By the time I came back from some of my engagements during the day, it was approaching evening time in Jaipur. This was my first trip to this city. I had heard about this place since my younger days but I actually got to see much of it through tourism brochures, Bollywood movies and TV documentaries. It portrayed camels, citizens in ethic wear, palatial 5-star hotels and the pink cities. It looked perfect for a long getaway. However, when I spent the day driving around, I must say I was a bit disappointed. I felt it was like any other city in India – crowded and polluted. My heart sank a little. But then this is a city. The beauty would be somewhere out there beyond the bustling city. But that will have to wait another time. All day I had been thinking about one place that I wanted to go and see – the Govindaji temple.
My driver turned up few minutes late. The car was light green with many dents and no a/c. Austerity begins now, I thought.
Driver : Namaste Saab.
Me : Namasate Ji.
Driver : Where would you like to go?
Me : Do you know Govindaji temple? I don’t have the address…
Driver : Ha Ha..who doesn’t know Govindaji Thakur?
And with that, we moved out of the hotel and into the remainder of the hot sun. As we went wildly through the streets and i began to look at the buildings and down at the people, the driver continued on how he knows Sri Govindaji right from when he was born. He seemed very happy, proud and more eager than me to go the temple. After a ride of 30 minutes, we finally reached the temple. The driver knew exactly where to find a parking spot in a crowded car park. He quickly got out and asked me to join him as well. As we entered through the gates, there were numerous flower garland sellers, each one lifting their priced creation to attract the devotees and guests. I moved to the one who had the brightest smile.
He did have the biggest smile and I told him that. He smiled even more. He seemed so happy to be there and seemed very caring about his garlands. He treated them with so much respect and did not force his customers into buying one. He just stood behind his table and smiled at people as they glanced at his garlands. He had made them for you. And for Him.
Flower Seller : Hare Krishna
Me : Hare Krishna !
He had managed to note the bead bag covering my hand. Hooray! He knows us!
Flower Seller : Please take this garland for Govindaji…
Like a snake charmer, he picked up a garland made of Jasmine.
Me : Sure…but why this? And not that?
Flower Seller : That is also nice, very fresh and I just made it
And he held out a garland made of rose. He was hoping that I would take many rolls of one of the kinds he had on the table. But I had other plans.
Me : I think Govindaji would like everything you have made here for him…Give me one of every kind on this table, as much as you can…I will let you decide on the length.
The driver was proud of me. He stood closer to me to partake a little bit of the blessing that would soon reach us from the flower seller, who seemed a bit surprised. Coming back to his senses, he began to think and roll out the lengths of rose, jasmine, tulasi and other flower garlands. The moment he had finished packing, my driver quickly jumped in front of me and took the many bags of flowers.
Driver : I want to carry it Sir…
Me : No problem…go ahead
And he began to walk quickly ahead. “Faster sir…faster !!!, he yelled out, “It will close soon !!”
Boy ! It was crowded. I mean it was jam-packed. And there was a calm pushing amongst people to reach the front or to look over one’s shoulder. Everyone looked at one direction only. Towards the Lord. From the left side there were a few ladies singing a bhajan. Behind me, there were a group of old men singing the same bhajan. And together, it was beautiful. The sun had just started to set and it was getting cooler. The marble floor was clean and the smell of incense was strong. I saw a few ISKCON devotees amongst the crowd with bead bags in hand. “Hari Bol”, was exchanged between us. The pujari stepped out with a huge ghee lamp and began circling it over the Deities, over the crowd. The crowd cheered. I wanted to get closer to Govindaji and started to look for an opening in the crowd.
Driver : Dont worry sir…everyone will get a chance to get closer to Govindaji. Bit by bit, we will be taken to Him.
Seemed like he was giving a Bhagavatam class to me. Yes, He is calling all of us to Him. Slowly but steadily. As long as we are patient and we put in our efforts of devotion to Him, He is bound to assist us in bringing all of us closer. I could feel some dust under my feet. I managed to get down and rubbed my hand on the floor. Got up and rubbed the dust on my forehead. My driver smiled. He motioned me to take a few steps forward as soon as he saw a space. His flower bag was held high in the air. My bag, I recollected. Slowly pushing through the crowd, we went at snail pace forward. No one minded the push as everyone seemed to understand each other’s love for the Lord.
And finally we came to the front. Right there…in front of the deities. But we couldn’t go any further as there were barricades around. But I was happy. It was great to stand there with my keen driver and silently gaze at the beautifully decorated deities. The driver began to recite in rocket speed many prayers and I sang in a low voice, “Jaya Radha Madhava…”. The deities were big and long flower garlands adorned them. Below is a beautiful video recording of the darshan shot by a devotee 2 years ago. I just got it of the web. Do watch it…its beautiful.
After many minutes of gaze, I was interrupted by the beautiful bhajan that was now sung only by the men, far far behind. There were no microphones or speakers. Just old men with nice voice, singing as loudly and sweetly as they could. As I began to people gaze and I could see so many people with tears in their eyes. The tears never fell but it stood there clinging to the white flesh. Their faces looked as if they were lost and it was expressionless. I can’t recollect such impressions on people anywhere else. To me it looked as if they truly missed their Radha-Krishna.
It was impossible to fall to the ground and pay one’s obeisance. It was packed. If you wanted to pay the full dandavats, you had to go right to the very back behind the bhajan singers, where there were not many people. So, people in the front just had to kneel on the floor and bring the top of the body over the raised marble floor of the deity area. I did the same but only stayed there much longer. Then deciding not to be too selfish and to let other people have a chance too, I got up and moved towards my driver. The flower bag was still with him. And he held it as if it had millions of dollars.
He moved to the left, away from the crowd. We climbed a few steps and behind the women was a room. We walked in and there was a mountain of flowers garlands. A devotee inside was collecting the flowers. He didn’t look up much. He collected your’s and gave you an offered one. And he went back to reading his little book. I gave it a quick look.
Me : You are reading Bengali prayers?
Him : Oh..you are Bengali ?!
Me : No..No..I recognize the script…we also have some Bengali prayers
Him (looking at the bead bags and my neck beads) : Hare Krishna…
Me : Hare Krishna…
After connecting to the Gaudiya Sampradaya lineage within our minds, confirmed by a half-smile from both of us, the driver and I, moved to circle the deity room. As we finished halfway, I managed to look up at the red wall, on which hung a painting. I knew it only too well.
Oh wow ! I never thought I would see Gaura-Nitai in such a large form here. Now, it fully felt like an ISKCON temple. The familiarity was making sense now. The devotees, the well decorated deities, cleanliness, constant bhajans and kirtans. It was like being at home at one of our temples. And as people paid their obeisances against the wall, I finally got the chance to pay a full dandavats on the floor. Smeared with the dust of devotees on my shirt and my nose tip touching the cold floor, all I could say to Them was “Thank you!”.
Once we finished the circling, I decided to soak myself in the beautiful music in the temple courtyard. By now the deity room was closed, yet people thronged to see it open again. I sat right behind the kirtan gang. Closed my eyes and began to follow each of their words. I couldn’t understand much but I gathered words like Krishna, Govinda, Radha, Gopala.
As more people entered the temple complex, there were those returning back to the crowded streets. I was one of them. After spending a good 2 hours here, it was time for me to go. To go to another temple that I was eager to visit. As I collected my slippers and walked through the path taking devotees out, I looked at some of the shops selling merchandise. I love such shops. There are 3 shops I like – Books and Stationery, Trekking and Camping and Temple merchandise shops.
The one I stopped by was a large one. The young store keeper was busy. He was handing out books and photos for people to inspect with one hand, with another he collected cash, with his third hand he wiped the sweat of his face and with few other hands he was cleaning the items that people had inspected. He was busy ! Really busy and he was getting tired.
Shop Keeper : Hare Krishna !
Me (surprised again) : Hare Krishna prabhu !
Shopkeeper : Yes prabhu…what are you buying?
After looking around the stall, I decided to get a few of the photo prints of the Lord. As I began to check the sizes and colours of the numerous photos that lay in front of me, my driver silently stood next to me and watching. I knew that look. It’s the look in the eyes that would say something like, “Only if I had some spare money like this passenger, I too would be buying many flower garlands and surely most of these photos of my Govindaji….”
Me : Do you have Govindaji photos like these?
Driver : No saab…they are expensive…I have a very small photo in my house…but the ones you are buying is so beautiful…
Me : Do you want one? Hey prabhu…give this driver any photo print of Govindaji he likes !
Now, isn’t that beautiful? Even I didn’t buy one that was framed like that. The driver was over the moon and universe. He couldn’t hold back the surprise and happiness. He said how he couldn’t wait to take it home and put it on his altar. He kept cleaning it as we went back to the car. Carefully, he laid it on the front seat while I took the back. He began to thank over and over again. I was liking it actually. When you give something to someone, both the giver and recipient are happy.
Driver : Ok ji..to the hotel Saab?
Me : Nope…there is one more temple I need to go to…
Driver (releasing the hand breaks and changing gears) : Which mandir Saab?
Me : ISKCON
Driver : ISK…What saab?
Me : ISKCON mandir…Hare Krishna mandir
Driver : ISKCON..Hare mandir? I don’t know any such temple
Me : Really? Ohhh..Here is the address
Driver (studying it, while driving) : I have never heard of such a temple…is it new?
We drove around for over 1 hour trying to locate the temple. We asked scores of people on the street and shops. The driver was on a mission. He was going to take me to ISKCON mandir.
Me : “Don’t worry…everyone eventually gets to ISKCON mandir“, I said jokingly.
Driver : What is ISKCON saab?
And over that one hour of driving through the dark roads of Jaipur, I explained the history. I told him about an elderly gentleman at his advanced age leaving Vrindhavan and going to America by himself on a ship, the heart attacks, how he eventually taught the people in that land about Sri Radha-Krishna, how to do puja, how to cook vegetarian food, translating Gita to English and how they together built hundreds of temples across the world. All on the orders of his spiritual master. The driver remained very silent. He listened but spoke nothing. It was dark inside the car and I couldn’t check his facial expressions. After my summary, I also felt good. It was like having finished a good japa session. About 4 years ago, I knew nothing of the ISKCON history. Now I know enough to tell newcomers and make them feel like I did when I first found out. Satisfied.
Finally, very far away from the city centre, we managed to find a board by the roadside that pointed us to the ISKCON temple. It read – Sri Sri Giridhari Dauji Mandir. The driver read it out aloud. “We have found ISKCON mandir Saab ! My brother also works here nearby ! ”
Once inside, I introduced him to Srila Prabhupad. I said, “He is the one who left Vrindhavana to give Sri Radha Krishna to everyone“. The driver stood there with folded hands. He had the respect. As I got down to pay my obeisance, he too immediately got down to pay his. I told Prabhupad while on the floor to help this driver too. As i got up, I noticed that my driver wasn’t where he was few minutes ago.
The driver was in his own world now. He had wandered over to the deity area. He didn’t have to push anyone to make his way forward. All he needed was curiosity and an attraction to the deities. Here too, there was a nice kirtan going on. Matajis to the left. Prabhus to the right. All in all, there would have been about 20 people in the hall.
It was like being at Sri Krishna Balaram mandir at Sri Vrindhavan dham. The deities of Lord Balaram and Lord Krishna looked exactly like the ones over there. The driver joined me. He had just gotten up from the floor after paying his obeisance, even before me. He was learning. He was watching others get on the floor from left side to the right. Then coming up half way and then another touching of the head on the floor, he got up. He stood there watching the Lord. He didn’t say anything. I introduced The Brothers to him. And pointed out Gaura-Nitai as well. I planned to explain about Them to him on our way back.
The driver was still quiet. He was observing. He was listening. It looked like he had forgotten all about me. With respect and folded hands he took a place near the kirtaneers. He smiled and greeted a few of the devotees. I sat behind him. I had photos to take. Sitting there, he listened to the Hare Krishna mantra being sung. Seeing other’s singing after the lead, he also started to sing along. After a few minutes, he clapped hard. At one stage, he had closed his eyes, looked down, continued clapping and singing the maha mantra. I was happy.
It was getting close to 9 pm. As the kirtan came to an end, he got up to look for me.
Me (from behind) : I am here..
Driver : Namaste saab… Aap kaha thein? (Where were you?)
Me : Right behind you…did you enjoy?
Driver : Yes saab..it was very good…
And he began to ask more questions on Prabhupad, the deities, the history etc. I asked him to follow me. And took him to the book store.
At the bookshop was a young devotee with such a pleasant personality. He didn’t just sell books. He preached. As guests came to his stall and enquired about an item or a book, he would give such an enlivening summary of the content inside. The driver stood there mesmerized. Looked like he wanted to befriend him.
Me : Hare Krishna prabhu
Bookshop devotee : Hari Bol
Me : Prabhu, this is my driver…and this is his first time hearing about ISKCON and it’s his first visit to an ISKCON temple
Bookshop devotee : Hari Bol…
Driver : Namaste Saab…
Bookshop devotee to me : You have done such a nice thing…
Me : Thank you..Prabhu…do you have a Bhagavad Gita..in Hindi and maybe a Hare Krishna kirtan CD?
After looking through the CDs and choosing one, a fresh copy of the Bhagavad Gita arrived. A tulasi mala was added to the shopping list.
Bookshop devotee : That will be Rs. 200
Me to driver : These things are for you
Driver (again surprised at the charity services) : Saab..I…don’t have any money…I will get it later..
He looked sad again. Only if he had a high paying job, he must have been wondering.
Me : Driver saab…I am getting this for you…don’t worry.
Driver : No saab…you already got me Govindaji photo…please don’t spend anymore for me
Me : It’s ok…it’s a gift…will you read the Gita? Everyday?
Driver : Saab..no..really…I like the Gita…I have read it many times..not this book though…
And to our surprise he recited couple of verses from the Gita.
Driver : I think I almost know all the verses of Gita. I have been reading it ever since i was young.
Me : Now you can learn what the verses mean !
Me to devotee shopkeeper : Prabhu..I am leaving Jaipur tomorrow…and I am leaving this driver with you all..please take care of him…I am sure he will come here often
Devotee Shopkeeper : I am sure you will also come back…everyone comes back to see Sri Sri Giridhari Dauji !
With that, I left the temple along with a very happy and thoughtful driver. For the next 45 minutes, as the driver gently took me back to the hotel, I listened to him singing a melodious bhajan as he drove. This city wasn’t disappointing after all.
“Transcendental devotional service cannot be complete and cannot be relishable without the association of devotees. We have therefore established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Anyone who is trying to be aloof from this Krishna Consciousness Society and yet engage in Krishna consciousness is living in a great hallucination, for this is not possible. From this statement by Dhruva Maharaja it is clear that unless one is associated with devotees, his devotional service does not mature; it does not become distinct from material activities. The Lord says, satam prasangan mama virya-samvido bhavanti hrt-karna-rasayanah.” – (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.25).