Vrindavan is, I have taken to repeating, the de facto spiritual capital of India. The main reason for this is the proximity of Vrindavan to Delhi and the increasing ease of access through modern communications. It is no longer a labor to get from the metropolis to Vrindavan. And speakers of the Bhagavata currently dominate the religious television networks.
But the second reason for Vrindavan’s rise in status is the acceding to power of the BJP. The BJP is considered by outsiders to be a party of religious nationalism and an engine of identity politics in the interest of the traditional dominant caste of India, the brahmins. Commentators from other political perspectives condemn Hindu nationalism because they associate it primarily with certain backward social ideas, especially racism and communalism. Therefore they make facile comparisons of the BJP to the rise of the racist right wing in the USA (with the politically incorrect Donald Trump) and Islamic fundamentalism.
A lot of this is the result of political forces. Nehru wanted India to be a secular state, which was quite different from Gandhi’s vision. This is not the place to go into a historical analysis of what has happened over the past 60 years to bring us to this point of having an extremely popular BJP government. But let it suffice to say that for a Hindu, Hindu nationalism is nationalism pure and simple. To love India means to be a Hindu. It is only religious because India is by nature impelled since time immemorial by a fascination with the spiritual and the transcendental.
India’s social system grew out of this and nothing else. Those who genuinely sought Truth and the highest human values, who developed techniques for finding genuine peace and happiness, and who mastered those techniques themselves, were placed in the center of society. And in the ideal world, those who maintained order, who created economic wealth, and those who worked for the others, all followed the directives that came from this spiritual intelligentsia.
Now all systems are subject to degradation and therefore to critique. But the point is that the brahminical system is meant to be elastic and to respond to the challenges of a changing world. But the fundamental challenge of the modern world is that it wishes to deny the insights of ancient man, or shall we say the insights of humanity’s first several millions of years of evolution and conclude that somehow the last 200 years was the only time anyone ever said anything intelligent or knew anything about anything.
So more than anything, the BJP is about reclaiming that culture that placed spirituality at the center.
Amd one must remember that for the Indian, India is a holy place. For the Hindu Indian, at least. The entirety of Bharatavarsha is a holy land, where the gods came to play, where Krishna has his avatar, where saints and sages sat in meditation and had direct encounter with the divinity. Holy waters that awaken an awareness of God’s all-pervading presence. This is how one comes to love one’s homeland. To say one loves one’s motherland means that it becomes sacred for one. It is best that such sacred awareness be recognized for what it is, the DNA of India.
Secularism has tried to kill this consciousness. Religion is the opium of the people, they think and believe. For some reason, Hindu secularists who have turned to neo-atheism, or the old Marxist variety, or the Freudian or Nietzschian varieties, have never understood that Hinduism long ago anticipated those arguments and assimilated them. Atheism swept India 2500 years ago. Do you think India does not know atheism?
India turned even atheism inward into a sadhana of spirituality and self-perfection.
Without expanding any further, I will simply say that the comparisons of Hindu nationalism to Islamic or Christian fundamentalism is fairly limited. One cannot deny that there are points of similarity, but these are in many ways conservative reaction to modern permissiveness and due to a misunderstanding of most atheistic critiques. As a Hindu myself, I tend to see the positive aspect of Hindu nationalism and I support it entirely.
Since Vrindavan became the de facto religious and spiritual capital of India, the parliamentarians of the ruling party, the BJP, have been increasingly frequent visitors here. Almost every week, it seems, there is either an important religious event that is attended by political guests, or there is a political convention of some sort.
Smt. Hema Malini, our local MP, is a superstar. There is no doubt about that. I attended an event the other day and was asked to speak. Hema Malini was late in arriving, but I had barely stepped up to the mike when she came in the door, surrounded by more paparazzi than we usually have locally. I was quickly forgotten — as was nearly everyone else on the stage. And when she left, the hall emptied behind her like water being flushed down the sink.
This is another source of Vrindavan’s current rise in the consciousness of India as a whole.
But this would not be the case if Vrindavan did not already have an infrastructure that is 500 years old. If it did not have a historical and mythical connection with the capital of the Pandavas. This is the childhood home of Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, the most important religious book of the Hindus. The advisor and charioteer of Arjuna.
Srila Prabhupada had a great sense of humor when he named his Delhi temple “Radha Partha-sarathi,” which is of course so against the principles of the bhakti-rasa shastra that a rasika would have to shake his head.
But in fact, Delhi can be seen to represent the adult Krishna. But as the child is father to the man, we also look for him where he was a child. And Krishna was a child in Vrindavan.
To connect Radha to Partha Sarathi would only be possible in Kurukshetra because that is where, according to the Bhagavatam, the childhood lovers saw each other one last time. Only sometime after that was Kurukshetra to become the same place that he spoke the Gita to Arjuna. But how can such a story of separation, of departure from Vrindavan, the complete abandonment of Vrindavan, be agonizingly mocked by linking the name of Radha to that of the very Krishna who had left her behind. Like in the Bhramara Gita where Radha plaintively refers to Krishna as the “friend of Arjuna.”
But perhaps bringing Krishna back to Vrindavan was Prabhupada’s intent. And if you want to know more about that you will have to read the Chaitanya Charitamrita. And that is where I am going. We are bringing these symbols home to the 21st century.
Just recently, perhaps it is still going on, an annual event took place at Vatsalya Gram, the ashram of Sadhvi Ritambhara. Sadhvi Ritambhara is a Bhagavata speaker, and an excellent speaker of the Bhagavatam she is. She is also a political activist on the side of Hindu nationalism.
Her event was attended by two of the most highly placed officers of the BJP, Party President Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Baba Ramdev and other religious leaders who are also tied to the nationalist cause came there. She is without a doubt one of the most prominent and revered women religious leaders in the Hindi-speaking belt. Her involvement with the Babri Masjid/ Ram Janma Bhoomi incident a few years ago, however, makes her a most despised personality in secularist circles.
Of late, Sadhvi Ritambhara is less politically active and concentrating on her Vatsalya Gram project here in Vrindavan. Stated quite simply, she is extracting vatsalya, “motherly love”, as her primary lesson from Krishna lila.
The cultivation of womanhood, of motherhood, of the feminine power, shakti, is the essence of her mission. And she distills that quality to vatsalya. So she especially tries to create a community for women — widows and unmarried students — in order to develop and promote this concept of vatsalya. I personally think she has had an important insight. Her teaching is important, and it comes directly out of Vrindavan and Vraja lila. The inspiration is the sacred symbol of Yashoda.
Prabhupad specified Radha with Partha Sarathi. It may take some time before we can bring the mood of madhura rasa into the halls of power. And of course, it is not the madhura rasa itself that would be found there (again, rasabhasa), but the effects of that inner spiritual culture of pure love that is represented by Vrindavan’s queen of Love, Srimati Radharani.
The feminine is the shakti. It is the internal power that animates the external masculine power. The character of the shakti affects the character of the shaktiman. Vrindavan represents the shakti, Delhi the shaktiman.