During lunch at the Food for Life Restaurant (near Lalita Ashram on the Parikram Marg), an Italian devotee offers us a box of sweets. I indulge in a couple of burfi and pushing my luck, a rasagulla. Later that nite, my throat becomes sore and chocked with mucous. The next morning i'm sick-- low fever, sneezing, symptoms of a full blown cold. Indian microbes have no mercy on western bodies. They are serious about their business. We are sitting ducks for them. So i fast all day, no appetite anyway. I need a low key day. Chanting and resting.
The following morning i feel well enough to get up and visit my favorite temples. I have only a few days left in Vrindavan and i have not yet had darshan. I find a very humble riscksaw walla and ask him to take me to Radha Damodar. I leave my shoes in the ricksaw and go inside. After obeisances and having darshan of Radha Damodar (and a collection of other deities: Radha Chalchikan, Radha Madhava, Radha Vrindavan Candra, Lalita Devi) and a giant black stone that the pujaris show only when someone offers a donation --they claim Lord Krishna gave this sila to Sanatan Goswam to circumambulate in his old age, and also claim the sila has the footprint and flute print of Lord Krishna melted in it-- i quickly go to Srila Prabhupada's room.
There has been a big controversy over Prabhupada's rooms at Radha Damodar. Iskcon was negligent about paying rent on the rooms; the Goswamis kept raising the rent. Iskcon made a grand plan to renovate the rooms and in the midst of their planning, the Goswamis tricked them and got possession of the rooms. The police came, Iskcon protested and finally it went to district court where Iskcon lost possession of the rooms, except for doing seva on alternate months. Then, Narasinga Swami (formerly Jagat Guru) who has his own mission based in Karnataka, somehow became involved with the Goswamis. So the simple peaceful place i used to visit, greeted by a godbrother from Hyderabad who cooked and cleaned and was pujari in these rooms for 10 years, is no more. I enter Prabhupada's room and after paying my obeisances, i'm greeted by an unknown western devotee who asks me, in a forced friendly manner: "Where are you from?" Without thinking, i respond: "What difference does it make where i'm from?" He says: "Well it helps to know where you're from in order to be personal." I reply: "I didn't come here to be personal. I came to offer my respects to my spiritual master." He gets the hint and graciously leaves the room, allowing me a few minutes alone with Prabhupada's murti. I don't stay long. The atmosphere is not the same as before. The walls are painted and it's clean, but there's an edge in the room that makes me uncomfortable. It's become someone's collection spot.
From Radha Damodar i get back on the ricksaw and want to go to Radha Raman. But Radha Shyamasundar Mandir (the deities of Shyamananda Prabhu) is just down the lane, and the ricksaw walla kindly reminds me of Them. So i enter the open courtyard of the temple and have darshan of these very beautiful, large deities, still in their early morning clothing. Some ladies are singing Hindi bhajans with the high-pitched female voices one hears in India. The pujari is relaxed and allows me to take photos of the deities. I leave a small donation and go back to the ricksaw. We proceed past Loi Bazaar and around Nidhuvan, a mysterious walled area that no one enters at nite, and arrive at Radha Raman Mandir. This is one of the favorite temples in Vrindavan. Radha Raman is self-manifest from a salagram sila that was worshipped by Gopala Bhatta Goswami. The Goswami was originally from Sri Rangam in Tamil Nadu, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was his father's guest for four months when he toured South India. Later, Mahaprabhu asked him to move to Vrindavan, and the charming temple he built with first class puja for Radha Raman, reflects his South Indian brahminical upbringing. The deity worship is going on uninterrupted for 450 years. In the evenings classical musicians come here to play their instruments for Radha Raman, and a few vocalists sing bhajans in the improvisational style known as Drupada. Arotik is a community affair with a priest banging a loud gong and local Brijbasis shouting praises to Radha Raman.
Radha Raman jui is kind to me. At least he lets me pray to Him to allow me to return to Vrindavan, and has always granted me that prayer. He is the Chief Immigration Officer of Vrindavan for me. Just outside the temple, i walk thru a courtyard surrounded by apartments that house the many families who are descendents of the original pujaris. They have the right to live inside the temple complex and each have a turn doing temple seva. Padmanabha Goswami is the most well known of these sevaites to western devotees. His late father was a friend to Srila Prabhupada. Some mornings Prabhupada would walk to Radha Raman from his room at Radha Damodar and have darshan and visit with Padmanabha's father.
Around the side of the temple courtyard is the samadhi of Gopal Bhatta Goswami. It is nicely maintained by a small group of older babas who are bearded and dreadlocked. They are always friendly to me. The front door to the room containing the samadhi has a special bolt to secure the door from being pried open by monkeys, who hang out in abundance in the courtyard. Sometimes the babas let a cow into the samadhi area but monkeys are strictly unwelcome guests.
Despite my cold, i continue to visit several more temples this morning. The body really troubles us when the mind is unengaged. Experiencing pain and pleasure in this world is more a function of mind than body. That does not mean the body has no reality. But the mind is a higher reality and therefore controls the experience of the body. All reality is subjective, and the highest subject for us is our relationship with God. So when one experiences the Ultimate Subjective Reality, lower realities become insignificant and tolerable.
After visiting a Hanuman temple i had never seen before, across from Lal Babu Mandir, i land up at Vrinda Kunj, the ashram of my godbrother, Paramadwaiti Swami in the old section of Vrindavan. He tells me that this afternoon he will be taking his group out on nagar kirtan thru Vrindavan. That's always a treat for me. I tell him i will try to make it and take off for my room to get some rest.