Welcome to Shri Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan
Divine Glimpses - Itra sewa
Vrindavan is abound with tales of Lord Krishna descending into physical form to help out his beloved devotees. Some of the most famous ones are as follows:
The extract of flowers, preserved on sandalwood oil as base, is known as Itr (or Attar). Itr is known to have a soothing effect on our nervous system and has been used in aromatherapy since time immemorial. Even otherwise, the pleasing fragrance of Itr enhances the pleasure of the moment and makes everybody around happy. Itr is extensively used in daily sewa in the temples all around and is considered to be a very special offering. A devotee by the name of Vijnanai Khatri from Amritsar visited Vrindavan during the times of Swami Shri Haridasji Maharaj with a container of best Itr. The devotee had a rare experience of divinity of Vrindavan by the grace of Swamiji Maharaj. We are presenting a first person account of the incident as handed down to us by our elders.
My name is Vijnani Khatri and we own a flourishing business of perfumes in Amritsar. Our business is very well established and we are known as manufacturers of best quality of Itr, rosewater and other products. Our customers include the royals at Dilli and other places like Awadh, Jaipur, Nabha, Jammu, Jodhpur etc. Ours is a religious family and by tradition we run certain charities for the service of saints, cows, poor and social service. Saints from all over keep on visiting Amritsar and oblige us by accepting our hospitality and conducting satsang sessions at local temples and prayer halls.
One day when I visited the santniwas, I came across a saint who passed through Amritsar only a few days back on a long pilgrimage to Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath and other holy places. I was surprised to see him back from the arduous and time consuming journey. Moreover it is not only the going and coming back from the shrine; saints indulge in conducting satsang sessions at places and are never in hurry to reach back to their kutia (hermitage).
I greeted the saint in his usual style, "Jai Shri Hari".
"Jai Shri Haridas", greeted the saint back.
In a lighter tone I asked, "Revered Sir, what has happened to you? Not only that you are back from your pilgrimage so soon, you have changed your greetings also. Where from this Haridas fellow has come in place of Hari? I am surprised."
The saint laughed heartily, "Yes, you may be surprised, but as you know the universe is full of surprises. Shri Hari threw upon me a pleasant surprise this time in the form of Swami Shri Haridasji at Vrindavan. I stayed at Vrindavan for some time enjoying the divine company and there I realized my goal. I am now so much contented that I need not go anywhere. I just meditate on the Vrindavan Satsang of Swamiji and chant the holy name- Jai Jai Shri Kunj Bihari Shri Haridas, Jai Jai Shri Vrindavan Nidhivan Vas."
I became curious to know about Swami Haridas and his satsang. I had visited many places, met many saints, attended many satsangs even at Vrindavan on several occasions but never knew about this Swamiji. Moreover the glow I saw on the forehead of the saint and shine of his eyes while talking about his Vrindavan visit was unprecedented. If mere remembrance of those moments can make the saint so joyful, how much joyous would be the actual attendance of Swamiji? I wanted to know everything and that too urgently. Seeing my eagerness, the saint smiled, "Be at peace with you. Come, sit with me, I will tell you all about Swamiji I know."
Here goes the narration of the saint:
“Swami Shri Haridas is the ascetic of highest order staying in Vrindavan at present. His personality is so magnetic – with shaven head, flawless skin, big pinkish eyes, shining teeth in a line, childlike innocence and friendly smile on the face, fair complexion, tall and well build body – that once you see him it is difficult to take your eyes off his face. His way of praying is through music. He himself composes poems in praise of lord in standard classical form and then he sings these in Nidhivan as well as on banks of Yamuna. His followers as well as common folks of Vrindavan believe him to be incarnation of Lalita, the sahchari of Shyama Shyam . According to tradition, Lalita is the in-charge of musical activities in eternal Vrindavan which is the abode of cosmic couple Shyama Shyam. Shri Lalita has appeared on this planet primarily to enlighten the path of Prema bhakti where a devotee is inspired to put all of his/her endeavors for maximizing the pleasure of Shri Shyama Shyam without desiring anything in return. This is the ultimate form of bhakti in contrast with the usual religious practices where the practitioner performs rituals with some expectation of gain either in material form or otherwise. There is a small temple in Nidhivan dedicated to Shri Kunjbihariji, the revered Lord of Swami Haridas. I heard the story from local saints and disciples of Swami Haridas that Shri Shyama Shyam appeared in person in Nidhivan for a very brief period to the presence of a group of saints, enjoyed the music of Swami Haridas for a moment, talked to him and granted a black charming idol before disappearing. This idol is worshipped as Shri Kunjbihari or Bihariji or Banke Bihariji or simply Thakurji in Nidhivan, Vrindavan. The beauty and charm of Thakurji is beyond description. Only those who have darshan in the temple will know about it. I have visited so many places, so many temples – but have no hesitation to say that Bihariji is Bihariji, there is nothing to which He can be compared. After having His darshan, I decided not to go anywhere else but to return to my hermitage and meditate on Him. If any time I feel like to go out I will go to Vrindavan only to see him. So that is my story.”
Hearing the story, I got immensely interested to visit Vrindavan, bow to Swami Haridas and have darshan of his beloved Thakur Shri Bankey Bihari ji Maharaj urgently. As I reached home, my sister could see that I was lost in certain thoughts and gently asked about it. I narrated the entire story as was told to me by the saint in the evening and also mentioned to her that I was inclined to go to Vrindavan as soon as possible. We jointly decided to go to Vrindavan soon, why delay the visit to such a rare personality?
Accordingly, I made alternate arrangements to look after the business in our absence and we left Amritsar for Vrindavan. On the advice of my sister we took a small container of a recently extracted itr to offer to Swamiji. This itr was extracted from a rare variety of exotic flowers and was of a unique fragrance, we had not yet started selling it. After completing a few days journey, we reached Vrindavan and asked for direction to Swami Haridas’s place. It was afternoon and we were directed to bank of Yamuna where we saw Swami Haridas sitting in the sand surrounded by saints and pilgrims.
Swamiji, his eyes closed and fingers moving swiftly on the strings of Tanpura (musical instrument), along with a few of his disciples was singing in the praise of Lord. It was a rare combination of vocal and instrumental music and the voices were so melodious that everyone was lost in it. We too sat through the recitation and were taken over. I do not remember for how long the sitting continued but nobody moved. To me it appeared as if everything around us including birds that continuously chirp in the trees, the monkeys that are always performing aerobatics and even the water of Yamuna, everything and everybody remained stand still at that time. Finally, the recitation session was over. It appeared to me that suddenly everything and everybody came to life. Birds started chirping, monkeys started jumping around and water in Yamuna started flowing. Swamiji moved aside his Tanpura and looked around. Everybody bowed to him, so did we. While bowing, I placed the container of itr at his feet. He looked at me, smiled and said, “Bahot achchhe samay per aye ho” (you have come at a very important moment). Saying this, Swamiji opened the container and emptied it in the sand. I got the shock of a lifetime. What type of swami he was? Did he have even slightest idea of what I offered to him? However exalted a saint may be, he has no right to hurt the sentiments of visitors like this. I was agitated but restrained myself. One thing that surprised me the fragrance of itr was totally missing, though the entire container was emptied.
The saint commanded his principal disciples, “Jao Vitthal, Jagannath jao. Thakurji ki sayan sewa ko samay hai gayo hai. Jake Thakurji ki sewa karo aur sab bhaktan kon Bihariji ke darshan karvao.”(Vitthal and Jagannath go. This is the time to perform evening rituals in the temple. Perform the rituals and let the devotees have darshan). As Vitthalji and Jagannathji proceeded to the temple, everybody followed them. It was a small temple in the place called Nidhivan. The priest entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple through the side door and we all sat in the front verandah singing “Jai jai shyama, Jai jai shyam, Jai jai shri vrindavan dham’ and other melodies. After a few minutes the main door of the sanctum sanctorum was opened and I had the first glance of Thakurji. I was surprised that the temple was undoubtedly filled with the sweet fragrance of the itr I had brought. I was sure nobody else could produce this fragrance as it was the result of my efforts of several months. Swamiji had emptied the container in the sand for all to see. He never gave even a single drop of it or even the empty container to Vitthalji or Jagannathji to bring it to the temple. So how that fragrance which was totally missing at Yamuna bank in spite of the entire content being poured out was so prominent at this place? I looked here and there as if trying to locate the source of fragrance but to no avail. Confused and bewildered I looked at Bihariji again surrendering to Him – I do not what is happening here. I have come to you and you must tell me what is this all about? I felt He was looking straight into my eyes. It seemed as if He was pulling me towards himself through his vision. I thought I would lose my consciousness, so I tried to take my eyes off Him but I could not. During those moments everything around me got blurred and I felt I was migrating to a different plane of consciousness. Then I had a vision of eternal Vrindavan – Shyama Shyam playing holi in the nikunj! And I saw the container I had brought being emptied in the pot of colours that they were spraying on each other!
So that was it!