The Hare Krishnas of Mathura

I decided to check out the temples in the Krishna complex. To get there I had to do the “Walk of Whistling Shame” past all the soldiers and young boys. I have learned that the complex is the Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi complex and is the cause of strife between Hindus and Muslims. This is why soldiers are present and protecting the area. The Kesava Deo Temple (Hindu) once stood on the spot where Krishna was born; but, it was flattened by Aurangzeb and a mosque was put in its place. There is a movement to have the Hindu temple rebuilt and this movement is causing tensions between the two groups.

The first temple I entered had three Krishna shrines and statues of Buddhist monks. The most amazing thing about this temple was the painted ceiling and it’s scenes from Krishna’s life. There was the Krishna / Radha love story, scenes where Krishna is holding up a mountain to protect the people of Goverdhan from Indra’s wrath, scenes of Barsana where Radha is from, and scenes from Holi when the women of Barsana attack the men of Nandgaon. I like this one a lot. The men are cowering under shields while the women pummel them with paint. In this temple people were praying dramatically; some even lying face down on the floor kissing the ground.

The next temple was the Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi Temple. It was small and dark and on the floor a group of little old ladies all sat on a blanket. They all beckoned for me to sit with them, which I did. Next, they pulled out instruments, handed me some cymbals, and started to sing Hare Krishna songs: “Krishna, Krishna, Hareeeee Krishna.” It was a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of: a bunch of little old ladies with no teeth singing away, playing the tabla better than I have ever heard, clapping, and loving Krishna. You could see the nutritional deficiencies: rickets, missing teeth and they were all so small. But for them Krishna meant happiness and they were proving this through their vibrant music.

I joined them. I knew none of the words but could ting-ting-ting to the beat. Only women were allowed to sit on the blanket and every time a man tried to sit the shrine keeper yelled and shooed him away. There were about 12 women but the number changed as people came and went. Two very pretty young women in red kameezes sat down and started to sing. One had the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. We sat for two hours on the floor, sang and played music.

At one point the woman with the beautiful voice leaned over and gave me a flower just as two other women jumped up and started to dance. No men were allowed into the temple while they were dancing. The dancing was beautiful, very Indian and the movements perfect. Then everyone took a turn dancing. The woman with the beautiful voice was also a beautiful dancer; all were mesmerized by her movements. At the end of her dance we partook in one final climatic Krishna song that ended the music session. However, before leaving the temple, the woman with the beautiful voice grabbed my hand, then all the women smiled and touched my shoulder as they left.

While I was sitting with them I had some revelations. The men in this country are very much like Krishna: they make sport of teasing and flirting with women and it is a part of their childhood pranks. Krishna is the god of music and your way of paying tribute to him is by playing music. He doesn’t want people to come in a kiss the ground and drink water from the river. He wants to hear music because he is a humble god. He was born into poverty and this is perhaps why he is so popular to the poor.

I have to say it was a gift to be able to sit on the floor and watch people as they sang and danced. At one point the temple was so full of Hare Krishnas that no one could come into the temple while we all sang, clapped, and absorbed the music. It was a very special experience for me and I fell blessed to have been a part of it on one of my final days in India.

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