Katie and I went to see Sewak Sharanji today. Sewak Sharan, now in his late 70’s, is something of a godfather of the environmental movement in Vrindavan. Ranchor Prime’s account of the beginnings of the formation of Friends of Vrindavan talks extensively about how he first got involved and lists some of his early contributions.
Sewak Sharan was not feeling particularly well, though he told us that his general health is, thankfully, good.
Sewak Sharanji’s ashram is fairly large, by Vrindavan standards, and shows his concern for trees (mostly neem) and the environment. It has that Vrindavan feel to it. I think it is because there is no grass.
His main point is that Vrindavan’s heritage is its natural environment. Sharanji is a real nature bhakta. His deity is even called “Radha Paryavaran Bihari”, or Radha and Krishna, “who play in the natural environment.” It is a modern term, paryavarana, which means “environment,” but for Sewak, it refers right back to Braja, synonymous with it.
This was a forest, and efforts should be made to bring back that original natural ambience. Braj and Vrindavan’s economy is strongly dependent on tourism or pilgrimage. But with the progressive destruction of the natural, traditional environment, not only is there a degradation of lifestyle, but it dooms the very economic basis.
It is like cutting off the branch of a tree one is sitting on. Already, many people who come from Delhi or elsewhere to get a taste of Vrindavan’s devotional ambiance leave disappointed. There are no peaceful gardens, no dhira samira yamuna tira, no quiet breezes on the banks of the Yamuna. What they get is honked at in traffic jams or nearly run over, overflowing sewage drains, filthy dogs and pigs rubbing up against them, beggars, monkeys, and piles of garbage that seem destined to never be removed. And current development plans are all either halfhearted or totally misguided.
I called Vrindavan a test case, by which I meant that if we cannot do it here, if we cannot revive ecological awareness here where the forest is traditionally sacred, where Lord Krishna appears in order to cavort with the gopis, then how will it be possible elsewhere, where there is no such consciousness?
What we really need to do is create a publication that educates the people at large about the ideal of Vrindavan. We discussed this point to some extent. Sewakji says, “Vrindavan is the ideal, the model for the world of how the sacred and the natural come together.” We had a little disagreement only to this extent here, in that I said, “Vrindavan NEEDS to be a practical example of that, since in the present circumstances it does not manifest that ideal.”
But in either case, for him, the guiding principle has always been, “What is the use of my chanting and worship in the temples and bathing daily in the Yamuna, if I cannot protect these trees and animals which are a part of my devotion?” Sewak means “servant.” Sharan means “shelter.” He lives up to his name by recognizing that devotion means taking shelter of service.
This is point of this Braja Vrindavan Heritage Alliance. Sharanji has been working tirelessly since his retirement to make ecological issues
As far as I can see, there is no difference between Krishna consciousness and service to Vrindavan, in these two aspects: its natural and cultural heritage. The pioneer of this service is Sewak Sharanji, who has not given up the fight even in his old age, after 20 years of setbacks and all too small victories. It is time for more of us younger folks to come to the fore and make this OUR fight.
Development has reached a critical level of intensity, especially in this year of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and if we do not push back now, we may lose the battle forever.
Vrindavan may be just one corner of the battle for making the entire earth a place where the quality of life is perfectly suited to the culture of spirituality, but for us, it is the central point, the essence of the Earth, the axis mundi. If we who claim to be devotees can’t do it here, then how can it happen anywhere?
ayaá¹ nijaá¸¥ paro veti
The narrow-minded see all things as parted.
But the whole Earth is kin for the broad-hearted.