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A Call to Vrindavan's Sacred Shores -7

Banamali Baba

 

As the alarm rang, I sprang out of bed and looked outside. The golden hues of dawn kissed the sky, filling us with excitement for the day's journey. We were ready, and instead of waiting at the hotel, we decided to walk to the Sri Krishna Balram temple, just down the road. The crisp morning air felt cool and fresh on our faces as we approached the temple. Made of pristine white marble, the beauty of the temple was magnified by the early light. The temple stood grand and inviting, its façade adorned with intricate carvings. Vibrant paintings added splashes of color, and artistic staircases spiralled gracefully, leading the eye upwards to the majestic domes that crowned this magnificent structure.


Stepping into the main shrine, we were greeted by the resplendent forms of Krishna and Balaram, adorned with flowers of varied hues. Another shrine nearby radiated the spiritual energy of Sri Gaur-Nitai, their forms exuding an aura of boundless compassion and joy. As we moved to the next shrine, the divine couple, Sri Shyam Sundar with Radharani and the Gopis, captivated us with their transcendental beauty. We found a peaceful spot under a grand tamal tree in the courtyard. Its ancient branches stretched out, offering a cool, shady haven where we could sit and absorb the sacred atmosphere. When we sat there with our eyes closed, we were immediately transported to a meditative state.  After soaking in the divine aura, we rose and made our way to Govinda’s restaurant. The temple's serenity still lingered in our hearts as we enjoyed a wholesome breakfast. Our hearts were brimming with anticipation as we prepared to have darshan of the revered saints that Didi had promised to introduce us to. She answered my call guiding us to walk down the same road to Bhagavat Nivas. As we came out of the temple into the road, she hung up assuring us she would meet us there shortly.


Bhagavat Nivas, nestled in the sacred expanse of Vrindavan Dham, is a reflection of spiritual devotion. Located in the serene Raman Reti area, directly opposite the Vrindavan Shodh Sansthan, this place is known for its pure devotional atmosphere. It is home to 30-40 saints who live here in full discipline, dedicating their lives to bhajan and meditation. The ages of these saints range from youthful 25 to wise 90 years, each embodying a unique facet of devotion and piety.


Bhagavat Nivas is renowned as 'Pandit Baba ka Sthan', honouring Siddha Pandit Baba Shri Ram Krishna Das Ji Maharaj. The Karua (water pot) of Siddha Shri Pandit Baba is kept here, a cherished relic drawing thousands of devotees who come with the ardent desire to have darshan of this sacred object with so many mystic stories. The air seemed to hum with the vibrations of countless prayers and meditative chants. As we wandered through the peaceful pathways of Bhagavat Nivas, the disciplined lifestyle of the saints became evident. Their simple, austere lives were devoted to the constant remembrance of the divine. Each saint we glimpsed seemed to radiate an inner light, their faces serene and their hearts clearly attuned to a higher reality.


In 1940, following the disappearance of the revered Siddha Shri Pandit Baba, Kripasindhu Das Baba founded Bhagwat Niwas in front of Dauji Ka Bagicha. This sacred sanctuary was established for the dependent saints and devotees, providing a haven for those dedicated to the pure path of devotion. The place is a picturesque blend of nature and devotion. Ancient trees, their branches twisted and gnarled with age, spread their leafy canopies, offering shade. Vines intertwined with the trees, created a lush, green spread that seemed to pulse with life. The air was filled with the melodious calls of peacocks and the gentle chirping of various birds, their presence adding to the tranquil ambiance.


In one of my earlier trips, Didi had taken me to meet Sri Banamali Baba at Bhagwat Nivas, and I had expressed my interest to meet him again. We waited for Didi to arrive, bathing in the serene and divine atmosphere. Didi soon arrived and led us to have darshan of the deities. Thakur Shri Girindra Bihari Ji, the presiding deity of Bhagwat Niwas, is intimately connected to Shri Raghunath Das Goswami Ji, one of the prominent followers of Mahaprabhu Shri Chaitanya. When Mahaprabhu Shri Chaitanya came to Braj, he took with him a sacred rock from Govardhan. After some time, Mahaprabhu bestowed this rock upon Shri Raghunath Das Goswami Ji. This very rock was later installed in Bhagwat Nivas and is revered as Thakur Shri Girindra Bihari Ji.


We felt deeply connected to the spiritual legacy of Vrindavan, the surroundings amplifying our reverence. The anticipation of meeting Sri Banamali Baba once again, coupled with the darshan of Thakur Shri Girindra Bihari Ji, made this visit to Bhagwat Nivas a deeply enriching and memorable experience. After darshan, we made our way to Banamali Baba’s kutir and knocked gently on the door. A young saint opened it and led us inside. A faint scent of incense lingered in the small, humble room.


Banamali Baba was lying on a simple bed, his frail figure partially covered with a light blanket. He was speaking into a phone, his voice sounding strained and feeble. The young saint at his side informed us that Baba had just returned from the hospital. Didi approached him gently, and as soon as Baba saw her, he began to rise. Didi helped him sit up on the bed, her touch gentle and supportive. His eyes then fell upon us. Didi introduced us with a warm smile, saying, “She is Rabi Babu’s daughter. She is the one who used to perform in all the Leelas here.” Baba’s eyes widened with recognition and a broad smile spread across his face. “How beautiful were those days!” he exclaimed; his voice filled with nostalgia. He began recounting how he used to go from Bhramara Ghat to Radharaman Temple to Hari Nikunja, attending all the performances we had staged. As he spoke, it was as if he was transported back to those cherished times.


He fondly recalled his deep affection for my father, speaking of the immense joy my father had brought through the performances of Bansi Bilas, enacting Krishna Leela in all the sacred sites. Despite his physical weakness, Baba’s humour remained intact, and his eyes danced with a lively spark as he spoke of Radharani and her leelas. The room seemed to brighten with the warmth of his memories, and I could almost see the vibrant scenes of our past performances flickering in his eyes. The connection between us, forged through the shared love of Krishna’s leelas, felt stronger than ever.


Banamali Baba is a Bhajananandi Saint, silently immersing himself in the service of Radharani. His life is a reflection of the beauty of simple devotion. Living a life of madhukari, he is content with a single meal of prasad each day, spending his hours chanting the divine names. Without a care for his own sustenance, he is wholly dedicated to seva. As I looked at Didi, prompting to tell us more about Baba, she sang the following lines of Sri Harirama Vyasa (Visakha Avatar)

kāhū ke bala bhajana kau, kāhū ke ācāra

vyāsa bharose kuṅvari ke, sovata pôṃva pasāra

  • Vyāsa Vāṇī, Sākhī (22)

(One may consider their devotional strength to lie in their worship mode; one may rely on their excellent behavior for redemption. But Shri Hariram Vyas states he depends exclusively upon the grace of Shri Kishoriji, as he sleeps fearlessly with his legs stretched out.)


This is how Banamali Baba carries on too. He arrived in Vrindavan at a young age, first residing at Radhakund. Later, when he moved to Vrindavan, he stayed at Bhagwat Nivas and took on the seva of Thakur Girindra Bihari Ji. From that day onwards, chanting Radharani’s name and serving the saints has been his unwavering focus. "Dham ka ashraya, Naam ka ashraya" is his motto. Completely surrendered to the divine, he lives without a care, soaking himself in the names and leelas of Radharani and Krishnachandra.


Ajagar kare na chakiri, Panchhi kare na kam Das

Malluk kah gaye, sab ke data Ram.

(As Malluk Das sang: Neither the python needs a job, nor the birds need any work. God will provide, so why to worry.)

Banamali Baba embodies this philosophy, his life a serene river of devotion flowing without obstruction.


We were mindful not to prolong our stay, knowing Baba needed rest. But Baba, with his boundless hospitality, wouldn’t let us go and asked the young saint to serve us prasad. Ever grateful for the love showered upon us, we partook of the prasad and then took our leave from his kutir, wishing him a swift recovery and promising to return soon.


... to be continued

 


Sri Banamali Baba, Bhagavat Nivas, Vrindavan.

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