Many great devotees reside eternally at the
Radha-Damodara temple, one of the oldest temples in Vrndavana.
Vrndavana is a charmingly beautiful place, and situated there in the grove known as Seva Kunja is the sacred temple of Radha-Damodara. I take the lotus feet of these Deities as my only shelter, and I petition Them to be kind upon me and guide me to life's ultimate goal." Srila Prabhupada
TODAY I HAVE THE GREAT fortune of being in Vrndavana, India, home to some five thousand temples of Lord Krsna. For a few weeks during the holy month of Damodara (October-November), I have left aside all my worldly commitments in search of spiritual rejuvenation. Here, in this sacred place at this auspicious time, any service performed for Lord Krsna is said to be magnified one thousand times.
Lord Krsna sported in Vrndavana five thousand years ago. About four hundred years ago Lord Caitanya's principal disciples, the six Gosvamis, established several temples in Vrndavana that today remain the central places of worship. I'm on my way to visit one of those famous original temples the Radha-Damodara temple just off busy Loi Bazaar. "Damodara" is a name for Krsna that means "bound at the waist." Krsna's mother once bound His belly with ropes when He was a playful young boy. Alongside Krsna at the Radha-Damodara temple, as with most temples in Vrndavana, stands Radha, His eternal consort.
My ricksha driver takes me through the narrow, twisting, crowded streets of Vrndavana. It has been ten years since I last came here, but everything looks familiar. We pass by chanting pilgrims, busy shopkeepers, women carrying goods on their heads, and laughing children calling "Haribol!" ["Chant God's name!"] Then there are the animals cows, pigs, dogs, camels, horses, and the mischievous monkeys.
After paying the ricksha driver ten rupees, I proceed barefoot, the reverential way to tread on holy soil. After a short walk I come to the gateway of the Radha-Damodara temple. The temple is not visible from the arched gateway, which looks like it might be the entrance to a private house. During the infamous attacks on Vrndavana's temples in 1670, the Moguls went straight past Radha-Damodara, mistaking it for a private residence and sparing the temple from attack. Out of fear of the Moguls, the temple priests had already moved the original Radha-Damodara Deities to Jaipur, a stronghold of Krsna devotees, where the Deities remain today.
To the left of the gateway the main entrance comes into view. Before entering the temple, I wash my feet at the tap near the door. As I pass through the stone archway, everything appears just as I remember it. An old festival cart lies next to the doorway. Sacred Tulasi plants grace each corner of the open-air central courtyard. At the right-hand corner near the altar, a checkered marble floor leads to the rooms where my spiritual grandfather, Srila Prabhupada, lived and wrote for several years before bringing Krsna consciousness to the West. I climb the marble steps toward the central altar and pay my respects to the Deities.
Thousands of visitors come here every year. Today about a dozen local worshipers have come to see the Deities' arati (worship) ceremony. Soon, a pujari (priest) appears in the Deities' chamber and offers the Deities incense, a flaming lamp, water, a silk handkerchief, and a yak-tail fan. The pujaris perform this ceremony several times a day. As the pujari makes the offerings, a devotee rhythmically rings a large bell suspended overhead. With enthusiastic calls of "Jaya Damodara!" [All glory to Damodara!] and "Radhe Radhe!" [O Radha! O Radha!"], the devotees begin congregational chanting of the holy names. Radha-Damodara Their beautiful eyes resembling lotus petals share their altar with Radha's assistant Lalita and three other sets of Radha-Krsna Deities.
Before building any temples in Vrndavana, the Gosvamis worshiped their Deities in the hollows of trees. The original Damodara Deity, now in Jaipur, is only eight inches high. Sri Rupa Gosvami carved the Deity in 1542 for his disciple Sri Jiva Gosvami. Finding a hollow big enough for the new Damodara Deity would be difficult He's nearly five feet tall.
Today Damodara's dark form and Radha's golden form are dressed in white with golden jewelry. Sandalwood-paste designs adorn Their faces. Krsna wears a garland of sacred Tulasi leaves and flowers, while Radha's is made of lotus buds. The divine couple smile sweetly. The other Deities are similarly decorated.
At the end of the arati the pujari blows a conch shell and then distributes Tulasi leaves from the Deities to eager outstretched hands. It is said that anyone who tastes Tulasi leaves that have touched Krsna's body will achieve the Lord's abode. A small donation enables me to see the Govardhana-sila (a stone from sacred Govardhana Hill) of Sri Sanatana Gosvami, kept here on the altar. The pujari lifts the large sila and shows me the marks of Krsna's footprint and a calf's hoofprint. Krsna gave the stone to Sri Sanatana Gosvami to worship, as explained in the following story.
Sri Sanatana Gosvami had taken a vow to walk around Govardhana Hill every day. (Such circumambulation, as devotees usually call it, is the traditional way to offer respect to a sacred place or object.) When Sri Sanatana Gosvami became old, he struggled to complete the twentyfour-mile walk. Lord Krsna appeared to him and said that now that he was old there was no need to go around Govardhana every day. Sanatana Gosvami replied that he had taken a vow and did not want to stop. Krsna then instructed him to bring a stone from Govardhana. Krsna stood on the stone and played His flute, which attracted a nearby calf. The stone began to melt in ecstasy, and Krsna's footprint and the calf's hoofprint left impressions on the stone. Krsna then told Sanatana Gosvami that four times round this stone would equal going around Govardhana Hill.
Nirmal Chandra Goswami and his five sons take care of the Deity worship here. His family has been serving Radha-Damodara for generations, being the disciplic descendants of Sri Jiva Gosvami. The pujari services here and in the rest of Vrndavana are strictly for men only. The women cook and do other services.
The curtains close, and I pay obeisances and descend the steps. I'm on my way to Srila Prabhupada's rooms.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of ISKCON, stayed at the Radha-Damodara temple from 1959 to 1965. It was the last place he lived before going to the West. His memory is very much alive here.
Srila Prabhupada used two rooms: his living quarters and a kitchen. I lightly tap on the brown wire-meshed door to the main room. On entering I see the life-sized murti (carved form) of Srila Prabhupada at his desk, pen poised in hand. Here he translated the first volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam into English. The room has the Hare Krsna mantra painted in Sanskrit around the top of the walls. Although the room is small, Srila Prabhupada was fond of it. "I live eternally in my rooms at Radha-Damodara temple," he said.
Facing the main room is the kitchen. At one end of the kitchen a small window looks out at Sri Rupa Gosvami's samadhi.* Srila Prabhupada would sit and take his meals here, and he took Sri Rupa Gosvami's full blessings to start the worldwide Hare Krsna movement. I imagine how this took place here in Srila Prabhupada's rooms, which possess a magical atmosphere.
The Samadhi Area
After paying respects to my spiritual grandfather, I make my way to the samadhi area outside, where a compact courtyard enshrines the remains of some of the greatest spiritual masters in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Chanting softly on my beads, I come face to face with several Vrajavasis, residents of holy Vrndavana. We hardly know a word of each other's language, but "Hare Krsna" says it all. They smile with approval that I have taken up Krsna consciousness.
The step leading to the samadhis has worn smooth, bearing witness to the countless souls who have passed through here.
The Radha-Damodara temple has many samadhis. The first on the right belong to Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami [see sidebar, page 24] and Sri Jiva Gosvami.
One of the six Gosvamis, Sri Jiva Gosvami organized the construction of the Radha-Damodara temple. Born in 1513, he was the youngest of the six Gosvamis and assisted the others. After the departure of the other Gosvamis, Sri Jiva Gosvami was left in charge of the temples they had established. A great scholar and philosopher, he wrote more books than any of the other Gosvamis. At one time the Radha-Damodara temple held an impressive library. The temple was also famed for discourses given by Sri Rupa Gosvami and Sri Jiva Gosvamis, which attracted devotees from all over India.
I pay respects and then look up to see a couple of monkeys watching me. They seem to detect I don't come very often and are hoping I'll leave my possessions unattended. People regularly lose their glasses to monkeys, who take them to the bazaar to trade for food.
Nearby stands the samadhi of King Birhambhir of Vana Vishnupura, who stole the Gosvamis' writings when they were being transported to Bengal. He later became a great devotee of Lord Krsna.
Further down stands the white square puspa (flower) samadhi of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada. Looking along the rows of samadhis I see flower garlands offered anonymously here and there. Two old women pass by in white saris, the dress of widows. One carries a plastic bag of milk. A hole in the bottom produces a trail her way of honoring the sacred ground she treads. A small squirrel scurries about. How fortunate for him to be living at the Radha-Damodara temple, which Srila Prabhupada called the hub of the spiritual world.
Continuing around the pathway, I notice an enclosed area with the most healthy looking Tulasi plants I have ever seen, along with roses and jasmine.
Sri Rupa Gosvami's Courtyard
Through an archway Sri Rupa Gosvami's saffron-colored bhajana-kutira ("worship hut") and graceful samadhi come into view. This area contrasts sharply with the other side of the temple courtyard, which is packed with dozens of samadhis. Except for these two memorials to Sri Rupa Gosvami, and two small samadhis, only shining ground tiles fill the open courtyard. Every evening after the seven o'clock arati, chanting and singing devotees form a procession and go around the temple four times, ending here at Sri Rupa Gosvami's samadhi.
In 1516 Sri Rupa Gosvami and his elder brother, Sri Sanatana Gosvami, came to Vrndavana under the direction of Lord Caitanya, who gave them the tasks of building temples, installing Deities, writing books, spreading Krsna consciousness, and finding the lost sites of Radha-Krsna's pastimes. The brothers wandered like mendicants all over Vrndavana, sleeping under a different tree every night. When they came to Seva Kunja, the site of this temple, Sri Rupa Gosvami selected it for his headquarters.
No temples or buildings stood here then, just some trees. Every day the Gosvamis would meet here to discuss Krsna's pastimes and give discourses. Sri Rupa Gosvami would write books here, sometimes on palm leaves and sometimes on handmade paper. His beautiful handwriting was said to resemble rows of pearls. Considered the leader of the six Gosvamis, Sri Rupa Gosvami treated his elder brother, Sri Sanatana Gosvami, as his guru and the others as his assistants. I bow before Sri Rupa Gosvami'ssamadhi.
Kanika Prasada Goswami, a member of the resident Goswami family, tells me that Sri Jiva Gosvami would wash his feet in the pit beside the samadhi before serving his guru. Praying for his blessings, I happily place some of the dust from this holy spot to my head. One white and two dark trees produce some shade in this courtyard. Kanika Prasada tells me the white tree represents Western devotees who have taken to Krsna consciousness.
Out of all the wonderful places in Vrndavana, I especially like visiting the Vaisnava samadhis. Being at the samadhis enables me to feel closer to all these great personalities, who are actually present. They are able to give their blessings to those who seek their shelter. A poem by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a pioneer in spreading Krsna consciousness to the West, explains the influence of a devotee before and after his departure:
He reasons ill who tells that
When thou art living still in sound!
The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try
To spread the holy name around!
A nearby doorway brings me back into the temple courtyard. As I leave I silently pray to Radha-Damodara and all the devotees eternally residing there that I may come back to their wonderful temple well before another ten years goes by.
Vrndavani Devi Dasi joined ISKCON in 1980. She and her husband and their three children live near Bhaktivedanta Manor in England. She assists the temple's Life Membership department.
The Other Deities of the Radha-Damodara Temple
RADHA VANDAVANA Candra, the tallest Deities on the altar here, were worshiped by Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami. A great scholar, he wrote SriCaitanya-caritamrta and Govinda-lilamrta. Sri Jiva Gosvami awarded him the title Kaviraja, "king of poets."
Radha-Madhava are the Deities of Jayadeva Gosvami. A pandita in the royal court of Bengal, he left the opulence of palace life to write devotional songs. His works include Gita-Govinda, a poem about Krsna's pastimes that is recited daily in the Jagannatha temple in Puri.
Radha-Chalachikan are the Deities of Bhugarbha Gosvami, a close friend of Lokanatha Gosvami. They were contemporaries of the six Gosvamis and worked to uncover the lost pastime places of Radha and Krsna. To avoid material distractions, Bhugarbha Gosvami performed his devotions underground. His samadhi is here at Radha-Damodara.