Thursday, November 13, 2008

India Journal, Part 11

Yamuna Kunj is a beautifully preserved 19th century bath house for Hindu Queens who took their baths in the Yamuna, when the holy river formerly flowed in front of it. It was purchased by Paramadwaiti Swami in a state of complete disrepair and he and one of his disciples renovated it while keeping its classic elegance. It's now an ashram for an odd assortment of brahmacaries, vanaprasthas and sannyasis who are friends or followers of Paramadwaiti's mission.

I stop off in Loi Bazaar on my way back to my room at Yamuna Kunj. I'm looking for peacock feathers, conchshell eyes and jewelry for my Giriraj sila, in the bazaar where murti wallas and jari wallas have their storefronts or in some cases, simple stalls. It's a pleasure to shop for God, much more fun than for myself. I also enjoy the human exchanges with the shopkeepers. No impersonal dealings here. At the bazaar i realize that i'm running out of rupees, so i find a money changer to exchange $200, enough rupees for the rest of my trip plus some extra. I'm taking excess baggage back with me to the US, and it may cost me at the airport. The money changer gives me the daily exchange rate of 48.20 for one dollar, down a bit from last week. I agree to the rate and give him my dollars. He starts counting out 9640 rupees with 100 rupee notes. I stop him and explain i don't want to carry 96 pieces of currency with me. I want 500 rupee notes which have been standard currency in India for several years. He doesn't have 500 rupee notes he apologizes. How can you not have them, i reply, currency is your business. After some prodding, he insists he is out of 500 rupee notes. I feign anger and demand my dollars back. He tries to calm me down by promising "to find" some 500 rupee notes. We finally agree on a compromise: 7500 in 500 notes (15 pieces) and the balance of 2100 in 100s (21 pieces). All the notes are counted twice by him and once again by me. Rather than end the transaction on a positive note, he sarcastically lets me know that i was aggressive to demand the 500 rupee notes: So, are you satisfied now? he asks. Yes, I say, packing the bills away in my money belt, mentally deciding to avoid him if i need more rupees. Being personal cuts both ways.

I meet a Swedish godbrother and fellow musician, Raivata, in front of Prabhupada's samadhi and we go for lunch together. He lives in rural Sweden, almost like a hermit. Still he meets young people and has brought several young Swedes to Krishna consciousness. He tells them he cannot recommend a guru, but he develops friendships and instills the spiritual practice in them. I admire him for that. After lunch we both get on a ricksaw and meet Paramadwaiti Swami and a group of mostly Latin devotees for Harinam.

Maharaj is in a jovial mood, and he leads the group to the nearby Gopinath Gaudiya Math, the Vrindavan base of the late Bhakti Premode Puri Maharaj who lived to be over 100. The temple is charming: the presiding deity is Lord Balaram who is known as Dauoji in his deity form here. Dauoji is a marble vigraha who has been in Vrindavan for several hundred years. He shares the altar with a large Giriraj, making this an unusual Mandir. We have a lively kirtan in front of the deities, while the Bengali pujaris offer everyone leaf cups with guava and banana prasadam.

From Dauoji, the kirtan makes its way thru the lanes of old Vrindavan to another little known temple of Narasinga dev. The pujari and his children know Paramadwaiti and run ahead of the kirtan party to unlock the temple and let us in. According to the pujari, this is the only deity of Lord Narasinga in Vrindavan. He was discovered 150 years ago in the Yamuna. The temple is quite simple and basic but the deity is nicely dressed. It is a bit of a shock to see Narasingha dev in Vrindavan, a feeling of awe and reverence, although i'm sure He has his own pastimes here.

When the kirtan party moves on, i somehow get separated from them. I don't mind, as i want to complete the shopping i started earlier in the day, and Loi Bazaar is walking distance. I have only 48 hours left in Vrindavan, and i need to use the remaining time efficiently. I stay in the Bazaar until 8 pm and then take a ricksaw back to my room. By the time i reach there, i'm tired from a long day. I unzip my mosquito net and climb inside. I may not be doing much bhajan here, but just lying down and drifting off to sleep in Vrindavan, next to Imli Tala on the Parikram marg, feels more holy to me than anything i do in the West.

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