So this morning, we met and we all got onto the bus, including Guru Maharaj.  We were ready to go but we could not find our bus driver!  After some calls and endeavour he joined us.  To our surprise we had a very jolly bus driver compared to the usual Mr Grumpy that we had with us most of the time. He was pleasant and he smiled a lot even though it was so early in the morning.  We set off late and as we drove out of Vrindavan we turned right onto the wrong side of the road.  All we could see was bright lights and many vehicles coming towards us.  Our jolly bus driver would very often raise his both hands shouting out “Haribol!  Haribol!”  He was meant to be steering the bus but he didn’t seem concerned even though the bus would swerving.  Guru Maharaj said “He is a traditional bus driver.”  We just tried not to panic seeing all the vehicles coming toward us.  Eventually we realised he did that so he could get off at a petrol station “BP – Bharat Petroleum” and decided to use a short cut.  We were already late but eventually we were ready for Kamyavana.

Our first stop was the Radha Govinda temple where the original Vrinda Devi deity from Vrindavan town resides.  The altars were open and we could have darshan but the gates were closed.  Guru Maharaj requested the pujaris to open the gates so that we could have clear darshan of Vrinda Devi.  Here we sat right at the altar of Vrinda Devi and Guru Maharaj saw on the wall was the Tulasi aarti song in hindi.  He read it and then asked if any of us knew the translation to the aarti.  No-one was able to give the English translation.  I kept on saying it in my mind as we repeat it every morning in temple but I was not able to say it out aloud for some reason.  I felt like I disappointed Guru Maharaj as He had glanced at me as if to say you should know this stuff.  Luckily I did have the August 2008 edition of the BTG which was dedicated to Tulasi Devi and Guru Maharaj read the meaning directly from there.  I lamented for most of the day thinking how stupid I was for not being able to respond to Guru Maharaj.  Devotees, if you don’t know it already, please learn it.

Srila Rupa Goswami lived in Vrindavana and he knew that the Govinda deity was buried somewhere here and he was regularly looking “where is Govindaji?”  Everyday he would walk past a Govindaji temple in Vrindavana and everytime he saw at the top of the hill a cow that was voluntarily discharging 10-20 litres of milk, always at the same spot, which was most unusual.  He thought maybe this is where Govinda is and he went there.  He dug and found the original Govindaji deity.  Right next to Govindaji was Vrinda Devi.  Years after Lord Caitanya left, when the muslim tyrant Aurangzeb was attacking Vrindavana town, the King of Jaipur arranged for the main deities of Vrindavana to be taken to Jaipur for protection.  Madan Mohan, Gopinatha, Govindaji and Vrinda Devi were taken on bullock carts from Vrindavan to Jaipur.  On their way, they stopped of at Radha Kund.  The deities stayed there for a few days.  Wherever they had stopped, a temple was built there and prathibu (replacement) deities were installed.  Then they came to Kamyavana and stayed for 3 days.  Govindaji and Vrinda Devi stayed at this Govinda temple while Madan Mohan and Gopinath stayed on the other side of town.  When it came time for them all to leave after 3 days, Vrinda Devi refused to move.  How exactly did she refuse?  Guru Maharaj said he doesn’t know as the famous “they” say that.  So Govindaji, Gopinatha and Madan Mohan went to Jaipur.

So at this temple, on the altar is Lord Jagganatha, Baladeva and Lady Subadra, with prathibu Radha Gopinatha and the original 5000 year of Vrinda Devi deity.  I am not sure how many of you had darshan of this deity but if you have not, then you must sometime.  Vrinda Devi is a 10 armed deity and she is red in colour.  Yes red!  But she is always dressed in such a way that one can only have darshan of her face.  Guru Maharaj said that this was a very special place.  Guru Maharaj said that we can look forward to singing the Vrindadevyastakam when we go to Vrinda Kund later on.  I had the song and the translation and it is very beautiful so I was looking forward to it.  Guru Maharaj stressed that Vrinda Devi, in the form of Tulasi Devi, is the only form of the Lord who is giving special mercy to us.  We had breakfast at this temple.  As usual we had to be careful of the monkeys.  It was funny watching Namacarya Prabhu trying to keep them away and we even tried to get some pictures.

We then went back to the bus and tried to figure out how to get to the next place.  Our jolly bus driver said he knew and as we drove off a local panda stepped into the bus and pulled out his book and decided that he was going to take us around.  Guru Maharaj was not impressed and he got the bus driver to stop the bus and said “get him out of here!”.  It was not easy but it happened eventually.  We went to charan pahari.  When we arrived, we had to walk to the temple which we notice was in the distance at the top of a hill.  We started to figure that the Lord liked hills.  He was obviously trying to make things challenging for us in order to get more mercy.  So as we walked by a village, there was a little girl on the side eating a chapatti.  Guru Maharaj noticed and said in hindi that he wanted some.  The little girl was surprised and so was I.  I didn’t think Guru Maharaj was serious and neither did she.  So He asked again and eventually to her delight he had convinced her that He wanted some.  She ran in and obviously told her mother.  Amazingly enough, they were still making chapattis and she came back with many chapattis in her hand plus some chutney to go with it.  Oh was Guru Maharaj delighted.  You know what Guru Maharaj then did?  Well he did not just sit down and eat it by himself.  He distributed it to us all.  Some devotees did not appreciate the chillie in it but the rest of them loved it.  Then Avadhuta Chandra Prabhu, Guru Maharaj’s servant, said to Him “Guru Maharaj – there is onion and garlic in this chutney”.  Oh, we all had eaten it already and I watched what Guru Maharaj’s reaction would be.  To my astonishment, He took an entire chapatti and loaded all the chutney that he could find, rolled it up and took a big bite and ate it all up.  He said “we’ll tell them it was for health reasons”.  Guru Maharaj was setting an example and he obviously could not disappoint the little girl.  What a snack!  Guru Maharaj asked for mints later on.  We remembered why these things are forbidden in Krishna Consciousness.

Then we walked up to the very top.  It was quite a climb.  But we made it and it was worth every step.  We got darshan of Lord Krishna’s footprints – both the left and right feet.  Here Lord Krishna stood playing his flute and the rock melted leaving an impression of his feet.  Everyday Krishna and the cowherd boys used to climb these hills.  Krishna does many things on one day at many, many different places.  We may wonder how they could travel such vast distances in just one day – it seems almost impossible.  It took us almost 2 hours to get here by bus and they used to just walk.  They used to go from Govardhan Hill to the other side of the Yamuna.  How is this possible every single day?  So Guru Maharaj explained that Vrindavana is like a lotus flower constantly opening and closing.  Some lotuses open when the sun rises and closes when the sun sets, others open at night and not during the day.  Like this, Vrindavan is opening and closing.  When it is not open very wide, then they can go from one place to another very quickly and when it is open wide, it takes a long time to get from one place to another.  Then one of the devotees asked Guru Maharaj “please can you show us exactly how Krishna was standing for his footprints to be like they are on the rock”.  Guru Maharaj demonstrated this – it was sweet to watch Guru Maharaj trying to figure out which was the left foot and which was the right one.  Eventually He said “Krishna was standing something like this.”  This is the place that Lord Caitanya, Lord Nityananda, the 6 Goswamis and other great devotees came for darshan.

From the top we could see all the hills and it is very beautiful.  Guru Maharaj told us about one kund named Luka Luki Kund.  Here Krishna and the gopis used to meet and have water pastimes.  They used to have a competition to see who could stay under water the longest.  Krishna used to tease the Gopis that they could not compete with Him.  One time they all went underwater and the gopis surfaced pretty quickly.  Krishna did not.  They waited for 1 minute, 2, 3, and then 5 minutes, 10 and by this time the separation was killing the gopis.  They became desperate.  They started crying for Krishna.  After 15 minutes, Krishna came up behind them and said “Luka Luki” – “look, here I am”.  Now I know where hide and seek originated.  The gopis felt such relief.

Next stop was chaurasi khamba.  This is the palace of the Pandavas and has 84 pillars, most of which are still there.  It looks original.  This palace was built by Vishvakarma on 1 day.  The Pandavas spent most of their 15 year exile here.  Here one can see Dhritrastara’s throne.  Some devotees sat on it and took some pictures.

From Chaurasi Khamba we got onto the bus but we were not sure exactly where we were going to next.  Obviously Guru Maharaj and the bus driver knew.  We stopped at a middle which was mostly fields.  In the far distance we saw at the very top of the steep hill a temple and Joshni said “thank God we are not going there!”  We had two nearby stops to make.  We were pleased.

We went to a place called bhojan sthali.  Everyday Krishna used to take lunch with the cowherd boys.  Here the rocks, who were devotees, were naturally formed like bowls and cups which they used for lunch.  There are two sets on this rock which is being worshipped obviously one for Krishna and one for Balarama.  Next to this place we saw a kund, Ksira Sagar, the place where Lord Balarama spilled his kheer.

We were walking back to the bus when Guru Maharaj pointed to that temple on the steep hill in the distance and said, “now we are going there”.  It couldn’t be true.  But sorry for Joshni and the rest of us – we were going some place where I am sure not many devotees have gone before.  We were praying for strength and encouragement at this point.  Guru Maharaj was walking so briskly so how could we drag our feet and complain.  We just went with the flow.  We trekked through the rice fields, over water puddles, through dusty terrains – towards the temple on the hill like nothing was going to stop us.  And nothing did.  At about halfway, Guru Maharaj stopped and told us about this place we were approaching and the pastimes connected to it.

Guru Maharaj showed us a little opening in the hill, just about half way up.  He said that was Vyomasura’s cave.  On Krishna’s last day in Vrindavana, about lunch time, He and the cowherd boys were playing a game of cops and robbers.  Even the Lord played this game.  Some of them assumed roles as cops, some were robbers, other were sheep and shepherds.  The robbers were meant to steal the sheep from the shepherds and the cops were meant to stop them.  Vyomasura in disguise came and joined the thieves.  He was stealing the sheep from the cowherd boys and were hiding them in this cave and he was plugging the cave with a big rock.  Krishna noticed that the boys were missing and he looked around and recognised Vyomasura.  Vyomasura attacked Krishna and flew into the sky.  Krishna smashed him in the sky and then fell.  Krishna landed on his hands and feet.  These impressions are at one of the shrines at the top.  During this fight, the jewels that Krishna was wearing fell off and landed in the very places where we could see 2 shrines.  Guru Maharaj said there were impressions of the jewellery left on the rocks when it fell.  That will be something special to see I am sure.

So we walked around to the bottom of the hill where we would start our climb.  And we did – these stairs were built for the likes of the Pandavas – big, strong people.  We climbed and climbed and climbed.  Occasionally Guru Maharaj would stop and ask if we were okay.  We used these opportunities to recover a little.  And then we would continue and we were going higher and higher and there were no side barriers for protection.  We had to make certain we were constantly thinking of Krishna – in this case it did not take much effort to remember Him – we didn’t have a choice.  And eventually we reached half way – thank you Krishna!  We reached Vyomasura’s cave.  Jai!  We had a bit of a problem – too many of us – too small cave – no where around the cave.  So we worked out a plan for darshan – a few at a time went into the cave and then continued up the hill.  Then another few and it seemed to work well.  But it was quite a climb to the top.  I didn’t think it was possible but I was relieved when we reached the top.  I was thinking how all the other devotees were managing – some were sick, some were older.  But they all did very well.  At the top is the shrine of Lord Krishna’s hands and feet when he landed after the fight.  Nearby is some impressions in the rock which Guru Maharaj thought was a mini bhojan stali but the locals told us that was Krishna’s necklace.

After darshan we made our way down the mountain which was much less taxing on our bodies.  We met some devotees who were on their way up and Guru Maharaj asked them in a very caring manner “are you okay?”  Some devotees were daring enough to go to the other shrine but most of us did not.  We were standing around Guru Maharaj as he had a refreshing drink after which he said “this is a life saver”.  He was referring to the sugar in the drink.  At the bottom Guru Maharaj said that we were now going to slide on some rocks.  We somehow knew that this had to be true.  Guru Maharaj does not joke about these things.

This place is called Pichel Pahari – Krishna’s slide.  It is a long, smooth rock on the side of the mountain where Krishna and the cowherd boys used to slide.  We arrived there and Guru Maharaj asked “so who is going first?”  We all wanted Guru Maharaj to go and He is such a sport.  He did go – I am sure you saw the pictures.  It was such fun.  We all had no choice but to have a turn as Guru Maharaj was keeping tabs and catching those out who did not go.  Even our very senior Vishaka matajee and Pema Sarovara’s mother went on this slide.  I asked Guru Maharaj “Can I go again?”  He replied “you can go as many times as you want.”  Guru Maharaj really enjoyed this.  He was standing there and cheering us on and adjudicating who was actually sliding the best and fastest.  We tried different ways to slide.  Some of the prabhus sat on their chaddars and really took off.  But the winner was Saraswati matajee from Mauritius – all glories to silk saries.  That was such fun.  We really got into it and enjoyed it immensely.  By now we didn’t remember that big hill we just climbed nor did we remember Vyomasura.  Guru Maharaj is the best!

On our return to the bus, we stopped to have darshan of Lord Balaram’s footprint.  When Lord Krishna was fighting Vyomasura, Lord Krishna threw him to the ground from the sky and he came crashing down.  He hit the ground so hard that the earth shook and it looked like the planet will shake to pieces.  Lord Balarama was standing here and pressed his foot against this rock to steady the earth and hold it in place.

We returned to the bus and we thought this was the last stop for the day but Guru Maharaj decided to pack the mercy in some more.  We went to Kameshwar Mahadev temple which has one of the original 5000 year old deities of Vrindavana.  Kameshwar Mahadev – the Lord of desire.  Here Maharaj Vrsabhanu and Mother Kirtida prayed for a nice child.  They had 3 nice children – Sridhama, Srimati Radharani and Ananga Manjari.  Here the pujaris allowed everyone to perform abhishek for the deity.

Next stop for was Vimila kund.  When Krishna was on the planet there was one King Vimila who had 10 million daughters who wanted to marry the best young man.  That best young man was?  Krishna off course.  When they heard of Lord Krishna they decided that he is the only 1.  They performed devotional austerities by chanting the Lord’s holy name at the edge of this kund.  Lord Krishna had appeared and accepted all his daughters and danced in the rasa dance.  This is also the place of the Pandavas.  They lived here during their exile.  We all know the famous story of Draupadi and Durvasi Muni and how Krishna eventually saved the day.  So Guru Maharaj narrated that pastime here.  Guru Maharaj is constantly trying to please everyone even the local pandas.  Everywhere we went He asked us to try and give donations to these devotees.

Guru Maharaj said that there were many, many pastimes places in Kamyavana and that we were only visiting some of them.  What a day of!  And we are not done yet.  Our very last stop for this day was Vrinda Kund where we were going to be treated to sumptuous lunch prasadam.  Now that is what we needed to hear.  We arrived there and met Dina Bhandu Prabhu – the well known Vraja Mandala parikrama “Guru”.  Guru Maharaj spoke to him and rested in the temple while those who wanted took bathe in Vrinda Kund and Gupta Kund.  As the rules were set by Dina Bhandu Prabhu – the prabhus got the bathe in Vrinda Kund while the matajees had to bathe in Gupta Kund.  The matajees were not too pleased about this!  But they were very obliging.  I remember here Mother Kaishori shouted in hindi at some local boys who were watching the matajees bathing.  She speaks hindi quite well but to her surprise it did not send the boys running.

Soon thereafter we were served a wonderful feast prepared by the team at Vrinda Kund.  Guru Maharaj sat right across from me, as we did on the grass mats and took prasadam in leaf plates.  He really liked the sweetrice and had asked for a refill 3 times.  It was really good sweet rice.

We then gathered in the temple and Dina Bhandu Prabhu narrated some pastimes.  I was really looking forward to singing the Vrindadevyastakam which was staring me in the face but as per the request of some devotees, we listened to wonderful pastimes that Guru Maharaj had narrated during the course of the parikrama.  At the end of it, it was getting quite late, we stood up to leave and I asked Namacarya Prabhu to ask Guru Maharaj what the tune to the song was.  Guru Maharaj started to sing it and then Dina Bhandu Prabhu joined in and then we all joined in and we had a chance to sing the Vrindadevyastakam which I very much looked forward to.  Vrinda Devi is very merciful and here she is most beautiful, especially in the evenings when the lights are on and she sparkles.  We are told that is the best time to get pictures.

And then that was the end.  We got onto the buses and Dina Bhandu Prabhu went to Vrindavana with us.  We had a really wonderful parikrama today.  I am sure tomorrow will be quite interesting.  Please do stay tuned.

Your servant

Syamarani devi dasi

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