Pilgrimage to Vrindavan

Swami Govinda shares his story of visiting the temples, ghats and sacred places of worship in Vrindavan, the city of Sri Krishna.
Swami Govinda and Indian man covered in paint, smiling

Ever since I came across the Sathya Sai Baba book ‘Summer Showers in Vrindavan’ the name ‘Vrindavan’ has been like a magnet to me.

This was long before ‘Vrindavan’ had any association with Krishna in my mind and before I was ordained as ‘Swami Govinda’ – the name just enthralled me. I thought “I’ve got to go there!”

In January 2019 my dream came true. And it really was a dream – from the moment I stepped into the taxi travelling from Delhi all unfolded seamlessly, I was blessed with a lovely driver, and as we Satsanged across the Indian countryside, he insisted on paying for all my fruit, snacks and drinks.

When we arrived in Vrindavan I wanted to give him a tip because he’d been so kind, but he refused and said “My pleasure. Guest is God.”

I think this kind of refinement is common in India. This beautiful consciousness of service and Seva. Of the Divine Being in everything and everyone. It’s a very humbling thing to witness.

And as we turned off the highway towards Vrindavan, I really felt waves of Krishna coming out to greet us. It is such a beautiful place, just saturated in Krishna’s love.

Yamuna Ghat

We then went to the Yamuna Ghat, and as we arrived, the evening aarti was in full flow. The priest had great passion and dedication and his congregation were signing such uplifting bhajans to Radha and Krishna. After meticulous preparation, the priest offered an enormous ten-kilo fireball aarti to the Yamuna, with showers of petals and so much devotion. 

The microphone came my way, and I sang my favourite bhajan to Krishna, I felt such blissful contentment. I think he was quite enthralled to hear a Westerner singing a Krishna bhajan as I did. He said, “Many of my own people don’t sing like this!”

I explained that I live in an ashram in the UK and my name is Swami Govinda. So we went back the following morning, and on our final night he gave Rajesh and me two aarthis, so we joined him in worship of Krishna and Yamuna – it was so beautiful!

The Ashram of Swami Haridas

There were many parts of Brindavan that I could talk about, but three things stand out. Firstly, the warmth of the town. The warmth and softness of the town are absolutely tangible. 

Secondly, there’s the Ashram called Tatiya Sthan of Sri Swami Hari Das, the musician. You go through a small corridor into a compound with a sandy floor. They sing bhajans continuously at his samadhi, and we really benefitted from the grace, just sitting quietly there.

We turned to make our exit, when suddenly hundreds and hundreds of sadhus came rushing in, all carrying pieces of wood, sticks and twigs for a fire. Young, old, blind, one arm, one leg sadhus, some on crutches – a huge diversity. I was jammed into this narrow corridor for some time, quite unable to move.

Then a little man said to us, ‘Prasad, Prasad!’ He was quite insistent, so even though we’d already eaten, we accepted his offer. The sadhus had arranged themselves in long lines, each with a banana leaf as a plate. Prasad was served gracefully and in a very proficient and organised manner. 

The food though simple was from another realm and the surroundings, the company of the sadhus and vibration of the ashram made it a very memorable, life-affirming experience. As we ate, I could see the sadhus looking at me and my friend Rajesh quizzically, yet we felt very much accepted and cared for.

Nidhivan forest

On the last morning, I visited Nidhivan – the grove where Krishna dances with His Gopis. If Brindavan is an oasis, then this grove really is the source of sweetness. As soon as you step into that grove you feel this amazing, indescribable feeling of Krishna anandam – the soft warm embrace of Krishna and the feeling of being there is so unbelievably familiar.

A branch of a tulsi tree in the sacred grove
A branch of a tulsi tree in the sacred grove

It’s a grove of tulsi trees, and as you walk amongst the trees you feel drawn to touch them. Even though they are hundreds of years old, the trees feel soft, gentle and yielding.

Jayita told me that every night at seven o’clock all the people, and monkeys, leave the grove to give Krishna space to dance with his Gopis. The Gopis, these great Rishis, coalesce in the day in the form of the tulsi trees and at night they dance with Krishna. You really must go there and soak it up!

Gopeshwar Mahadev Temple

Thirdly, there was one very special temple that I stumbled across. It’s a lingam temple called Gopeshwar Mahadev Shiva Temple. And as I walked in I questioned myself why was I visiting a Shiva Temple in Brindavan? Yet I felt very much drawn to it; the priest had extraordinary concentration and devotion, he never stopped chanting to the lingam, despite the commotion of many people.

I bought a garland and some flowers outside and had the opportunity to offer flowers to Ganesh and Lakshmi, then offer the garland to Shiva and say prayers. He didn’t bat an eyelid, despite me being a Westerner, nor was there a demand for money. I did parikrama around the gopuram three times to return the following day.

I later learned that that temple is very special in Brindavan. The story goes that Lord Shiva became quite jealous of Krishna and the Gopis dancing with each other, so one day he disguised himself as a Gopi. He was met by Krishna at the entrance to the grove. Obviously, Krishna saw through his disguise but played along with it for fun. 

Lord Shiva came in and spent the night dancing, so now on a weekly basis, this same Lingam is dressed as a Gopi to re-enact Shiva’s play!

My time with Rajesh was very special, like finding a long lost brother. It became a tradition after visiting Banke Bihari, to stop for a lassi, the mother of lassi’s at a shop that did nothing else, we drank in near silence; the whole experience totally Divine.

Beware the monkeys!

There is a very comical side to Brindavan and that is the monkeys. They are everywhere – in their hundreds. They really enjoy stealing your hat, phone and glasses. If you walk the streets with glasses on, local people will say ‘Sir! Mind your goggles!’

Highwire monkey in Vrindavan
Highwire monkey burglar

One time I was walking through a narrow street in the evening darkness. I saw the cheekiest of monkeys peeking out from behind a sign, so I removed my glasses as a precaution. Moments later he landed on my back – his hairy hand grasping to snatch the glasses from my face. 

They just do it for fun, to provoke a reaction! They steal them, run up a lamppost and gnaw them to shrapnel right in front of you. One monkey stole a man’s hat. It was hilarious actually. The monkey stayed just out of reach to taunt the man, then chewed his hat to bits.

What can I say? Brindavan is the abode of Sri Krishna. You must go!

Homeward bound

I flew from Mumbai to Heathrow, where I was picked up by friends Vijay, Rajesh and Jay, (a.k.a the President) and driven straight to Skanda Vale, just in time for our Sunday mahabishekam to Lord Subramaniam.

By that point, I think I’d been awake for 48 hours, but I felt so bright. Every step of the way, I just felt like I was perfectly looked after; travelling, accommodation, food, being shown everywhere, opportunities literally presented to me on a plate. 

It was such a valuable experience to have all my routines – ways of doing things, ways of thinking, ingrained behaviours and habits dismantled, and all saturated with love and grace.

Jai Sri Krishna. 

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