Vraja Parikram By Oxcart
Posted December 3, 2008
This Kartika I found myself in Vrndavana and met up with Parasurama das for his oxcart parikrama around Vraja. In an effort to serve the Brij-Basis while performing parikrama he has constructed a cart which can be filled with prasadam and books. On top of the cart are Nitai-Gaurasundara and Nrsimhadeva deities. It is a straightforward program — during the day we walk and chant, while some devotees distribute prasadam and books from the cart. In the evening we pull into a village and show Krsna-conscious movies to the Brij-Basis. The movies are shown on a back-projection screen by a digital projector powered by a 12-volt battery, charged by solar panels on the roof.
Parasurama takes advantage of his experience as a padayatra devotee and his natural love of chaos and insanity to create an adventurous preaching program, which greatly benefits all those who take part. (You can see a video of the parikrama preaching program at Matchless Gifts.)
Armed with a toothbrush, a blanket and a change of clothes, I hit the road. I met up with the devotees at Varsana, where the parikrama devotees stayed at the temple of Kripalu, a self-proclaimed "avatar of Krsna" with extremely cheesy pictures of himself adorning every wall. He is currently constructing a second temple for his worship on the Chatigarh Road, not far from the Krsna-Balaram Mandir. Accompanying Parasurama were Arjuna das and Kersti, and two sturdy oxen named Rama and Krsna-Murari. We walked for about an hour to Nandagram, stopping on the way at Vrindakund, where it is said that Srimati Vrinda Devi contemplates how to arrange Srimati Radharani and Krsna's pastimes. At Nandagram we took the opportunity to bathe at Pavana Sarovara, where Mother Yashoda used to bathe Krsna.
From Nandagram we walked for two hours to Javit for an evening program. On the way we stopped at some schools to distribute copybooks, pencils, sharpeners, prasadam and books to the students. We also gave some Hindi Bhagavad-gitas to the teachers. Around a hundred people came to watch the stories of Prahlada-Nrsimha and Bilvamangala Thakur.
The villagers in Vraja are extremely welcoming and hospitable. Straightaway someone came and offered food for our oxen and allowed us to tie them up in their goshala. Afterwards we performed madhukari, the traditional method of calling door to door and begging some foodstuff, becoming dependent on Krsna and satisfied with what He sends. That night we walked a few miles to stay the night at a Sunideva temple just outside Kokilavan. When we arrived the pujari was so happy that he immediately stopped watching TV and came to greet us. It was a busy night at the temple.
On Saturdays, pilgrims flock from Delhi to Kokilavan to worship Sunideva at the second-largest temple in India, and they all stopped on the way to ring the bell in our temple. They also bathe in the kunda at Kokilavan and throw their underwear into the nearby trees afterwards to dry. Some of the pants have been flung quite high, obviously with great enthusiasm, but despite their pant-flinging prowess, they don't seem to be aware of their offensive mentality in travelling to Vraja to worship demigods. Vraja is Krsna's home where He enacts His pastimes with His associates, and by practising devotional service we can enter into those pastimes and be released from material bondage. Why take such trouble to worship demigods for temporary benefits? We distributed as many books as we could, and hopefully, some people will become impressed by the philosophy of Krsna consciousness.
After Kokilavan we walked to Kosi, where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati once held a pandal program and complimented Srila Prabhupada's enthusiasm for hearing from his spiritual master. Here, we stocked up on bananas for distribution. We bought 400 kilos — enough to last for two days. A short distance from Kosi is a small village with a Siva temple. For a number of years Parasurama has been developing a relationship with a local brahmana there named Baladeva. Parasurama prabhu is currently working on a project to supply fresh drinking water to the village via a pipeline from Kosi.
We had a successful evening program there, and Baladeva insisted on cooking for us afterwards. He quoted a verse from the Ramayana explaining that material opulence and wealth are easy to obtain but that the association of a sadhu is very rare and such an opportunity should be welcomed eagerly. We had the traditional Brij-basi fare of rotis and subji — very simple but very satisfying, perhaps because all the grains and vegetables were grown in Vraja and cultivated and cooked by Brij-basis.
The next morning, Baladeva sent his grandchildren with ginger tea and we continued our parikrama towards Shergarh. The road is very bad in this area, and one of our oxen (Krsna-Murari) lost most of his shoes and began limping badly. When we arrived in Shergarh we had to wait until the following afternoon for someone to come to shoe the bull. The locals are impressed to see us using oxen in the traditional way, and it gives us an opportunity to preach about cow protection.
There are many goshalas in Vraja with huge herds of cattle, but a quick inspection shows that they are all cows, which prompts the question: where are the bulls? The unfortunate answer relates to India being the world's largest exporter of leather. In recent years many farmers have begun using tractors to work the fields, leaving the bulls as an unnecessary expense. Therefore, they are sent to the slaughterhouse. It is an unpalatable truth which needs to be addressed. Parasurama has a video in local Brij-basi language with graphic images and a blunt message about cow killing. Brij-basis are very proud of their heritage and respond very well to Westerners encouraging them to follow their traditional culture.
While waiting in Shergarh we distributed books and prasadam in a local school. The students and teachers were keen to ask us questions so I took the opportunity to explain who Srila Prabhupada is and what he had done, distributing Krsna consciousness in the Western world. I also encouraged them to embrace their own culture and not to become bewildered by the technological advancements of the West. By following their own culture they can be happy and go back to the spiritual world.
After Shergarh we walked to Cira-ghata and met with the main Vraja Mandala Parikrama group. We had another successful movie program, with around 80 villagers attending. The next morning we left early for a long walk to Vrndavana. On the way we had kirtan and distributed prasadam and books in Sei. We arrived in Vrndavana in the late afternoon and took the bulls back to the ISKCON goshala for some rest.
The next afternoon we set off for the east side of the Yamuna along the Vrndavana parikrama road. We took Rama again but Krsna-Murari had an infection in his leg so we had to take a smaller brown bull. Along the way we distributed 300kg of bananas and 1,200 books to pilgrims who were walking from Mathura. We walked about two hours to Panigaon and had another very successful program.
While trying to park the cart in somebody's front garden in the dark we hit a 1-metre hole and nearly toppled over. With some help from the villagers we pushed the cart back onto level ground and then drove straight through their electricity cable, blacking out their house! Not only were they not annoyed, they came to us after the program offering to cook for us — an offer which, as usual, we found very difficult to resist.
The next morning we left and travelled towards Lohavan. We stopped at two schools on the way to distribute to the students, and in the afternoon we found an outdoor jacuzzi. Some irrigation projects have a pumping house which throws a large jet of water into a tank outside, which overflows into a drainage system. In the usual hospitable way, the owner was more than happy for us to cool off there.
That evening Radha Ramana Swami told us of a village called Tarapur, whose residents were keen for us to do a program. It is a brahmana village and we were very impressed with the welcome they gave us. One man insisted we come to his house where his family set about cooking for us. When we told them the usual line about no onions and garlic, he replied that they never allow those in his house.
That night we were kept awake all night, chasing away a bull that came again and again to attack our bull. Wild bulls are very territorial, and don't like strangers in their area. They don't feel threatened by oxen, but another bull emits an odour which they take exception to.
The next day we went to Raval for the final evening program. Our bulls were locked indoors in the hope that we might get some sleep! Every morning at 4 a.m., large groups of girls from the village make their way to the temple to worship Radharani and sing beautiful songs to glorify Her. The mornings were becoming quite cold, and a thick mist hung in the air as they went by, creating a mystical atmosphere which, mixed with their melodious devotional voices, made me wonder for a few moments how had I the good fortune to find myself in a place such as this. After all, this tract of land is nondifferent from the spiritual world, and Sri Krsna and Srimati Radharani are never far away.
The next day we set off to Lohavan and Mathura and then back to Vrndavana. It is the biggest day for distributing — Mathura is always very busy. We distributed 800kg of bananas (2 cartloads) and 3,200 books. At one point in the centre of Mathura, a buffalo bolted across the road, knocking over a motorbike with three passengers, which landed across the front of a packed auto rickshaw. The road was blocked up and traffic built up almost immediately, but the amazing thing was that everybody laughed. It shows their good nature and tolerance that they don't get stressed about these things.
After two weeks of walking, chanting and distributing prasadam, I was sad that I had to leave. Vrndavana is an austere place, and out in the villages there are few comforts and very little sense gratification, yet by serving the devotees there one can feel a sense of peace and happiness unlike anything to be found elsewhere.