Vrindavan ParikramaParikrama, in Sanskrit, means ‘the path surrounding something’. As the meaning suggests, it is a circular path taken around a deity, an idol, a temple or a sacred hill. Circumambulation is the English term that refers to Parikrama and Pradakshina (meaning ‘to the right’) both of which are referred to in a religious context. It is an integral part in Hindu worship and a symbol of devotion and prayer.
A Parikrama or Pradakshina is only done in clockwise fashion, from left to right, very rarely otherwise. Most temple idols and deities face east or the rising sun and great significance is attached to the pradakshina; the number of rounds differ from deity to deity and sometimes, festivals and occasions. Usually done after the daily worship or pooja offered to the presiding deity, it is done with numbered or measured steps and with chanting of shlokas.
In Hinduism, parikrama is done around agni, the sacred fire, as in a marriage ceremony, the tulsi plant, and the neem and peepul trees. Some examples of parikramas are Vrindavan, Braj Mandal, Govardhana hill, Varanasi, Mathura-Vrindavan and Panchkosi etc. Other equally famous pradakshinas are the famous Girivalam (giri is hill and valam means around) of the Arunachala hill in Thiruvannamalai, Meenakshi temple in Madurai, Nataraj temple in Chidambaram, Murugan temple in Palani, Balaji temple in Tirupathi and the sea-side temple in Tiruchendur.
The Six Goswamis of Vrindavan
In the early 15th century, the Bengali saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, considered to be a yuga-avatar of Shri Krishna, spread a deep influence in Hinduism through his poems and songs centred on Shri Krishna. He came from the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage of Bengal, an ancient tradition of Vedic Hinduism prevalent during the 15th and 16 centuries. His philosophical presentation and teachings form the Bhakti Yoga Movement, a forerunner to the scriptural basis of the ISKCON, more popularly referred to as the Hare Krishna Movement.
The Six Goswamis of Vrindavan, a group of devotional gurus, were followers of this Bhakti Yoga Movement. The Bhakti Yoga represented an extreme form of renunciation of worldly comforts and pleasures in the quest for salvation and to spread the divine word of Shri Krishna to the world. The Gaudiya-Vaishnava lineage they came from is a branch of Hinduism, more specifically Vaishnavism, as Krishna is considered to be the most perfect avatar of Lord Vishnu.
A large number of Goswamis of the Gaudiya-Vaishnava tradition were from aristocratic bearings and became ardent devotees of Krishna with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as their spiritual leader. They left behind wealthy and influential lives, became drawn to the ideology of “simple living, high thinking” and became wandering mendicants, singing praises of Krishna, living on alms (madhukari) given by generous people, wearing loincloths (kaupins) and sleeping in the open.
At the behest of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu a group of six Goswamis came to Vrindavan to re-discover the ancient and sacred sites and revive the worship places that bore relevance to Krishna’s childhood and adulthood and his transcendental pastimes. Besides writing considerable amounts of texts about Krishna and his life in Gokul, Nandgaon and Vrindavan, they dedicated a large part of their lives to bringing others under the influence of Bhakti Yoga and were instrumental in the construction of many temples in and around Vrindavan, dedicated to the worship of Krishna and his consort, Radha.
The six Goswamis are:
- Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami, two brothers who were high ranking officials in the Islamic Government of erstwhile united Bengal,
- Jiva Goswami (nephew of the above two, considered by Sanskrit scholars to be one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of all time,
- Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, disciple of Rupa Goswami,
- Gopala Bhatta Goswami, who renounced his aristocratic family of the West Coast of India, and
- Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, whose family was one of the wealthiest landowners in India
The credit for rediscovering Vrindavan goes to these Goswamis, who came to be called The Six Goswamis of Vrindavan, on whom extensive research has been done and books published. Some of the original writings of the six, written on parchment leaves, have been preserved and displayed at the Vrindavan Research Institute.
Soon, news of their near iconic status and deeds began to spread far and wide reaching the Mughal Durbar in Delhi where Emperor Akbar was the reigning monarch. Akbar decided to pay a visit to Vrindavan in 1570. It is believed that Jiva Goswami blindfolded and led Akbar into the sacred kunja (grove) of Nidhivan. The intoxicating fragrance of the tulsi (vrinda) gave Akbar a divine and uplifting experience that he granted decree for the construction of four Krishna temples in Vrindavan. Thus began the origins of the temples dedicated to Govinda, Gopinatha, Madanamohana and Jugal Kishore.
Emperor Akbar also provided red sandstone of the highest quality, normally allowed only for the construction of his palaces and forts and donated generously for the setting up of a library for the preservation of the Goswamis’ writings and texts. The grantha ghar (book house) exists to this day in the Radha Damodar temple.
Unfortunately, the autocratic Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, descendant of Emperor Akbar, razed and ravaged these temples barely a century later. But the rich heritage and way of life that the Goswamis left behind became an inspiration for future generations of devotees visiting Vrindavan. One of the rituals, the Vrindavan Parikrama, is a time honoured tradition that stands testimony to the Goswamis way of life and their untiring efforts to restore Vrindavan to its rightful glory.
About Vrindavan Parikrama
It is a customary practice for devotees and pilgrims visiting Vrindavan to walk around the town along the parikrama path. The distance of the parikrama is around 10 kilometres and great religious importance is attached to undertaking this on Ekadasi day (the eleventh day of the waxing-waning moon). By walking barefoot along the parikrama path, which takes about three to four hours, it is believed that one receives blessings from the sanctity of the locations.
The Parikrama encompasses twelve vanas (forests) and twenty four upavanas (groves). The twelve vanas are Bahulavan, Belvan, Bhadravan, Bhandiravan, Kamavan, Khadiravan, Kumudvan, Lohavan, Mahavan, Madhuvan, Talavan and Vrindavan. Adibadri, Ajnokh, Aring, Barsana, Bacchavan, Bilchhu, Dadhigram, Gandharvavan, Gokul, Govardhan, Karahla, Kelvan, Kokilavan, Kotvan, Mat, Nandgram, Parsoli, Paramadra, Pisaya, Raval, Sanket, Sessai, Srikund and Uchagram are the twenty four upavanas. The vanas and upavanas together comprise the sacred places and sites that witnessed the life and events of Shri Krishna.
Some of the significant temples, vanas and ghats that roughly form the periphery and are visited on the Parikrama are:
- Krishna Balarama Mandir
- Gautama Rishi’s Ashram
- Varaha Ghat
- Mohana Ter
- Kaliya Ghat
- Madan Mohan Mandir
- Imli Tala
- Sringara Vat
- Keshi Ghat
- Tekari Rani temple
- Jagannath Temple, with deities of Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu temple
The Parikrama usually begins and ends at the ISKCON temple and is undertaken by abstaining from food (fasting from the beginning to the end of the Parikrama) and chanting of japas (sacred verses and hymns). At the end of the Parikrama, prayers are offered to the deity and lamps lit on the banks of the Yamuna.
Other Parikramas religiously undertaken are:
- Govardhana Parikrama, a distance of 21 kilometres or 13 miles around the sacred hill for spiritual purification. Some devotees perform the Dandavata Parikrama (full prostration) which may take several weeks to complete.
- Braj Mandala Parikrama – started by HH Lokanatha Swami in 1986, this Parikrama is a transcendental meditative experience. The path of the Parikrama follows the route that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took on his meanderings through Vrindavan over 500 years ago. During the nearly month-long parikrama, which is usually undertaken during the holy month of Kartik (Damodar), devotees visit all the pilgrimage centres (holy thirthas) that comprise the Braj Bhoomi.
Chaurasi Kos Yatra