It was late at night. Meera settled herself comfortably in her bed and flipped the pages of the novel. The story revolved around a nineteen-year-old protagonist. She didn’t have a boyfriend yet. She didn’t want to die a virgin and hoped to find someone soon.
What bizarre thoughts! I am also nineteen. I don’t mind dying a virgin!
“Meera, go to sleep. You have Kathak classes tomorrow morning,” Vanita shouted from outside the room knowing what Meera was up to till late at night.
“Yes mom,” Meera yelled back.
As it is, the thoughts of this protagonist are weird. I’ll sleep early today.
She chucked the novel aside and tried to sleep. But her thoughts drifted towards the protagonist.
Meera got up early the next morning and hustled to her Kathak classes. She loved dancing. She was among those girls who first learnt the dance moves and then learnt to walk. Dance was a part of her. She was always inclined towards classical dance.
Vanita was against the idea of learning any form of dance. She was old school and believed that girls from respectable families do not dance. Meera and her father Pradeep had to go the extra mile to convince Vanita.
Vanita agreed on the terms that Meera would learn dance only for herself and would never perform on stage.
Pradeep enrolled Meera in the best dance academy in Mumbai. Her classes were held every Sunday morning. Meera loved Sundays. They were not only a relief from her hectic college schedule, but she also got to spend time pursuing her passion.
Kathak is related to Lord Krishna. Being an ardent Krishna devotee, she enjoyed when she danced in the role of Krishna or Radha. She felt close to Krishna.
In today’s session, first, the teacher, as usual, made the students practice tatkaar. Then the students practiced hand movements, and later chakkars.
Meera was her teacher’s favourite. She was graceful and sincere. Her tatkaars were excellent. Her hand movements were perfect, and her chakkars were brisk.
Above all, Meera danced with a broad smile. One glimpse at her and anybody would easily say that she is not only dancing but also enjoying. Kathak gave her an inexplicable pleasure. She was the happiest while dancing.
The teacher taught a new song in praise of Lord Krishna.
Sanwara, Giridhar more, man bhayo re, man bhayo re….
She translated it’s meaning, “O dark skinned Giridhar, I like you.”
Meera was lost in this song. She imagined Lord Krishna holding the hill on his tiny little left finger. She imagined herself to be either Radha or Gopi.
She kept practising the moves till she perfected them. There were other students of different age groups in her batch. There were eight-year-old girls to teenagers like her. There were a few mother-daughter duos also. Other students took breaks in between their rigorous practice. But Meera danced without any break.
“Meera, sit for some time. You’ll get tired,” the older students would advise her. But she would listen to none. Her feet loved dancing. She was especially enamoured by this song.
After a few weeks, a stage performance on Janmashtami was being organized by her dance academy. Meera was chosen to dance to her favourite song.
When Meera broke this news to Vanita, as expected, she did not agree.
“Just one performance,” insisted Meera.
Pradeep persuaded Vanita, “We should be proud that Meera has been chosen for this dance sequence. She dances so well. This song is an offering to Lord Krishna. Don’t be so rigid.”
Vanita agreed, reluctantly, “Okay. But first and the last performance.”
Meera was overjoyed. This was her first solo performance in front of an audience. But more than that, she was glad about the song for which she was chosen.
On the D Day, Meera decked herself in the best attire. She had worn a bright yellow and green ghaghra, a shimmering golden choli and a red chunni. She wore pearl studs in her ears and nose. Red and white bangles adorned her hands. She wore a pearl necklace and a golden waistband. Her hair adorned a damini which was made up of tiny pearls.
Her face flashed the best make up. She looked radiant in red lipstick, something which she usually avoided. Her hair was tied into a bun. A red bindi completed her look.
She looked at her reflection. She had never seen herself decked up heavily. She smiled at the person in the mirror, silently admiring herself.
She tied ghungharoos around her ankles. She touched the feet of Krishna’s idol, and her teacher’s feet before performing.
She gave an astounding performance. Her chakkars and grace were unbeatable. She ended the performance by presenting chakkars around the stage. The audience gave her a standing ovation. Her teacher and fellow students congratulated her for a mind-blowing performance.
“Your eyes and face were so expressive,” exclaimed her teacher. “They were expressing more than your dance moves.”
Meera didn’t know that her face expressed her inner emotions.
That night, she couldn’t sleep. The words of the song kept playing in her mind.
The next morning at the breakfast table, she announced, “Mom, dad, I want to visit Mathura.”
“Mathura!” they both exclaimed in unison.
Meera looked plainly at them, “Yes. You heard it right. Mathura. Why are you so surprised?”
“But why Mathura?” They again asked in unison.
“Because I want to visit the birthplace of Lord Krishna,” Meera declared nonchalantly.
“Your exams are nearing. We will think about the trip after your exams,” Vanita explained.
She studied hard for her college exams. Meanwhile, her parents believed that she had forgotten about Mathura. But Meera would listen to her favourite song every day on her phone before going to bed with a promise, ‘I am soon coming to meet you, my Lord.”
On the last day of her exams, she again asked her parents, “When are we visiting Mathura?”
Pradeep asked, “Are you sure? You may not enjoy it there. People of your age like to travel to hill stations and abroad.”
Meera was adamant, “I am sure. I want to see the place where Krishna was born and brought up.”
Vanita looked apprehensively at Pradeep.
Pradeep assured, “Ok. I’ll book our tickets.”
They reached Delhi by an early morning flight, and from there they travelled by road to Mathura, which was a two-and-a-half-hour drive. Mathura was a big city, now commercialized.
As soon as Meera landed on Mathura, she took a pinch of its sand, touched her forehead, and joined her hands in respect.
They stayed in a hotel. Meera couldn’t wait to freshen up and explore the city.
They contacted a Vrajvasi Kanukaka, who would escort them around the place.
Kanukaka was a middle-aged brahmin. He wore a plain white kurta, and a white dhoti, and a red tilak on his forehead. The brahmins of Mathura earned their livelihood solely with the aid of such tourists.
Kanukaka greeted them with joined hands, “Jai Shri Krishna. You are our guests. I will escort you around Vrajbhumi till you are here.”
Meera was pleased that finally, her journey had started.
It was fun to travel in a chakada. Back in Mumbai, they had never seen such a mode of transport.
They first visited the birthplace of Krishna. It was a small room with just one window. Meera imagined Devki and Vasudev being tied there by iron chains. She could imagine a baby Krishna there, whose birth opened the gates of the jail and freed his parents from the iron chains. She could feel the ambience of those times.
Meera asked Kanukaka fervently, “Kaka, little Krishna was carried to the other side of the river Yamuna. Can we have a look of the river?”
Kanukaka smiled, “Yes beta. We will see all the places. Have patience.”
Pradeep and Vanita smiled at Meera’s enthusiasm.
Next, they proceeded towards Vishramghat which was on the banks of the calm waters of river Yamuna. They saw many brahmins like Kanukaka there. They were either performing puja in the river or carrying out some rituals with tourists.
They immersed their legs in the sacred river and bowed down to the Yamuna. They gathered some holy water in their palms, sipped some of it, and poured the rest on their foreheads.
Kanukaka said, “It is said that one should sip Yamuna jal again and again in their lives but take a dip in it only once in a lifetime.”
“Is it?” Meera asked.
“Oh yes, that would help reduce water pollution in the sacred river,’ she realized.
Her parents felt proud of their daughter’s maturity.
Kanukaka informed, “The evening Aarti is worth watching on this ghat.”
Meera said excitedly, “Then, we would come here again in the evening.”
Her parents nodded.
They then proceeded towards Vrindavan, which was a town filled with scores of temples. Every temple boasted of being the original temple.
Kanukaka pointed towards a place from afar that was covered by dense foliage.
He stated, “It is believed that Lord Krishna still comes there every night for raas leela with his Gopis.”
Meera queried, “Can we visit here at night to watch their raas leela?”
Kanukaka shook his head, “It is said that those who try to observe their raas leela either lose their eyesight or become insane. Hence, they can never reveal what they witnessed.”
They were shocked to hear this. Meera had goosebumps. She so much wanted to visit that place.
On their way back, they saw a big tree that had countless parrots. It was difficult to say whether the tree had more leaves or parrots. They bowed down at the tree believing this was due to a divine presence.
By dusk, they were present at Vishramghat. The priests had readied a big Aarti which had around a hundred small oil lamps. Innumerable devotees had gathered. It seemed as if the cerulean calm waters of the Yamuna were waiting for the evening Aarti.
While the priest started moving the coruscating Aarti in circular movements, everybody sang aloud Yamunaji’s Aarti. The devotees joined their hands and watched the still waters of Yamuna, which seemed to be indulged in the Aarti. The atmosphere reverberated with the sound of the big bell which was being manually pulled with a big string by two priests. It was a heavenly feeling.
Meera felt contented and fortunate to be able to witness this breath-taking view. She closed her eyes and thanked Krishna silently.
On their way back to the hotel, Meera stopped at a shop that had many different sized Krishna idols. She bought a small-sized idol of Lord Krishna playing a flute.
Her happiness radiated like a small child.
She placed the idol in a corner of her room.
She woke up early and sat with joined hands in front of the idol for some time. It was difficult to contemplate whether she was praying or admiring the idol. She adored the small flute in its hands, and its posture. She got up and stood like the idol, cross-legged, holding the flute. She smiled and started dancing.
Chal chanchal chapal naina
(Your playful walk, your sharp eyes)
Baki chitavan mithe baina
(Your looks, your sweet talks)
Madhur bansi dhun bajavat
(You play a sweet tune in your flute)
Shravan more man bhayo re….
(Which I like to hear)
Sanwara Giridhar mohe, man bhayo re, man bhayo re…..
(O dark skinned Giridhar, I like you.)
She sat marvelling at the idol. Captivated, she went into a trance.
Vanita came and broke her spell, “Meera, Kanukaka has arrived.”
Kanukaka greeted in his usual loud voice, “Jai Shri Krishna. Today, we will visit the Govardhan hill. Some devotees perform a pradakshina of the hill. If you are interested, then you can also perform it. But it takes around six to seven hours.”
Still lost in her reverie Meera nodded her head and said softly, “I will do a pradakshina.”
She looked at her doubtful parents.
Kanukaka assured, “You can sit in cycle-rickshaw and perform the pradakshina. It is not necessary to carry out on foot.”
They were relieved.
They proceeded towards Raman reti first. It was a place that had soft sand. Devotees sat and rolled on the sand.
Kanukaka explained, “This is called Vraj raj. Some also believe this to be the Charanamrut. This is considered pious. Devotees take a small portion of this for keepsake in their house. And hence, the sand has reduced considerably in recent years.”
Meera bent down and held some of the fine sand in her palms.
This is the sand on whose lap my Krishna was brought up. He had played his flute here. He had played with his friends here. He had danced with all the Gopis and Radha.
They rubbed the sand on their forehead and their arms. They sat on the sand. Meera lied down and rolled on it. It was fun to roll like a small kid on the sand!
When she got up, her clothes carried traces of the sweet raj of Vrajbhumi. She felt blessed.
Pradeep said, “You have become a small child here.”
Meera smiled and jerked her clothes.
After having a light lunch, they proceeded towards the Govardhan hill.
They had a glimpse of the hill from a distance sitting in their chakada. Huge rocks of different sizes made up the hill.
On reaching there, Kanukaka bent and touched the hill and then touched his forehead. Everybody followed suit. Meera was excited as she was supposed to carry out the pradakshina. Kanukaka hired a cycle-rickshaw. Meera started walking on the path, while her parents were adjusting themselves to the vehicle.
Vanita shouted, “Don’t go far away. Walk with us.”
Meera turned and nodded.
Kanukaka walked with Meera, while the cycle-rickshaw was not always visible. Meera saw hundreds of devotees walking. Some were prostrating on the whole path.
The devotees were chanting, “Radhe Radhe, Shyam milade.”
Meera asked, “Kaka, why are these people chanting ‘Radhe Radhe’?”
Kanukaka explained, “It is believed that Krishna resides where Radha resides. So, if you are close to Radha, you are sure to meet Krishna.”
Meera went into deep thought. She was taken aback by the depth of the love between Radha and Krishna. She was sure mortals do not share such love.
She too started chanting “Radhe Radhe, Shyam milade.”
“Kaka, tell me some tales of Krishna,” insisted Meera.
“On the insistence of little Krishna, the people of Vraj decided to worship Govardhan hill instead of Lord Indra. Indra was furious. Hence, he poured thunderous rains and flooded the place for seven days. That time, little Krishna held the Govardhan hill on his tiny left finger, and all the people of Vraj came under its shelter. After seven days, he calmed, and the rains stopped. The people of Vraj brought all sorts of delicacies as an offering to little Krishna. That offering is called Annakut.”
“I am aware of this tale. Tell me some more,” said Meera.
“Once, when Krishna played his flute, Radha lost her presence of mind. She forgot to put a bindi on her forehead and ran in his direction. When she met Krishna, Krishna cut open a stone of Govardhan and out came red coloured powder for Radha which she applied as bindi.”
“Oh. That is great,” Meera exclaimed.
Meera kept asking for more tales and Kanukaka obliged.
They took a few breaks for refreshments. At one place, they saw many peacocks. Some peacocks had spread their wings. Meera immediately took out her phone to capture that moment.
Kanukaka forbade, “In Vraj, all creatures are divine. Don’t take their pictures. They may vanish from your phone. Instead, feel the divine presence and bow down to them.”
Kanukaka bowed down and so did Meera. She put her phone away.
At one place, they saw innumerable white cows on Govardhan.
Meera asked, “Kaka, why do these cows look so innocent?”
Kanukaka said, “We don’t step on the Govardhan as we believe Govardhan to be Krishna himself. But these godly creatures are fortunate than us. They can go there as and when they wish. It is said that Krishna, the cowherd, loved cows, and hence these celestial creatures can graze on Govardhan. We can only bow down to them.”
Saying this, Kanukaka and Meera bowed down.
Once Meera started walking ahead of Kanukaka. She walked briskly and reached quite further away. Suddenly, she felt lost. She could neither see her parent’s cycle-rickshaw nor Kanukaka. She waited for them for some time.
Meera sat on one corner and looked at the devotees who were oblivious to her. Soon tears came running down her eyes. How she wished she wouldn’t have walked this fast!
A small boy aged around ten years came to her.
He asked, “What happened? Why are you crying?”
Meera looked at the boy. He was wearing a white kurta and dhoti, like other Vrajvasis. He also had a stick in his hand and a tilak on his forehead. His face was radiant with his bright smile.
She said, “I am lost. My parents and Kanukaka are nowhere to be seen. I was walking with them.”
The boy exclaimed, “Oh Kanukaka, I saw him there.”
He pointed in a direction.
“Here, hold my stick. I’ll take you there,” he suggested.
Meera followed him holding one end of his stick.
After a few minutes, the boy pointed, “There they are.”
Meera ran towards them and hugged Vanita. She turned back to thank the boy. But there was no one. Surprised, she narrated the incident to them.
Kanukaka said, “Boy with a stick? He was the cowherd! This happens with some tourists. It is said that Krishna himself comes to the rescue of his devotees.”
Mystified, tears ran down Meera’s cheeks. She didn’t know whether she was happy meeting her parents or sad that she didn’t spend more time with that unknown boy. She hoped to get lost again during the remaining pradakshina.
After around seven hours, they completed the pradakshina. Meera was ebullient. She seemed happy and contented in Vrajbhumi.
Meera got up early and once again sat in front of Krishna’s idol. She started a banter with Him.
She questioned, “Why did you call me here in Vrajbhumi?”
She sensed the idol smiling and said, “Don’t laugh at me. I know all your tactics.”
She smiled at Him and said, “Tonight we are leaving Vrajbhumi. But I am not going to leave you.”
Kanukaka arrived and greeted everyone, “Jai Shri Krishna. Today we will visit Gokul, where Krishna had spent his childhood.”
After having a look at the town of Gokul, they went near the Yamuna. Meera imagined the Kalia naag in the Yamuna whom Krishna had won over by intentionally throwing the ball inside.
While her parents sat near the Yamuna to enjoy the serene atmosphere, she strolled ahead on the fine sand. She stopped at a deserted place and switched on her favourite song on her phone. Her feet started dancing.
Rakhu tero dhyan manjo
(I retain you within me)
Daya teri sada paun
(I seek your mercy)
Deun darshan sharana bhagawat
(O Lord, I want to behold you)
Dhanya bhaye Brij Shyam re….
(Bless me, my Lord)
Sanwara Giridhar more, man bhayo re, man bhayo re…
(O dark skinned Giridhar, I like you.)
She sat on the sand, breathless. She didn’t want to leave Vraj. While she was thinking of ways to stay beside Krishna, realization dawned on her that they never had a dip in the Yamuna.
She ran towards her parents and panted, “We are leaving tonight. When will we take a dip in Yamuna?”
“I am taking a dip right now,” she announced and proceeded towards the Yamuna.
She started humming, “Sanwara, Giridhar more, man bhayo re, man bhayo re…..”
Vanita shouted, “Meera, we don’t have extra pair of clothes.”
Meera didn’t heed and continued walking. She submerged her feet in the Yamuna and felt its cold waters. She bowed down joining her hands and took some water in her palms. She took a sip and went deeper. With joined hands and closed eyes, she went deeper and deeper.
When she was waist deep, Vanita yelled, “Meera, come back. We’ll come later.”
Meera could only hear the gurgling sounds of the Yamuna. She could hear the sweet sound of a flute from a distance. Her legs moved towards the sound. She could hear her favourite song.
Everything seemed heavenly. She felt a pull towards the deep water. Her body wobbled a bit but then became steady. She found herself going deeper. The waters touched her nostrils and entered her lungs, yet she was calm. She could see Him, playing the flute and beckoning her to come near him. Very soon, her lungs and heart stopped functioning. She experienced a unison with Krishna.
Her parents screamed and cried, but she had already reached her love Krishna’s abode. A blessed soul!
Tatkaar : Footwork in Kathak
Chakkar : Spin in Kathak
Giridhar : Another name of Lord Krishna, the one who holds the Govardhan hill
Gopi : Female cowherds
Janmashtami : A Hindu festival celebrated in August or September in honour of the birth of Lord Krishna
Ghaghra : A full long skirt
Choli : Blouse
Chunni : Long scarf-like cloth
Damini : Ornament worn on the forehead with side strings that are tied to the hair.
Bindi : A small coloured mark or jewel that is worn between the eyebrows
Ghungharoos : Anklet bells
Vrajvasi : A person who lives in Vrajbhumi
Vraj/Vrajbhumi : Places around where Lord Krishna was born
Kaka : Uncle
Kurta : A loose long collarless shirt
Dhoti : A garment worn by male Hindus, consisting of a piece of material tied around the waist and extending to cover most of the legs.
Tilak : A mark worn by a Hindu on the forehead
Chakada : A six seater auto-rickshaw
Devki and Vasudev : Biological parents of Lord Krishna
Jal : Sacred water
Aarti : A ceremony in which lights are lit and offered up to Gods
Raas leela : Dance performed by Lord Krishna with Radha and her friends
Pradakshina : Ritual of walking clock-wise around a shrine, image or sacred object
Reti/raj : Fine sand
Charanamrut : Divine nectar of God’s feet
Milade : To unite
Annakut : Mountain of food
Naag : Snake
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