My last memory of Vrindavan was a dazed round through a few temples in one evening on the way back from a holiday in Agra. On this one-day trip i took last week with my family, which was actually to attend a second cousin’s wedding in the town, was a chance at clearing up my somewhat hazy recollection of the ISKCON temple. I remembered being enamoured by it last time (despite myself, might i add), but then attributed it to the innocence of childhood and drowsiness in the backseat of long car rides. Somehow, it was a challenge to myself — to feel awed now, now that i had become an adult and was trying hard to be the quintessential cynic.
You see, my relationship with god has been one of convenience – mostly mine. I have variously modelled myself along the lines of the atheist – i would resolutely refuse to sing along to prayers during school assemblies – the non-believer – have long arguments with my father about the existence of any such power – the anti-idolatory person – why should a piece of stone be the repository of all man’s affections, beliefs and all that he’d be willing to fight for?! – and the agnostic – religions are here to stay, i guess, so might as well make peace with them, and know they were all in good faith and should continue to be so. I just can’t bring myself to pick (yes, PICK) one.
To be honest, what i had felt at the Iskcon temple at Vrindavan last time had bothered me. Was this my chance to prove myself wrong – and right at the same time?
And so, we step into the marbled, banyan tree-ensconced entrance one sweltering summer evening, all dressed up for a marwari wedding but in no mood to tolerate the heat of the holy fire. In the incandescent light of the moon, and the floodlights, the white archway we pass under glimmers like pure wind. The path leads through a huge wood and iron door – the dwar – into a courtyard. This is an open angan styled on the big hindu mansions of yore, with a magnificently green and waif-like tree swaying in the middle, surrounded on all four sides by rooms. Straight ahead, there is a big hullabaloo happening in front of the gods chambers, all decked up in gold and gauze. The gods krishna and radha smile benignly upon all the song and dance happening in their court, enjoying the attention.
Finally, we turn to see the aarti – unlike any evening prayers i’ve seen before, this one has all the pundits and the worshippers jumping, dancing and hollering their god’s name in sheer joy, in what seems almost like a trance, a trip you can only get from certain banned intoxicating substances. A motley crowd this: pundits, hippie firangs, your usual hindu devotees, a group of very young girls that have been initiated into gopi-hood, little Meeras…we gaze in wonderment, feeling it sprout within us too. the spirit is infectious – liberating enough to bring back the childhood in you.
We sit down on one side of the courtyard, trying to take it all in. Prayers are generally considered to be solemn, meditating affairs – but this was meditation of a different kind, where you’d connect with your your soul through what i feel is the best way to be – dancing. We gazed upon two boys who were hopping and swivelling on their own in the middle of the courtyard, in what is known as the chaitanya style of devoted dancing. We sought stars rarely seen in the Delhi sky from our lowly vantage point. We laughed at the frolicks of two toddler gopis playing near the tree. We soaked in all the vibrance floating in the air. Or was that just the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, the prasadam, wafting from their bakery?
It was a blissful evening. Not because it delivered any epiphanic moments that would awaken the devout in me, but because it brought to light an option of loving, believing in a way that doesn’t become the turn-off that a lot of people of this generation find in our customary ways of identifying and venerating god.
Yes, it was about the options. And also, about making my peace with God. just the one, not his/her 3,30 million avatars.