Looking out onto Shriji Road, one of the main entry points into Barsana, watching the daily traffic... here the cows and buffalo are not so free range, but always seem to be driven by old turbaned men in dhotis and carrying a long stick. Or an ox cart with an old Brijbasi and his wife, conversing, the only cargo a small pile of cow manure. Crowds of girls going to the school next door, sadhus galore, mostly of the serious looking variety. Less of the type that goes from bhandara to bhandara. The Brijbasi women still keep their ghumta here, and the more modern ones have to have a strong sense of defiance. And there are religious tourists, not much of the other kind.
The Barsana Ladiliji temple is magic. I was walking on my way to Priya Kund and there is one spot where one gets a particularly good view of it. It is the jewel in the lotus of Braj.
There are no doubt more spectacular temples and other places of worship in India and outside, but Shriji temple does seem to incarnate, somehow, inexplicably, in its feminine curves, the charms of prema.
Yesterday, soon after arriving, I walked up the steps to the top. No wonder they built temples on the tops of hills. It is such good penance to walk those 300 steps. Pretending I am still young, I try to keep a steady pace and watch my breath. By the time I get to the top I am both exhilarated and heavy of breath. One walks across the lower balcony until one reaches that final steep staircase to the top. People are photographing themselves against the backdrop of the temple.
Inside, it is magic. The difference between Vrindavan and Barsana is not only in size, but in the dominance of a single temple. Even Bihariji in Vrindavan cannot be compared, because of the multi-sampradaya nature of the town. Here, there is no sampradaya in Shriji temple. All the sadhus all sit in the darbar of the Queen of Braja.
And the families. And the other, more local visitors. Yesterday, a group of devotees sat for an hour singing Radhe Govinda with great force. The atmosphere is ebullient. The whole town rotates around Shriji. Everyone is her devotee.
I turned around to see Binode Baba paying his shirtless obeisances on a covered piece of the marble floor. I stand and watch, thinking that I have put on too many warm clothes, it is not that cold, and marveling at Babaji's routine. The "naga" mood of his little group gives me a kick. It feels so normal to be with them, somehow. The beauty of their vairagya...
The bell rings and everyone more or less surges to their darshan spots, to engage their eyes in unblinking devotion to the Thakur. It is mesmerization. There are no prayers for anything, the mind goes silent and simply watches the flames circle around the deity, in a powerful act of joyful, bell-ridden group silence.
Arati comes to an end with a loud sigh, and a group of about ten young men dive into their energetic mangalacharan and Kripa Kataksha Stotra, concluding with a kirtan prayer for grace.
I went late to Ladliji's temple again last night. I sat for a while. The Thakurji was out on the Jagamohan with Lalita and Vishakha. A small group of city pilgrims picked a spot on the veranda and chanted Radha's names enthusiastically. They were with a Gosai who explained the songs they sang.
From down the hill came the sounds of a Rasa Lila. It sounded pretty good, so I decided to make my day by visiting the Ras.
It was quite a different experience from Ras in Vrindavan. The audience was nearly all children, all from the local community. The troupe was also local. When I walked in, intending to sit among the children, a young man invited me onto the stage and first asked me to do puja to the Divine Couple on the simhasan.
I had to stand on one of the steps to put garlands on them. Radharani was unbelievably pretty, with such big eyes. I didn't think it was a boy for a moment. She smiled at me and then held up her hand in abhaya mudra. I took her hand and put it on my head, and she laughed. She was pleased.
I was sitting on the stage watching the swaroops dancing and watching the people around. Sitting right next to me was a baby, about one or a bit more. With the big kajol eyes, just staring wondrously, mesmerized by the dancers.
It was so villagey. A little kid about two, clueless, walks across the stage while the performance is going on. So rustic, but so charming.
The singing was actually pretty good. And the troupe was a little rough as a coordinated group, but not too bad. Swirling in their sequined costumes. I gotta pick up more of these Brajabasi gopi moves. Radharani's swaroop and one other little sakhi - a new recruit it seemed - looked like they were really having a lot of fun.
There is something about a society that has lots of children. Playing in the narrow streets. There were so many babies. We just don't see so many babies in the West.
In the tempo coming up, there was a Brijbasi couple with a beautiful big-eyed baby who just kept staring at me. And I stared right back. This looking into a baby's eyes is a darshan also. Who was the genius who saw that all babies are Bal Gopal?
I thought that when you commune with a baby this way, you are actually participating in society. We are all the protectors of the babies. The feeling of mamatA arises spontaneously.
This is something that seemingly can't go on. We need to stop making babies because of global overpopulation and the strains it is placing on our global home, and yet what social cohesion is lost due to the stressing of individualism and consumerist and materialistic ambitions?