There were bramacharis from the San Diego ISKON temple in vrindavan the same time we were there.  Young pink skinned boys in clean pink robes.  You couldn’t tell which was paler.  One brown skinned boy, too.  Carlos.  Smart kid.  He wore glasses, and kept them attached to his head with those sports straps.  Monkeys, he explained.  The monkeys were everywhere.  And they would steal your glasses right off your face.  If you were lucky, you could pay the monkeys with bananas, and get them back.  Monkeys have a profession.  I’ve heard it said that the monkeys are reincarnations of black magicians and sorcerers, and so, even now, they are always fighting with each other, playing tricks on people, causing chaos.  By feeding the monkeys freely, and giving enough to all of them, you give them a chance to calm down and be nice for a moment.  With just a few bananas a day, you can help free a monkey from their never ending cycle of bad karma.  I helped feed a whole grip of monkeys and people at the Hanuman temple in vrindavan, but that doesn’t come until later.  We’ll come back to that.
The bramacharis, led by temple director Mahan Tattva, were going to all these holy sites in and around vrindavan, and the day we arrived they were going to the Radha Temple in Barsana. We were invited to go along.  Jasmine got us an in.  So Franklin, Jasmine, and I joined the seven pink young men and the three householders that were traveling with them.  Mahan Tattva negotiated a decent price on three tuk-tuks, and we all piled in, and took off down the road.
Barsana, for those of you who have never heard of it before (and why would you) is the birthplace and childhood home of Radha, so its considered sacred, and this otherwise sleepy tiny little village has been built up with fabulously ornate and gorgeous temples, connected by little windy pathways that are dotted with smaller, folksier shrines every twenty meters or so. One of the little roads ends up at Radha Kund, a square, murky pool surrounded by gray stone steps that descend into it. Legend has it that Radha used to bathe here. There were no gopis bathing in it today, perhaps we go there too late. At this time of day the kund is only populated by small boys looking for change and monkeys laying in wait, in case anyone dared to eat ice cream on their turf. One of our dudes ended up scratched. Ice cream at the Kund is a bad idea.
Anyhow, back to the tuk-tuk. It got more and more rural, as we cruised to Barsana. Up to this point, Vrindavan was as calm and as quiet as we had seen.  Delhi was a total madhouse, loud and colorful and dirty and chaotic and magical, like the vomit of God.  The road from Delhi to Vrindavan was much like any major road; sometimes busy, sometimes quiet, and dotted with little stores and rest stops.  But it wasn’t rural, per se.  This road to Barsana, was decorated with those most beloved by Krishna, the cows.  Swishing tails, or not, laying in the grass, or not, they increased in number the further down the road we got.  As did the smell of cows, of course, you can’t have one without the other.  It wasn’t so bad really.  Especially as the buildings and the crowds disappeared and the landscape opened up, and the fields of green started to go on forever.  The odors out here were far preferable to what we were subjected to in Delhi.  And, apparently, cow dung is big business out here.  Someone is making bank on cow patties.  It would be nice if they would put some of it back into the neighborhood, though.  some of the grass and clay huts could certainly use a fresh coat of paint.
And then, Barsana.  Fabulously rising out of the grass, as we approached.  An ancient temple city full of begging salesmen and children that descended upon us as we  pried ourselves from our tiny conveyance. Shoes off and safely stashed, we made our way up, following the pink robes and tufts of hair that bobbed devotedly up the ancient street.  Holy men and widows and all manner of folks murmured, hawked, shouted at us  as we made our pilgramage to the top of the hill, to this most sacred space.  A veritable gauntlet.
Mahan Tattva, the head gopi in charge warned us, “its holi, people might throw color on you, but its a friendly thing.”  He doesn’t know us, clearly.  We came for this.  And so, we moved slowly up the last set of stairs before the main hall, curious what lay past the scallopped archways.  There was Holi, in all its glory.  A room full of wild chanting and music, multi colored people jumping and dancing and throwing color in the air.  The sad looking monks were pretty attached to their robes staying nice and pink, so we left them in the corner and pounced into the center of the action.  The light, soft and pure, was the perfect medium for the rainbow of dust to play inside of.  We laughed and danced, and kept winding our way closer to where ever the color happened to be coming from, ‘over there, green! now over there, orange!’  Each dusting a benediction, confirmation from the universe that we were loved.
We might have been the liveliest westerners in the joint. We liked to think we were the liveliest westerners ever. People we psyched to see us join in the fun. They were psyched in general, but as we played along, they pulled us immediately into the fold. Kids jumped on us, laughing, strong backed 20-somethings lifted us into the air laughing, even louder when we lifted them up right back. Hare Krishna, Hare Bol, Happy Holi, we bellowed at each other, celebrating whatever Holi is meant to be celebrating, until we were properly covered and needing to claw ourselves out from the throng to get a breath of unpowdered air. The monks nodded and laughed when they saw us emerge, properly dosed. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were a little jealous that they had to sit on the sidelines, sublimely sipping rasa, as we feasted on these sacred but clearly worldy delights, riding the line, walking the edge. I suppose that renunciation is a bitch. Sometimes more than others.
They whisked us back down the hill, to drink sugar cane juice and lemon sodas before climbing back into the tuk-tuks that would take us all home to the relative quiet of vrindavan. Try as we might to keep things neat, we got red powder all over the hotel room. Maybe some of it is still there, a fingerprint on that wall, a smudge on the bookcase. Another, secret benediction, sharing the love, worldwide puja.

Pin It on Pinterest