“By his example”: GOVARDHAN HILL
By Guru das
About my Vrindavan days from “By his example”:GOVARDHAN HILL
A few days hence, before sunrise, with a group of about thirty people, we began our walk around sacred Govardhan Hill. The entourage included the Maharaja of Bharatpur, two queens, the prince, various relatives, zamindhars (landowners loyal to the king), agents, a doctor, and eight soldiers dressed in Jat military uniforms, part of the Maharaja’s private army. Twelve servants carried the supplies and the largest incense sticks I have ever seen. These sticks were twelve feet high and thick as a python. Servants, beautifully dressed in long, silk robes, carried large torches ahead of the party so we could see. Other servants carried food, fruit, lemon water, and bedding for this over- night excursion. Most pilgrims, including myself, walking in a leisurely fashion, could circle the hill in about four to five hours. The Maharaja took three days.
The Maharaja and I walked side by side. Occasionally, I would look in his direction and notice that he was lagging behind, so I would wait for him to catch up. Then later, I would find myself ahead of him. So, again I waited. One time, when the Maharaja caught up with me, he said, “Kings don’t walk like men, they stride like elephants.” Now I understood why it took the Maharaja and his party three days to go around Govardhan Hill!
After some time our group came upon a small temple. The Maharaja told me that his family had been owners and caretakers of this holy site for generations. The Deity, an actual stone embedded in Govardhan Hill, was protected by an iron railing. Marble pathways allowed worshipers to offer fruits and flowers. While we were there, the Maharaja and his pujari performed an abhishek (deity bathing) ceremony. I was fortunate to participate in this ancient ceremony in the ancient temple. As we sang the maha-mantra, we offered many items to the stone Deity: milk, yogurt, rosewater, saffron powder, champa and kadamba flowers, several varieties of incense, a peacock fan, and a chamara (yak-tail fan). The Maharaja ordered one of his men to unlock a large trunk. He took out two huge, gold earrings about a foot long and six inches thick, and a genuine pearl necklace, and handed them to the King, who placed them on the brown, rock manifestation of the Lord.
After the bathing ceremony, our party continued ambling along the base of the low hill. We overtook many pilgrims who were falling to the ground like a stick. They would chant a prayer, prostrate themselves, place a rock at their head to mark the spot, rise up, and with their feet beside the rock, repeat the process until they had completely circumambulated the sacred hill—six feet at a time! Some pilgrims repeat the process many times and it may take them several years. Some do it for life, never stopping, and they sleep right on the parikrama path!
One pandit (spiritual guide) who was in front, pointed to the hill and the whole entourage stopped. The man walked up to a rock on the hill and struck it with a smaller rock. The rock rang like a bell, to the delight of everyone. The king watched my reaction. When asked to ring the rock, I didn’t move. As Govardhan is no different from the Lord, Gaudiya Vaishnavas do not walk on Govardhan. He respected me for my convictions.
The Maharaja and I developed an interesting friendship. The Maharaja saw that his roguish ways did not shock me. I refused to react to him—nada; I was detached—which seemed to diffuse his antics for a while. When he realized that his mischief seemed droll to me, he reduced his showing off like a child for my benefit. That night the Maharaja showed me how to tie my dhoti like a Jat warrior: each leg was wrapped separately, allowing freedom of movement, which was especially good for running and for sword fighting.
The next morning we were sitting near Manasa Ganga, a bathing ghat created from the mind of Lord Krishna for His beloved Radharani. The sun was rising, and the Maharaja said to me, “Although I am King, I love the God.” I believed him, for in his own eccentric way he was a devotee of Giriraj (Krishna as king of Vrindavan). Devotion, however bizarre, was a part of the King’s life too—a small part, but a part nonetheless.
The Jat King reached into a painted treasure box and pulled out an old, rusty lock. It was about six inches tall and three-and-a-half inches wide, heavy and well-built. A hand-made key was in the hole, but the key twisted around loosely and didn’t open the lock. The King laughed and challenged me to open it. There was a cover over the hole and various mechanisms to press on the side of the heavy lock, but I couldn’t figure it out. The King put it behind his back, and brought it out opened. He laughed, then put it behind him and closed it again. With a flourish he again presented me with the trick lock as a puzzle for me to unravel. His Majesty would check back every few minutes to see if I had figured it out and laughed when he saw that it remained locked. I showed the lock to others to see if they could figure it out, but no one could. A day later the Maharaja showed me the trick. One had only to pull down the keyhole cover, and the huge lock opened.
After the three-day circumambulation, we were served a grand dinner in the sprawling Govardhan Palace. Great portraits of fighting ancestors looked down on us from huge horses. Billowing feathers, helmets, jewel-encrusted swords and their sheaths, falcons, spears, bows and arrows, and chariots embellished the walls. The Jats were famous for their expertise and fierceness in battle. Finally, at dinner, the Maharaja broached the topic of the Laxmi Rani Kunj Palace. He informed us that he was willing to “give us” Laxmi Rani Kunj Palace, plus thirty-three acres of farmland in Govardhan, as well as another palace on the bank of Manasa Ganga, the Deities within, and assorted Deity paraphernalia, for only three lakhs of rupees (Rs.300,000), or about $38,000 then.
He took us to the other palace at Manasa Ganga. It was old and abandoned but beautifully situated on the lake that Krishna made for Radharani with his mind (Manasa). Though it was badly in need of repair, the palace was gorgeous underneath the dust. The King’s offer was made on the condition that we would repair and maintain the properties. I told the Maharaja that I would inform Prabhupada about his offer and let him know Prabhupada’s answer at once.
I wired Prabhupada immediately, listing the properties as well as the price. After some time Prabhupada wrote back, “He is King, we are Brahmins, therefore he should give us the palace. In turn, we shall fix up a first-class apartment reserved for the Maharaja of Bharatpur to visit any time he wants.” In the Vedic system, Brahmins were the religious scholars and respected above Kings who were as much administrators as rulers. I could commiserate with the Maharaja of Bharatpur’s desperation, as I knew he needed money, not rooms. As it turned out, over a period of several months, after exchanging telegrams, letters, offers, and counter-offers, the Maharaja lost his temper, and negotiations broke down.
Before everything was finished we did have other adventures with the Maharaja. On one occasion the Maharaja invited Yamuna and me to a wedding in Delhi. The celebration took place in a sprawling backyard, gaily decorated with strings of colored lights, that led to a tent where the wedding couple sat. The Maharaja of Bharatpur was accompanied by the two queens we had met before. He sat close to and right behind the bride and groom and proceeded to get more and more intoxicated. He cracked jokes in their ears as the ceremony went on and was frankly obnoxious.
On another occasion the Maharaja invited us on a tour of the entire Braja Bhumi Vrindavan area. He escorted us to many hidden and secret places with his fleet of Rolls Royce cars. We rode with him in the silver Rolls, imported from England. This vehicle had a wet bar in the back seat and a bubble-like protuberance on the roof to allow room for top hats. We arrived at one temple on a hill in the town of Dig, near the site where Conrad Rooks made his film Siddhartha. This temple also belonged to the Maharaja’s family. The priest came out of the temple with a conciliatory, fawning demeanor. The Maharaja was chanting on his 108 pearl japa beads. Even though he refused to talk while he chanted, he still had to give orders. So he instructed his servants with gestures while he continued chanting. The priest then appealed to the king. The go-puja (cow worship) festival was coming soon, and would the Maharaja kindly donate some money for the festivities? Now that I had spent some time with the Maharaja I recognized the indications that he was about to erupt in anger.
His jaw became tight, his face red, and he folded his arms across his chest. With a spiteful look he held up one finger to indicate one rupee. His servant who dispensed money misunderstood and gave the priest a one-hundred rupee note instead. The Maharaja grew even angrier at this mistake, but because of his self-imposed silence while he was chanting, the King was totally frustrated. His histrionics were actually humorous, but no one laughed out loud. When the Maharaja was finished with his chanting, he abruptly ordered his soldiers to take the priest away, which they did, dragging him—his feet inscribing a path in the holy dust—down the hill, never to be seen again.
The King’s entourage left the hill temple in the fleet of Rolls Royces to visit more holy spots. The monarch talked to us more about his family than about the spiritual significance of the place. “This temple has been in my family since 1894, and, oh yes, by-the-bye, Krishna saved the town from Putana the witch here also.” I didn’t feel like talking, as I didn’t know what to say. I have a hard time pretending to be content. I was also pretty concerned about what might have happened to the pujari who had been dragged down the hill.
The rest of the tour was somewhat subdued. The despot tried to keep the small flames of conversation alive with his constant chatter, but the conversation flapped limply like a sail with no wind. The cherubic son, in his cute, high voice, asked his father, “Duddy, why did you take that man away?”
The King stuck out his chin and blurted, “I didn’t like him.”
“KRISHNA WILL PROVIDE”
As Prabhupada had promised more than one year before (“I will come myself and complete the purchase”) in November of 1972 he arrived in Vrindaban to try and save the situation. In the meantime, I had arranged permission for up to sixty visiting ISKCON devotees to stay at Laxmi Rani Kunj Palace for our first annual Kartik pilgrimage. Shortly after some devotees had moved into the palace, the Maharaja of Bharatpur delivered a valuable silver-and-gold jhulan (swing) to Laxmi Rani Kunj, apparently as a gift for the Deities’ enjoyment. The messenger, who arrived by jeep, presented a bill of sixty-thousand rupees and wanted someone to sign for it. Achyutananda Swami met him and haughtily refused to sign anything. The agent of the King was perturbed and did not know what to do. Achyutananda forced him to take the swing back.
When Prabhupada, now in Vrindavan, heard of this, he became angry. He said to Achyutananda, “You have insulted the King, now he will not have anything to do with us.” He went on, “It is considered a great dishonor to reject such a gift.” Achyutananda was devastated and told Prabhupada that he would personally apologize to the Maharaja. Prabhupada replied, “It is too late.” But Achyutananda was determined to rectify the situation. He tried to see the King, but the King’s men refused his phone calls.
Then Achyutananda asked me if I would talk with the Maharaja. He pleaded, “You have a nice rapport with him; please keep on trying.” I agreed to try. But when the phone and telegraph messages did not go through, we decided to try to see him in Govardhan.
Achyutananda, Shyamasundar, Hayagriva, Yamuna, and I set out in a horse-drawn tonga to Mathura to find a taxi to take us to Govardhan. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of a large crowd. The huge crowd was celebrating Durga Puja. I became caught up in the vortex of the festival, the fireworks, the pageantry, and the people. The intense humanity and atmosphere were so mesmerizing that I temporarily forgot our mission. When Shyamasundar discovered my interest in the event and noticed my hesitant gait, he guided me back to the group. Finally, we found a turbaned Sikh driver to take us to Bharatpur Palace in Govardhan.
We arrived in front of the large palace gate and were met by the guards with fixed bayonets. Achyutananda said, “We want to see the Maharaja of Bharatpur.”
They replied, “The Maharaja is not here, he is in Delhi.” We didn’t believe them, and they didn’t believe themselves; they were bad liars, on purpose, to rub salt in our wounds.
Achyutananda said, “I am his guru, let me in!” That got us nowhere.
They finally let us into a large, outdoor compound, and the taxi went all of six feet before being stopped again by a gaggle of soldiers with guns. The Sikh driver got more and more nervous as Achyutananda, an American in sadhu’s clothing, railed about the army. He didn’t want to be caught in any crossfire and, for that matter, neither did I.
Just then, about fifty yards from us, we saw the Rolls Royce screeching out of another exit of the palace. The silver blur sped out onto the black line of the main road. We knew it was the Maharaja. We ran to the taxi and ordered the driver to follow the car: “Jaldi karo! [Hurry].” At first the driver didn’t want to chase the King, but we offered him extra money. We told him we would take care of everything. The taxi was practically falling apart, but now that there were no guns around, the Sikh began to enjoy the adventure.
Just as we caught up to the Rolls and Hayagriva leaned out the window to yell to the Maharaja, the Rolls sped ahead at comparative warp speed and left us in the dust. The silver car turned onto the main road to Delhi— and disappeared. Hayagriva (Professor Howard Wheeler) also wrote of this incident in his book Vrindavan Days.
The 1972 pilgrimage was over. We vacated the palace. The devotees dispersed to different parts of the world. Rejuvenated from the pilgrimage, they left with renewed excitement to continue their various transcendental activities. I felt bad though, that we were not able to get the palace for Krishna. Prabhupada was right—our good relations with the Maharaja of Bharatpur were over. Prabhupada quoted a proverb, “China dish once broken is hard to mend.” Was I to blame for the breakdown in negotiations with the Maharaja? I tried my best, but our procurement of Laxmi Rani Kunj was not meant to be. I reasoned that Krishna did not want us to have Laxmi Rani Kunj Palace; as the Maharaja of Bharatpur was unstable, it might have been difficult to deal with him on a day-to-day basis.I read from the Bhagavad-gita (3:19): “Without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”
On this verse Prabhupada comments: “Action in Krishna consciousness is transcendental to the reactions of good and evil work. A Krishna conscious person has no attachment for the results but acts on the behalf of Krishna alone. He engages in all kinds of activities but is completely nonattached.”
I went before Prabhupada and asked him if I could have done anything differently to obtain Laxmi Rani Kunj. Prabhupada looked kindly upon me and said, “You tried your best—who can ask for more?” He continued, “The Maharaja was a rascal, and he would not have been a reliable person to deal with. Also, there would have been so much repair work, so it is best for us to build our own temple in Vrindavan.” He continued, “Krishna will provide.”
Soon after, Krishna did provide.
“If you make a dog a king and then throw an old shoe, he will run and fetch it.”
—A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami