By Rachna Singh Chopra
To acquire knowledge, one worships Saraswati. For wealth, one lures Laxmi. To adorn the garland of detachment, one pleases Shiva. And to invite Lila into one’s life, one chases the master dream-weaver, Krishna!
Getting there: Mathura is located 145 km south-east of Delhi and 58 km from Agra.Bus service from Delhi (3 ½ hours) is brisk.
Use rickshaws to move around the city.
A good time to visit is the full moon night on Sharad Poornima between October 15 and November 15.
It was the dream of a divine child in my lap-none other than the Lord himself-that kick-started a relationship where my spirit began chasing the Dark One. Rather, he began chasing me!
He began by distracting me through dark shadows of moonless nights and soon enough began to haunt me in broad daylight. But I was ready for this invitation of darkness, for I had worshipped light too long… Finally, the day of intoxication dawned. I was called.
True to Krishna’s reputation, his invitation was wrought with intrigue. A spell was cast, an illusion woven. Even as I packed my bags, the clever one did not let me guess that I was on my way to Him. I kept repeating, ‘Show me your Lila, your wondrous play’, without having the slightest hint that it had already began!
The bride did not know that each step hence, would lead her to the hour she had pined for over a million nights. I was as drugged as the prison guards at the hour of Krishna’s birth, and when I woke up, though headed for Jaipur, I found myself by a sweet trick of destiny, on the road to Mathura!
The ancient city, once the centre of world trade, the nucleus of power under the rule of Emperor Ashoka, flattened by Aurangzeb and re-erected by Hindu faith, has also been a key Buddhist centre, finding mention in the writings of the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang.
But for me, it meant that little town on the banks of the sacred Yamuna, where my dream-weaver was born 5000 years ago. Stars teased as I walked the ground on which he had ambled.
His sweet whispers fell into my ears as I roamed the streets on which he had turned from butter-thief to cowherd, foiled the murderous attempts of a wicked uncle, enchanted Radha and sported with the love-ridden Gopis. It is easier to count dust particles on earth than it is to count the number of holy places in Mathura.
The entire town is resplendent with his signs-his footsteps still fresh on the mud of Mathura, his perfume still fragrant on the shores of Yamuna. There is Gokul on one side where Krishna was secretly raised.
At Madhuban (18 km southeast), he spent his youth. There stands the proud Rangbhoomi where untruth (Kansa) was defeated, Barsana where Radha was born, and Govardhan hill that Krishna held up on one finger. Each of the 32 picturesque ghats around the Yamuna has had its own tryst with Krishna.
At Vishramghat, he rested after killing Kansa, at another he was tied up by his mother for stealing butter. Yet another boasts of being the secret hideout where Krishna spent many a lazy afternoon with Radha. More than a thousand temples brim with Krishna’s presence.
At the Janmabhoomi, a cage-like cell, a stone slab, marks the original birth spot of Krishna. A mosque in red sandstone built by Aurangzeb provides the backdrop.
There is the Dwarkadhish temple, Radharamana and Radha Damodara temples, Govind Dev and Madan Mohan temple and the ISKCON temple built in pure white marble with an international flavour. The Gita Mandir built by the Birlas houses the Gita stambh, a pillar with the entire Bhagavad Gita carved on its surface.
An outrageous multi-storeyed, spaceship-like Pagal Baba Mandir stands further down the road. There is also the Mansarovar, a lake of Radha’s tears, formed in an intensely emotional state of wounded love when she feared she had lost Krishna.
I decided to follow the road that led to Vrindavan, the forest land of Krishna’s youth (15 km from Mathura) for the darshan of Banke Bihari, the deity discovered by Tansen’s guru Swami Haridas.
The enclosure of the shrine was filled with madmen of various ages, each one indifferent to the world, extending his own gestures of love to Banke Bihari.
Some bowing, some chanting, dancing, shaking their heads from side to side, others uttering silent prayers or crying under the impact of an indescribable bliss that had kissed their lips unknowingly. Each time the curtain rose to reveal the deity, a cry of bliss cut through the hall.
Each time the curtain dropped, the audience waited breathlessly for yet another encounter with their dark lover. Face to face with the idol, I understood the love in the eyes of Radha. But these one-minute glimpses did not quench my thirst.
This time when the curtain rose with the sound of ‘Jai Banke Bihari Kanhaiyalal ki!‘, my head remained bowed and my eyes shut. ‘I am here, Krishna! Not make- believe, but for real! Brought into your kingdom by your own sweet play, O weaver of illusions! Throw away your flute, and embrace me,’ I urged.
And this time when I opened my eyes, lo and behold, I saw Krishna as though in a shattered mirror! Instead of a single image of a lone deity, I saw an array of Krishnas, a million images of him overlapping, merging, rising!
I saw Him in the chant of sadhus, in the play of children, in the crying eyes of women, in the frenzy of dancing youths. Each one in the gathering conversing with and loving his own Krishna!
Now I knew Krishna’s real Vrindavan-the hearts of his lovers, where he lives, plays, frolics. This is his true playground, the seat of his birth, youth and miracles, not the shrine!
Just then, a cry ‘Hare Krishna!’ pierced the air. I glanced at Banke Bihari sitting innocently in the shrine, silently containing it all within him-the scripts, the roles, the dialogues and destinies of one and all. And I knew that God is a child… full of pranks!
After this spectacular darshan, I rushed to the side of Yamuna, the beautiful daughter of Surya and sister to Yama, whose waters drenched Krishna’s lotus feet when father Vasudeva was carrying the baby across to Gokul.
Varaha Purana even asserts that when the Ganges is sanctified a hundred times, it is called the Yamuna. A dip in Yamuna’s holy waters frees one from the torments of death.
Standing at the river’s edge and watching the diyas float, my mind went back to the mirage I had seen on the road to Mathura.
I wondered why, after all, is an illusion created? I heard the answer from the master of mirages. Till the time we are ready to see the face of reality, nature continues to act like a chameleon.
As long as we are satiated with mere glimpses, the curtain continues to rise and fall.
Soon, the moon smiled from beneath the dark clouds and spread its milky brilliance. And after days of doubt, one moment of belief shone forth.
I returned resolving to become the empty flute to the lips of Krishna. And with a prayer: May the curtain never fall.
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