Holy Places


In 1980 I was born to devotee parents in the large Hare Krishna community of New Vrindavan, West Virginia. From my infancy my parents brought me to the temple each day. Gradually, as a young child I grew attached to the large, fierce-looking deity of Krishna’s form as Lord Nrisimhadeva (Narasimha) and His foremost devotee, the boy-saint Prahlada. When I was six, Prahlada’s age, the priest allowed me to assist him in the temple worship of Lord Nrisimhadeva. Although the Lord looked frightening, I always felt protected when I stood before Him.

When I was sixteen my family visited India. I fell in love with the spiritual atmosphere there and decided to return as soon as possible. By the time I turned eighteen I had decided to make the journey on my own. I worked hard to save for the trip and agonized over my itinerary. India is so big—where should I go?

One day I visited the Hare Krishna temple in Miami. As I glanced over a large stack of old issues of Back to Godhead, a stray breeze blew open the top one to a full- page photo of Lord Nrisimhadeva. The picture seemed to beckon me. Reading the accompanying article, I was amazed to learn about a young sannyasi, Indradyumna Swami, who had made an incredible journey to Ahovalam, a remote South Indian holy place said to be the very spot where Lord Nrisimhadeva dispatched the evil Hiranyakashipu. His article inspired me so much that I set my mind then and there on making the difficult pilgrimage to Ahovalam.


I began my India adventure in Vrindavana, where I visited a remarkable three-eyed deity of Nrisimhadeva. From there I proceeded south to several well-known holy places, including Srirangam and Tirupati, my last stop before Ahovalam.

The devotees at the ISKCON Tirupati temple asked me where I was going next. When I said Ahovalam, they looked at me as if I were crazy and urged me not to go. Seeing they could not dissuade me, they strongly cautioned me to stay only for one day and get out of there. I thought they were just joking until I realized that I was the only one laughing. An experienced devotee warned me that people there try to rob and kill you and that the surrounding jungle holds ferocious, wild animals such as bears, tigers, and cobras. With these words of encouragement I felt terrified—but even more excited! The journey would truly test my faith in Lord Nrisimhadeva.

After a grueling ten-hour bus ride, I arrived at the Allagada station, where I’d catch the Ahovalam bus. As I waited, a large group of people suddenly surrounded me, the only blonde kid in the whole station. An English-speaking man asked where I was going. When I replied, “Ahovalam,” he looked at me very strangely. When he told the crowd what I had said, everyone stared at me even more.

“Why do you want to go to such a place?” he asked. “It is a very dangerous place.”

“I am going to see Lord Nrisimhadeva,” I replied.

“May He protect you,” he uttered gravely, and walked away.

Aboard the bus and getting closer to Ahovalam, I could feel my limbs start to tremble, and my heart beat fast. I didn’t know what lay ahead, but I was going to see my Lord at His home.

The Lord Sends a Guide

After an hour on the bus through the middle of nowhere, I reached the tiny village of Lower Ahovalam. There I saw Lord Nrisimhadeva at the Lakshmi-Narasimha temple, the first of nine forms of the Lord to be seen in the Ahovalam area. Then I arranged for some rough accommodations—the only kind available. A shower is a bucket of water you pour over yourself.

I was in the middle of my shower when someone knocked on the door and called out, “Hello. Hare Krishna!”

Having been warned about thieves, I opened the door cautiously. There stood two Indian men. One of them, tall and saintly looking, introduced himself as Madhu, from Vijaywada. Years before, he had lived in an ISKCON ashram and was now initiated in the Ramanuja line. He said he’d heard that I wanted to see all nine forms of Lord Narasimha.

“Yes,” I answered, thinking, Word sure gets around fast here.

He said, “I’m going to go tomorrow morning. Why don’t we go together? I have been several times and can take you to all nine forms.”

I felt convinced this must be Nrisimha’s arrangement, so I readily agreed. I asked Madhu how much he would charge.

“I am glad just to serve another devotee,” he humbly replied.

Madhu said that to see all nine forms in one day, we would have to spend the night in the jungle.

The Trek Begins

In the morning I rose early and met Madhu. We visited the nearby Lakshmi-Narasimha temple to pray for a safe journey. Remembering a photograph in the old Back to Godhead, I recognized the same pujari who had taken Indradyumna Swami on his tour here in 1979.

Our walk to Bhargava-Narasimha, the second of the nine local forms of Nrisimhadeva, took us through a thick jungle with paths in all directions. Madhu said that no matter how many times you go there you can never remember the way.

“You have to depend on the Lord,” he said.

The next thing you know, we were lost. I felt nervous. We finally found the way and arrived at the beautiful temple, where we chanted for a while. In the past many great sages worshiped the deity here. Madhu said that the deity is named for Parashurama (also known as Bhargava), the warrior incarnation of God. Parashurama had performed penance near Ahovalam at a place now known as Ramatirtha.

Next we set off to see the third form, Catravada Narasimha. Madhu mentioned that if we were lucky we would be able to see all nine forms on this holy day. Catravada was a long walk from town, but I was extremely pleased to see Him. He was effulgent and had a big smile. We were allowed to touch our heads to His lotus feet.

Near Catravada is Yogananda Narasimha, the last of the nine forms of Lord Narasimha in Lower Ahovalam. He looked magnificent and powerful. Of the nine Narasimhas, Yogananda is said to be the most merciful.

We ran back to catch the bus to Upper Ahovalam, a trip through dangerous and treacherous terrain. After a while the bus stopped, and the driver directed us to get off. I saw nothing but jungle, but as the bus drove away, the temple of Karanja Narasimha came into view. He is named after a fruit- bearing tree growing next to the temple.

Having now visited the first five Narasimha forms, we had to walk the rest of the way to the next: Ugra Narasimha, a deity tucked in a cave between two mountains. The walk was beautiful. All around was an untouched jungle, overgrown and full of wild animals, which, fortunately, we did not encounter. Soon we reached the temple of Ugra Narasimha, constructed inside His cave. The deity looked ferocious. We prayed for a safe trip to our next stop, the Ugra Stambha, said to be the actual pillar from which Lord Narasimha appeared.

Atop the Historic Pillar

After a side trip to the ancient Varaha Narasimha cave/temple, we followed an adjacent stream bed to the Ugra Stambha and the seventh form, Jvala Narasimha. The terrain proved most difficult. Madhu told me that not many people make this journey because it requires crossing a huge and dangerous waterfall. On the way up I saw a couple of wooden boxes next to the path.

“Those are for the people who died making the climb,” Madhu said.

I didn’t need to hear that.

Nestled on the side of a cliff, the Jvala Narasimha temple is said to be the exact spot where the Lord killed the demon Hiranyakashipu. Next to the temple is a large stream. At the spot where Narasimha washed his hands after killing the demon, the water flows blood-red and even feels like blood.

After more climbing we reached the top of the large stone pillar. The view was spectacular. I couldn’t believe I’d actually made it. We’d been walking all day long, with very little to eat and just water to drink, but I hadn’t thought of anything except the thrill of being in this spiritual place.

My contentment was short-lived; now it was time to go to the eighth form, which meant another long walk through the mountains. At last we reached the temple of Mohaloha Narasimha, situated on the side of a mountain. According to Madhu, Lakshmi did penance to marry the Lord here.

Next we went to the Prahlada school, which has Sanskrit writing on the walls dating from the days of Prahlada’s studies here. Near this high, mountainous spot was another cave, with a beautiful Yoga Narasimha deity in it. But we still had one more destination: the Bhavana Narasimha deity, four miles away.

Although Madhu had warned me not to walk ahead on the path, I did so anyway. Suddenly a huge cobra slithered in front of me. It seemed to be ten feet long. I heeded Madhu’s warning and let him lead. The jungle was so dangerous, even in the daytime. Now it was close to dark, and we still had miles to go.

As we ascended the mountain trail, nearby villagers screamed angrily at us. Madhu just kept walking. When we reached a mountain-top stopping point, he told me they were saying that it is forbidden to enter the jungle at night because of the wild animals. People who go in, they said, never come out again. They also said that no one should go to the Bhavana temple at night, because at that time the demigods come to worship Lord Narasimha.

Now I was really scared. Then I saw a dead snake in the middle of the path. A bad omen, Madhu said, but we just had to depend on the Lord for protection. Suddenly it was pitch black. I pulled out my tiny flashlight. I shook with fear and prayed to Lord Narasimha for protection.

Protected by Fire

In spite of the dark we somehow made it over the big mountain. As we did, we were amazed to see that the forest ahead was on fire, except for the small path we were following.

I thought, It must be Lord Narasimha lighting up the jungle and keeping wild animals away.

The fire went on all the way to the temple.

At last we reached the ninth and last deity. Lord Narasimha and His consort looked so beautiful. We thanked Him for allowing us to attain His audience.

We were exhausted, and it was too dark to go back, so we decided to sleep in the front area of the tiny temple. I tried to go to sleep, but I felt too excited and amazed to be sleeping in the Lord’s temple.

Suddenly I felt something sniffing and touching the back of my neck and ear. I jumped up and saw nothing. Madhu said he would stay up to see what it was. He turned on the flashlight and began telling me wonderful stories about the Lord. Then, with a loud pop, the brand-new flashlight went out. We tried everything to fix it, but without success.

Just at that moment the wind started to blow ferociously. I wondered if we were offending the demigods by being here. After a while I fell asleep, only to be awakened by Madhu frantically pulling me into the temple’s inner sanctum. I was so groggy I didn’t ask why. Madhu hastily slammed the gate shut and secured it as best he could.

Furry Guests

Looking up I was stunned to realize I was sitting right at the base of Lord Narasimhadeva’s lotus feet. I lay down and felt at peace. Then a bone-chilling roar broke the stillness.

I froze and whispered to Madhu, “What was that?”

He assured me there was nothing to worry about.

“Just go to sleep,” he said.

The next morning we set off for a long walk to two more Narasimha temples, named Giridhari and Jyoti. Jyoti was the most amazing and ferocious deity of all I’d seen. His name indicates that the forest would always be burning because of His anger.

From Jyoti we were able to catch a bus back to Ahovalam. It took seven hours. In the evening when we arrived we went straight to Lakshmi-Narasimha temple—the first stop on our tour—and thanked the Lord for His protection. Later, while we ate, Madhu explained why he had moved me to the inner sanctum of the Bhavana temple the previous night. While I was asleep, three huge wild black bears had come up, smelled us, and circled the temple.

The next morning we returned to see Bhargava Narasimha, the second of the nine forms. I felt blessed when we were allowed to clean the whole temple. As we left, a crowd of villagers surrounded us. Madhu spoke with them, then translated for me. They were shocked to see us alive after entering the jungle at night. They also said that, although they were born there and had lived their whole lives in the area, we were the first people they’d known who had managed to see all nine forms of Lord Narasimha in a single day.

Meeting the Swami

It was time to move on. I thanked Madhu profusely, and we both said we hoped to meet again. Because of his humble and devotional attitude, Madhu had been an inspiration for me. Far from trying to take advantage of me, an inexperienced young Westerner in a foreign land, Madhu had taken care of everything, even our bus fares. As my bus lumbered away, I thanked Lord Narasimha for giving me Madhu’s company.

A few days later I arrived in Jagannatha Puri. After checking in to a hotel, I was astonished to learn that Indradyumna Swami happened to be staying at the very same place. I had never met him, except through the article in the old BTG. I went to his room and paid my respects. Tears filled his eyes as he learned of the journey I had made in his footsteps.

Alarnath: Abode of Spiritual Longing

Although Alarnath is a little known holy place, I had always been fascinated with the idea of going there. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would stay at Alarnath during anavasara, the two-week period when Lord Jagannatha rests in seclusion before the annual Rathayatra (chariot festival) in Jagannatha Puri. Lord Chaitanya couldn't bear staying in Puri without seeing His beloved Lord, and at Alarnath He would reveal the highest spiritual emotions, pining in ecstatic separation.

I'm traveling with a group of five others to Bentpur, the village near the Alarnath temple, seventeen kilometers west of Puri and about five kilometers inland. To reach Alarnath, Lord Chaitanya would walk along the beach, but today most pilgrims take a bus.

We're traveling by jeep, and the ride along the flat, winding road gives us beautiful views of agricultural fields and large coconut-palm forests. The rich land of the coastal plain supports many people, and we pass quite a few villages during the one-hour ride. It's seven in the morning, and people are rising to bathe in ponds and rivers, as they have for thousands of years.

Along the way we see many palanquins that house deities from area villages. The deities are on their way to Bentpur for an annual festival that brings together deities of each of the five Pandava brothers, the pure devotees of Lord Krishna whose lives are central to the epic Mahabharata. According to local tradition, anyone who sees all five deities in one day attains liberation. Because the deities' temples sit some distance from one another, visiting them all in one day is impossible. In former times a king once tried on horseback but failed. Now once a year the five deities gather at Bentpur and pilgrims come from all over the area with deities from their villages. More than a hundred deities—Radha-Krishna, Siva, other devas—will be arriving for this year's festival, to be held tomorrow.

We arrive in Bentpur in a typical Indian bazaar with blaring cinema music. It’s a small village with a few hundred houses. Although it’s still early, merchants are opening their small shops and kiosks to sell their produce, grain, spices, cloth, hardware, stainless-steel pots and pans—just about anything you’d need.

The Alarnath Temple

We walk a hundred yards or so to the Alarnath temple and find ourselves in a peaceful, serene setting amid palm trees moving gently in the breeze. We imagine what the place must have been like when Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stayed here five hundred years ago (a blessed time without loud-speakers).

As with the Jagannatha temple in Puri, Westerners are not allowed inside for an audience with Lord Alarnath. Because it’s a fairly small temple, we can see the deity from outside, al-though not clearly. Lord Alarnath is a four-armed Vishnu deity. At His feet kneels Garuda, His eagle-carrier, hands folded in prayer. The Lord’s consorts Sri and Bhu also accompany Him. The temple also contains small Deities of Lord Krishna’s queens Rukmini and Satyabhama. Bas reliefs of Lord Brahma and Lord Siva grace the ceiling of one of the halls leading up to the main chamber.

The temple also holds a deity of Lord Chaitanya known as Sad- bhuja, or ‘Six-armed,’ signifying Lord Chaitanya’s identity with both Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. A stone slab in front of the deity bears impressions from Lord Chaitanya’s body. When Lord Chaitanya first lay in full obeisance before Lord Alarnath, the stone beneath Lord Chaitanya melted from His ecstatic touch.

The government of Orissa manages the temple, and brahmanas from about fifty families take turns serving the deities. Each family specializes in one aspect of the deity service, the tradition passing from generation to generation. Some families cook for the deities, while others offer the deities their meals, worship them, decorate them, and so on. The temple owns about sixty acres of land, some used for the deities and some for their servants.

Near the Alarnath temple is the Brahma Gaudiya Math, established by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in 1926. The temple houses deities of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Radha-Krishna (Gopi-Gopinatha), and a small Lord Alarnath. A priest of the Alarnath temple had found the small deity during excavation and had installed Him in the temple. One night the deity appeared to the head priest in a dream and told him that He wanted to be worshiped by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. The next day the priest presented the deity to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who happened to be staying at the Gaudiya Math temple.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who was born in Puri, loved Alarnath. He said that the place is the same as Vrindavana and that the small lake there—on whose banks Lord Chaitanya would rest—is the same as Radha-kunda, the most sacred of lakes. In 1929 Srila Bhaktisiddhanta arranged renovation of the Alarnath temple and construction of a boundary wall. It is said that he was so eager to see the work completed that he would roll cigarettes for the workers to keep them on the job. He also placed sculptures of Vamana, Nrisimha, and Varaha (three incarnations of Lord Krishna) in alcoves in the temple’s outer walls.

Ramananda Raya’s Home

After visiting the Alarnath temple and the Brahma Gaudiya Math, we go to the other end of Bentpur village to the birthplace of Ramananda Raya, one of Lord Chaitanya’s chief associates. We meet Mr. P. K. Pattnaik, a descendant of Gopinatha Pattnaik, a brother of Ramananda Raya. Mr. Pattnaik and his family show us a ceremonial sword that belonged to Ramananda (a governor) and old government documents written on palm leaves.

Across a dirt path from the Pattnaik’s home is a temple of Ramananda Raya and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, depicting their meeting on the bank of the Godavari River.

An Important Site

Alarnath is not a big or famous holy place and probably never will be. Yet Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the followers of Lord Chaitanya, revere it as an important site of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes. The great Gaudiya Vaishnavas spiritual master Bhaktivinoda Thakura has sung, gaur amara, je saba sthane, karalo bhramana range, se-saba sthana heribo ami, pranayi-bhakata-sange: “I aspire to see, in the company of loving devotees, all the places visited by Lord Chaitanya.” And Srila Prabhupada writes, “A devotee should make a point of visiting all the places where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu performed His pastimes. Indeed, pure devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu even want to see the places He simply visited for only hours or minutes.” How important, then, is a place where Lord Chaitanya stayed every year, exhibiting the most intense mood of separation from His beloved Krishna!

Dakor—Home of Krishna the Deserter

Here Lord Krsna is worshiped for an act that would taint the reputation of others but serves only to increase His fame and His devotees’ love for Him.

Dakor is famous throughout Gujarat, India, for a deity of Lord Krishna named Ranchor Raya. Ranchor (rana-cora) means “one who flees from battle” or, more simply, “deserter,” and raya (from raja) designates a king or a respected person. Krishna gained fame as Ranchor Raya when He fled a battle, apparently out of fear. Actually, He wanted to prevent needless killing and attend to His pastime of kidnapping Rukmini, His first wife. Krishna’s fleeing the battle is especially glorified by devotees in Gujarat because it marked Krishna’s taking up residence in Dwarka (Dvaraka), in Gujarat.

Nowadays the deity Ranchor Raya makes Dakor almost as much esteemed in Gujarat as the nationally famous Dwarka, Lord Krishna’s capital city. But Dakor is visited mostly by Gujaratis, as evidenced by the signs: all in Gujarati. (The signs in Dwarka or other nationally famous holy places are in Hindi and English as well as regional scripts.)

We drove to Dakor in early January through countrysides rich with banana trees, castor plants, and cotton. Our trip had an auspicious beginning: As we left our ISKCON center in Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat, a gentleman coming from Dakor arrived and gave us the prasadam of Ranchor Raya.

Gujaratis visiting and living in Dakor warmly welcomed us, because all over Gujarat people recognize ISKCON devotees. Our group included two devotees from the former Yugoslavia, one from Poland, an American, a Gujarati, and me, a Britisher. Happy to see Western devotees, many pilgrims bowed and touched our feet or joined their palms in respect. Many just greeted us with “Hare Krishna.”

Pilgrims From The Villages

In Dakor we couldn’t park closer than half a kilometer from the temple because of the heavy traffic. Tourist buses were coming and going, filled with people singing bhajanas, devotional songs. It was Purnima, the full-moon day, which every month attracts about a hundred thousand pilgrims seeking the blessings of Ranchor Raya. (Although Dakor is small—population about 30,000—to handle the Purnima crowds it has one of the longest railway-station platforms in India.) Many people vow to visit Dakor every Purnima, but crowds are especially large on Kartika Purnima (in October/November)—already a particularly auspicious day for Krishna’s devotees—because Ranchor Raya was installed in Dakor on that day. Many pilgrims arrive the evening before the full- moon night so they can attend mangala-arati, the first worship, at 6:30 the next morning.

During the months of Kartika and Caitra/Phalguna (approximately February through April) Ranchor Raya attracts many bhajana-mandalis—village groups who walk to Dakor singing bhajanas.Bhajana-mandalis often include villagers whose forefathers for generations performed this monthly pilgrimage to Dakor. Some groups walk more than a hundred kilometers. Some village groups—two hundred to four hundred people—walk several days carrying a big decorated flag, often just a simple colored cloth with a silver border, inscribed “Jaya Sri Ranchor Raya!” (“All glories to the beautiful Ranchor Raya!”) When the bhajana-mandalis arrive in Dakor, they have their flag installed on the temple spire as an offering to Ranchor Raya and as a sign of the completion of their pilgrimage.

We observed one such group of villagers exuberantly singing the names of the Lord while dancing, jumping, and spraying colored powders. Their clothes and bodies multicolored, they waited in the courtyard to give their flag to the priests. Then they entered the temple, and by the time they exited, their flag had been hoisted. They stood and looked up with great devotion to see their flag atop the temple. Flags from other village groups kept coming, one after another. When one flag went up, another came down. A flag is sometimes raised only a minute and then taken down. But that is enough; the pilgrims are satisfied that their offering has been made to Ranchor Raya.

We expected to interview a few people, but it turned out that many people practically interviewed us: “Where are you from? How do you like Ranchor Raya?” The first people we spoke with were several young men who own a tailoring shop in Ahmedabad, eighty kilometers away. They’ve been coming to Dakor on foot every Purnima for the last six years. Their journey takes them two days. They stay overnight, then take a bus back.

Stawa Bhagat came to Dakor from a place near Dwarka. He has come at least once a year for the last six years.

“I don’t want anything,” he said. “I’m not coming for any material reason. I just want to have the Lord’s darshana [audience].”

I asked him how he feels here.

“I become so ecstatic with feelings for the Lord,” he replied, “that no bad feelings can enter my heart, only good feelings.”

Seeing The Lord

Above the entrances and elsewhere around the temple are closed-circuit TVs showing the deity, but the pilgrims are not much interested in them. They want to get in and see the deity as He is. Streams of people pour in the main gates, as others pour out the side gate. The front gates are barricaded to allow people to enter in shifts. The women use a separate entrance, and once inside they stand in front of the men, separated by a barrier. All the pilgrims see the deity and then go outside and circle the temple.

To have darshana of the Lord during arati isauspicious, but the aratis last only a few minutes, so there’s a tremendous rush. The security forces inside blow whistles to control the crowd, but with no effect. Thousands of people push and shove their way around one another. No one seems to mind. The Lord’s big eyes look kindly upon His devotees. Everyone is happy chanting the Lord’s names and having His darshana.

People bring boxes of sweets, open them, hold them above their heads, and offer the sweets by waving their hands toward the Lord over the boxes. They will take the sweets home and give them to people in their villages. In front of the temple a shop sells tulasi leaves to place on sweets bought to be offered to Ranchor Raya.

Apart from Ranchor Raya, Dakor is also famous for go a, lo a, and pho a.Go a means a local variant of pakora (batter-dipped, deep-fried vegetable) made with coarse chickpea shour and fenugreek leaves and served with yogurt. Lo a means a drinking cup; many copper, steel, and aluminium lo as are available in Dakor. Pho a means a photo of the deity. These are the things people like to buy.

Groups Of Worshipers

There are 227 brahmana families living in Dakor. They are extended families, so there’s a large population of brahmanas. They don’t belong to any particular lineage, but the families are divided into three groups: Tapodhanas, Kaowas, and Sri Gauras. The Tapodhanas were the original residents when Dakor was just a place in the jungle, but they were considered ineligible for temple services, so other kinds of brahmanas were called in.

As is common in temples where many brahmana families perform the worship, the brahmanas take turns serving the deity (for periods of some weeks) and have other occupations the rest of the time. Half of the temple’s annual income is divided among the brahmana families. The temple receives money in its collection box, by selling prasadam, and by renting shops and residences in a large area around the temple.

The temple management puts the other half of its income into three trusts: the temple trust fund, the goshala (cow farm) trust fund, and the Thakurapura trust—a donated village area of 1,820 acres. All the milk the cows produce is used in the temple kitchen. Although four hundred cows give milk, the huge quantity of food cooked daily (in ghee) for Ranchor Raya requires that the temple buy more ghee from another goshala, in Rajkot.

Many residents of Dakor visit the temple three times a day: at mangala-arati,at midday (which for many means closing their shops for a while), and in the evening.

After spending most of the morning experiencing the bustle of the temple on Purnima, we visited the home of Ashok Bhai, a local merchant our devotees have befriended. Then we met Guha Dasa, a local ISKCON devotee, who had invited us to his home for lunch.

We returned to the temple at 5:30 in the evening. Crowds were still around. A horse about to be used for a temple procession looked high-strung—jumping, prancing. Within the temple compound is a scale for weighing yourself. A sign suggests you donate to the goshala the equivalent of your weight in gold, silver, rupees, rice, cloth, sugar, or anything else.

Ranchor Raya receives seven offerings of food daily, and the cooking goes on nonstop. We had hoped to go into the kitchen and take photos, but we were not allowed in. We could smell cumin seeds frying in ghee. The evening offering is called Chapan-bhog, which means “fifty-six items offered for the Lord’s pleasure.” We made an arrangement with a pujari (priest) to sample Chapan-bhog after it had been offered.

After 6:00 P.M., the Lord’s clothes and ornaments are removed in public view and He’s dressed for the night. Everyone watches. In the rush, we were shoved and pushed around—not with malice, but with eagerness to see the Lord. Some people called out, “Krishna Kanaiya … “ and others finished the refrain: “ … Lala, ki jaya!” (“All glories to the darling boy Krishna.”) Someone else cried, “Ranchor … “ and everyone responded, “… Raya, ki jaya!” Ranchor Raya’s bright pink dress was changed to a night outfit of orange-red. The cloth used to make His turban is long, like that of villagers, and intertwined to make a thick cloth helmet that protects from the summer heat and winter cold.

Soon we were looking at the fifty-six items of prasada. After being offered, the items are brought to a room and divided. All the pots are solid silver. On Diwali, gold pots are used for the offerings. Rice, dhal, kharhi, dokla, papad, puris, sweets, kacoris, capatis, paratha, acar, huge jalebis, goa, sabjis, kaman, srikhand, gulabjamun … Outside the room, people stood at the grill gates and offered prayers to the prasada.

We exited the temple at eight in the evening. As the full moon rose, the temple was closing and everyone was leaving. The guards waited to lock up. A few people came late and put boxes of sweets outside the main gate. They left them there a few minutes as an offering to Ranchor Raya and then took them away as prasada.

Unforgettable Tastes

To end our visit, the pujari Ashok Sevak, an ISKCON Life Member, brought us to his house to sample the Chapan-bhog. We had good appetites—maybe because of walking around all day orthe cool night air. You could say it was just Ranchor Raya’s mercy that we were blessed to taste many of the fifty-six items. As Srila Prabhupada writes: “The power to taste, when one enjoys by eating prasada, is perfected.” (Srimad- Bhagavatam 3.21.13, Purport) How was the Chapan- bhog? If you want to know, then come to Dakor and find out for yourself.

Getting to Dakor

Dakor is a short bus ride from Baroda or Ahmedabad, cities well linked by plane, train, and bus with other major Indian cities. You can go to Baroda, Ahmedabad, Anand, or Vallabh Vidyanagar—in all these places there are ISKCON centers—and get buses to Dakor. By bus it takes one and a half hours to go to Dakor from Ahmedabad or Baroda, and less from Anand or Vallabh Vidyanagar.

Devotees wishing to have darshana of Rancor Raya may visit ISKCON’s center in Baroda. Devotees there can guide you on how to go to Dakor and what to do while there.

Accommodations in Dakor: Dharmashalas (simple, inexpensive rooms for pilgrims) are available, but most people don’t stay overnight.

Dakor Pastimes

In The Times of the Mahabharata, the Dakor area was a pleasant jungle rich with streams and lakes. Danka ashi was one of several sages residing in ashrams there, and after pleasing Lord Siva he requested him to remain in his hermitage. Lord Siva agreed and appeared there in his linga form, still known as Dankanath Mahadev. Thus in ancient times Dakor was known asDankapura.

When Lord Krishna and Bhima went to the hermitage of Danka ashi, Krishna asked the sage to request a benediction from Him. Danka ashi requested that Krishna, like Lord Siva, stay in his hermitage permanently. Krishna promised that after staying in Dwarka for some time, in Kali-yuga He would come to live in Dankapura.

Danka ashi’s desire was eventually fulfilled by Bodana, a great devotee of Krishna, in the 1200s. In a previous birth Bodana is supposed to have lived in Gokula, where Krishna gave him the boon to be born in Gujarat in Kali-yuga and again have His darshana.

A rajput of Dakor, Bodana was a staunch devotee. He grew tulasi and traveled to Dwarka every six months to worship Krishna with tulasi leaves. He did this unfailingly until he turned 72 and found it difficult to continue. Seeing his plight, Krishna appeared in his dream and told him that on his next visit to Dwarka he should bring a bullock cart with him and then He (as the deity) would accompany him back to Dakor.

When Bodana arrived in Dwarka, the priests asked him why he had brought a cart this time. Bodana replied that he had come to take the deity of Lord Krishna away. Looking at the rickety cart, the priests didn’t believe him, but they locked the temple that night just in case. At midnight, Krishna broke open the doors, awoke Bodana, and told him to take Him to Dakor.

When the brahmanas found the deity missing, they rushed to Dakor in pursuit. Bodana was frightened, but Krishna told Bodana to hide Him and meet the priests. The priests became angry, and one of them threw a spear at Bodana and killed him. Bodana achieved liberation.

Lord Krishna then directed Bodana’s wife to give the brahmanas the equivalent of His weight in gold and tell them to return to Dwarka. The poor woman could not afford to do so. But by a miracle, the deity became as light as her gold nosering (five grams), which was all the gold she had. The brahmanas were disappointed, but the Lord mercifully told them that after six months they would find an exact replica of His deity in a well in Dwarka, which, of course, they did.

Dvaraka—Lord Krishna’s Royal Home

Dvaraka is the sacred city where Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, spent most of His time during His appearance on earth five thousand years ago. He performed wonderful pastimes there, including expanding into 16,108 forms and creating 16,108 palaces for His 16,108 queens. In Vrindavana, Lord Krishna lived as a simple cowherd boy, but in Dvaraka He lived as a wealthy prince.

Dvaraka means "gateway to the Supreme" or "city of gates." Traditionally, an opulent city would have many gates, indicating the king's confidence in protecting the city. In present-day Dvaraka there were no gates until ISKCON, to commemorate its Padayatra (walking pilgrimage throughout India) and Srila Prabhupada's Centennial, established the Srila Prabhupada Gate at the entrance to the city in 1988.

The original city of Dvaraka, described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Mahabharata, and other Vedic scriptures, was a fort city built within the sea. Lord Krishna built Dvaraka to protect His kinsmen, the Yadu dynasty, from repeated attacks by kings and armies intent on killing Him. By the will of the Lord, Dvaraka disappeared into the sea at the time of the Lord's departure from this world. Archaeological excavations have brought out from the sea many artifacts suggesting that an opulent city stood there in the distant past.

The present city Dvaraka ("Dwarka" on the map) is on the shore. It has a resident population of approximately 30,000, and a tourist population that fluctuates with the seasons. Even though it's remote—on the west coast and a long way from any major cities—many pilgrims make the endeavor to go there. When I arrived with a group of traveling book distributors one cool January morning, we saw buses from as far away as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, both on the east coast. Dvaraka is one of the most important places for Hindus to visit because it is one of the four prominent holy places in the cardinal directions of India: Dvaraka (west), Puri (east), Rameswaram (south), and Badrinath (north).

Of the visitors to Dvaraka from within Gujarat, city dwellers tend to visit on weekends, when they're free from work, whereas villagers go at any time, according to their farming schedule. Villagers traditionally walk to Dvaraka in groups, bringing beautiful ornate, brightly-colored flags of various designs. The groups present the flags to the temple and then perform the pious act of feeding a group of brahmanas. When pilgrims see their flags flown above the temple, they feel great satisfaction. (To change the flags, a temple worker must climb to the top of the temple spire. It's a long way up—235 feet—and there's usually a strong wind, but the workers don't seem to mind.)

The atmosphere in Dvaraka is peaceful. The people are pious and don't seem harassed by many problems. They happily go to the temple to see the Lord. We arrived in Dvaraka at 6:30 in the morning, and although it was still dark, quite a few people were walking toward the main temple, that of Dvarakadhisha, "the Lord of Dvaraka," a four-armed Deity of Krishna. By the blessings of Lord Krishna, the opulence of Dvaraka survives. Although we don't see fabulously rich people, the ordinary people live a comfortable life.

Regal Worship

Because Lord Krishna lived in Dvaraka as a prince, He is worshiped there in that mood. The Dvarakadhisha Deity is opulently dressed, and the symbols in His four hands (conch, club, disc, and lotus) are covered in silver. During the worship, brahmanas—colorfully dressed with solid red or yellow dhotis and with shirts made from flags that have flown over the temple—beat drums and blow conch shells.

Within the compound of the Dvarakadhisha temple, built in the sixteenth century, are many small shrines, including those of Lakshmi, Siva, Radhika, Balarama, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Jambavati, Satyabhama, and Purushottama Vishnu.

Directly facing Dvarakadhisha is the shrine of Devaki, Krishna's mother. She's looking at Krishna, and He's looking at her. In the Devaki shrine after the mangala-arati (the early-morning worship), brahmana boys sit in brightly colored clothes and chant Vedic scriptures, creating a soothing and auspicious atmosphere.

One day while we performed kirtana in the Dvarakadhisha temple, the priest serving the Deity showed his appreciation by smiling, raising his arms, and swaying to the sound of Krishna's names.

Religious Gatherings

Dvaraka is a pleasant town on the coast, with a nice strip of beach. The sea is calm there. The climate is moderate, not too hot in summer or too cold in winter. Because the summer there is not as hot as in many other parts of India, religious speakers go there during that time, and many, many people congregate to hear them. Dvaraka is considered an important place to hold such functions.

Other Noteworthy Temple

The temple of Samudra Narayana sits where the Gomati River, one of the important holy rivers of India, reaches the sea in the town of Dvaraka. Samudra Narayana is Krishna's expansion as Lord Narayana lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean. This old temple is the only temple of Samudra Narayana anywhere.

On the bank of the river near the estuary is an ashram where sadhus live. Some have been there for more than thirty years. Some cook for themselves, and some go to the annakshetra, where food is given for free. They live simply and perform various kinds of spiritual practices. Their lives are not meant for materialistic sense gratification.

The river forks just before reaching the sea, producing a small island on which sits a temple of Lakshmi Narayana. The site is ancient, although the present temple is not very old.

On a side road, we found a temple where the chanting of "Sri Rama, Jaya Rama, Jaya Jaya Rama" has been going on nonstop for the last twenty-eight years. The two people chanting invited us to join in. They were very enthusiastic in their chanting. We were there during the daytime, when few people come. In the evening more people arrive, and on festival days huge crowds gather there to chant the names of Lord Rama.

One place worth visiting is the lighthouse (open only from 4:30 to 6:00 in the evening). From the top you get a wonderful view of the sea, the town of Dvaraka, and the dry plains beyond the town.

Bet Dvaraka

Thirty kilometers up the road from Dvaraka is a village named Okha, which most people go to simply to take the pleasant twenty-minute boat ride to Bet Dvaraka. Bet is the Gujarati word for "island." On this island sits an old Dvarakadhisha temple. People here are proud of Bet Dvaraka, even claiming that it is the "real Dvaraka."

About halfway to Bet Dvaraka and five kilometers off the main road is Gopi Tallav, the pond where Krishna met with the gopis, His cowherd girlfriends from Vrindavana. This sacred spot is the source of gopi-candana, a clay that Krishna's devotees use to decorate their foreheads. Everyone is allowed to take freely, so we all stocked up on enough for the next few years.

About three kilometers outside Dvaraka, on the road to Bet Dvaraka, is the temple of Rukmini, Krishna's chief queen. The architecture of the temple is beautiful, and the walls are decorated with paintings of the pastimes of Rukmini and Krishna. The temple is said to have been built in the twelfth century.

Dvaraka is a good place to visit for several days to get away from the rush and frustrations of city life. Pilgrims can go there to relax and consider the ultimate goal of life.

Srila Prabhupada writes: "The heavenly planets are more celebrated than the earth. But the celebrity of earth has defeated that of the heavenly planets because of Dvaraka, where Lord Sri Krishna reigned as king. Three places, namely Vrindavana, Mathura, and Dvaraka, are more important than the famous planets within the universe. These places are perpetually sanctified because whenever the Lord descends on earth He displays His transcendental activities particularly in these three places. They are perpetually the holy lands of the Lord, and the inhabitants still take advantage of the holy places, even though the Lord is now out of their sight." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.10.27, Purport)

When we left Dvaraka, we stopped to take photos from the road. We looked out over the plain from which the small town seems to rise suddenly across the banks of the Gomati. Dvaraka's many temple spires point up to indicate that our goal is not here but upwards. We could see the Dvarakadhisha temple dominating the skyline, and the lighthouse standing prominently in the distance behind it.

During the few minutes we stopped to take photos, several pilgrimage buses came rushing by. The cycle of life in Dvaraka today is as it has been for hundreds of years. As new pilgrims come, others leave. Previously, most pilgrims came by foot, and the richer ones would ride horses or be carried on palanquins. Nowadays, people mostly come by bus or train, but still the cycle goes on and on and on.

This was our good-bye to Dvaraka. We don't know when we'll be back, but we certainly hope to return. And we wish to return to Dvaraka of the spiritual world. In His mercy, Lord Krishna has left us a replica Dvaraka to point us back to our eternal destination.

Dvaraka Fifty Centuries Ago

The following description of Dvaraka during Krishna’s presence there appears in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.69.1-12) in connection with the sage Narada’s visit.

The City Was Filled with the sounds of birds and bees flying about the parks and pleasure gardens, while its lakes, crowded with blooming indivara, ambhoja, kahlara, kumuda, and utpala lotuses, resounded with the calls of swans and cranes.

Dvaraka boasted 900,000 royal palaces, all constructed with crystal and silver and splendorously decorated with huge emeralds. Inside these palaces, the furnishings were bedecked with gold and jewels.

Traffic moved along a well laid-out system of boulevards, roads, intersections, and marketplaces, and many assembly houses and temples of demigods graced the charming city. The roads, courtyards, commercial streets, and residential patios were all sprinkled with water and shaded from the sun’s heat by banners waving from flagpoles.

In the city of Dvaraka was a beautiful private quarter worshiped by the planetary rulers. This district, where the demigod Vishvakarma had shown all his divine skill, was the residential area of Lord Hari [Krishna], and thus it was gorgeously decorated by the sixteen thousand palaces of Lord Krishna’s queens. Narada Muni entered one of these immense palaces.

Supporting the palace were coral pillars decoratively inlaid with vaidurya gems. Sapphires bedecked the walls, and the floors glowed with perpetual brilliance. In that palace Tvashta had arranged canopies with hanging strands of pearls; there were also seats and beds fashioned of ivory and precious jewels. In attendance were many well-dressed maidservants bearing lockets on their necks, and also armor- clad guards with turbans, fine uniforms, and jeweled earrings.

The glow of numerous jewel-studded lamps dispelled all darkness in the palace. My dear king, on the ornate ridges of the roof danced loudly crying peacocks, who saw the fragrant aguru incense escaping through the holes of the latticed windows and mistook it for a cloud.

ISKCON Dvaraka

ISKCON opened a temple in Dvaraka in 1996 in a house donated by Pritish Bharatia, a friend of Yashomatinandana Dasa, president of ISKCON Ahmedabad. The ten-room building sits in a market area that’s a three-minute walk from the Dvarakadhisha temple. The Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Syamasundara are in one room; guests, staff, and supplies fill the rest. His Holiness Mahavishnu Goswami oversees the project.

With help from many well-wishers, especially Radha Jivana Dasa from the United States, devotees will begin building a temple on the site in the fall of 1999. The three-story stone temple will feature a temple room and a meeting hall above a dining hall and an ashram.

Isvarabhai Pujari, one of the priests for the Dvarakadhisha temple, is designing the new ISKCON temple. Isvarabhai, an architect, is known for his colorful and devotional dressing of the Dvarakadhisha Deities. His plans for the temple call for outdoor dioramas depicting Lord Krishna’s pastimes from Srimad-Bhagavatam. Expert sculptors from Rajasthan will embellish the outside of the temple with traditional stone carvings.

Besides the main temple, the ISKCON Dvaraka project includes a six-acre goshalla (farm for protecting cows) about ten kilometers from town. Lila Avatara Dasa from London has also donated a one-acre plot in the city for future expansion.

When asked about life in Dvaraka, temple resident Vaishnava Seva Dasa said, “Living in one of the four major holy places definitely increases my Krishna consciousness. Materially, living in Dvaraka has been a little austere because of the drought. There have been only seven or eight days of rain over the past year. Water is scarce, but by Krishna’s arrangement our temple is one of the few buildings in the city with its own working well.”

As his name implies, Vaishnava Seva Dasa (“servant of service to devotees”) looks forward to hosting many pilgrims and visitors in the new temple. ISKCON Dvaraka will hold its annual Rathayatra on January 26.

Visiting Dvaraka
How to Get There

Dvaraka is well connected to Mumbai and Ahmedabad by road and rail. The nearest airport is in Jamnagar, about three hours from Dvaraka by train, bus, or taxi.

Getting Around
There are no rickshas in Dvaraka because there’s no need. It’s a small place. You can get around by walking, or you can rent a bicycle.

Where to Eat
The Dvarakadhisha temple has a system of free prasadam distribution for a limited number of people. Coupons are distributed after mangala-arati (seven o’clock) for lunch, and at midday for the evening meal. Hotel Mera and Hotel Radhika are two of several restaurants that sell inexpensive all-you-can-eat vegetarian meals.

Where to Stay
Don’t expect to find luxury accommodations, but here are some clean, comfortable hotels: Toran Tourist Bungalow (phone: 02892-313), Hotel Meera (02892-331), Uttam Guest House (02892-234), Hotel Radhika (02892-754), Hotel Guruprerana (02892-385), and Hotel Gokul (02892-554).

For more travel information, see Holy Places and Temples of India, by Jada Bharata Dasa, available from the Hare Krishna Bazaar http://www.krishna.com.

Govindaji’s Original Home

Though now worshiped with great devotion in Jaipur, the Govindaji Deity appeared in Vrindavana, and His devotees there keep Him within their hearts.
The Govindaji Deity of Jaipur was originally installed in a beautiful temple in Vrindavana by Srila Rupa Goswami, one of the main contemporary followers of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Rupa Goswami and his elder brother, Sanatana Goswami, were born in a brahmana family, and their given names were Amara Deva and Santosh Deva. They grew up in Ramakeli, then the capital of Gauda Desha (now West Bengal). After the early death of their father, their grandfather Mukunda Deva, a high- ranking government officer, raised them and taught them Sanskrit and Arabic.

Rupa and Sanatana then served as prime minister and treasury minister in the government of the Mogul king Hussain Shah. Impressed with their work, the king gave the title Sakar Mallik to Sanatana, and Dabhir Khas to Rupa. Because the brothers adopted the customary beards and dress of Muslims, they were accused of becoming Muslims. Despite these charges, however, Rupa and Sanatana regularly discussed the Vedic scriptures, worshiped the Deity, and remembered the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. Actually, they were patiently waiting for the mercy of Krishna while reluctantly serving the Mogul government.

Govindaji Discovered

After a long separation, Sanatana met Rupa in Vrindavana, and together they wrote books, taught Krishna consciousness, and found the lost places of Radha-Krishna’s pastimes.

From old scriptures they learned that a beautiful Deity of Govindaji (Krishna) had been installed at a place known as Yogapitha in Vrindavana five thousand years ago by Vrajanabha, king of Mathura, the great-grandson of Lord Krishna. Eager to find the lost Deity, Rupa and Sanatana searched Vrindavana, constantly crying out, “O Govinda! O Govinda!”

One day a brahmana boy told Rupa that the Yogapitha he was looking for was now called Goma Tila. Every day a cow poured milk into a hole on top of this tila (hill). Realizing that Goma Tila was a special place, Rupa asked the Vrajavasis (the residents of Vraja, or Vrindavana) to dig up the ground. When they found a gorgeous black Deity of Krishna, everyone spontaneously chanted, “Govindadeva ki jaya! Govindadeva ki jaya!” (“All glories to Lord Govinda!”)

On hearing the news of Govindaji’s appearance, Lord Chaitanya sent Kashishvara Pandita to Vrindavana from Puri, giving him a Deity of Lord Krishna to take with him. Kashishvara Pandita installed the Deity, named Gaura-Govinda, or “Golden Govinda,” next to Govindaji. Gaura-Govinda is still worshiped in Jaipur in the Govindaji temple compound.

The Govindaji Temple in Vrindavana

The Govindaji temple in Vrindavana was built by king Man Singh in 1590, at the time of Jiva Goswami (the nephew of Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami). It is the second oldest temple in Vrindavana. The red sandstone used in the construction, although at the time reserved for government buildings, was donated by the Mogul emperor Akbar to his friend Man Singh. Emperor Akbar also gave seventy acres of land for Govindaji’s upkeep.

The deep red of the stone, the ornately carved designs, and the temple’s massive size distinguish the Govindaji temple from all others in Vrindavana. The highest dome, in the center of the temple, has a huge lotus flower intricately carved from a single slab of red stone.

A stone panel outside the temple states that Man Singh built the temple with stone given by Emperor Akbar. It also lists the completion date and the names of the architect and the chief mason.

Another stone panel, embedded in the wall beside the Deity room, bears Sanskrit verses. Although not completely readable, these verses resemble Jiva Goswami’s Govindashtaka, eight prayers glorifying Lord Govinda.

Govindaji Goes to Jaipur

In 1669 Moguls destroyed many Vrindavana temples, including much of the Govindaji temple. Radha- Govindaji escaped by secretly moving to Radha-kunda, then to Kamya-vana, and finally to Govindapura, near Jaipur.

In 1772 the king of Jaipur placed Radha-Govinda in the garden temple behind the City Palace. Every day thousands of devotees from Jaipur and other places come to see Radha- Govinda and the Gaura-Govinda Deity of Kashishvara Pandita. The pujaris follow strict rules and regulations in worshiping Radha-Govindaji with sincerity and love.

In 1819-1825 Nanda Kumar Basu opened a new temple for worshiping the prati-bhu murtis (expansions of the original Deities) of Radha-Govinda in Vrindavana. This temple stands behind the original Govindaji temple and attracts hundreds of devotees daily.

In 1873, two hundred years after the Moguls had ransacked the beautiful Govindaji temple in Vrindavana, Mathura district magistrate F. S. Growse renovated it. Now the temple is a historical monument protected by the Indian government.

In place of Radha-Govindaji, the Goswamis of Govindaji have installed Deities of Gaura-Nitai, Giridhari-shila, and Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama, and Subhadra Devi. A deity of Yogamaya (one of Krishna’s energies), said to have been discovered by Srila Rupa Goswami, is worshiped in an underground temple next door.

Still the devotees of Vrindavana want Sri Govindaji to return. Nowadays the Moguls no longer present a problem. I know that Sri Govindaji is treated just like a king in Jaipur, but still the devotees of Vrindavana have the Vrindavana mood of love for Govindadevaji. We request the present king to take this request sincerely.

Padma Nabha Goswami, son of Sri Vishwambhar Goswami, is one of the respected servitors of the Radha-Ramana Temple in Vrindavana.

Guruvayur - Where Heaven Meets Earth

Grand processions in an atmosphere of devotion draw crowds of eager pilgrims to an ancient South Indian temple.

Many factors contribute to the popularity of India’s major temples. Sri Rangam, situated on the Kaveri River, is popular because of its antiquity. Badarinatha, high in the Himalayas, is famous for its geographical location. Konark, the sun temple in Orissa, is known for its unique architecture, and Vyenkateshvara, in the South Indian hill town of Tirumala, owes much of its fame to the Deity’s reputation for fulfilling the requests of His worshipers. All these factors combine at Guruvayur, in the South Indian state of Kerala. Guruvayur is one of the most enchanting and glorious temples in all of India.

There are no movie theaters in the town of Guruvayur. No liquor stores. Nor night clubs. Guruvayur is a holy city, where people come to make spiritual advancement. In an atmosphere of devotion to Krishna, visitors immediately feel they have risen above this earthly world to the divine. Appropriately, Guruvayur is known as Bhuloka Vaikuntha: “where heaven meets earth.”

A visit to Guruvayur, though common to devotees in India, is something very few Westerners have experienced. To witness the thousands of devoted pilgrims who come to worship Krishna every day is astounding. The faith of the pilgrims who visit Guruvayur is expressed in their earnest and sincere faces as they enter the temple. While sitting in the large open-air corridor outside the Deity’s chamber, pilgrims hear priests tell about the many miracles performed at Guruvayur. With palms joined in awe and nee, the devotees pray that they too might receive the blessings of Lord Krishna.

The temple schedule begins at 3 A.M. with darshana (seeing the Deity), followed by abhisheka (bathing the Deity), and continues until 10 P.M., when the Deity takes rest for the night. Throughout the day the elaborate worship of the Deity of Lord Krishna engages the temple priests and thousands of visitors in activities of Krishna consciousness. Accompanied by music and singing, the devotees daily offer hundreds of vegetarian dishes, colorful silks and other items of opulent clothing, jeweled ornaments, garlands of flowers, and even elephants as gifts to the Deity.

During the mid-morning hours many wedding ceremonies take place, one after another. Devoted couples, believing that being married at the Guruvayur temple is a great blessing, come here from all over South India.

In the evening, varieties of classical dance, such as Bharata-natyam and Kathakali, are performed for the public. The dancers combine dance and drama to depict the pastimes of Lord Krishna. These dance traditions have existed in South India for thousands of years, and no temple function is complete without them.

The evening also brings the main event of the day: a Deity procession led by jewel- and gold-bedecked elephants. The beauty of the Deity and the grandeur of the elephants draws thousands of pilgrims to witness the procession each evening. Before the arrival of the Deity, elaborate preparations are made. Then, as the enthusiastic crowd stands expectant, a devotee blows three blasts on a conchshell. The priests quickly emerge from the Deity’s chamber bearing Lord Krishna on a golden throne, which is placed on the lead elephant. Surrounded by priests bearing multicolored umbrellas and varieties of fans, by musicians playing drums, cymbals, gongs, and trumpets, and by exuberant devotees chanting the names of the Lord, the Deity is carried around the temple compound, now illuminated by ten thousand oil lamps.

After about one hour, with the circumambulation completed, the elephants return to the starting point and stand motionless while the Deity is removed from the golden throne and returned to His chamber. It is now 10 p.m., and the temple closes for the night.

Because the elephant procession is held every night of the year, the Guruvayur temple owns an elephant ranch, where thirty-six elephants are trained to perform ceremonial functions. In the history of the temple several elephants stand out as special. One of the most famous was Keshava, also know as Gajaraja, or “king of the elephants.”

Keshava’s unique devotion for his service at Guruvayur will not soon be forgotten. When Keshava became the leading elephant in the temple herd, he would no longer tolerate another elephant’s carrying the Deity. Once, when another elephant was selected to carry the Deity in procession, Keshava became so disturbed that he attacked the other elephant and chased him away. Whenever Keshava was to carry the Deity, he would demonstrate his great eagerness to perform his service by pulling at the chains that bound his feet.

For more than fifty years Keshava served Lord Krishna at Guruvayur. During one festival, however, he became ill, just at the time of the Deity procession. His huge body began to tremble, and he was removed from the procession and taken to a nearby stable, where he fasted throughout the night. The next evening, when the conchshell blew to announce the appearance of the Deity, Keshava bowed before the temple, and amid thousands of devotees chanting and playing on musical instruments, his soul departed from his body to attain the eternal realm of Vaikuntha.

When pilgrims arrive at Guruvayur, they are reminded of Keshava by his tusks and portrait displayed above the main entrance to the Deity chamber. And throughout the city many shops sell colorful paintings of Keshava.

At Guruvayur, whether on the days of great festivals or in the moments before the evening procession, when ten thousand oil lamps are being lit, or while hearing about Keshava, the king of the elephants, the pilgrim naturally feels a growing desire to glorify the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.

Hampi: Crown of a Glorious Empire

Mostly in ruins today, this area was the site of scenes from the Ramayana and the jewel of the Vijaynagar kingdom.

Hampi is mentioned in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and many Puranas as Pampa Kshetra or Kiskhinda. Located in the Indian state of Karnataka, it was once the seat of the vast, prosperous Vijaynagar empire (1336—1565 CE), which included at least the current states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. In 1565, while under the rule of Ramaraja, the 26-square-kilometer Hampi area was sacked by the combined armies of five neighboring Muslim rulers. The flourishing city of architectural wonders was evacuated, never to fully recover its former glory.

Govinda Bhakta Dasa and I started our visit in the early morning on a motorbike from Hospet, ten kilometers southwest of Hampi. On the road to Hampi the first impressive temple we stopped at was a temple built by Krishnadeva Raya (rule: 1509—29) in 1513 to enshrine a deity of Krishna he had brought back from a military campaign in Orissa. The deity—child Krishna holding butter in his right hand—now rests in a government museum in Chennai.

Just twenty meters down the road we came upon 22-foot-tall Lord Narasimha, hewn out of a single boulder during the rule of Krishnadeva Raya. No longer worshiped, Narasimha sits out in the open, nearly everything around him having been destroyed by invaders. He is seated on the coils of Shesha Naga, who rises behind him with seven hoods, which serve as canopy. To the left of Lord Narasimha is a ten-foot-tall Shiva-linga named Badavi-linga, which is surrounded by a small channel of water coming from a nearby stream.

Traveling up the road we stopped at two Ganesha temples before reaching the top of Hemakuta Hill. From there we had a beautiful view, to the south, of the Krishna temple and the Narasimha deity, and to the north, of the Tungabhadra River, the Hampi Bazaar, and the Virupaksha Temple.

The Virupaksha Temple, at the western end of Hampi Bazaar, has a ten-story entry gate, decorated with many sculptures. The main deity is a self-manifested Shiva-linga. The temple is situated at the feet of Hemakuta Hill, where Lord Shiva is said to have performed penance and burnt Kamadeva to ashes. There are also the shrines dedicated to Padmavati, the wife of Lord Shiva, and to the Bhuvaneshvari, or Lakshmi, worshiped by the brothers Harihara and Bukka, who founded Vijayanagar in 1336. The architectural style of the Lakshmi shrine indicates that it existed before the Vijaynagar kingdom. In the basement is a shrine where the deity of Lord Vishnu holds a scale to compare the merits of two holy places: Pampa Kshetra wins over Kashi.

At noon we witnessed a small ceremony performed by the temple elephant, and then we came out onto Hampi Bazaar, about 700 meters long and 30 meters wide. Many Chinese, Arab, and Portuguese merchants came to trade here, where gems were sold in abundance. Domingo Paes, a Portuguese traveler who visited Hampi during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya, described the market: “Broad and beautiful street full of rows of mantaps [open pavilions] and beautiful houses with balconies and arcades. On this street live many merchants, and there you will find all sorts of rubies and diamonds and emeralds and pearls and clothes and every other sort of thing there is on earth and that you wish to buy.”

The street is now used for the temple Rathayatra, or chariot festival. As we passed through the street, many children approached us selling postcards. There are several restaurants and many shops selling fruit, books, bags, cloth, ornaments, and religious supplies.

Rishyamuka Mountain

We then climb the steep path over rocks to the top of Matanga Hill and the Durga temple, which also contains a black stone image of Vishnu as Parashurama. From the roof of the temple the view was breathtaking and worth the climb in the hot sun. Clearly visible were the royal complex, Hampi Bazaar, the Tungabadra River, the Vitthala Temple, Kiskhinda, and emerald rice fields with innumerable palm and banana trees. This hill is mentioned in the Ramayana as Rishyamuka Mountain.

Stepping carefully, we descended to the Achyutaraya Temple (built by King Achyutaraya), a large temple situated in a double-wall enclosure with great gateways. The doorways are carved with the symbols of Lord Vishnu and small figures of Krishna.

From there we went towards the Tungabhadra River, passing through a pillared hall and reaching the Varaha Temple, on whose inner walls is carved the boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu standing before a sword, with the sun and moon represented above the figure. This was the crest of the Vijayanagar kings.

Sugriva’s Cave

As we continued toward the Tungabhadra River, we came to the ruins of an old bridge. From there we could see Kiskhinda on the other side of the river, as well as the mountain on which Hanuman was born. Following the river upstream, we arrived in front of Sugriva’s cave, clearly marked with red and white vertical lines. Here the monkey king Sugriva kept jewels that Sita had dropped while being carried away by Ravana.

Near Sugriva’s cave is the Kodanda Rama Temple (“bow-bearing Rama”), containing beautiful deities of Sita-Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman carved in black stone. Above the temple, in a cave, is a temple of Hanuman called the Yantrodara Anjaneya Temple. The very kind Madhva priest Shamachar, who daily comes from a nearby village to perform the worship of Hanuman, told us that at this place the acharya Vyasa Tirtha was meditating, and after eleven days Hanuman appeared to him. He requested Vyasa Tirtha to install him on the rock in a bas relief form because this was the rock where he had first seen saw Lord Rama and Lakshmana sitting. The place where he first met them is twenty meters bellow the hill, in a place called Chakra Tirtha, now covered by the Tungabhadra River.

Following the stone-paved pathway winding among huge rocks by the edge of the river, we returned to Hampi Bazaar.

Day Two

The next day we used a motorbike to visit the Malayavanta Raghunatha Temple, on Malayavanta Hill on the road to Kampli. At this place Rama and Lakshmana spend four months of the rainy season after installing Sugriva on the throne. In the main temple, deities of Rama and Lakshmana are sitting, Sita is standing next to them, and a kneeling Hanuman is carved on a boulder on their right side. The priest of the temple told us that these are the only deities of Rama and Lakshmana in a sitting posture; they’re worrying about the kidnapped Sita.

We drove down the hill and came to Madhuvan. After finding Sita, the monkeys stopped here and enjoyed royal gardens full of honey and fruit. Today there is a small Hanuman temple here. The priests invited us for lunch, so we gladly accepted, enjoying delicacies from the Madhuvan garden.

From Madhuvan we rode to the famous Vitthala Temple, a most splendid building where every pillar has its own musical sound. The detail of the temple carvings is fascinating. The temple construction started during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya, but it was never finished, due to the destruction of Hampi. In front of the temple is a hall with numerous pillars carved with scenes from the Ramayana.

A stone chariot sits outside the temple. Some guidebooks say that it was carved from a single stone—a mistaken observation that attests to the skill of the builders: The joints are nearly invisible unless one takes a close-up look. Two stone elephants stand guard in front of the chariot.

Awed by the beautiful Vitthala Temple, we next drove to the Tungabhadra River and crossed it in round basket boats. While Hampi is a popular tourist destination, few cross the river, because the greatness of the temples on the other side is the devotion to the deities rather than the architecture, which most tourists have come to see.


After crossing the bridge we came to Anegundi village, the original Kiskhinda. Worship is still going on in the old Ranganatha Temple is the village. Nearby is the samadhi (memorial tomb) of Narahari Tirtha, a direct disciple of Madhvacharya.

Driving through Kiskhinda we came to Pampa Lake, filled with lotus flowers. (From Pampa the word Hampi was derived.) It is mentioned in the Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 9.316) that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu bathed in Pampa Lake. Here Rama and Lakshmana met Shabari, an elder woman performing penance. She offered them delicious fruit and directed them towards Rishyamuka Mountain. On the hill above Pampa Lake is a cave where Shabari lived and the Pampa Ambika temple.

Five minutes’ drive from Pampa, on the highest hill of Kiskhinda, is Hanuman’s birthplace. To reach the top of the hill we had to climb six hundred steps. On the way we visited Kesharitirtha, a cave where Keshari, Hanuman’s father, lived. In the temple the deity of Hanuman was carved in a huge boulder and painted red. In the opposite shrine is a deity of Anjana, Hanuman’s mother. A few sages stay on the top of the hill and perform the worship. Praying for the blessings of Hanuman, we descended the hill. Before it got dark, we again crossed the river in a small basket boat and drove back to Hospet.

Day Three

On the third day we visited the royal enclosure, where we saw ruins suggestive of the greatness of the Vjayanagara empire. Among the many temples the most splendid is the Hazara Rama Temple. Surrounded by a wall and carefully maintained garden, the temple contains a large number of Ramayana bas reliefs carved in great detail.

Under the rule of Krishnadeva Raya, the Vijayanagara empire reached the zenith of its power. He was a disciple of Vyasa Tirtha in the Madhvacayra disciplic succession and ruled in the name of his guru and Krishna. He was a poet, and he patronized literature and the building of the temples. Historical records describe him as an expert administrator and able, brave statesman who led his armies in person. He had a noble presence, a gentle and generous character, attractive manners, and a strong influence over those around him.

Having seen just a spark of the original Kishkinda and Vijayanagara empires, we could only lament for not being able to witness their full splendor under reign of the saintly kings Sugriva and Krishnadeva Raya. They ruled in the name of the Supreme Lord—Rama and Krishna—perfectly satisfying their citizens materially and spiritually in this unique and charming place.

How Krishna Came to Udupi

The amazing account of how one of India’s greatest saints met a beguiling Krishna Deity of a bygone era.

The holy town of Udupi lies on the Arabian Sea in the South Indian state of Karnataka. The town is famous as a place of pilgrimage because of the temple Sri Krishna Matha. This temple was founded by Srila Madhvacharya (A.D. 1238-1317), one of the greatest saints, philosophers, and religious reformers of India. Udupi is said to have attained the status of Vaikuntha, the kingdom of God, because the Supreme Personality of Godhead came and stayed there in response to the desire of His pure devotee Srila Madhvacharya.

Even before Madhva’s time Udupi was renowned as a holy place. People throughout South India frequently went there on pilgrimage because it was a center of Vedic scholarship and the site of two ancient temples, Sri Ananteshvara and Sri Candramauleshvara. In the Sri Ananteshvara temple, the more famous of the two, Lord Vishnu and His personal expansion Lord Ananta-shesha are said to reside within the Siva-linga, the deity form of Lord Siva, who is the most powerful demigod and the greatest devotee of Lord Vishnu, or Krishna. Sri Candramauleshvara is a temple of Lord Siva, so named because he carries the crescent moon (candra) on his head. Not much else is known about Udupi prior to Madhva’s advent, except that the town is named after Lord Siva, “Udupi” being derived from “Udupa,” another name of Lord Siva meaning “he who carries the moon on his head.”

Srila Madhvacharya, in the years before he founded the Sri Krishna Matha, was affiliated with the Sri Ananteshvara temple. Here he used to hold audiences spellbound with his learned discourses on the science of Krishna consciousness. Within the temple compound he would regularly hold debates with scholars opposed to pure devotion to Lord Krishna as the ultimate end of Vedic knowledge. Madhva never lost a debate. After founding Sri Krishna Matha, Madhva made it the center for all his activities. Tradition still has it, however, that pilgrims go first to Candramauleshvara and offer their respects to Lord Siva, then to Ananteshvara to offer respects to Lord Vishnu, and finally go across the street to Sri Krishna Matha to worship Srila Madhvacharya’s original Deity of Lord Bala Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead as a young child.

The amazing story of how the Bala Krishna Deity crossed the ocean from faraway Dvaraka in Northwest India to Udupi in the south is told in Madhva-vijaya,the biography of Srila Madhvacharya. Madhva wanted to have a temple of Lord Krishna in Udupi; the devotees could then worship and serve the Lord and ennoble their souls. Well, it so happened that in Dvaraka, one of the main places of Krishna’s pastimes on earth five thousand years ago, a Deity lay concealed within a large mass of gopi-candana clay (the yellowish clay Vaishnavas use daily in marking their freshly bathed bodies as temples of Lord Vishnu). No one knew the Deity was there, but because the lump of clay was exceedingly heavy, some sailors loaded it onto their merchant ship as ballast. On the ship’s southward journey, just off the coast of Udupi, a tempest blew the ship aground on a sandbank.

On that very day, Srila Madhvacharya absorbed in composing Dvadasha-stotra, his famous twelve-part poem praising Lord Krishna, had gone to the beach to bathe or, as some say, to receive the Lord. Upon seeing the ship caught fast on the sandbank and hearing the cries of the sailors in distress, Srila Madhvacharya waved his cloth in their direction. This calmed the stormy seas, and the ship floated free. Madhva then guided the vessel to safety. Eager to show his appreciation, the captain offered Madhva whatever he wanted from the ship’s cargo. Madhva chose the heavy lump of gopi- candana clay.

Disciple attendants of Madhvacharya had just started back to Udupi with the large lump of clay when, but a short distance from the beach, the lump broke in two, revealing the handsome Deity of Lord Bala Krishna. But now the combined effort of thirty of Madhva’s disciples could not budge the Deity. Only when Madhvacharya himself embraced and lifted the Deity as if He were a child did the Deity consent to be moved. In great transcendental ecstasy Madhva carried the Lord the four miles back to Udupi. On the way he completed the remaining seven parts of Dvadasha-stotra, reciting the verses out loud. Back in Udupi, Madhva bathed the Lord in the lake known as Madhva-sarovara and enshrined Him in the Sri Krishna Matha. Srila Madhvacharya instituted rigorous standards for worshipping Sri Krishna, and whenever he was in Udupi he would personally perform the thirteen daily worship ceremonies for the Lord.

How the Deity of Bala Krishna had come to be buried in Dvaraka is told in Prameya-navamalika-tika, a work from the seventeenth century by Raghuvarya Tirtha, an acharya in succession from Srila Madhvacharya. Once, during the time of Lord Krishna’s manifest pastimes on earth, mother Devaki lamented to the Lord over her misfortune at never having witnessed the Lord’s childhood pastimes in Vrindavana. She entreated the Lord to make her happy and fortunate, like mother Yashoda, by showing some of His childhood feats and frolics.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead, just to give pleasure to His pure devotee, at once assumed the form of a small child and clambered all over Devaki’s lap. Later, when Devaki went to churn butter, Krishna, acting like an ordinary mischievous child, broke the churn, ate the lumps of butter, and even smeared butter all over his transcendental body. He then snatched the churning rod and rope from Devaki’s hands. After sporting like this for some time, the Lord again assumed His usual form of eternal youth. Mother Devaki was thrilled beyond measure to see this childhood pastime of the Lord.

Queen Rukmini-devi, Lord Krishna’s consort, witnessed these pastimes, and the Lord’s mischievous behavior and childhood features enthralled her. To preserve the memory, she had a Deity made of child Krishna holding a churning rod and rope. Queen Rukmini began to worship this Deity regularly. Later, after the Lord returned to the spiritual sky with His retinue, Arjuna deposited the Deity in a place called Rukminivana. In the course of centuries the Deity became completely covered with clay, and it remained in that condition near Dvaraka until merchant sailors brought it to Madhvacharya at Udupi.

Before his departure from this world, Srila Madhvacharya appointed eight of his sannyasi disciples to take charge of the worship at Sri Krishna Matha and to continue propagating Krishna consciousness in the region. Today the responsibility for the worship is rotated in two-year periods called paryaya among eight sannyasis in disciplic succession from the original eight. During the fourteen-year interim period between turns at paryaya, each sannyasi travels and preaches and raises funds for use when his turn for worship comes. During his paryaya,he personally performs the thirteen daily ritual services to the Deity.

Each sannyasi also heads his own matha, where other Deities, ones given by Madhvacharya to the original eight sannyasis, are worshipped. These eight mathas are located along Car Street, a road that circles the Candramauleshvara and Ananteshvara temples and runs right past the main entrance to Sri Krishna Matha. Car Street is where parades such as the one pictured at the opening of this article are held. According to the significance of the festival being observed, sometimes only one cart and sometimes all three are used. A fourth cart, completely covered in silver, is used for special festivals.

Replete with a decorated elephant and a musical band, a parade on Car Street is an almost nightly event in Udupi. Residents and pilgrims alike turn out en masse to see the Lord riding high upon His cart and smiling beneficently upon the adoring devotees. The procession stops at intervals along the route, and the Lord is entertained by fireworks displays or worshiped by offerings from His many devotees. The parades start at eight and are usually over by nine-thirty.

Seeing the enthusiastic devotion of the residents of Udupi engladdens the heart of any devotee. Even a hardened nondevotional heart would be touched. Udupi is one of the few places left in India where devotional, spiritual traditions, for which India is famous, are still practiced intact. Such a pure devotional atmosphere is the principal symptom of the spiritual world. Thus a fitting epithet for Udupi is “the Kingdom of God on Earth.”


For twelve years Madhyageha Bhatta would regularly travel the eight miles north from his village of Belle to Udupi. There at the Ananteshvara temple he would pray for a son. One day a devotee in a trancelike state climbed the temple flagpole and announced that to reestablish the purest principles of religion, a male child, an incarnation of Vayu, the demigod in charge in air, would soon be born. Madhyageha understood within his heart that this would be his own child. Soon his wife, Vedavati, gave birth to a son. The happy couple named him Vasudeva.

From infancy Vasudeva showed extraordinary intellect, so much so that he was given brahminical initiation at age five, three years early. Whatever he heard of read, even just once, he could remember. His body was unusually strong, lustrous, and beautiful. At age eleven, Vasudeva left home for Udupi, to live with Acyutapreksha, an ascetic widely respected for his scholarship and saintly character. After one year, despite strong protest from his father, Vasudeva renounced the world. Acyutapreksha named him Purnaprajna.

Less than forty days after taking sannyasa,Purnaprajna defeated Vasudeva Pandita, a famous wandering scholar, in a public debate. The pandita was known for his hair-splitting dialectical ability, but he was no match for young Purnaprajna. The pandita spoke for three days and then dared anyone to refute his conclusions. Purnaprajna shocked the crowd when he accepted the issues, he repeated almost verbatim the pandita’s arguments. Then, one by one, he smashed them all. His victory was the talk of Udupi. Acyutapreksha gave him the title Anandatirtha, in recognition of his mastery of Vedanta.

Word spread far and wide about the debating skill of the young ascetic in Udupi. Challengers and admirers converged on the town. Buddhisagara and Vadisimha, two Buddhist monks who had converted many to their fold, challenged Anandatirtha. After a day-long skirmish, they promised to return the next day. That night, however, they secretly fled from Udupi.

Anandatirtha went on a tour of South India. The most notable events on this tour were two encounters with Vidyashankara Svami, the lineal successor to Sripada Sankaracharya, who was the original propounder of the monistic theory of the Absolute Truth. Some basic tenets of Sankaracharya’s philosophy are as follows: God and the soul are identical; the formless, senseless, impersonal Absolute is the only reality; all else is illusion; and the incarnations of God are all products of illusion. Anandatirtha was thoroughly familiar with this doctrine, so he knew all its weak points. With firmness and courage he challenged the venerated Vidyashankara, and a fierce debate ensued. Vidyashankara could not defeat his opponent, yet he refused to accept defeat. They met again, in Rameshvaram, during the monsoon season, at which time Vidyashankara taunted and harassed Anandatirtha. But the young saint tolerated the abuse.

On his return journey, while addressing an assembly of learned men, Anandatirtha stated that every Vedic utterance conveyed a triple meaning, that each verse of the Mahabharata had ten meanings, and that each of the thousand prominent names of Lord Vishnu had a hundred meanings. When the astonished assembly demanded he prove his statement, Anandatirtha explained a hundred meanings of Vishva, the first name of Vishnu. Before he could proceed further, however, they begged him to stop, admitting they didn’t have the intelligence to comprehend his elaborate explanations.

Back in Udupi, Anandatirtha, who was now known as Madhva, wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and gave a copy to Acyutapreksha for his approval.

Madhva’s next tour was to Badarinatha, high in the Himalayas. In Badarinatha he met Srila Vyasadeva, the author of the four Vedas and their voluminous supplementary literature. In preparation for this meeting, Madhva had observed complete silence and complete fasting for forty-eight days. He learned the full meaning of the Vedanta- sutra, the distilled essence of Vedic wisdom, from the transcendental author himself and promised to write a commentary on the sutras, one that would be faithful to Srila Vyasadeva’s original intent and purport. By the time he came down from the Himalayas, his commentary, Sutra-bhashya, was completed. He sent a copy ahead to Udupi for Acyutapreksha’s approval.

On his return trip, Srila Madhvacharya converted Sobhana Bhatta and Sami Sastri to Vaishnavism. They later became successors to Madhva, as Padmanabha Tirtha and Narahari Tirtha. Madhva refused to let Narahari take sannyasa, ordering him to remain in his high governmental position, in return for which he was to obtain the Deities of Mula Rama and Sita, lying in the King of Kalinga’s treasury. For many years Narahari remained in that service, until finally, just three months before Madhva’s departure from this world, Narahari brought the ancient images of Sita-Rama to his guru. These were the original Deities of Rama and Sita, worshiped by Maharaja Ikshvaku and then by Maharaja Dasharatha, the father of Lord Rama. Then during the time of Lord Krishna’s advent, the Pandavas gave them to the Gajapati kings of Orissa. Eventually the Deities were kept in the king’s treasury.

While still in his twenties, Srila Madhvacharya undertook a second tour to Badarinatha, this one after he had founded Sri Krishna Matha in Udupi. On the way, a tyrannical king pressed Madhva’s party into digging a reservoir for the city of Devagiri. Madhva, however, persuaded the king himself to take part in the digging and then left with the party. The pilgrims had many other hardships and misadventures, but Madhva always saved them with his quick thinking and mystic powers. In Badarinatha, Madhva again heard from Vyasa, who gave him eight sacred Salagrama stones.

On his return trip Madhva stopped in Goa, where he enacted an amazing gastronomical feat. Previously he had eaten a thousand bananas in one sitting. But in Goa, he outdid his earlier record. He ate four thousand bananas and then drank thirty pots of milk. When asked to prove that plants indeed respond to music, Madhva took a few seeds in his palm and began singing in his melodious voice. The seeds sprouted. Madhva continued singing, and the plants grew, swaying to the melody. Madhva continued singing. The plants grew into full maturity and yielded the fruits and flowers. News of this feat spread everywhere.

From Udupi Madhva traveled south again. In Vishnumangalam he debated with Trivikramacharya, a logician and grammarian of remarkable skill, who was able to make the Sanskrit language convey any meaning that suited his purpose. The debate lasted fifteen days, and in the end Trivikrama surrendered at Madhva’s feet. A full account of that debate is given in the Madhva-vijaya,written by the son of Trivikramacharya. News of Trivikrama’s conversion brought hundreds more men and women into Madhva’s fold. His life’s mission thus became firmly rooted in India.

Srila Madhvacharya wrote thirty-nine books clarifying the tenets of Vaishnavism and showing Vaishnavism to be the true Vedic religion. In many of his works he attacked the monistic creed of Sankaracharya’s followers, exposing to impede Madhva’s mission by less honorable means. They tried to defame him, declaring him a heretic and all his followers outcasts. They even stole his writings and his valuable collection of ancient books, thinking that without literature his mission would be finished. Somehow, King Jaya Simha of Vishnumangalam acquired the books and returned them to Madhvacharya.

Madhva had appeared in two other incarnations. During the time of Lord Krishna’s appearance on earth he appeared as the warrior Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers. During the time of Lord Rama, he incarnated as the beloved Hanuman, the ideal servant of the Supreme Lord. And, as in those incarnations, Madhva performed many feats of strength and displayed mystical perfections. As a child he would appear suddenly in one mighty leap from anywhere in mighty leap from anywhere in response to his mother’s call. In school he cured a friend’s headache by blowing in his ear. To help his father out of debt he turned tamarind seeds into money. On two occasions he made seeds sprout into plants by his singing. An enormous rock in Ambu Tirtha, requiring at least fifty men to move it, bears an inscription stating that Madhvacharya placed it there with one hand. Many times Madhva made small quantities of food increase for distribution to hundreds of people. At the age of seventy-nine, his mission well established, Srila Madhvacharya passed away. His devotees say he went to Badarinatha to join Srila Vyasadeva.


The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is in the sampradaya, or disciplic line, from Madhvacharya by way of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Bengali school of Krishna devotees. The members of ISKCON are connected to the Madhva-sampradaya through Lakshmipati Tirtha, A Madhvaite who initiated Srila Madhavendra Puri, the grand- spiritual-master of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of ISKCON, is eleventh in the disciplic line from Lord Chaitanya. Because of this connection to Madhva, Udupi holds special interest for ISKCON members. It is the place where one of the predecessor acharyas boldly preached Krishna consciousness, the Absolute Truth, and delivered many conditioned souls from illusion and ignorance.

Jewel in Kampuchea

Does it shock you that Vedic culture existed outside India so long ago?” Ta asked me, “No,” I said. “Veda means knowledge, and true knowledge is everybody’s birthright.”

While viewing a recent exhibit at New York’s Asia Society, I met an extremely interesting fellow named Ta Khan; a—Cambodian war refugee—Although Ta was familiar with Eastern religion, his knowledge of the Krishna consciousness movement was minimal. He had heard about vedanta, yoga, sanatana-dharma and so on, but like most people who frequent the Asia Society had only a theoretical Knowledge of these things. And he was completely unaware that thousands of Westerners had adopted the Krishna Conscious life style.

I was Standing before a beautiful painting from Akbar’s court when Ta approached me “Are you a devotee of Krishna?” he asked: But before I could answer he stammered, "You’re American! American!”

“Devotion to Krishna is the eternal function of the soul,” I assured him, “it transcends cultural designations.” We continued to look at the exhibit together, Soon he turned again to me, obviously anxious to speak, but he seemed unsure of where to start, Hoping to make it easy far him, I explained, “Krishna is God. Actually, there is one God, but He is revealed by different Prophets according to the intellectual and spiritual capacities of a given culture” I could see he was attentive and eager to hear more.

“No matter where you are born,” I continued, “God can come to you. It’s not that Krishna can come only to a Hindu. If you’re sincere, He’ll search you out. He will either come personally, or He’ll send His pure representative.” I concluded my little sermon: “When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came to Western shores in 1965, he brought Krishna with him.”

Ta seemed pleased. “I know exactly what you mean,” he ventured. Then with increased confidence he said, “Krishna came to mein Cambodia.”

I thought he was referring to the local concept of God in his country, and I asked, “What form did the Lord come in? What’s His name in your land?”

“Oh, He came as Krishna and also as Rama. He came in the form of the world’s largest Vishnu temple.” Now he had caught my interest.

“Wait a minute,” I protested. “The largest Vishnu temple is in Sri Rangam, in South India.”

“That’s the largest in India,” he corrected me, laughing, “but the largest in the world is called Angkor Wat, and that is in Cambodia.”

“Angkor what?”

“You may like to joke,” Ta said, his face set with gravity, “but when I was a child my father took me to this massive Vishnu temple, and I have never forgotten the experience. We prayed to leave Cambodia” he looked at me earnestly. “Life there was so hard. I made a vow before Vishnu that if I ever got out, I would search for His devotees and learn how to worship Him.”

As Ta spoke, tears came to his eyes. It occurred to me that here was a genuine recipient of Lord Vishnu’s mercy. For that matter, so was I. America, for all its opulence, is as unlikely a place to find devotion to Krishna as Kampuchea (Cambodia).

We went to sit in the Asia Society cafeteria. I was completely fascinated by Ta’s experience at Angkor Wat. I wanted to know more. I shared my lunch of krsnaprasadam with him. He shared his past with me. A member of the Asia Society overheard bits of our conversation and suggested we go through their private book collection; he was certain he had once encountered some literature on Angkor Wat. And sure enough, we were excited to find quite a bit of literature on the subject.

Ta had told me that the name Angkor Wat means, roughly, “the new place,” and we read that “the new place” used to be called, of all things, Yasodapura. I was familiar with the name Yasoda It’s the name of Krishna’s mother. It seems the temple was constructed in her honor. I had to know more.

As we read on, we learned that south India’s Sri Rangam is indeed considered the largest Vishnu temple in India- but Angkor Wat is bigger still. Ta smiled, proud of his country. “Vishnu is still worshiped in Sri Rangam,” I said, trying once again to defend India’s sanctity, “but Angkor Wat has long since become a Buddhist shrine.” But I knew my defense was insubstantial and irrelevant- Angkor Wat still stands as one of the world’s most monumental offerings to God.

The massive Vishnu temple apparently was constructed by the Palava dynasty under King Suryavarman II’s patronage. The Palavas were mostly Vaisnavas, Krishna conscious devotees, and with their great missionary spirit brought Vedic culture from India to many lands.

Angkor Wat, the crown jewel of Palava masterworks, dominates the plain where the Khmer empire-heir to the kingdoms of Funan and Chenla-flourished from the ninth century A.D. Built over a span of some forty years, the temple is one of the world’s most elaborate religious masterpieces, surpassing even the most elegant Christian cathedrals in splendor and magnitude. Worship of Vishnu engaged thousands under its roof until the fall of the Palava dynasty in the fifteenth century, at which time, with the transferral of culture, it became a tribute to Lord Buddha. Today, the temple is being partly protected from its most lethal enemy, water, by a network of hidden drains put there in the 1960s.

As Ta read the description of Angkor, it brought back memories of his homeland and of his vow to search out the devotees of Vishnu.

“Its epic symmetries,” he read to me, “begin with the outer gallery, which runs in a circumference of half a mile. Within the gallery, sculptures in bas relief retell the pastimes of Vishnu and Rama.” What Ta and I were most happy to read, however, is that Lord Krishna’s pastimes are also depicted on the walls of the great structure. As we read this in an old copy of National Geographic (Vol. 161, No. 5, May 1982), we began to feel closer, as if his background in Kampuchea and my involvement with the Krishna consciousness movement were interrelated. Somehow, they were.

“Does it shock you that your Vedic culture existed outside India so long ago?” Ta asked me.

“No,” I confessed. “I can understand that Vedic culture is our birthright. Veda means ‘knowledge,’ and true knowledge is everybody’s birthright. If something is indeed true, it must be true everywhere and for everyone-just like the sun. There’s no question of a Cambodian sun or an American sun-the sun is the sun. Vedic knowledge is like that. It is true for everyone. It is the Absolute Truth.

It was getting late. Ta was reflective. Although we had only met earlier that day, we were already old friends. He repeated his story to me; he spoke of his ordeal in Kampuchea; he reminisced about his visit to the Vishnu temple. His prayers did not go unanswered, he told me. Not only was he able to flee Kampuchea with his life, but he was led to Vishnu’s devotees. I was embarrassed. I realized that he was referring to me. And I, in turn, became even more grateful to Srila Prabhupada, who spread the teachings of Krishna consciousness all over the world so that I could be led to Vishnu’s devotees.

Journey To The Land Of The Gods

ISKCON’s perennial pilgrims travel to the holiest sites in the world’s greatest mountains.

In 1995, small groups of Hare Krishna devotees traveled throughout India collecting sacred water with which to bathe murtis, or carved forms, of Srila Prabhupada on the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth. One group, ISKCON’s India Padayatra party, which continuously travels around India on foot, went on a pilgrimage to the four holiest sites of the Himalayas: Yamunotri, the source of the Yamuna River; Gangotri, the source of the Ganges River; Kedarnath, dedicated to Lord Siva; and Badrinath, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. [Note: For the names of places mentioned in this article, we haven’t Sanskritized the spellings or used diacritical marks. Instead we’ve kept the popular spellings, just as they were sent to us.—Editors]


We started by foot from Rishikesh, leaving behind the Deity cart and bulls that usually travel with us, and first went to the Yamunotri Valley via Teri and Barkuth. Then from Yamunotri we trekked to Saptarishi Kund, the actual source of the Yamuna River, where the seven rishis [see Saints, Sages, Gods, and Goddesses, page 25] performed austerity. It was a difficult trek, and would have been impossible without a guide.

Yamunotri is 3,185 meters above sea level, and Saptarishi Kund is at 4,421 meters. We had to go through snow and ice to reach the kund. When we got there we discovered that there was not only one kund but seven of them. We were so exhausted we couldn’t go beyond the first one. We collected the sacred water and descended to the Yamunotri Valley.


After a few days, we started on our way to Gangotri. By road the journey would take several days, so we chose to go cross-country, only fifty kilometers.

Our first stop along the way was in Dodital, where Lord Ganesha had appeared. Dodital lake is set in a beautiful lush forest. As soon as we arrived at the bank of the lake, we all felt peaceful. Sitting inside the temple, we listened to the story of Lord Ganesha:

Once Parvati Devi wanted to bathe privately in the beautiful lake. From the dirt of her body she created a boy and told him to guard the valley and not let anyone approach. While she was bathing, Lord Siva arrived and became angry at the boy blocking his path. A fight ensued, during which Siva beheaded the boy.

When Parvati heard what had happened, she became furious. She informed Lord Siva that he had killed his own son. On hearing this, Siva sent some of his followers to the forest and told them to take the head of the first living being they saw and bring it to him. They found an elephant, cut off its head, and brought it to their lord, who fixed it to the boy’s body. Thus Ganesha was “born.”

We spent the night on the path that encircles the newly built temple. The original, ancient temple was destroyed in an earthquake in 1991. Someone told us that an aerial view of the lake reveals its shape as an elephant’s head, whose trunk is the source of the Asi River.

We then walked through the district town of Uttarkasi and soon reached Gangotri, where we stayed for three days, enjoying the wonderful weather.

From Gangotri it is just eighteen kilometers to Gaumukh, the source of the Bhagirathi Ganga River. Vedic scriptures say that when the Ganga, or Ganges, descended from the heavenly planets to earth, to break Ganga’s fall Lord Siva caught her on his head. From Lord Siva’s head she diverged into many parts. The main part cascaded into the area of Gaumukh and formed the Bhagirathi.

Where the Ganga hit the earth, the altitude was so high that the river froze, so at the source it’s a glacier. Sitting nearby, you can always hear the ice moving and cracking. Many years ago the source of the Ganga was in Gangotri itself. But because of climatic changes and the increase of sinful activities in Kali-yuga, the present age, it now takes two days to walk to the source of the river.

Ganga does not start out as a small, trickling stream but as a heavy rush of water flowing from under the glacier. In Gangotri you can always hear the roar of the river and the rolling of big boulders under the surface.

From Gangotri five members of our party went up to Kedartal. Gangotri is situated at 3,200 meters, and Kedartal is above 5,000 meters. The distance between the two is about 18 kilometers, so the climb is steep. On top of Kedartal is a beautiful lake. When I asked a swami who had been living in Gangotri for more than fifty years about Kedartal, his eyes lit up. “Blue mani [jewel],” he said, “just like Krishna’s face!”


After Gangotri we went to Mala, where the ancient trail between Gangotri and Kedarnath begins. We hired a mule to carry Srila Prabhupada’s books, our cooking equipment, and our articles of worship. On our way to Kedarnath, we stopped in Buda Kedar, which means Old Kedarnath. This is where the Dharma Ganga and the Balanga Ganga join.

From there we went to Triyuginarayana, where Lord Siva and Parvati married. Lord Narayana performed the marriage, Lord Brahma the accompanying sacrifice. The marriage fire, lit in a former age, is still burning today.

We then proceeded to Gauri Kund, in the Kedarnath Valley. There’s a welcome hot kund there, where you can bathe and relax your sore muscles. Parvati Devi as Gauri performed austerities there for thousands of years and finally won the hand of Lord Siva.

On the last stretch to Kedarnath (3,584 meters high) there is no road. Many people go by mule, on a palanquin, or in a basket strapped to someone’s head. It’s a difficult walk.

Of the four dhamas, Kedarnath is the highest and most picturesque. We stayed there for about five days, collecting water in the surrounding areas.

We then went to Churabari Kund, the source of the Mandikini River, and on the way we saw the Brahmakamal Phul, the flower Bhima brought from Brahma’s planet for Draupadi. The flower doesn’t look like anything special, but the scent of it would fill a room for a week. After four days we returned to Gauri Kund, passing five temples of Kedarnath, or Lord Siva. And as we went, we learned of their history:

After the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas went to see Lord Siva in Kasi to atone for killing so many of their kinsmen in battle. When Lord Siva learned that the Pandavas were coming, he fled and playfully hid from them. The Pandavas discovered Siva in the Himalayas, in a place called Gupta Kasi (“Hidden Kasi”), where he had disguised himself as a brahmana. Having been found out, Lord Siva ran away to a valley and disguised himself as a bull, but Bhima recognized him. Bhima stretched his big legs from one end of the valley to the other and caught the bull by its tail. Lord Siva, still trying to hide, began to bury himself in the ground. But the determination of the Pandavas won him over, and before the bull’s hump had disappeared, he decided to give them his audience.

Lord Siva instructed the Pandavas to worship the hump of the bull, and worship is still going on in the temple they established. Other parts of Lord Siva’s body appeared in other mountains, and the Pandavas also built temples there. They are known as Panch Kedars (five Kedars): (1) Kedarnath—hump, (2) Tuganath—arm, (3) Rudranath—face, (4) Kalpeshwar—hair, and (5) Madhyamaheswar—navel.


The last stretch of our pilgrimage, Kedarnath to Badrinath, took nine days. While traveling from one valley to the next, we noticed that the people are devotees of the local presiding Deities. In the Yamuna Valley people would greet each other saying,”Jaya Yamuna Mayi!” In Gangotri Valley they would say, “Ganga Mayi ki jaya!” in Kedarnath, “Jaya Kedar!” and in Badrinath, “Badrivishal ki jaya!”

On the way to Badrinath we stopped in Joshimath, where Adi Sankaracarya performed penance and got the realization to compile the scriptures that defeated Buddhism and reintroduced Vedic principles.

From Joshimath we went to Vishnu Prayag, one of the five prayags (confluences) of different branches of the Ganga between Rishikesh and Badrinath. Pilgrims are advised to bathe in these five prayags on their way to Badrinath. Nowadays, most people go by bus or car and miss the privilege of the transcendental dips.

From Vishnu Prayag to Badrinath is only about forty kilometers. On the way we passed Pandukesvar, where King Pandu had lived and the Pandavas were born. As there are five Kedars, so there are five Badris. Pandukesvar is one of them. Up a little higher we came to Hanuman Chati, where Bhima’s pride was shattered:

One day as Bhima was walking on the trail, he came across a monkey whose tail was lying on the path. Asked to move its tail, the monkey retorted that Bhima should lift it himself. In spite of repeatedly trying, Bhima couldn’t move the tail. Eventually the monkey revealed himself as Hanuman, Bhima’s brother.

From Hanuman Chati up to Badrinath is a steep trek. The day we walked, the Ganga had overflowed and was eating away the road. After a long struggle, we eventually crossed the water. It was a difficult and dangerous enterprise. Many rocks were hitting our legs, and the water was icy. Freezing and wet, we finally got to Badrinath Dham, having been reminded that to enter holy sites of the Lord’s pastimes may be difficult.

Beyond Badrinath lies Mana, where Srila Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedic scriptures, is said to eternally reside in a cave, meditating on Lord Krishna. From the cave it’s just a short walk to Bhima’s bridge, a huge piece of rock thrown across a narrow valley. A little further the Sarasvati and Alakananda rivers meet. Another one and a half kilometers farther is the place where Draupadi passed from this world. Farther along the path, Nakula and Sahadeva left, then Arjuna, Bhima, and finally Yudhishthira. We bathed in the confluence, joyful at having completed our pilgrimage to the four dhamas.

We felt satisfied that we’d gathered water for Srila Prabhupada’s sacred bath from many remote holy sites. But perhaps our greatest satisfaction came from having been able to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books in places where no ISKCON devotees had gone before. Many of the people we met could not read or write, but we gave out hundreds of small pictures of Srila Prabhupada and announced his Centennial celebrations to the residents of the land of the gods.

Saints, Sages, Gods, and Goddesses

Information about people, places, and Hindi terms mentioned in this article.

Arjuna—one of the five Pandava brothers

Bhima—the second eldest of the five Pandavas

Brahma—the first creating being in the universe

Dhama—a holy abode

Draupadi—the wife of the five Pandavas

Ganesha—the elephant-headed son of Lord Siva and Parvati Devi

Hanuman—a divine monkey who is an eternal servant of Lord Krishna’s incarnation as Lord Ramacandra

Jaya (or ki jaya)—“All glories to …”

Kund—a small lake

Nakula and Sahadeva—twin brothers among the five Pandavas

Parvati—the wife of Lord Siva and the goddess who presides over the material energy

Seven ashis—seven exalted sages born directly from Lord Brahma

Siva—the partial expansion of Lord Krishna empowered to destroy the universe

Yudhishthira—the eldest of the five Pandavas

The Yamuna Cycle Expedition

In 1992 Ranchor Prime (Ranchor Dasa) founded Friends of Vrindavan, in the U.K., to publicize the ecological plight of Vrindavan’s forests and to raise international funds to help conserve them. Last October he joined forty cyclists from Britain, Kenya, and America to ride from Yamunotri down to Vrindavan, following the sacred Yamuna River from its source. The expedition, organized by Friends of Vrindavan, raised $31,000 for the dying forests of Vrindavan. Here are excerpts from Ranchor’s diary.

8 October—Janaki Chati

11 kms, on foot

From where I sit I can see above me through the clouds the snowy peaks of the mountains above Yamunotri. In the guest house courtyard small clusters of our group relax in conversation. We have walked and scrambled 11 kilometers from Hanuman Chati to Janaki Chati, above 2,500 meters. The road ended at Hanuman Chati, two days by bus north from Delhi, and our bikes await us there.

Along the way we have seen trains of pack ponies, a few other pilgrims, and many locals. We came across a rishi living in a cave. Steve and I sat with him for a while. A merry group of local men joined us. They said they live in Janaki Chati throughout the winter, eating strict rations of beans while cut off by ice and snow.

As we walked on, we caught occasional glimpses of the snow- covered peaks now above me. Towards the end of the walk, the valley opened out, and I stayed back alone for some time to take in the panorama. I felt moved by the majesty of the place.

This evening some of us spoke to our group. Tenzing, a young Buddhist monk, spoke fervently of the environmental threat to the Himalayas and its consequences for all of us. David spoke of how Ganga relieves sins and is associated with ascetics, while Sri Yamuna springs from the heart of Vishnu and gives joy and love of Krishna.

Afterwards I went out into the darkness to see the stars that carpet the sky, twinkling and pulsating. Against them the snows glow soft and luminous on the peaks we will approach tomorrow. I am on a journey to the source, an inward journey to my inner source of energy and inspiration, as well as an outward one to the source of the Yamuna, to Vrindavana, to the world.

9 October—Janaki Chati

6 kms up, 6 kms down, on foot

Today we ascended 610 meters over a distance of 6 kilometers along a path that at times was a mere gash in vertical cliffs with thundering waters hundreds of feet below. As I climbed, I felt I was penetrating an unearthly realm. Dark crags soared up on both sides, and the waters roared in hidden depths. The path had been trod by pilgrims for thousand of years, during which little had changed. The place seemed unaffected by time. As I went further, the ravine deepened until the sky was a narrow strip far above.

After three hours I rounded a corner and came upon Yamunotri. The valley widened, and above me nestled a group of huts around two temples built into the rock face. Behind the huts, the Yamuna cascaded from the snows above to pass beneath an incongruous steel footbridge leading to the temples. A thin pall of steam hung over the place, rising from hot springs.

We soaked up to our necks in the hot springs, and Ravi and I skipped straight from there into the icy torrent of the Yamuna. Later we sat in a big circle beside the rushing waters to worship the Yamuna and ask for blessings for our expedition. We chanted mantras and poured milk into the river under a blistering sun.

Soon the sun disappeared behind clouds, and a misty chill descended. To soak in the power and peace of this place, I walked most of the way back down alone.

10 October—Sayana Chati

11 kms on foot, 8 kms cycling

Today began with a pleasant walk down from Janaki Chati to Hanuman Chati, about 11 kilometers. On the way we heard road workers blasting the rocks. Soon lorries will be able to drive up to Janaki Chati, which, as the new roadhead, will become an environmental mess, as Hanuman Chati is already.

After much tinkering with our new Indian bikes, we set off downhill from Hanuman Chati for a short, enjoyable ride to Sayana Chati, where we are now in the tourist guest house.

11 October—Barkot

35 kms

I have cycled 30 kilometers from Sayana and am sitting by the roadside 5 kilometers short of Barkot, where we will spend the night. I am sitting in the shade of a mountain ash, cooled by breezes. It is mid- afternoon, and the sky is clear blue. In the valley below I hear the sound of rushing waters. The only other sounds are those of crickets and the high-pitched call of the birds. Occasionally the wind carries the distant moan of a bus or lorry straining up the hills. Above me, terraces rise to a low ridge, while below me is a steep wooded drop. Nearby a young mother with two toddlers has just climbed onto the road carrying a waterpot on her head. During the last fifteen minutes only Michael Waugh on his bicycle has passed; otherwise, not a soul. Everywhere are butterflies—yellow, white, orange, black, and red. It’s strange to be in such a remote place, so far from home with so few possessions, and yet to feel so secure and at peace.

12 October—Nainbag

51 kms

Our first 3 kilometers were a fantastic off-road stretch down 400 feet to cross the Yamuna. Then on to a stopping place where we photographed ourselves beside the Yamuna, now a sixty- foot-wide swift-flowing river, with a last view of snow-capped peaks behind.

Today I decided to push myself on my bicycle to stay near the front. As I strove ahead, I passed through awesome landscape, the broad sweep of the road visible for miles ahead and behind, cutting along the edge of vast rocky mountains plunging down to a flat valley bed far below, with the ever- present Yamuna, turquoise blue, curving round cultivated fields. One or two cyclists are strung out behind me, distant specks. Otherwise, no one in sight, and very little traffic. The only sound is the river, the wind, the birdcalls, and the friction of my tires.