Kunj Bihari-Shri Haridas

Braj Yatra with Vrindavan Today (Day 7): Shri Banke Bihari ji Maharaj

Swami Haridas’ beloved Thakur who sports in the nikunj till late in the night is not an early riser, and hence, there’s no tradition of Magala aarti in Banke Bihari temple except on Janmashtami.

Vrindavan, 2020-10-22: On the Margshirsha Shukla Panchami of (VS) 1563 the incarnation of Lalita Sakhi, Swami Haridas, made the divine couple to manifest as a result of his intense devotion in Nidhivan. Merging into one on his entreaty, They stayed behind to bless Dham and devotees in Their beautiful form as Vrindavan’s Thakur Banke Bihari Lal.

The deity’s appearance

Swami Haridas ji was the incarnation of Lalita Sakhi.  He was born to Shri Ashudhir and his wife Smt Gangadevi on the auspicious day of Radha Ashtami in the year 1535 Vikrami (1478 A.D.) in the small village of Haridaspur near Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh). Revered as ‘Sangeet Samrat’, Haridas ji was the guru of famous court musicians Tansen and Baiju Bawra. He is credited with a large body of devotional compositions, especially in the Dhrupad style.

Swami Haridas Samadhi

Soon after coming to Vrindavan, which was a dense forest at that time, he chose a secluded spot among the sacred groves of Nidhivan for his sangeet sadhana through which he constantly meditated on the nitya ras and nitya bihar of the yugal in nitya Vrindavan.

It is said that whenever he began singing on the ‘Tanpura’, his closest disciple Vitthalvipul would hear the jingling of anklets in the groves. Puzzled by the strange sound, he asked Swamiji about its origins. The sweet incarnation of Lalita Sakhi told him to wait for the auspicious time when the secret will be revealed to him.

Back home, Vitthalvipul’s father, Govind was growing anxious about his son’s whereabouts. Just as he made up his mind to go in search of him, he was stopped by his father Ashudheer who sent Govind’s brother Jagannath to Vrindavan instead.

On reaching Vrindavan, Jagannath saw Swami Haridas and Vitthalvipul lost in trance while remembering the sweet Lord. As soon as Swamiji came back to the material realm, he questioned Jagannath, “when are you coming to reside permanently in Vrindavan”. Falling at the guru’s feet, he pleaded, “please do not ask me to go back.” Swamiji smiled and said that he wanted eternal ‘Vrindavan Vaas’ for everyone so that they be freed from the cycle of birth and death.

Meanwhile Vitthalvipul was becoming more and more curious to know the source of the mysterious anklet sounds. Sitting at the entrance, he would often peep into the ‘nikunj’. On one occasion he ventured inside only to return dejected by the darkness he encountered there. He would often ask his uncle about the mystery.  Jagannath instructed him to wait patiently for Swamiji to reveal his lila.

Then one day Swami Haridas called Vitthalvipul and asked him, “do you know whose birthday is it today?” Seeing him confused he added, “it’s good to not know. It is your birthday, and I want to gift you something today.” Vitthalvipul humbly replied that his only wish was to know the secret of Swamiji’s nikunj lila and have a glimpse of his beloved Shyama Kunjbihariji. Haridas ji smiled and said, “This is exactly what I want to give you.” Vitthalvipul was ecstatic.

Lifting the Tanpura, Swamiji closed his eyes, and as soon as he started singing, the grove filled with mystical blue-golden light in which appeared the smiling divine couple of Shyama Kunjbihari. Startled, he halted the singing for a moment, making Shyama ji exclaim “Lalite”. Regretting the break in seva, Haridas ji said, “Forgive me Kishori ji, I was enraptured by your brilliance.”

A painting of Banke Bihari ji Maharaj

Bihari ji chimed in, “Now we will stay here in this form.” 

Overwhelmed with emotions, Swamiji asked him in a choked voice, “…but how will you be worshipped outside the grove.”

“You just have to worship me with love,” He replied..

Understanding His will, Swamiji requested Him thus, “Oh Lord, the radiance of this form of yours is too intense and wondrous for our eyes that are conditioned by material existence to bear. Please have mercy on us and merge into each other like the raincloud and lightning are one.” Granting his wish, the divine forms united, appearing as Shri Banke Bihari. Nidhivan began resounding with chants of ‘Banke Bihari lal ki Jai’.

माई री, सहज जोरी प्रगट भई, जु रंग की गौर-स्याम घन-दामिनि जैसैं।

प्रथम हूँ हुती, अब हूँ आगें हूँ रहिहै, न टरिहै तैसैं॥

अंग-अंग की उजराई-सुघराई-चतुराई-सुन्दरता ऐसैं।

श्रीहरिदास के स्वामी स्यामा-कुंजबिहारी, सम वैस वैसैं॥

Swami Haridas continued his service for the ‘unmanifest’ forms of Shyama-Shyam in the ‘nikunj’ and for the manifested deity of Shri Banke Bihari as well. Whatever seva he offered for one, was simultaneously realised for the other. After sometime he entrusted the responsibility of Shri Banke Bihari Lal to Jagannath and his sons. Sitting besides the deity’s seat (gaddi), he would sing the ragas.

Swamiji had also laid down the rules for seva according to which, ‘Shrigaar’ for Shyamaji’s gaddi is done prior to Bihariji’s. One day when Jagannath was fully engrossed in doing so, She appeared out of Her causeless mercy and draped Her ‘chunri’ (stole) on his head. Jagannath became anxious. As he thought to himself, “Oh what an offence I have committed”, the golden-hued goddess told him to stay like that. Jagnnath never took the ‘chunri’ off his head after being graced by Shri Radha thus.

Of Jagannath’s three sons, Gopinath was in charge of Shrigaar Seva, Meghshyam of Rajbhog Seva and Muraridas of Shayan Bhog Seva. Megshyam’s second son (out of four) Biharidas was fortunate to be graced with the close association of Swami Haridas. Towards the end of his mortal play, Swamiji shared many secrets related to the lilas of ‘Priyalal’ with him. Entrusting the seva of his ‘unmanifest’ nikunj Shyama-Shyam to Biharidas, He finally entered ‘nitya lila’ in V.S. 1632.

The temple in Vrindavan

Gate no. 1

Initially the deity was installed in a temple close to the spot of appearance in Nidhivan. A new temple befitting the glory of Bihariji was constructed following the Rajasthani style architecture in 1862 AD

The seva of the Bihari ji is performed in three parts every day ie Shringar, Rajbhog and Shayan. Shringar includes bath, dressing and adornment with jewellery, Rajbhog refers to the feast offered in the forenoon, and Shayan Seva is done in the evening.

Swami Haridas’ beloved Thakur who sports in the nikunj till late in the night is not an early riser. The temple, therefore, doesn’t have a tradition of mangala aarti/seva (early morning), except on Janmashtami when huge crowds gather to witness this rare splendour in the wee hours of the morning.

Further, Shri Banke Bihari gives ‘charan darshan’ once in a year on Akshay Tritiya. ‘Vanshi dharan’ also happens only once on Sharad/Raas Purnima.

मोर मुकुट कटि काछनी,कर मुरली उर माल।

यह बानिक मेरे मन बसौ,सदा बिहारी लाल ।।

Darshan in the temple is never continous, but is broken by the curtain drawn on the deity regularly. It is said that if one looks long enough into the eyes of Shri Banke Bihari, the person loses consciousness of the self.

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