Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s visit to Vrndavana opened the doors to the spiritual world for all humanity.
Among the sacred cities of the world, Vrndavana is probably the least well known. Yet this small town in northern India ranks with Rome, Jerusalem, and Mecca as a center of worship. It was in Vrndavana that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna, displayed His transcendental pastimes during His appearance on this planet some five thousand years ago. Over the course of centuries, the places of Krsna’s pastimes were lost to human memory, until they were rediscovered in the sixteenth century by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krsna Himself in the role of His own devotee.
But Vrndavana is more than a place of historical importance. According to the teachings of Lord Caitanya, the earthly Vrndavana is a replica of Goloka Vrndavana, Lord Krsna’s eternal abode in the spiritual sky. Great souls with transcendental vision can actually perceive this and worship Vrndavana as nondifferent from the Lord Himself.
This consideration led one of Lord Caitanya’s dearmost associates, Sri Gadadhara Pandita, to say to Lord Caitanya as He departed from the city of Jagannatha Puri on His journey to Vrndavana, “Wherever You stay is Vrndavana. Although where You stay is Vrndavana, You still go to Vrndavana just to instruct people.”
Srila Prabhupada explains, “It was not essential for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to go to Vrndavana, for wherever He stayed was immediately transformed into Vrndavana. . . . He said that His very mind was Vrndavana(mora mana vrndavana). Because His mind was Vrndavana, all the pastimes of Radha [Lord Krsna’s eternal consort and the personification of His supreme pleasure energy] and Krsna were taking place within Himself. Nonetheless, just to teach people, He visited bhauma-vrndavana, Vrndavana-dhama in this material world. In this way the Lord instructed everyone to visit Vrndavana-dhama, which is a very holy place.”
The Lord departed Jagannatha Puri at the end of the night, unseen by others. Taking only two brahmana assistants with Him, He avoided the main roads and passed into the Jharikhanda forest. Caitanya’s biographer, Krsnadasa Kaviraja, states that while Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was passing through the jungle, all the does and five or seven tigers came and began to follow the Lord. “Seeing the tigers and deer following Him, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu immediately remembered the land of Vrndavana. He then began to recite a verse describing the transcendental quality of Vrndavana: ‘Vrndavana is the transcendental abode of the Lord. There is no hunger, anger, or thirst there. Though naturally inimical, human beings and fierce animals live together there in transcendental friendship.’ When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, ‘Chant Krsna! Krsna!’ the tigers and deer began to dance and chant “Krsna!”‘
After passing through the Jharikhanda forest, Lord Caitanya arrived in Benares and proceeded to Prayaga, finally arriving at Mathura, where forty-five centuries before, Krsna had taken birth in the prisonhouse of King Kamsa. Immediately after Krsna appeared, His father Vasudeva had carried Him across the river Yamuna to the region of Vrndavana, where Krsna displayed His childhood pastimes for the pleasure of His devotees. In Mathura, Lord Caitanya met a brahmana devotee of Lord Krsna, who served as His guide to the Vrndavana area.
Krsnadasa Kaviraja states, “The mind of Sri Caitanya was absorbed in ecstatic love at Jagannatha Puri, but when He passed along the road on the way to Vrndavana, that love increased a hundred times. The Lord’s ecstatic love increased a hundred times when He visited Mathura, but it increased a thousand times when He wandered in the forests of Vrndavana. When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was elsewhere, the very name of Vrndavana was sufficient to increase His ecstatic love. Now, when He was actually traveling in Vrndavana Forest, His mind was absorbed in great ecstatic love day and night. He ate and bathed simply out of habit.”
While in Vrndavana, the Lord rediscovered many important places of Krsna’s pastimes. Among such places are Radha-kunda and Syama-kunda, two ponds that featured prominently in Krsna’s Vrndavana pastimes five thousand years ago. When Sri Caitanya asked the local inhabitants about the location of these two places, they were not able to tell Him. By virtue of His supreme knowledge, the Lord then located the two ponds (in areas that were then being used as rice fields) and took His bath there. He prayed, “Of all the gopas[Krsna’s confidential spiritual associates, the cowherd girls of Vrndavana], Radharani is the dearmost. Similarly, the lake known as Radha-kunda is very dear to the Lord because it is very dear to Srimati Radharani. In that lake, Lord Krsna and Srimati Radharani used to sport daily in the water and have a rasadance on the bank. Indeed, Lord Krsna gives ecstatic love like that of Srimati Radharani to whoever bathes in that lake even once.”
The Lord then visited Govardhana Hill. Seeing it from a distance, He was overcome with ecstasy, and when He arrived He fell down upon the ground as if mad. Dancing and chanting, He recited this verse: “O My friends, this hill supplies Krsna and Balarama [Krsna’s elder brother in His Vrndavana pastimes], as well as Their calves, cows, and cowherd friends, with all kinds of necessities water for drinking, very soft grass, caves, fruits, flowers, and vegetables. In this way the hill offers respect to the Lord. Being touched by the feet of Krsna and Balarama, Govardhana Hill appears jubilant.”
In this spirit, the Lord visited all the places connected with Lord Krsna’s pastimes in Vrndavana. Eventually, the Lord returned to Puri in Orissa. On the return journey He gave confidential instructions to His chief disciples, Srila Rupa Gosvami, and Srila Sanatana Gosvami. He advised them to reside in Vrndavana and reconstruct the places of Krsna’s pastimes.
Krsnadasa Kaviraja states, “Srila Sanatana Gosvami collected some books about archeological excavations in Mathura, and wandering in the forest, he sought to renovate all those holy places.” Sri Kavikarna-pura states inCaitanya-candrodaya: “In the course of time, the transcendental news of Krsna’s pastimes in Vrndavana was almost lost. To enunciate explicitly those transcendental pastimes, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, at Prayaga, empowered Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami with the nectar of His mercy to carry out this work in Vrndavana.” In addition to discovering the sites of Krsna’s pastimes, Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami, along with other followers of Lord Caitanya, erected many beautiful temples that pilgrims may still visit.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya and His confidential associates, also assisted in the renovation of Vrndavana as an important place of pilgrimage. He was especially eager to give Westerners the opportunity to visit Vrndavana, which lies off the main tourist routes and lacked accommodation suitable for those unaccustomed to the austere facilities preferred by Indian pilgrims. For this purpose Srila Prabhupada established the Krishna-Balaram temple and the adjoining international guesthouse, with clean, nicely furnished rooms with baths. A first-class vegetarian restaurant provides nourishing, spiritually purifying meals of krsna-prasadam, food offered to the Supreme Lord with love and devotion.
In the opulent temple itself, very much beloved by the residents of Vrndavana, are found exquisite Deities of Krsna and Balarama, who five thousand years ago played with Their cowherd friends in the very same area, called Ramana-reti. On separate altars, worshipers also may find Deities of Radha and Krsna and of Lord Caitanya, whose visit to Vrndavana in the sixteenth century reestablished its importance as a place of pilgrimage.
The price of passage to Vrndavana cannot be calculated in monetary terms. Srila Prabhupada once said, “Sometimes, materialistic people who have no spiritual understanding go to Vrndavana as tourists. One who goes to Vrndavana with such materialistic vision cannot derive any spiritual benefit.” The real price is purification of consciousness through the process taught by Lord Caitanya: chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and avoiding the sinful activities of meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Anyone can start their journey to Vrndavana by putting Lord Caitanya’s process into practice in their own life. (Travel preparations can also include a visit to the nearest ISKCON temple, where you can experience the spiritual atmosphere of Vrndavana. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Because we live in the temples of Radha-Krsna and continuously hold hari-nama sankirtana chanting of Hare Krsna we consequently live in Vrndavana and nowhere else.”)
Knowledge of Vrndavana and the opportunity to visit this important holy place are great gifts to humanity, and we are indebted to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His followers. If life is a journey, we should carefully choose our destination. Lord Caitanya taught that life’s goal should be to return to Goloka Vrndavana, Krsna’s eternal abode in the spiritual sky. A journey to the earthly Vrndavana can be a vital part of that greater journey.