All glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga

Chandan Yatra in Vrindavan

Sri Vrindavan Dham, May 15th, 2002.

By Gauranidhi Das, serving at Srila Sridhar Swami Seva Ashram, Govardhan.

(Note: Some readers may be confused by words that are in Sanskrit, Bengali, or Hindi. For your service, there is a glossary at the end of this account.)

Today is the auspicious occasion of Chandan Yatra. Lord Krishna feels hot from the heat of summer, so his servants cool his body by painting him from head to toe in sandalwood paste. No wonder -- it was at least 46 degrees Celsius  (Around 122F) here today! Sweating, sweating, sweating.... Here is an account of my experience today.

Sri Sri Guru-Gauranga-Gandharvva-Rasabihari-jiu covered with sandalwood paste, and the Murti of Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj, at our Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Vrindavan, on this day of the Chandan Yatra Festival.

In the afternoon I saw Sanatan Prabhu, the pujari of Sri Sri Guru-Gauranga-Gandharvva-Rasabihari-jiu, entering the altar room with two large bowls full of sandalwood paste. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that today is Chandan Yatra, and that he was going to cool the Deities' bodies with sandalwood paste. Apparently, he took five days to make all of that sandalwood paste! Seeing the huge quantity, I believed him immediately. Anyhow, here in our Vrindavan Math, the devotees do the seated kirtans before the evening Arati. I went to join in the kirtan, and I got quite a surprise! Sri Rasabihari had chandan all over his body, and not just a smear -- he was covered with a half-centimetre thick layer of chandan! He wore a beautiful yellow dhoti, a crown and some jewellery. Sriman Mahaprabhu had chandan thickly applied to his forehead, and Srimati Radharani also had chandan on her forehead. After the kirtans, we sang while Sanatan Prabhu offered the Sandhya Arati. During the Arati, many groups of Vrajabasis, and groups from other places, came to see the Deities in our Math. They entered calling, "Radhe! Radhe!" and gave dandavats to the Deities. After the Arati and the Mandir Parikrama, my wife and I decided to visit some of the main temples in Vrindavan, to see how they were worshipping Lord Krishna with sandalwood paste.

First, we went to Imli-Tala. This is a tamarind tree where Krishna sat down and thought about Radharani. His body colour turned gold due to his ecstatic feelings for Radharani. Later, Mahaprabhu sat under the same tree and thought about Krishna, in the mood of Radharani. It is such a beautiful and special place! One cannot fully appreciate the importance of Imli-Tala. Prabhupad Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur opened a Gaudiya Math there, to honour this holy site. We had darshan of the Arati of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath, Sriman Mahaprabhu, Sri Giriraj Govardhan, and Prabhupad Srila Saraswati Thakur. Both Radharani and Gopinath were completely covered with chandan paste, as well as Giriraj. Like our temple, Radha-Gopinath also had beautiful clothes over their chandan-smeared bodies. There is also a Samadhi temple with the Deity of Sripad Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj, who managed this Imli-Tala Gaudiya Math during his lifetime. He is a great Vaishnava and I bow down to his lotus feet.

Next, we went to visit Sri Sri Radha-Damodar. You won't believe me: I practically had to fight to get in the entrance! There were hundreds of people in there. In the middle of the Nat Mandir's standing area, there was a fountain spraying streams of cool water over everyone (Ah, at last some relief from the heat!) On the left and right sides of the same area, machines were spraying refreshing mist all over the crowd. Looking at the altar I saw a beautiful palace! In front of the Deities there were walls of flowers. Yes, walls. Plural. Actually it was more like fences of cotton threads with colourful and fragrant flowers woven through them in lovely patterns. Looking through the house of flowers we saw Giriraj-Govardhan and all of the Deities covered in sandalwood paste. This Giriraj is Sanatan Goswami's own Govardhan-Shila. Giriraj had chandan around his special markings -- the footprint of Lord Krishna, a calf's hoofprint, and the mark of Krishna's flute and stick. Try to conceive of that! Krishna stood on this Shila in front of Sanatan Goswami, and played his flute. The rock literally melted in love and these markings were left there. It is a wonderful story (to tell another time!) Looking behind Giriraj there are many Deities (left to right): Radha-Vrindavanchandra, Radha-Damodar and Lalita Sakhi, Radha-Madhava, and Radha-Chalchikan. These are the Deities of (respectively), Srila Krishna das Kaviraj Goswami, Srila Jiva Goswami, Srila Jaydev Goswami, and Srila Bhugarva Goswami. Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai were in front of the walls of flowers, one on each side of the stage on front of the alter. Every Deity was covered with chandan. Radha-Damodar were completely covered. Even their clothes were covered in chandan! The pujaris had even carved designs in the paste on the Deities' bodies. We happily saw their Arati, and proceeded on.

The next stop was Radha-Raman. Radha-Raman is the Deity of Srila Gopal Bhatta Goswami. This Deity self-manifested because Gopal Bhatta Goswami had been given some Deity clothes, but did not have a standing Deity form to dress. He only had some Shalagram-Shilas. He awoke the following morning after receiving the clothes, to find Radha-Raman standing amongst the Shilas, smiling. He had transformed himself from one of the Shilas. To this day there is glorious worship of Radha-Raman every day. We were so fortunate to have his darshan. The pujaris had built a little temple out of flowers, in front of the alter room. Radha-Raman was on a special altar inside that temple of flowers. I have never been so close to him before. After 4 years of visiting this temple, I finally saw (with my mundane eyes!) his face very closely. He was right in front of me, like one metre away. He has beautiful lips and a charming smile. His body is bent in three places. While I was singing, "Radha-Ramana, Radha-Ramana, Radhe...," the pujari began to hand out besan laddu prashadam to those assembled there. I eagerly reached out in front of me. Being tall has its benefits! My hand made it all the way over the Indians' heads, and promptly I felt a laddu ball fall into my hand. Breaking it in half, I shared it with my wife immediately. It is not everyday that I get prashadam from Radha-Raman. It was a good laddu too.

Next, we went to have darshan of Radha-Shyamsundar. Shyamsundar is a lovely form of Krishna that was given to Shyamananda Prabhu personally by Srimati Radharani. He is a beautiful small Deity. This temple was decked with flowers too, and the larger forms of Radha-Shyamsundar were so thickly covered with sandal paste that the designs from Shyamsundar's clothes and crown looked like they were moulded out of clay. Really beautiful. What can I say? It is unbelievably hot here, and Krishna is covered in cool, wet, and fragrant sandalwood paste. I like it!

Earlier on in the day, before I knew what was going to happen, I went to see Banke-Bihari. He is a famous Krishna Deity that was found inside a well in the Nudhuvan forest, by Haridas Goswami (...not Namacarya Srila Haridas Thakur!) This temple is really famous and very opulent (very expensive food and Deity clothes near the temple too.) Banke-Bihari told Haridas Goswami that he will give darshan to the public, but that his curtain needs to be closed every few minutes, and then opened again, otherwise he will leave the temple (Imagine, Krishna will leave his own temple if someone doesn't move his curtains!) Thus, there are many pujaris and the curtain in front of Banke-Bihari is opened and closed regularly. I got pushed and shoved and trodden on by the hordes of pilgrims, but finally I made it inside the temple. Banke-Bihari did not have any chandan on his body (yet). There were chandeliers made of flowers. There was a sprinkler on the roof, spraying everyone with water droplets. People were clutching lotus or rose flower garlands, calling out to the pujaris (to offer them). Others carried baskets of samosas, kichorees, puris, and other fried things. Some people had garlands around their necks and sandalwood paste on their forehead. Others had boxes of sweets to offer. These people looked like wealthy people from Delhi. But their money was going to Krishna for his Chandan Yatra....

I forgot to mention before that there were people in the street passing out thandais, lassis, rooah afzas, water, sweets, and all sorts of foodstuffs. You see, Indians consider it auspicious to feed people in a holy place, especially at festival time. Even our Math feeds the public in Govardhan on the day of Govardhan Puja festival. So I wanted to put my experience into words because I was excited by this festival. Who wouldn't be? Hopefully someone will read this and get some inspiration to remember, serve, and worship Sri Sri Radha-Krishna in Vrindavan. I've been living in Govardhan for seven months now and I'm still not able to see through the illusion that covers the Holy Dham. So if you get any special inspiration, please give me a portion, okay?

Aspiring to get a real service attitude,

Gauranidhi Das.

Sri Vrindavan Dham, 15-May-2002.

Glossary (roughly in order of appearance):

Chandan -- Sandalwood

Yatra -- A journey or festival. Eg. chandan yatra (sandalwood paste festival), snan-yatra (bathing festival), ratha yatra (car festival), rasa yatra (dancing festival), jhulan yatra (swing festival)....

Deity/deities -- Worshippable forms of the Lord. Usually a standing form made of wood, metal, or earth, but sometimes the Lord appears in a rock-form too.

Arati -- A ceremony with ghee lamps, incense, flowers etc., which is offered to the Lord in the morning, noon, and evening.

Pujari(s) -- Priest(s)

Kirtan -- Singing the names of God in groups.

Sandhya -- There are three sandhyas, or special times -- sunrise, noon, and sunset.

Sandhya Arati -- The evening Arati ceremony.

Vrajabasis -- The lucky few, who take birth in the Vraja-Mandal Area (Vrindavan, Govardhan, Mathura, Varshana, Nandagram, Gokul etc.)

Dandavats -- Prostrate obeisances (or in English), lying on the ground as a show of respect, in front of a worshippable person or Deity.

Mandir -- Temple

Parikrama -- Circumambulation of the temple (walking around the outside of the temple.)

Imli -- Tamarind

Tala -- Tree

Darshan -- To be seen by a Deity, or a great personality.

Giriraj Govardhan -- King (Raj) of the mountains (Giri), who pleases (Vardhan) the cows (Go). Krishna lifted this hill on his little finger....

Dhoti -- A long cloth Hindu and Vaisnava men wrap around their waist. Generally one wears a dhoti when visiting a temple.

Samadhi -- Complete absorption in meditation (upon Lord Sri Krishna and Srimati Radharani.)

Gaudiya Math -- Established by Prabhupad Srila B.S. Saraswati Thakur, this is the mission that preaches the message of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Vaishnava -- A follower/devotee, of Krishna, Rama or a form of Vishnu.

Natya Mandir -- The hall where devotees stand while singing the Arati songs to the Deities

Shila -- Sometime God manifests his presence in the form of a stone. Devotees worship these stones.

Govardhan Shila -- This Deity is Krishna in the form of a rock from Govardhan Hill.

Shalagram Shila -- This is a Deity in the form of a stone. Usually he is a Vishnu form, but sometimes he can be Krishna. These stones have special markings that distinguish who they are.

Prashadam -- Prashadam is food that has already been offered to the Lord.

Besan Laddu -- Laddus are sweets made by roasting some flour in oil or ghee (clarified butter), and mixing it with icing sugar (or fine sugar). Besan laddu is a laddu made of chickpea flour (besan), with ghee, and sugar. Do you want one? You'll have to go to a Sunday feast at one of our temples....

Samosas, kichorees -- Fried pastries

Puris -- Fried bread

Thandais, lassis, rooah afzas -- All flavoured drinks (special to India). Thandai has milk, sugar and spices in it. Lassi has yoghurt, sugar and rosewater. Rooah Afza has rose syrup. There is also Badam milk or Kesar pista milk, which is sweetened milk with saffron, almonds and pistachios, or some variation of the same. Thirsty?

Govardhan Puja -- A special day to worship Krishna in the form of Govardhan Hill. Everyone bathes the Govardhan Shilas with milk, yoghurt, and water.

Dham -- The special places of the pastimes the Lord has with his associates. Dham literally means, 'light', but there is much more to it than that....

Gauranidhi -- The author; An aspiring vaishnava who sometimes does silly things, like putting his name in the glossary. Maybe you know him?