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A Call to Vrindavan's Sacred Shores -3

3. Parikrama

 

The morning began with the insistent wail of the alarm, growing louder with each passing second. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, I reached over to silence the noise, my eyelids heavy and burning from lack of sleep. Despite the overwhelming urge to close them again, the day's plans flashed vividly before me, a sharp reminder that there was no time to waste. With a jolt of determination, I sprang out of bed. In a whirlwind, I brushed my teeth and took a quick, refreshing shower. Ellora, equally eager and dressed joined me as we anxiously checked the time on our phones. Kunjalata was supposed to meet us, but when I tried calling her, her phone was switched off. Impatient and aware that time was slipping away, we decided to wait outside the hotel.


Stepping into the brisk morning air, we saw groups of people walking purposefully towards Radha Tilla. Their direction was clear—they were all heading for the darshan of Maharaj. Not wanting to miss a moment, we hailed a passing rickshaw. The driver smiled knowingly and asked, “Premananda Maharaj?” We nodded eagerly, and he deftly navigated the streets, depositing us near Radha Tilla. A throng of devotees had already gathered, the air alive with the rhythmic chants of “Radha Radha…” I continued to try Kunjalata’s phone, to no avail. Just then, Didi called, informing me that Kunjalata was on her way. She’d meet us soon. We learned that many devotees had slept on the roadside, eager to ensure they could see Maharaj.


Weaving through the crowd, I struggled to find a good vantage point. My short stature made it difficult, and anxiety gnawed at me—would I be able to see Maharaj? Suddenly, I felt a firm grip on my arm. It was Ellora. Her height had afforded her a prime spot, and she was pulling me forward. She insisted I take her place at the front, stepping back herself. Grateful, I stood there, surrounded by the fervent devotion of the crowd.


The atmosphere was electric, reminiscent of a vibrant festival. People were busy drawing colourful rangoli on the street, and a young boy began to lead a kirtan, his deep, resonant voice prompting everyone to join in. As he finished, a woman next to me began another song, and once again, the crowd followed her lead.

Nearby, two young men discussed Maharaj’s daily routine and health with reverent awe. They spoke of how both his kidneys had failed, yet he continued to serve Radharani tirelessly, sleeping only four hours each night. Their words painted a picture of a man whose life seemed like a living miracle. As whispers spread that Maharaj was approaching, the crowd's anticipation peaked. The two young men fell silent, then started a beautiful kirtan dedicated to Radharani. The melody wrapped around us, binding us in shared devotion. Lost in the moment, I closed my eyes, letting the sacred sounds wash over me.


It was already three in the morning, and we had been standing there for over an hour. Suddenly, a loud announcement jolted me back to reality. A police car appeared followed by an ambulance instructing everyone to clear the path, and volunteers ensured we stayed behind the ropes. My heart raced as I caught sight of a fluttering yellow robe in the distance. Sri Premanand Maharaj was coming. When Maharaj finally entered my view, his presence was serene and commanding. His eyes, half-closed and filled with kindness, scanned the crowd. He greeted each person with a gentle nod, exchanging words of blessing. The atmosphere surged with emotion—devotees wept, chanted, and reached out to him. In that moment, time seemed to stand still. As he continued his walk, the echoes of the kirtan lingered in the air.


Sri Premananda Maharaj passed by us, his disciples followed closely, their chants a rhythmic soundtrack that filled the air, accompanied by the steady hum of an ambulance and a police vehicle bringing up the rear. We watched, transfixed, as the procession gradually shrank into the distance, eventually disappearing like a tiny speck of sand. Reality seeped back in, and I glanced at my watch—it was almost 4 AM. Ellora and I exchanged determined looks and decided to embark on the Vrindavan Parikrama.


This sacred circumambulation, known as the Panchakoshi Parikrama, spans approximately 15 kilometers around the holy town of Vrindavan. To our delight, we found Kunjalata waiting for us near the ISKCON temple, having missed us in the earlier crowd. Reunited and eager, the three of us set off on our parikrama, beginning our journey from the Iskcon temple. The Vrindavan Parikrama is not just a walk; it's a spiritual voyage through centuries of divine history. As we prostrated before the Parikrama Marg and set out barefoot, the cool predawn breeze whispered through the trees, mingling with the faint sounds of chanting devotees. The darkness enveloped us, yet the path was alive with the fervour of those who regularly undertake this sacred journey.


Pilgrims moved steadily ahead and behind us, their footsteps echoing through the tranquil morning. As we walked, Ellora and I discussed the myriad leela sthalis—sites of Krishna's divine pastimes—that we passed. To our astonishment, elderly Brijwasis, some in their seventies and eighties, for whom parikrama is a sacred routine, briskly overtook us. Inspired rather than discouraged, we focused on the significance of each landmark we encountered.

Our journey took us past Gautam Rishi’s ashram, the peaceful Varaha Ghat, and a bustling goshala. The Yamuna River flowed serenely to our left, and even in the dim light, the red sandstone structure of the Madan Mohan Temple stood out, majestic and timeless. As we approached Kaliya Ghat, the site where Krishna subdued the serpent Kaliya, the air seemed charged with the energy of ancient legends.


At Imli Tala, we paused by the massive tamarind tree where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu once sat, lost in the divine love of Radha and Krishna. His presence still seemed to linger. As dawn began to tint the eastern sky with soft reds and oranges, we made our way to the red sandstone steps of Keshi Ghat, where the Yamuna flowed so close that we could almost touch its sacred waters.

Monkeys stirred in the early light, their chatter mingling with the chants of sadhus who fed them, leaving us unbothered by their usual antics. We continued, passing the Jagannath Temple and the tranquil wilderness on our left, with ashrams of great saints lining the right side of our path. After nearly two and a half hours, we completed the Parikrama, bowing deeply in gratitude at half-past six.


Eager to continue our spiritual adventure, we hurried back to Vishnupriya Didi’s ashram. True to her word, Didi had arranged a cab to take us to Kaamyavan, Varshana, and Nand Gaon—each a treasure trove of Krishna’s pastimes. We jumped into the cab, hearts racing with excitement, and turned to Didi, eager for her to weave the stories of these sacred places as we journeyed through them.

... to be continued


Parikrama Marg by the River Yamuna

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