Where is Vrindavan?
Half way between Delhi and Agra lies Vrindavan, just ten kilometres from Mathura, the actual birthplace of the ancient Hindu deity, Lord Krishna, believed to be the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu . Situated along the Yamuna River, Vrindavan (also known as Brindavan, or the forest of fragrant basil) is a sacred pilgrimage site for Hindus. Hundreds of temples are scattered all over the little town in honour of Lord Krishna.
Daily rituals of worshipping and religious celebrations can be easily observed; especially the evening aarti is a good opportunity to witness the joyful celebration of Lord Krishna and can be observed in almost any temple. The village became an important pilgrim centre in the 16th century, when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal (a Vaishnava saint) revived the Krishna cult there.
Since that time, widows and especially Bengali widows have been encouraged to settle here in ashrams endowed by wealthy Hindu merchants. In some casts, Hindu widows lose the support of the family when the husband dies and may find themselves without shelter and monetary support. Many of those, and even those who have ongoing support of the families, do come to Vrindavan to join other widows and live in an ashram, knowing that they will be supported, looked after and fed, but also because in their belief they are very close to the celestial realms in this little place that is devoted to Krishna.
Who is Lord Krishna?
Lord Krishna was born and raised in the nearby Mathura forest; he was born into a traditional cowherd’s family who he loved dearly and entertained with his flute (family and cows), one often finds Krishna depicted as a child with flute and cow. Lord Krishna is regarded as the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and considered the divine embodiment of love and divine joy. Celebrations of worshippers tend to be especially amazing, joyful, loud and vibrant.
The cows of Krishna still have the run of the streets, and stalls outside temples sell elaborate flower garlands and milk sweets called pedas, which were Krishna’s favourites. Vrindavan is the best place to learn about the sacredness of cows in India by visiting one of the very well maintained Goshalas. All cow products are highly respected and popular in the local cuisine. A Goshala is a cow shelter – go = cow, shala = shelter – that can be found anywhere in India, particularly though in Vrindavan due to the strong connection with Lord Krishna.
One is invited to adopt cows for charity and pay for their food and shelter for a month or year or a lifetime, and the adoptions ceremonies are celebrated with music, dance and blessings. In Vrindavan, one can observe people touching the feet of cows to receive a blessing; on the occasion of Gopashtami (10 November) cows are particularly styled, decorated and celebrated.