Photos by Sonia Vasenkina.
I came back from a trip to India a couple of weeks ago. It was my third time there. Most definitely, I have lots of impressions. From the very moment you step off the plane, India embraces you and welcomes you. Everything is so foreign and yet somehow so familiar.
But then you see the mudras sculptures on the wall. And you inhale the smells. And then the way that the officers at the passport control greet you. Going where? - they ask, and I answer, Vrindavan. They say, ISKCON temple? And I say yes. Hare Krishna, they answer, and put a stamp in my passport, and I am in India. Where else in the world can one hear such a dialog at the border of the country?
Upon entering India this time, I was remembering the descriptions of the cities of Vedic civilization. I have been studying some ancient texts for the last few years, and there are beautiful narrations of what Bharata-varsa looked like in the times of Mahabharat. Here is one of them from Srimad Bhagavatam:
"The city of Dvārakāpurī was filled with the opulences of all seasons. There were hermitages, orchards, flower gardens, parks and reservoirs of water breeding lotus flowers all over... Flags, garlands and painted signs and slogans all combined to shade the sunshine. The highways, lanes, markets and public meeting places were all thoroughly cleansed and then moistened with scented water... In each and every door of the residential houses, auspicious things like curd, unbroken fruits, sugarcane and full waterpots with articles for worship, incense and candles were all displayed."
I was thinking that if, in addition to all the magnificent things that India still represents today, foreigners could also experience magical cities like that, what a wonder to the world that country would be!
And so I went to Vrindavan, the birthplace of Krishna. There are many sacred places in India, Vrindavan being one of the most famous among them. One can see lots of parrots, monkeys and cows there, hear how its citizens greet each other with "Jaya Radhe", meet sadhus and enjoy the sounds of shastra recitations and temple kirtans. I visited the temples of the six goswamis, who in the 16th century had given up their wealth and secure positions in society to help Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spread his message of love of God all throughout India.
One of those temples has the name of Radha-Damodara. There the great scholar and teacher of bhakti-yoga, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has compiled the first volumes of Bhagavata Purana in English, and it is the temple that houses the Deities of Srila Jiva Goswami. Srila Prabhupada lived there for ten years in the 1950s, like a real yogi, in austere conditions which we cannot imagine, before he went to the West and made the science of bhakti known there. He endured lots of difficulties on his path, one of them being that he received lots of criticism because of his open-hearted acceptance of so-called mlecchas from the West as Vaisnavas.
In Vrindavan, I met with beauty and peace. It is still a small town, although today there are many tourists and pilgrims coming there, and their number will grow. I was not appaled by the noise of the traffic or the dirt on the roads. I spent my childhood years in the Middle East and thus I am very used to such things. Rather, I was trying to follow in the footsteps of those who can see beyond all that and to feel the sacred atmosphere of the place. There, one starts to catch a glimpse of what really important things in life are.
Then I came back to Delhi, which I also loved. My daughter Sonia and I stayed with our friends, and I could write a separate post on the true culture of hospitality that one meets with in India. Following the wish of my daughter we went to a shopping mall, which, of course, was a drastic contrast to the place that we had just come back from. There we heard Christmas songs in the stores, and some pop music. Indians were trying on new things in H&M and Forever 21 shops. For a moment I could not understand anymore which country I was in, so similar it was to Moscow, New York and London.
On my way to the mall a billboard on the street caught my attention. It said: "Can India be the world's bright spot?" Google informed me that this was a question presented by Prime-Minister Narendra Modi to, basically, the society. One newspaper quoted him saying, "Much of India that we dream of still lies ahead of us: housing, power, water and sanitation for all; bank accounts and insurance for every citizen; connected and prosperous villages; and, smart and sustainable cities."
He went on to speak of India's values, institutions, political system, sports, culture and art. Which got me thinking, India, what are really your values and your culture?
There is an opinion in India that I ran into quite a few times, that we will first bring our country to the height of its economical capability, and then we will be able to communicate our spiritual values to the world. But I think that India has so much to offer to the world, that it should not wait. There are ancient epics and scriptures, methods for purification of the mind, devotional poetry and music, magnificent temples, even the sanctity of the cow is such an important subject. That is what can make India the world's true bright spot. That is what India is famous for. That is why, even today, we see many educated, bright young people being drawn to this mysterious country like a magnet.
I wish these real values would be wider communicated to the rest of the world. I wish India would not run after the allurement of the Western style of life, but would strive to explore its own rich spiritual heritage and try to share it with other nations. I believe that the country's prosperity will follow.
And please don't get me wrong, I do not mean that Indians should live in huts and survive on rice and dal alone. Material comforts are certainly very important, it is just that they do not constitute all of life. This is simply my reflection on what I have encountered during my trip. The depth of wisdom and subtlety of the philosophy that Sri Vrindavan Dham is filled with. The sweet charm of it of it.
As Victor Hugo once said, it is important to bring light into the streets, but it is much more important to bring light into the minds.[ spirituality ] [ vrindavan ] [ India ]