It all started with a friend's visit to Vrindavan to pray for happiness for her family. Guided by a family priest, she visited a particular temple in Vrindavan with family but did not feel as much at peace she had hoped to be. In our little chat, late one night after she was back, I talked about my own experiences in 'brajbhoomi'. We decided right there that we would head out for a little girl's away from town trip. On the said Sunday, we started from Delhi in our own vehicle. None of the boys with us, we poured our hearts out for better part of the way.
My plan was to take her to Gokul, the village where Krishna's father had delivered him to Yashoda. We found ourselves off the National Highway 2 and on the rather bumpy ride to Nandgaon. The road was not easy and there was no respite, given the summer sun at its peak and the poor condition of the roads. Once we reached the main temple in Nandgaon (Incidentally, this is the village of Krishna's foster father. His wife, Yashoda, was in Gokul, her maternal village, to deliver her child) we were received with curious eyes that soon turned unkind, as soon as they heard that we were unaccompanied by "our husbands". Two grown women visiting this part of the country alone, is not well-received. On of the elders commented from the porch how "we were looking for trouble". Guarding my friend, I walked the stairs to the temple where we were received by a number of men dressed in white clothes. They kept asking where we were from and then whispered among themselves as we stood in the temple to pray. Needless to say, we decided to leave quickly. There was a beautiful view to be enjoyed, as the temple is constructed at a height and offer an undisturbed view of quite a distance but we did not want to attract any more attention. A bunch of well-dressed children huddled around us, begging for cold drinks and goodies and we managed to make our way back to the car and left quickly. Neither my friend nor I spoke of the episode at the time.
It was quiet and rushed drive back to the national highway. I quickly made my mind to head to Gokul village now and hoped the temple would still be open for visitors. Most temples in Vrindavan and its surroundings are closed in the afternoon as Krishna is worshipped as a living God. The deity, worshipped as the idol, is woken in the morning, served food, sung songs to and even allowed an afternoon nap! The temples remain closed while the deity takes his siesta.
The village of Gokul lies just ahead of Mathura (17 kms or so). Having been a part of the grand celebration of "Uttar Pradesh development" and having seen the massive hoardings and boards along the journey, I was sure I would be there in time. Wrong! Turns out that there are hardly any signs to Gokul. I even spotted two large road signs torn down along the National Highway 2. It was starting to get uncomfortable. We kept stopping to as for directions, and the probing eyes of the locals was unmistakable. Then, a few kms before Mathura, the locals started saying, "I can take you there for Rs 50." No one wanted to give us any directions! I do not need to state that two women in a car are not the best setting to invite a stranger into. I seen enough horror films to know what follows. We kept driving along the National Highway. Finally, at one major turn we were stopped by a bunch of men, asking for Rs 50 to guide us to the temple. When we refused, politely and asked for directions. They pointed towards a main road on the left and said it was straight ahead. We thanked them to realise shortly afterwards that we were headed straight into the main city of Mathura. After a painful hour of driving through the traffic and stopping to ask for directions at every turn and crossing, we decided to give up ad head for whichever Highway we could find.
Another half hour of driving back and forth on the same roads and criss-crossing several major traffic centres, we seemed to finally come upon the correct path and found ourselves under a single (and only signboard) pointing to Gokul. We could have been relieved but the worst was far from over. As soon as we set foot out of the car (and into the blazing sun) we were surrounded by men of all ages trying to be our guide for Rs 100. I had to shout at them to get away and then started to head towards the only logical road leading into the village and away from the car parking. We picked up sweets for the deity, more to appease the sweetseller to point the right direction than to please any God. But it was going to take some more effort for the Gods to be pleased! From comments on being unaccompanied by men, hence looking for trouble, to being threatened that we would lose our way in the alleys. When we did finally found our way to the ghat and then to the house, we were very relieved.
At the house, now converted into a temple to worship Krishna as a child, the priest sat facing his back to the Gods. A strange sight indeed! He spoke continuously with every sentence he uttered having at least two references to money. He kept pointing to a box set aside for offerings of cash to "feed brahmins". And hardly bothered with any semblance of devotion. I agreed to pay him Rs 100 if he would let me sit in peace and pray, he did not. I got up to leave and he yelled at me for the money. I refused and he threatened to curse me. I yelled back but honestly, I felt so disgusted by the whole episode I flung the money and a fifty extra at him.
I did find the deity I went looking there for but I had to pay the price with my own faith on humanity. Such a tragedy!