Sri Dhama Vraja Mandala Parikrama – A Neophyte’s Realizations
by Aja Govinda das
I am completely unqualified to glorify Sri Dhama Vrndavana, the transcendental abode of the Lord. I have only experienced the Parikrama once, whereas so many of you devotees have experienced the Parikrama many more times than me. Therefore, I pray to my Guru Maharaja H.H Hanumatpresaka Swami, all the Vaisnavas, and especially H.H. Lokanath Swami who has inspired me to describe my experience of Vraja Mandala Parikrama.
How can I explain the glories of Vraja Mandala Parikrama? It is a transcendental expedition, a month-long journey not just through different villages and towns of Mathura District but also a journey on the path of clearing the garbage of anarthas filled in our hearts. How is it that the Parikrama clears our garbage of anarthas? Certainly seeing, staying, and touching the Dhama purifies us, but I also experienced practically how Srimati Radharani, the Queen of Vrndavana, personally forces devotees to pull out their deep-rooted weeds of material enjoyment.
I was walking one day after breakfast prasadam, and my rascal mind was complaining about the simple food and the long walk in the hot sun. As I was thinking like this foolishly, immediately a stick with a 1 inch long thorn stuck to my slippers. The thorn pierced through my slippers and into my foot. Then and there it occurred to me how foolish I was to meditate on my own sense gratification. Mercifully, Radharani had reminded me with the thorn that this Vraja Mandala Parikrama was not for my own sense enjoyment but for the performance of austerities to please the Lord.
Prabhodananda Sarasvati teaches us in his Sri Vrndavana-Mahimamrta that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is distributing love of Godhead freely to anyone and everyone without consideration of qualifications, but we are so foolish that instead of aspiring for that love of Godhead, we are engaged in sense gratification. That thorn was actually Radharani’s merciful reminder to me that I have not come to Vraja to enjoy but to perform austerities for the satisfaction of the Lord.
After my completing B-Tech in Electrical Engineering, my mother strongly wished that our whole family perform the Vraja Mandala Parikrama during the most auspicious month of Kartika, Sri Damodara’s own month. Any austerities performed in Kartika have a result thousand times over, and what to speak of while living in Vrndavana — the results are inconceivable. But my mother warned me beforehand, “If you simply desire material gain or profit as the result of your Parikrama, then you will cheat yourself and miss the topmost gain, love of Godhead or Krsna-prema. If you do not meditate on the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord while on the Parikrama, then your experience will be that of a crow’s bathing in holy reservoirs.” My mother’s words rang in my ears when the thorn pierced my foot. As is stated in the Srimad-bhagavatam,
yasyatma buddhi kunape tridhatuke
yat tirtha buddhir salilena karhicit
janesu abhijnesu sa eva gokhara
Translation: Those persons who consider themselves to be this body made of three elements (mucus, bile, and air), who are too attached to wife, children, home, etc., and who visit the holy places only to bathe in the holy waters like crows without listening to or associating with the saints that purify the holy places, are considered to be just like unintelligent cows and asses.
Whenever H.H. Lokanath Swami would come and lecture, Maharaja would always emphasize on how rare an opportunity it was to come to the exact ‘lila sthalis’ of the Lord’s eternal pastimes. He would ask us to take advantage of such a rare opportunity and meditate on the pastimes of the Lord and cultivate a mood of separation from Vrndavana. As we pray to Srimati Tulasi Devi:
mora ei abhilasa, vilasa kunje diyo vasa
nayana heribo sada, yugala rupa rasi
“O Tulasi Devi, my desire is that you grant me a residence in the pleasure groves of Sri Vrndavana Dhama. Thus within my vision I will always behold the beautiful pastimes of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna.”
Also I learned from the thorn-piercing incident that you cannot escape purification in the land of Srimati Radharani. I was thinking that with slippers I would remain aloof from thorns, but Sri Dhama Vraja-bhumi has long iron-hard thorns that pierce through your slippers or shoes into your foot. I experienced on the Vraja Mandala Parikrama, that if your thoughts are impure, either Srimati Radharani will send you out of Vraja, or if you are sincere, She will clear your anarthas with thorns, stones or diseases.
During Sri Vraja Mandala Parikrama, we all realized how less you need to live and how a simple life is much more free of anxieties and bondages. Today all over the world, people are losing their traditions and running after the culture of the West, a culture of consumerism — “Buy this and you will be happy or buy that and you will be happy.” Television advertisements simply increase people’s artificial desires. People loose all peace hankering to buy one item and after being frustrated with that item, they seek satisfaction with other items. Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita:
na socati na kanksati
samah sarvesu bhutesu
mad bhaktim labhate param
Translation: The liberated soul situated in Brahman is completely satiated, and as such he neither laments nor desires, and he is equal to all living entities. Such a liberated soul attains to the platform of pure devotional service unto Me.
Modern city life is only filled with hankering and lamentation. On the other hand, the life of the village is much simpler and stress-free, and this life we experienced for one whole month in the land of Sri Dhama Vraja-Bhumi. Originally, going into the fields with biting mosquitoes and disturbing flies and bathing in the early cold mornings seemed too difficult. But over time I realized how this Parikrama was training me just like a soldier in the movement of Srila Prabhupada. As my Guru Maharaja, H.H. Hanumatpresaka Swami, told me, “The devotee who has completed the Vraja Mandala Parikrama can bear the most uncomfortable situation and perform any austerities to spread the movement of Lord Caitanya all over the world.”
Sometimes we felt that the austerities of the Parikrama were too difficult, but we soon realized the immense gain we achieved from this experience. Bathing in the freezing cold mornings and walking during the hot sunny afternoons made all us Parikrama bhaktas strong, just like the metallurgical process of annealing (heating) and cooling hardens and strengthens a metal. I also realized again and again that I was only able to continue on the Parikrama due to the mercy of Srimati Radharani, not due to my limited and failing bodily strength. My Guruji told me that one strong Russian Mataji had come to a prior Parikrama and was confident and proud of her strength, but the second day a thorn cut her foot and she limped the whole day.
In the Parikrama we need to humbly take shelter of the lotus feet of Sri Radha and all our problems will be solved. I personally was sick with a sore throat and fever during the whole first week of the Parikrama. I could not even imagine how I could survive a midnight bath in Radha-kunda on the holy night of Bahulastami. But my father forced me to take a dip, and by the mercy of Radharani, my sore throat and fever was completely cured the next morning, and after that I never suffered any fever or sore throat throughout the rest of the Parikrama. Such is the potency of Srimati Radharani. Only with Her permission can we enter and stay in Vraja-bhumi. We cannot enter Vrndavana simply with a bus, car or train ride.
City people may be proud of their computers, cars, and extravaganza. But they miss out on the simple and blissful life of Vrndavana. The refreshing waters of the Yamuna that I swam across from bank to bank with a group of devotees, the shining sand of Ramana-reti where devotees jumped, danced, and rolled in during an ecstatic kirtan, the sound of many mrdanga drums echoing in the temples of Vraja, the kathas of H.H. Lokanath Swami, H.H. Radha Raman Swami and H.H. Hanumatpresaka Swami at the exact spots where the Lord performed His pastimes, the bajra and missi rotis filled with the love of Brijvasi mothers can only be obtained and experienced in this holy land of Vraja. The Vraja Mandala Parikrama opened my eyes and revealed to me how much more there is to Vraja-bhumi then what I had experienced in prior visits to Vrndavana. I wish to share with you a poem.
Hereby I share my experience of Vraja Mandala Parikrama. We journeyed through that holy land replete with Tulasi’s aroma. Traveling through the transcendental Cintamani Dhama of Sri Vrndavana, we enjoyed a whole month of participating in Krsna’s pastimes and fun.
Daily we visited the Lord’s lila-sthalis and Gosvamis’ bhajan-kutirs, where the Lord performed intimate pastimes with His dearest devotees. While drinking the nectar of harinam-sankirtan and krsna-katha with our ears, an opportunity rare even for yogis who meditate for thousands of years.
Due to our heart’s contamination we are plunged over and over into material grief and mourn. Sometimes while on Parikrama our feet would be pierced by many-a-thorn, which were hidden under soft sand like our heart’s deep-rooted anarthas and unwanted desires. To clear away these thorn-like anarthas, the Vraja Mandala Parikrama inspires.
Sages of the past performed austerities amidst fire during heat and underwater during cold to meet the Lord of their hearts. Similarly, we strode through the hot sun overhead and hot sand burning our feet. It is just like the iron rod becomes firelike when put into the fire. For becoming pure like Krsna, the Vraja Mandala Parikrama offers the purification we require.
An important lesson I have learned from the Vraja Mandala Parikrama: How less you need to live and how simplicity is the way to stay away from Maya’s illusory dance and drama. At last I offer prostrated obeisances to he who revealed Vrndavana to us all, Srila Prabhupada, our Founder-acarya. By his mercy we may obtain the shelter of the Gosvamis, the gopis, and Sri Sri Radha Krsna.
I pray for forgiveness as I am inadequate to describe the transcendental abode of the Lord. It was only due to the loving protection and guidance of my parents (Sri Hari Prabhu and Shyamasakhi Mataji) that I was able to complete the Parikrama. I thank H.H. Lokanath Swami, H.H. Radha Ramana Swami, H.H. Hanumatpresaka Swami, Bhadra Prabhu, and all other management devotees who are carrying on the mission of the six Gosvamis by visiting and maintaining (through fundraising and donations) the many temples and pastime places of the Lord in Sri Dhama Vraja-bhumi. May the six Gosvamis shower us with a drop from the ocean of the mellows of Vrndavana in which they constantly swim so we may also hanker to touch the dust (renu), bow to the cows (dhenu), and listen to the flute (venu) of Vrajendra-nandana Vrndavana-bihari Syamasundara.
Aja Govinda das