My Heart’s Pilgrimage

Until a month ago I had been looking for someone to accompany me to Gokul Vrindavan. A neighbor wished to come along, but the thought of dragging her little children with us discouraged me to plan this pilgrimage with her. My friend Shailesh was also planning a trip to Balaji, Jaipur, and Mathura/Vrindavan, but the plan was nipped in the bud. Another friend told me about a 5-day spiritual retreat which Sri M was conducting in Vrindavan, but the requisite of traveling in a bus and taking a long leave from work deterred me from attending what could have been a soulful trip. Whatever may be the reasons, but Gokul Vrindavan seemed so far away and so inaccessible.

One day I whispered to Lord Krishna that my plans were not succeeding and that only He could make this pilgrimage happen. That was a few weeks ago.

Just a day before Diwali (Nov. 13), my friend Anshu called me and said that they were expecting a friend, an ISKCON devotee, from the US. He was planning to visit them on the Diwali day. So it had occurred to Anshu that why not they drive him down to Vrindavan. She asked me to join, too. Did Krishna plant that idea in her mind? Of course! Who else would?

In less than 24 hours I was going to witness another lila of my friend Krishna. Strange though, but it took me a while to appreciate Krishna’s kindness because I was lost in the practical aspects of this trip: whether I should drive down to Faridabad to Anshu’s place, or hire a cab instead, would it be fine to leave my parents alone on Diwali, and so on. Krishna must be laughing at me. He must be thinking what else He could do for His imperfect devotee if not this: her heart’s pilgrimage on the auspicious day of Diwali–in His favorite month of the year–wasn’t making her dance in joy, but instead, she was absorbed in trivia.

I reached Anshu’s place on the Diwali afternoon. Their Krishna devotee friend, Arvind, arrived about an hour later. I bombarded him with questions about his journey into Krishna consciousness. We began our pilgrimage around 1.45 p.m. and reached Vrindavan in less than two hours. After leaving our baggage in the guest house we went to the ISKCON temple, then to the Banke Bihari mandir.

What transpired at the Banke Bihari mandir was Lord Krishna’s loving and explicit acknowledgment of His love for us. I was trying to make an eye contact with the deity’s silver-black almond-shaped eyes when someone waived at us. The boy asked us to meet the panditji (or maharaj) who was sitting on the bench on the right side of the deity’s platform. We all moved in his direction. He asked us to climb up the platform adjacent to the deity’s altar and seek Banke Bihari’s darshan from as close as possible. When I returned from the platform, I saw a silver coin in Vinod’s hand. (Vinod is Anshu’s husband.) A similar coin was given to Arvind too. What a wonderful gift I thought to myself. A silver coin from the treasury of the Banke Bihari temple. A silver coin with the Lord’s image embossed on it. A silver coin on the evening of Diwali! It’s not the preciousness—which in any case doesn’t amount to much–of the silver coin, but the event, its timing, and the place that make this coin so special – Lord Krishna’s wonderful gift on the night of Diwali! I couldn’t stop thinking if I would be blessed with this gift, too – if I ever did any good deeds … Arvind received Lord’s Diwali blessings because he deserved it through hisbhakti. My friend’s husband deserved it for his kindness and selfless act of driving us to Vrindavan and making all the arrangements for our stay. “Do I deserve it”, “Am I being greedy”, I introspected. I shunned this chain of thought and focused on what the pandiji was saying to Arvind. 3-4 minutes would have passed when the panditji called the same guy who had played our messenger earlier. The boy was asked to bring another coin from the treasury. This one for me.

I should complete the summary of my trip.

After receiving blessings at the Banke Bihari temple, we shopped to our heart’s content. Beads, Tulsinecklaces, incense sticks and so on. Our evening ended with a delicious dinner at Govinda Restaurant in the premises of Akshay Patra Foundation.

No one slept. We celebrated our Diwali night in Vrindavan’s divine lights. We chanted the Hare Krishna maha mantra 108 times to thank Krishna for His love and to offer our love to Him.

At about 4 a.m. we vacated our accommodation and drove down to the ISKCON temple to attend Mangal aarti. This was the second Mangal aarti I attended at ISCKON Vrindavan. The first Mangal aarti (11 years ago) was a cathartic experience, and this one gave me a sense of completion; of arriving Home.

On that morning of Govardhan pooja, which takes place on the next day of Diwali, we drove down to Radhakund via Govardhan hill. The small village where Radha and Shyam (Krishna) kunds are, doesn’t belong to our modern India. This small town has managed to retain its high energy and timelessness due to the mercy of Srimati Radharani. There are no rich people here, but the people of this village seemed to be content with life by the grace of Radha. It’s a space outside the boundaries of time. Several Samkirtan mandalis passed us by. Everyone chanting the Hare Krishna maha mantra. Krishna dancing on their tongues, responding with joy to the music of manjires, dholakis and devotional sounds. This is Lord Krishna for us. Full of joy and love for His devotees.

Afterglow of the pilgrimage: Krishna blessed me through the panditji, through the ISKCON devotee (Arvind), and through my friend who made this trip happen. He blessed all of us by writing the script of this short trip: a desire to visit Vrindavan sprouts in my heart, the ISKCON devotee Arvind visits India around the same time, and my friend decides to take him to Vrindavan. Because of my love for Krishna she invites me too. We celebrate our Diwali in Vrindavan and are given a silver coin each as prasadfrom the Banke Bihari temple’s treasury. (Silver coins are gifted on Diwali to close friends and relatives.)

So this was my trip to Gokul Vrindavan. My heart’s pilgrimage will continue until I reach Golok Vrindavan.

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