This was during my initial days of spiritual journey. I had started going to Vrindavan, alone, staying for a day or two, not knowing what exactly to do besides attending temple program. I did not know a single soul there besides Deities. So, mostly I would attend all the morning programs, have breakfast prasadam at Govinda, come back to room to read, sleep a bit, back in the temple at 4-5pm, have dinner prasadam at Govinda, come back to room, read a bit and sleep by 9pm for next day’s Mangal Arti. This is what I still aspire for.
I was again in Vrindavan Dhama and after Mangal Arti there was announcement that it is very special day (what day isn’t special in Vrindavan) and a bus will be leaving for Vrinda Kunda for the marriage of Tulasi and Shaligram. I had never ever heard in my life about this event and I don’t know why my heart prompted me to board that bus to the Lila sthali of Vrinda Devi. I went for it.
It was two bus load of devotees, with hardly any Indian on board. We reached the temple after a long bumpy ride, it was in middle of the fields, with no road after the final turn towards temple.
I could see a beautiful small temple decorated in very simple and traditional Indian way. There was a slight buzz around the place. I found that a group of devotees had done all night kirtan the previous night. Jai ! As we entered it was announced that we will get some prasadam, we sat on the mats and were served a very delicious puffed rice prasadam, it was dry and salty, with a banana. I still remember the taste of that prasadam after so many years. I still hanker for it, even that time I had greedily taken extra portions and kept on munching it for a long time. After the prasadam was over most of the devotees got busy with some service. The temple was getting ready for the marriage. The whole setting was completely rural. I wondered around, bought and read a book, a devotee had put the book stall. I was too naive to beg for any service.
I was told that an Malaysian couple has been sponsoring this event for some time. As the time came for the marriage we had ISKCON pujaris and local temple priest who presided over the ceremony complete with mantras and, later, pheras. The local priest explained how the `Braja’ scriptures are different from what our Acharayas have written. The Malaysian couple, wife was Indian and husband a native Malaysian, did the kanyadaan. Shaligrama shilla and Tulasi walked around the havan kund in their laps. Many devotees had brought nice gifts for the newly weds. Amid all the kirtan, marriage, vidai (bride leaves for husband’s home) not for a single moment I felt that I was not attending a traditional Indian marriage.
After the marriage there was a feast for the local Brajawasis, we served each one of them with sumptuous prasadam. Once they finished then it was our time to honour the prasadam. Kirtan continued almost throughout the time. It was the first time that I came contact with the non-Indian ISKCON devotees and I was completely ashamed to see their devotion during the whole ceremony. I am sure I have never worked so hard, as they did, in any of my cousin sister’s marriages (I don’t have a real sister). I still vividly remember one devotee feeding leftover prasadam to a street dog with such affection as if feeding his own son. I would not have even gone close to that dog in normal times. Consciousness of all these devotees was very pure and I felt being the odd one out.
We came back in the evening. I will felt purified till my inner core. Sometimes when I look back, I think it was after attending this ceremony and being in touch with so many pure devotees that my spiritual journey got on the track.
I also feel that we do not appreciate enough what role ISKCON plays in making such `Lila sthali’ accessible to a common man. Had it not been for ISKCON, every devotee would be on the mercy of local `panda’ or priest, as in most traditional Indian temples. I don’t remember being charged for this for the trip, and even that would be some very reasonable amount to cover the cost, got association of devotees, blessings of attending Tulasi Shaligram marriage, heard melodious and impromptu kirtans by devotees, sumptuous prasadam, opportunity to serve Brajavasis. I do not know any other organization in India, or the whole world, which would serve so much and that too for a non-member like me and with no other motive than to please Krishna.
It is a pity when I see so many temples in India, at prime locations in cities and various Dhams, in dilapidated condition. They should all handover the management to ISKCON and see the difference in service to Deities and preaching in the area, which is the purpose of a temple.
We can know more about Tulasi vivah and the Vrinda Devi temple, now under ISKCON, at
( All pictures are file pictures, which I took from the Vrinda Devi temple website)
All glories to Tulasi- Shaligrama Vivah.
All glories to ISKCON.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.