As I made my way through the narrow streets of Vrindavan yesterday on Radhashtami, there were the usual high levels of festival traffic; it was nearly impossible to move at the entrances of the lanes that lead to Banke Bihari. The Goverdhan Darwaja had one of those insane crowds of people that one encounters in India, where the packed mass of bodies seems to have its own awareness; one moves and feels as if that movement was a result of the autonomic function of the crowd beast. Loudspeaker-laden carts pulled by tractors or cows, each with its own troupe of Radhashtami revelers going from one temple to another, only made matters more pagal (crazy).
The lanes were less crowded as one moved past the Banke Bihare area and toward the Yamuna, although there were still a good number of people circulating, many of them singing the Vrindavan portion of “Radha Naam – 84 Kos Brij Yatra,” a song recorded by Param Pujya Shri Gaurav Krishna Goswami Ji of the Haridas lineage. The song, which is 45 minutes in length, attempts to praise all of the holy places and temples of Braj and is heard everywhere in the bazaars of Vrindavan.
On the right hand side of the lane is Radha Vallabh Mandir, the main temple of the Radha Vallabh sampradaya, in which the supremacy of Radha has been a main tenet ever since its inception by Sri Hit Harivansh in the mid-16th century. According to one of the websites dedicated to the temple,
The supreme Lord Krishna is only predomination and transcendental recipient of Prema (divine love), while Shri Radha is the Predominated Counter-Whole Divinity who alone can offer the supreme enjoyments to the absolute Lord.
It seems that Radha Vallabh’s rich traditions for this holiday were being overshadowed by the dominant popularity of Banke Bihare. As I approached the entrance to the Radha Vallabh temple complex, I decided that this was probably a good thing.
The temple was not designed to receive the large numbers of people that were now coming and going on the occasion of Radha’s birthday. Again, my companions and I were moving along, feeling like we were being squeezed through a sieve as the invisible forces of the throng pushed us through bottle-necked doorways. Upon entering, the crowd was not as big as the clamoring queue outside led one to believe.
We were there at what must have been one of the only lulls in activity throughout the day. We had missed the dadhi-kando in the afternoon, during which, as part of the Radhashtami tradition, money was thrown to the devotees and a mixture of yogurt, milk, tumeric and sandal paste was splashed on them.
Next in the celebrations , the Radha Vallabh Goswamis and temple devotional singers (Samaj), “proceed to Shri Hit Mandir (Old Temple), Vanchandraji Ke Dol, Shri Shri Sewakunj and Shri Hit Raas Mandal, performing dadhi-kando to the sky ricocheting with melodious tunes of “Radha Pyari Ne Janam Liyo Hai” and congratulatory verses.”
The Old Temple is seldom used, but is an important piece of Vrindavan Heritage. Built in1585, it is one of only four monuments in Vrindavan protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, along with Govind Dev, Madan Mohan and Jugal Kishor. The story of the temple is as follows:
Chief shrine of Radhavallabh sect, old Radhavallabh Temple at Vrindavan, though now abandoned but protected monument is in itself a handsome building and its spatial architectural interest is the last example of the early Eclectic style. Old Radhavallabh Temple (Now known as ‘Hith Mandir’) in Vrindavan was constructed by Sundardas Bhatnagar of Deoband, a disciple of Sri Vanachandraji, son of Hith Harivansh Mahaprabhu, founder of the Radhavallabh sect.
Wilson noted an inscription over the gateway of this temple, which now no longer exists, that it was in 1585 that this temple was constructed. Sundardas Bhatnagar was in the employ of Abdul Rahim Khankhana, the chief head at Akbar’s court, and through him not only got royal permission to use red sandstone for the construction of temple, which was till then used only for construction of imperial buildings, royal palaces and forts, but also got a monetary grant for this temple from Akbar. Descendants of Sunderdas Bhatnagar at Deoband still have these documents with them.
It is said that Raja Mansingh first decided to construct this temple, but backed out on hearing a legend that whoever would do so would die within a year. The legend did in fact come true, for Sundardas died within a year of the completion of the temple, for which he exhausted his personal treasure as well as the financial help received from Abdul Rahim Khankhana and Akbar the Great.
The temple was abandoned in 1670, when the deity of Radha Raman was moved to Kamyavan in Rajasthan, during the persecutions of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s forces destroyed some portions of the old temple, which was thus desecrated. The deity was eventually brought back and installed in the current temple.
A description of Radhashtami celebrations from one of the Radha Vallabh Mandir websites can be found below. To learn more about Radha Vallabh temple and sect, please visit the following web pages:
Another grand festival celebrated at the Radha Vallabh temple is the nine-day-long Shri Radhashtami festival, commemorating the birthday of Shri Shri Radhika Ji. The festival commences from the fifth day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapad (Bhadrapad Shukla Panchami) from which date congratulatory devotional songs are sung by the temple musicians and a beautifully decorated procession of Swaroops (child actors representing, or even incarnating, the Holy Couple Shri-Sri Krishna and Shri-Shri Radha) in attendance with their Sakhis (holy female companions) is taken out from the temple each evening for four days.
The Holy Couple along with their companions are seated in a well-decorated chariot. The chariot is decorated with flowers and colorful lights. Saints of the sect carrying Holy Insignias indicating their akharas (sub-sects), several band-parties playing devotional tunes, hundreds of devotees from all over the world dancing and singing devotional songs accompanied by the beat of traditional cymbals and drums, several jhankis (picturesque presentation of various themes connected with the occasion), comprise the procession, known as chav in the traditional parlance.
The procession meanders slowly down the main streets and lanes of Vrindavan, reaching the Raas Mandal after midnight, Devotees perform arati at different places along the way. On arrival, the Holy Couple (i.e., the deity form) is graciously garbed in red royal robes in the temple. On this night, darshan is again given after shayan arati, and then the dhandhi-dhandhin, the Holy Couple’s traditional male and female court dancers, dance whole night singing devotional songs in the praise of Shri-Shri Radha and her parents, Shri Vrishubhanuji and Shri Keerteeji.
After the performance of shayan arati, the Deity is adorned with new ornaments, on the all four sides of shayan mandap, plantain trunks with leaves are placed and the whole temple, inside out, is decorated with bandanwars.
On the eighth day, the temple musicians (samajis) start singing congratulatory songs (badhai) from the early morning before mangal arati, and dadhi-kando is performed for sometime in the jagmohan (raised platform).
The Deity is then bathed with panchamrita, the five ritually important ingredients — milk, curd, clarified butter (ghee), honey and sugar — followed by the holy waters of the Yamuna. This ritual bath consists of several liters of the above ingredients.
The temple is decorated this time, as it is at Hitotsava, and at the time of shringar bhog, various types of delicacies, e.g., laddoos of several types, gujhias (a special kind of sweet prepared from rice or wheat flour, stuffed lavishly with dry fruits, saffron and cardamom), sugar coated almonds, coconut slices, water chestnuts (makhana), lotus seeds, melon seeds, mathari (both sweet and salty), panjiree (wheat flour and coriander powder roasted separately in clarified butter and enriched with sugar, dry fruits, etc.), sakalpara, see, etc., besides several other delicacies are given in a sumptuous offering to the Deity.
On this day the Rajbhog is also lavish and sumptuous, consisting of sakhri — several kinds of rice, such as bhat, jeera bhat, mewa bhat, boora bhat, kesar bhat, dahi bhat (rice, cumin rice, dry fruit rice, sugar-butter rice, saffron rice, curd rice), etc. — curry, various kinds of breads (anga roti, meethi boora bhee roti, missy roti, phulka), lentils (dal), sweet moong, vegetables of various kinds, dahi pakori, kheer, etc. The offering to the Deity also includes nikhri, consisting of various kinds of pooris, kachauris, pickles, jams and jellies, dahi-bara, papar, etc. The feast culminates with an offerings of biree, betel leaves wrapped around cardamom, saffron and dry fruits, which is traditionally offered after each and every bhog at the temple.
After 12 noon begins the dadhi-kando of the Brijwasis, i.e., devotees and followers of the sect dwelling in Brij-Vrindavan. Later, it is the turn of Goswami Swaroops to perform the dadhi-kando, which must not be missed since it is a ritual to be remembered forever. Several liters of milk, curd, turmeric powder, sandal paste and saffron are mixed in a very large tank in the temple and the Goswamis sprinkle the mixture on the devotees and fellow priests, dancing in circles, merrily rejoicings, to the tunes of “Radha Pyari Ne Janam Liyo Hai” (Beloved Shri Radha has taken birth) and “Chalo Vrishbhanu Gope Ke Dwar” (Let us go to the doors of Shri Vrishbhanu Gope, Shri Radhikaji’s father).
Later, the Goswamis accompanied by Temple Devotional Singers (Samaj), proceed to Shri Hit Mandir (Old Temple), Vanchandraji Ke Doll, Shri-Shri Sewakunj and Shri Hit Raas Mandal, performing dadhi-kando to the sky ricocheting melodious tunes of “Radha Pyari Ne Janam Liyo Hai” and congratulatory verses.
This event is followed by a ritual bath in the Yamuna, after which the Goswamis return to their abodes. In the evening, again, the holy chav procession is taken out on a much enlarged scale, followed on this day by the chav coming from the Shri Banke Bihari temple, reminiscent of the holy processions when Shri Harivansh and Shri Haridas Swamiji came together.
The celebrations come to an end on the Trayodasi of the waxing moon, which marks Chhathi, the sixth day after of Radhikaji birth. On this day again, sumptuous shringar bhog and raj bhog offerings are made to Radha Vallabhji. During Raj Bhog Sakhri include specialties such as Kheer, Pakori, Peet-Bhat (Yellow Rice), Mohan Bhog, etc., besides offerings such as made on her birthday.
On Radhashtami itself, the Goswamis, as well as devotees, put tilak on the forehead of the dhandhi and dhandhin and reward them with shawls and money, as if it Shri Vrishabhanuji were doing it himself on that day.
The appearance of Lord Krishna more than five thousand year ago in Brij, the complete form of the Almighty with sixteen-kalas, accompanied by his divine-love consort Sri Radha is a well-accepted fact of life by the people of India and not a mere legend.
Here in the lap of nature, in Vrindavan, with its cluster of forests and meadows, surrounded by the revered river Yamuna, the Almighty mingled with the people of the land, making no distinction of cast or creed. He displayed the purest form of divine love play with Radha, opening up the most secluded, rarest and the supermost path of ras-bhakti, hitherto unknown to the world.
The forces of creation and sustenance, in effect Mother Nature herself, reincarnated around him as Sri Radha, and her companions. Lord Krishna’s haunting flute with its sweetest melodies was the call of God and followers happily abandoned worldly attachments to joyfully serve Him in this garden of nature.