Sri Vrindadevi Sevamrita
Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead , is the proprietor of all material and spiritual universes, wherein His countless expansions reside. In His original two-handed form He is known as Syamasundara and resides in the whorl of the lotus-shaped spiritual planet Goloka Vrndavana, where every word is a song and every step is a dance. This extraordinary place is made entirely of touchstone, and everything there — the land, the water, the trees, the grains of sand even — is fully conscious and full of bliss. Surrounded by millions of desire trees and goddesses of fortune, Sri Krsna plays on His flute all over the Vrndavana forest, His eyes blooming like lotus petals, His head bedecked with a peacock feather. His delightful complexion, tinged with the hue of dark monsoon clouds, charms millions of Cupids. Sri Krsna’s favorite occupations include tending His transcendental cows in the company of His boyfriends and engaging in a variety of loving pastimes with his parents and cowherd girlfriends.
On this earth, the place known as Vrndavana in the district of Mathura, ninety miles southeast of Delhi, is a replica of that supreme Goloka Vrndavana in the spiritual sky. In all of India, that eighty-four-square-mile tract of land is considered to be the most sacred place of pilgrimage because Krsna sported in it, and many devotees still linger there in ecstasy in search of Krsna and His childhood associates. Srila Prabhupada has explained that “It is not that such devotees meet Krsna face to face in that tract of land, but a devotee’s eagerly searching after Krsna is as good as his seeing Him personally. How this is so cannot be explained, but it is factually realized by those who are pure devotees of the Lord.” Because Krsna, His name, form, pastimes and remembrance are all on the absolute plane, to search for Him at Vrndavana in pure God consciousness gives more pleasure to the devotee than seeing Him face to face. ” The Brahma-samhita (5.38) confirms that those devotees whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love always see the eternal form of Syamasundara within their hearts.
Quoting Prahlada Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada advises that “If one is seeking peace of mind he should free himself from all contamination of family life and take shelter of the Supreme Godhead by going to the forest. To the Gaudiya Vaisnava,” Prabhupada explains, “this forest is the forest of Vrnda, or Vrndavana. If one takes shelter of Vrndavana under Vrndavanesvari, Srimati Radharani, certainly all the problems of his life are solved very easily.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.8.24 Purport)
How to take shelter of Krsna in Vrndavana has been demonstrated by Srimati Radharani Herself, and the Garga-samhita has recorded the story for our edification.
One time, desiring to know what kind of worship would please Krsna, Srimati Radhika approached Her friend Candranana, the best of the knowers of religion. After reflecting for a moment, Candranana informed Srimati Radhika that Lord Krsna’s association could be achieved through serving Tulasi in nine ways: gazing at her, touching her, remembering her, glorifying her, bowing down before her, offering prayers to her, planting her, watering her and worshiping her. The astounding results of serving Tulasi in such ways include guaranteed residence in Lord Krsna’s transcendental abode for as many ancestors and descendents as there are branches, sub-branches, seeds, flowers and leaves on the Tulasi a person has planted. Candranana also informed Srimati Radhika that by offering Lord Krsna a single Tulasi leaf, one attains the result of offering Him every flower and leaf that exists and that a person who worships Krsna with offerings of Tulasi leaves is not touched by sin. Candranana further said that Yamaraja’s servants will never enter a home in the midst of a Tulasi forest.
Another name of Tulasi is Vrndadevi (one who awards residence in Vrndavana). Being himself an eternal resident of Vrndavana, Srila Prabhupada naturally wanted his followers to gain entrance into Vrndavana, and therefore he introduced the worship of Tulasi Devi in ISKCON. Every morning, all over the world, ISKCON devotees gather around Tulasi Devi at 5 a.m. and sing the following prayers:
priyayai kesavasya ca
satyavatyai namo namah
I offer my repeated obeisances unto Vrnda, Srimati Tulasi devi, who is very dear to Lord Kesava. O goddess, you bestow devotional service to Lord Krsna and possess the highest truth.
namo namah tulasi krsna-preyasi
radha-krsna-seva pabo ei abhilasi
Oh Tulasi, beloved of Krsna, I bow before you again and again. My desire is to obtain the service of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna.
je tomara sarana loy, tara vanca purna hoy
krpa kori koro tare vrndavana-vasi
Whoever takes shelter of you has his wishes fulfilled. Bestowing your mercy on him, you make him a resident of Vrndavana.
mor ei abhilas, bilas kunje dio vas
nayane heribo sada jugala-rupa-rasi
My desire is that you will also grant me a residence in the pleasure groves of Sri Vrndavana-dhama. Thus, within my vision I will always behold the beautiful pastimes of Radha and Krsna.
ei nivedana dharo, sakhir anugata koro
seva-adhikara diye koro nija dasi
I beg you to make me a follower of the cowherd damsels of Vraja. Please give me the privilege of devotional service and make me your own maidservant.
dina krsna-dase koy, ei jena mora hoy
sri-radha-govinda-preme sada jena bhasi
This very fallen and lowly servant of Krsna prays, “May I always swim in the love of Sri Radha and Govinda.”
All the famous acaryas in our disciplic succession emphasize the importance of worshiping Tulasi. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the spiritual master of our Srila Prabhupada, commented that “Srimati Tulasi Maharani is our spiritual master. She is the queen of Sri Vrndavana Dhama. It is only by her mercy that one can be qualified to enter in Sri Vrndavana Dhama. We wear Tulasi Maharani around our neck, knowing that she is very dear to Lord Krsna. By our allegiance to her, we chant the name of Lord Hari.”
In his poem titled Sri Sankalpa-kalpadruma, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has prayed:
vrnde tayo rasikayor ati-saubhagena
adhyasi tat kuru krpam ganana yathaiva
sri-radhika-parijanesu mamapi siddhet
O Vrndadevi, O protectress of the moving and non-moving living entities in Vrndavana, you are wealthy in the mercy of the divine couple who enjoy pastimes in Vraja. Please be merciful to me. Please place me among Sri Radha’s associates.
he sri-tulasy uru-krpa-dyu-tarangini tvam
yan murdhni me carana-pankajam adadhasvam
yac caham apy apibam ambu manak tadiyam
tan me manasy udayam eti manoratho’yam
O Srimati Tulasi Devi, O celestial Ganges river of mercy, it is because I once placed my head at your lotus feet and drank some drops of water that washed your lotus feet, that these desires have risen in my heart.
kvaham parah sata-nikrty-anuviddha-cetah
sankalpa esa sahasa kva su-durlabhe’rthe
eka krpaiva tava mam ajahaty upadhi-
sunyeva mantum adadhaty agater gatir me
O Srimati Tulasi Devi, how low I am, my heart pierced by hundreds of offenses! How exalted and difficult to attain is my aspiration! Your causeless mercy is my only hope. It is by Your mercy that I, who am so fallen, can have these desires my thoughts.
The Caitanya Bhagavata states that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s disciples would keep a Tulasi tree beside Him. The Lord would sit, taking darsana of Srimati Tulasi Maharani, and chant His prescribed number of rounds. “Just as a fish cannot live when taken out of water, so I cannot remain alive in separation of Tulasi Maharani,” Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to say.
In his Sri Sri Radha-Krsna-Ganoddesa-Dipika, Srila Rupa Gosvami describes Vrndadevi as the best of Krsna’s gopi messengers. The gopi messengers expertly know the geography of Vrndavana, and they intimately know each grove and garden there. They are also learned in the science of gardening.
All the gopi messengers are filled with great love for Sri Sri Radha and Krsna, but among them, Vrndadevi is the best. She has a beautiful complexion, like molten gold, wears blue garments, and is decorated with pearls and flowers. Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswami has explained in Vraja Vilasa Stava that “Vrndadevi is the transcendental orchestrator of Radha-Krsna’s pastimes. She decorates the pastime groves and creates a festive atmosphere to enhance the divine couple’s pleasure.” She is expert at arranging the meeting of Radha and Krsna, and she knows the best places for the Divine Couple’s rendezvous. Flowers, creepers, vines and trees are under her supervision, and all the birds and animals in Vrndavana carry out her orders. Her chief disciple, the yellow parrot Daksa, resides upon her left hand. From there he sends the other one hundred thousand parrot disciples flying all over Vraja to deliver Vrndadevi’s messages or warnings of unforeseen events.
Nandagrama, the eternal residence of Nanda Maharaja, is built on Nandisvara Hill. Vrndadevi’s place, Vrnda-kunda, is at the foot of Nandisvara Hill, near Pavana Sarovara, where Srimati Radharani comes every morning to cook Krsna’s breakfast. Meanwhile, Krsna and Balarama milk the cows, and Paurnamasi, the guru of Vraja, meets Vrndadevi at her place to plan the divine couple’s pleasure pastimes for that day. For each of the eightfold daily pastimes of Radha and Krsna, Vrndadevi makes elaborate arrangements for an appropriate forest spot and specific trees, creepers, fruits, flowers, birds and other animals. She personally selects the various color combinations, fragrances, songs and musical instruments to be offered for the pleasure of Radha and Krsna; and she decides who, among the unlimited number of gopis and manjaris, will assist Lalita and Visakha offer sandalwood pulp, serve refreshments, play musical instruments, fan the Divine Couple with camaras, and offer pan, betel nuts and spices on a jeweled tray. Every single detail of each and every one of Radha and Krsna’s eightfold daily pastimes — which peacocks will dance, which bumble bees will hum, which parrots and kokilas will sing, which breezes will blow — is engineered by Vrndadevi.
After Krsna and Balarama finish Their morning meal, They go to to the forests of Vrndavana to tend Their cows with Their cowherd boyfriends, while Srimati Radharani and Her associates walk back to Her home in Yavat. On the way, Srimati Radhika stops at Vrnda-kunda and secretly meets Krsna there, at the spot named Gupta-kunda. (Gupta means secret.) Since Gupta-kunda is the first daily meeting place of Radha and Krsna, the residents of Vrndavana refer to that place as a “Yoga-pitha,” or a center of eternal pastimes.
From dawn to sunrise, Vrndadevi lovingly engages in the service of the Divine Couple. It is she who prepares Their bed of flowers at night, she who wakes Them up and sends Them to Their respective homes before sunrise. Her love for Them is unlimited.
Another famous and respected gopi messenger in Vraja is Vira-devi. She can be very bold and arrogant, but she can also speak sweet and flattering words, as Vrndadevi does. Her complexion is dark and she wears splendid white garments and various jewels and flower garlands. Vira-devi resides at the corner of Gupta-kunda behind Vrnda-kunda. By the mercy of her follower Sri Madhava dasa Baba, Vrnda-kunda and Gupta-kunda were rediscovered less than fifty years ago and subsequently handed over to the care of ISKCON.
Some five thousand years ago, after Krsna and His associates wound up Their earthly pastimes, the Lord’s great-grandson, Vajranabha Maharaja, installed Deities of Krsna all over Vraja. At Vrnda-kunda also, Deities were installed. Later, unfortunately, They were disfigured by Muslim invaders and for some time They disappeared from human sight. Today, although They are no longer worshiped in the temple, They are still giving darsana in a small kutir by the side of the main temple, under an old chokara tree.
“Time I am,” Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, “the destroyer of the worlds.” As days, weeks, months, years and centuries succeed one another, civilizations rise and fall and the surface of the earth changes. By the time Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared on earth in 1489, all the places of Lord Krsna’s childhood pastimes were deeply buried under the jungles covering the land of Vraja. Therefore, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Srila Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis to excavate the lost places of pilgrimage in Vraja, which they did. Lord Caitanya Himself visited the fifty-six kundas surrounding Nandagaon, including Vrnda-kunda and Gupta-kunda. Then, some time between the Muslim invasions and the turn of the twentieth century ,Vrnda-kunda again disappeared from human sight.
Around 1920, the great Vaisnava scholar and saint Baba Madhava dasa was born in a highly elevated brahmana family. A resident of Vraja Dhama for over fifty years, he spent his entire life as a sadhu. He also acted as a fiery reform leader. Responsible for the protection of many holy sites of Krsna-lila, he saved Pavana Sarovara from being drained by land developers. Baba Madhava also rescued Kalavata Hill, which bears the sacred footprints of Lord Krsna, and eleven other sacred hills in Vraja from the blind greed of land developers and road builders. (Government officials, unaware of the spiritual significance of these sites, were auctioning them to road builders to be chopped up as raw materials.) Baba Madhava dasa also preserved the sanctity of the Govardhana parikrama path by successfully opposing, on behalf of many sadhus in the area, a proposed railway line that would have bisected the Govardhana parikrama path.
To beautify the land of Vraja, Baba Madhava dasa regularly got wealthy Vaisnavas to donate many hundreds of fruit, flower and sandal trees, which he would then arrange to be planted in various holy places, such as the beautiful gardens of Radha Bagh and Krsna Bagh in Varsana. Vrnda-kunda, however, is the crown jewel of his lifetime of service to the holy Dhama.
After securing the property, Madhava Baba managed to get a Government grant to help him excavate the two sacred ponds Vrnda-kunda and Gupta -kunda. Schoolboys from the Kishori Raman Degree College and a lady from Agra also helped. He then built a small temple and installed a Deity of Vrndadevi on Jahnava Mata’s Appearance Day in the early 1980s.
The old mutilated sculpture under the chokara tree had been worshiped as Vrndadevi for a very long time before Baba Madhava’s arrival. According to the villagers, some thieves had come fifty years before, stolen the sculpture and stored it near Charan Pahari, along with some other stolen sculptures. But when they brought a small truck to carry them away one night, even six or seven of them together could not lift the sculpture of Vrndadevi. So they left it there. In the morning one villager saw the murti lying by the side of the hill and carried it back to Vrnda-kunda.
Baba Madhava dasa had many plans to develop Vrnda-kunda: a surrounding compound wall, a small asrama for sadhus, a larger, more beautiful temple for Vrndadevi, and lush gardens.
The time factor, which imperceptibly devours the duration of life of all living beings, has no grip on Vaisnavas, because Vaisnavas are directly under the protection of their beloved Lord and their service to Him is not limited by time and space. Externally, however, Baba Madhava dasa appeared to become sick, first with pleurisy, then cancer, and for almost a year he lived at the TB hospital. Knowing he would soon leave his body, he approached various babajis to take over the service of Vrndadevi. By the Lord’s divine arrangement they all replied, “No men. No money.” Although some of them later changed their mind, Baba Madhava understood that His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who had introduced the worship of Tulasi Devi all over the world, was the natural guardian of Vrndadevi’s interests, and thus he entrusted both the worship of Vrndadevi and the development of the property to the devotees of ISKCON in 1989.
Surrounded by ISKCON devotees, Baba Madhava dasa left his mortal frame on March 27, 1990 at the Krsna-Balarama Mandir in Vrndavana. Gazing at the beautiful painting of Vrndadevi made by Govinda dasi (the first ISKCON devotee to grow Tulasi devi), his face shining with remarkable radiance, he ecstatically went back to his eternal home — the lotus feet of Vira-Devi, the gopi friend and messenger of Vrndadevi in Vrnda-kunda.
In 1992, a handful of ISKCON devotees joined together to maintain and expand the worship of Vrndadevi all over the world, develop Vrnda-kunda as a place of pilgrimage and help restore endangered sacred spots in Vraja. Since Vrnda-kunda was largely unknown and inaccessible to the public, one of the first things the devotees did was to arrange for a large white sandstone road sign to be posted on the Nandagaon-Kamyavana road before the dirt road turnoff leading to Vrnda-kunda.
Under the determined leadership of Dina Bandhu Prabhu, a small crew of Vrnda-bhaktas patiently but steadily cleaned, deepened and filled the two kundas with sweet Yamuna water. They constructed new steps on the eastern bank of Vrnda-kunda and the foundation of Baba Madhava dasa’s samadhi at the edge of Gupta-kunda. They dug a sweet-water well, cleared the land of thorn trees, planted vegetable and flower gardens around the kundas, repaired three rooms for visiting devotees and completed the construction of a solid stone wall all around the two-and-a-half acre property. Dina Bandhu Prabhu designed a beautiful wrought-iron gate ornate with parrots, which now graces the entrance to Vrnda-kunda.
The worship of the Vrndadevi Deity installed by Baba Madhava dasa soared to unprecedented heights as talented ISKCON devotees sewed wonderful dresses for Vrndadevi, painted her beautiful face and body and enchanting backdrops for her shrine.
In 1998, the Deity was again stolen. But again it was found, a repeated proof that Vrndadevi never leaves Vraja, for it is her eternal place of service to the Divine Couple. A new murti was carved in Jaipur.
Then in 2003 the construction of a carved stone temple was completed. At the end of a grand eight-day festival, the new deity of Vrnda devi was installed on the 14th of February. A few days later a feast was given in Vrnda devi’s honor for the entire village of Nandagrama, about 20,000 people. The entire feast was cooked in pure cow ghee. No such pure ghee feast had been given for the entire village for over a hundred years, and I’m sure since Nanda Baba’s time no feast has been done with cow ghee.
Life at Vrnda-kunda is simple. Bhagavat Prasada, Vrndadevi’s pujari, is a brahmana from Nandagaon. He daily walks to Vrnda-kunda to worship her and cook for her. For her service, he maintains five cows at his house, at the top of the staircase leading to Nanda Maharaja’s palace. They feed on the fodder Bhagavat Prasada grows on his land near Pavana Sarovara and the grains, oilcake and gur he buys for them.
Since 1993, Rupa Raghunatha, Director of the Food for Life program in Vrndavana, has been feeding twenty-five sadhus every day in Nandagaon. Also, on the occasion of Tulasi Devi’s marriage to Salagrama in Karttika and on the disappearance day of Baba Madhava dasa in spring, the devotees hold an all-night kirtana with the villagers and cook a feast for five hundred persons. (On the last disappearance day festival of Baba Madhava dasa, three full tourist busses came from Vrndavana.)
Every year, during the Gaura Purnima festival, at least a thousand devotees from all over the world come to Vrnda-kunda to bathe and feast and pray for eternal residence in Vraja. And around two hundred VIHE (Vrndavana Institute for Higher Education) students round up their twice-a-year seminars with a parikrama and feast at Vrnda-kunda.
Please come to Vrnda-kunda. It is about one hour from the Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama Mandir in Vrndavana. You can rent a taxi or auto rickshaw to get there, or go by public bus to Kosi, then take a tempo to Nandagaon and walk from there. And if you don’t want to travel alone, please get in touch with the Mailout office in the Gurukula building at ISKCON-Vrndavana or the Information Center next to the temple and we’ll arrange for someone to take you there. The devotees of Vrndadevi are always eager to bring more souls to her abode because they know that the Vrnda-kunda atmosphere is perfect for remembering Lord Krsna. Without any disturbance you can study, chant, pray, bathe, sweep the paths, clean the kundas, weed the garden and taste, at every step, the sweet nectar of service to Srimati Vrndadevi.
Eigth Names of Vrnda Devi
Vrnda Devi: She has thousands and thousands of sakhis (friends).
Vrndavani: She never leaves Vrndavana.
Visvapujita: The whole word worships her.
Visvapavani: She is the sanctifier of the whole world.
Puspasara: She is the essence of all flowers.
Nandini: She gives happiness to everyone.
Tulasi Devi: She has an incomparable form.
Krsna-jivani: She is the life and soul of Lord Krsna.
“Eight Prayers Glorifying Sri Vrnda Devi,” by Visvanatha Cakravarti ThakuraTranslation by Baba Madhava Dasa
bandhuka-randhu-dyuti-divya-vasovrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your feet. You are bathed in your own splendor, which defeats the effulgence of lightning and the golden campaka flower. The luster of your transcendental garments defeats the beauty of the blue bandhuka flower.
vicitra-ratnabharana-sriyadhyevrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Your face is illuminated by the splendor of the pearl decorating the tip of your nose, and by the extraordinary gentle smile on the two bimba fruits which are your lips. You are enriched by the beauty of the amazing and colorful jewels and ornaments you wear.
(3) samasta-vaikuntha-siromanau sri-krsnasya vrndavana-dhanya-dhamni
dattadhikare vrsabhanu-putryavrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Srimati Radharani, the daughter of King Vrsabhanu, has made you the ruling monarch of Lord Krsna’s opulent and auspicious abode of Vrndavana, which is the crest jewel of all the Vaikuntha planets.
(4) tvad-ajnaya pallava-puspa-bhrnga-mrgadibhir madhava-keli-kunjah
madhv-adibhir bhanti vibhusyamanavrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Because of your order, the groves where Lord Madhava performs His pastimes appear very splendid, decorated with blossoming flowers, bumblebees, deer, and other auspicious animals, flowers, and birds.
(5) tvadiya-dutyena nikunja-yunoratyutkayoh keli-vilasa-siddhih
tvat-saubhagam kena nirucyatam tadvrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Who can describe your good fortune? You were the messenger who brought about the perfection of the amorous pastimes of Radha and Krsna, the youthful couple who enthusiastically sport in the groves of Vrndavana.
(6) rasabhilaso vasatis ca vrnda-vane tvad-isanghri-saroja-seva
labhya ca pumsam krpaya tavaivavrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. The living entities who attain the service of the lotus feet of your Lord reside in Vrndavana. And the desire to understand the Lord’s amazing pastimes of the rasa dance is only by your mercy.
(7) tvam kirtyase satvata-tantra-vidbhirlilabhidhana kila krsna-saktih
tavaiva murtis tulasi nr-lokevrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Those who have studied the Satvata-tantra glorify you. You are Lord Krsna’s potency for performing pastimes, and you are known as Tulasi Devi in the human society.
(8) bhaktya vihina aparadha-laksaihksiptas ca kamadi-taranga-madhye
krpamayi tvam saranam prapannavrnde numas te caranaravindam
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Those who are devoid of devotion to Lord Hari, and are thrown by their offenses into the waves of lust and other inauspicious qualities, may take shelter of you.
(9) vrndastakam yah srnuyat pathed vavrndavanadhisa-padabja-bhrngah
sa prapya vrndavana-nitya-vasamtat-prema-sevam labhate krtarthah
O Vrnda Devi, I offer my respectful obeisances to your lotus feet. Let a person who becomes like a bumblebee at the lotus feet of Radha-Krsna, and who reads or hears these eight verses describing the glories of Vrnda Devi, eternally reside at Goloka Vrndavana. He attains devotional service in pure love of Godhead, and all his spiritual aspirations become fulfilled.