once there.
So remember, as to start to plan your next India trip, to visit Vrindavan and check off this 'dham'.