January 26-February 1, 2003

February 1st, 2003

Sri Vrindaban

Sadhus of Vrindaban III

It’s our last official day of pilgrimage. We were planning to visit Nandagram and Varsana, but our jeep caravan wound up getting stuck at the train-crossing where we were forced to wait over an hour for six trains to pass. Is that a record? (Dina Bandhu told me that the most trains he ever waited for was five, and he has probably gone as many times as anyone.) While suffering the long wait, I took shelter of some advice that a friend offered in a moment of personal crisis: “If you tolerate, there will certainly be a fruit at the end of your difficulties.” I relayed the message.

Because of our delay we only managed to visit Varsana.

Instead of approaching the temple after walking the beautiful 7-kilometer parikrama path, we were forced to visit the temple first in order to get there before it closed. After seeing the Deities, we walked back down the parikrama path counter-clockwise, allowing us to pass Radharani’s beautiful gardens and Man Kutir, a sacred place of Radha-Krishna’s pastimes on one of the four hills of Varsana; a place I normally forego because of the climb and time constraint.

I was once told by a friend in Vraja that because Man Kutir is so non-accessible, it is one of the few places left where you can still experience the original Vraja. We can certainly feel that here. Even though the altar doors were closed, we peacefully absorbed ourselves in kirtan. After some time, a brahmacari appeared from the small ashram here to inform us that Ramesh Baba, the renowned sadhu of Man Kutir, wished to invite us to his room.

Baba’s room is perched on the third floor of their small ashram and is only approachable by a gang plank-type metal pathway to a small veranda outside his room. Ramesh Baba is famous in Vraja for organizing and sponsoring a yearly 40-day Vraja Mandala parikrama for the local brajabasis who can’t ordinarily afford such an extravaganza. The parikrama is massive, entailing tent cities at each stop and plentiful prasadam.

When our party arrived to Ramesh Baba’s room, he was sitting on his bed taking prasadam. Baba is fairly clean-shaven and naturally portly, a soft-looking and fine-featured gentleman–not a commonly haggard and bearded sadhu. Although he has lived a life of notable renunciation in this solitary place for over 50 years, he immediately stopped, acknowledged us, and in fine British English (evidently he was very educated) humbly asked, “Any service?” Because he is renowned for his bhajans, I asked him if he would sing for us when he was finished. Within a few minutes two brahmacaris placed an old harmonium on his bed and then sat at the foot of the bed to accompany him with mrdanga and kartals. He chanted a song in brajabhasa (the local language) about the names of Radharani. “Nitya Kisori,” he sang in a deep, melodic, and devotional tone. He sweetly translated what he sang into English in between classical riffs: “She’s an eternally sweet youth.”

We loved his bhajans and were affected by the depth of their devotion. We felt very welcome in his room and sat peacefully, sharing among ourselves the few delicious brajabasi rotis and gur that Ramesh Baba had immediately offered us. I offered some praise about Man Kutir, repeating what I had told the devotees before about how it was one of the only places left where you could still experience Vraja. Ramesh looked up sadly and said, “Materialism is moving by the force of time.” He explained that Man Kutir was not untouched and had changed considerably over the years. He told us how he was even opposed bringing electricity to Varsana, but the local sadhus wanted the convenience. He didn’t even want the proper stone steps to the hill to be constructed.

Baba continued, “Even 20 years ago you would have to go down the hill to get water and carry it up on your head on a clay pot. Do you know Radhanatha Swami? A very sweet person. He used to live here at Man Kutir before taking diksa. I remember. He would also go down the hill and carry the water up here in a clay pot on his head.” He lamented again. “Time cannot be checked.”

“How did you come here?” one devotee asked.

“Loneliness,” he soberly replied. “Fifty years ago I was living alone in a dense forest outside of Vrindaban, so dense that you couldn’t even see the sunlight. I then came to Vraja, but I could not easily live around people, so I came to this hill. I always wanted solitude. At that time there were only snakes, scorpions, a few dacoits, and a large python living here.” (After he spoke I realized that when he said “loneliness,” he meant that he wanted to be alone, not that he was feeling lonely.)

Varsana was the last parikrama for many of us on our pilgrimage, so I related how sad many of us were to be leaving. He responded seriously from his own realization: “No need.”

I pointed to Donia and joked, “But she has to go back to school to study Dante and Shakespeare.”

He paused for a moment, considered carefully what I said, and then thoughtfully replied, “There is no need.

“I also studied all these things,” he shared, “but now I just want to forget the world. Even if someone I met three months ago comes here and then returns, I also forget them. I only want to remember love, the love in Vraja.”

He was sincere. He had renounced the world from his very youth and maintained his mood, but it was not false renunciation. He honestly wants only Vraja, the love of Vraja, and nothing else.

His advice for those leaving: “Harinama, only harinama.”

He also offered some memorable parting words of wisdom: “First there must be thought. Then action. Then habit. Then character. Then destiny. If your thought is Vraja, your destiny will certainly be Vraja.”

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