"In-Roads", Life Positive Magazine, Nov 2002

For acquiring knowledge one worships Saraswati, for wealth one lures Laxmi. To adorn the garland of detachment, one pleases Shiva. And for inviting lila into ones life, one chases the master dream weaver Krishna! It was a dream of a divine child in my lap, none other than Krishna himself, that kick started this relationship, and my spirit started chasing the dark one. Or rather he started chasing me! He began by distracting me through the dark shadows of the moonless night, and soon enough started to haunt me in broad daylight! I was ready for this invitation of darkness, for I had worshipped light for too long.

Finally the day of intoxication dawned. I was called. True to Krishna’s reputation, his manner of inviting me was wrought in intrigue. A spell was cast, an illusion weaved. Even as I packed my bag, 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 started! I was drugged so as to say, as were the prison guards at the hour of Krishna’s birth, and when I woke up, though headed for Jaipur, I found myself by the sweet trick of destiny, on the road to Mathura!

The ancient city, once the center 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 center finding mention in the writings of the Chinese traveler Hyuen Tsang. But for me, it meant that little town on the banks of sacred river Yamuna, where Krishna was born 5000 years ago. Stars teased as I walked on the ground on which he ambled. His sweet whispers fell on my ear as I roamed the streets on which he turned cowherd from butter thief, foiled the murderous attempts of a wicked uncle, enchanted Radha and sported with the lovesick Gopis.

It is easier to count the number of dust particles on the surface of earth than to count the number of holy places in Mathura, it is said. The entire town is resplendent with his signs; his footsteps are still wet on the mud of Mathura, and his perfume still vagrant on the shores of Yamuna. There is Gokul on one side where Krishna was secretly raised, at Mahaban (11 miles southeast) he spent his youth. There stands the proud Rangbhoomi where his uncle Kansa (untruth) was defeated; Barsana where Radha was born; and Govardhan hill that Krishna held up on one finger. Each of the 32 picturesque banks around Yamuna had its own tryst with Krishna. At Vishramghat, he rested after killing Kansa; at another he was tied by his mother for stealing butter; yet another boasts of being the secret hideout of Krishna to spend lazy afternoons with Radha. More than a thousand temples brim with Krishna’s presence.

The Janmabhoomi (birthplace) was a cage like cell, with a stone slab marking the original birth spot of Krishna, with the backdrop of a mosque in red sandstone built by Aurangzeb. The town has the Dwarkadhish temple, Radharamana and Radha Damodara temples, Govind Dev and Madan Mohan Mandir, and ISKON built in pure white marble with a truly international flavor. The Gita Mandir built by the Birlas houses the Gita Stambh, a pillar with the entire Bhagavad Gita carved on its surface. And there is an outrageous multistoried, spaceship-like Pagal Baba Mandir down the road! There is also the Mansarovar, a lake of tears formed in an intensely emotional state of wounded love by Radha, when she feared she had lost Krishna.

I decided to follow the road that led to Vrindavan 9 miles from Mathura, the forest land of Krishna’s youth for meeting Banke Bihari, the idol of Krishna discovered by Swami Haridas. The enclosure of the shrine was full with madmen (all age groups), each one indifferent to the world, extending individual 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 rocked their being. 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 felt like the love in the eyes of Radha, and these brief glimpses did not satiate. This time when the curtain rose with the sound of Jai Banke Bihari Kanhaiyalal ki!, my head stayed bent and my eye remained shut. “I am here Krishna! Brought into your kingdom by your own sweet play, O weaver of illusions! Cast away your flute, and embrace me!”, I urged.

This time when I opened my eyes, lo and behold, I saw Krishna as though through a split mirror! Instead of a single deity, I saw an array of Krishnas, a million images of him overlapping, merging, rising! I saw Krishna in the chant of Sadhus, in the play of children, in the tears of women, in the frenzy of dancing youth. 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, cry of Hare Krishna! shook the air. I glanced at Banke Bihari sitting innocently in the shrine, silently containing it all within him—the scripts, roles, dialogues and destinies of one and all. And I knew that God is a child… full of pranks!

After this spectacular darshana, I rushed to the side of Yamuna, the beautiful daughter of Surya and sister to Yama, in whose waters Krishna’s lotus feet drenched when father Vasudeva was carrying the baby across to Gokul. Varaha Purana even asserts that when the Ganges is sanctified one hundred times, it is called the Yamuna. A dip in its holy waters frees one from the torments of death. Standing at the river’s edge and watching the floating lights, my mind floated back to the mirage I had seen on the road to Mathura. Not that I had not seen a mirage before, but this time I had kept asking why after all is an illusion created?

Now I heard the answer from the master of mirages! Till the time we are ready to see reality in its face, nature continues to act like a chameleon. Till the time we are satiated with mere glimpses, the curtain continues to rise and fall. Soon moon smiled from beneath dark clouds and spread its milky brilliance, and after days of doubt, one moment of belief shone forth. I returned with a resolve to become the empty flute to the lips of Krishna and a prayer that the curtain never falls!