Vrindaban is the principal center of Krishna worship in India, and a truly magical place. While the historic and geographic site of Vrindaban is located within the region of Braj, just south of New Delhi in northern India, its place in the Hindu imagination is boundless and timeless, as it radiates an aura of mystery and serves as “window” into a transcendent sphere of reality. From its location nestled among the hamlets along the Yamunā River, it is especially enchanting in the late evening hours during the autumn season of Karttik. If one carefully listens to the devotional music emanating from the various temples in this small town, what was a noisy and bustling pilgrimage site during daylight hours is now transformed into a serene sanctuary that belongs only to its permanent residents. One night in 1988, as the temple bells rang to signify the final Darshan (viewing) in the main Rādhāvallabha Temple, the musicians began their closing song, a lullaby for laying the deity of Rādhāvallabha (Krishna) to rest for the night. After the curtain closed at 10 p.m., and the Samāj-Gāyan music session ended with the final clap of the hand cymbals, the lead singer (at that time, Śrī Damodar Das “Mukhīya”) suddenly stood up and walked over to me, seated in the audience. Without a word, he dropped a large laḍḍu (sweet ball), taken from the temple prasādam (holy food) given by the temple priests, into my open right palm. While I was savoring this delicious confection, the drummer wrapped his instrument (pakhavāj) in a large white cotton cloth, and the esrāj (bowed lute) player, Śrī Ramnath Prasad, put away his instrument in a colorful quilted case. Śrī Prasad, the only person who could speak English among the musicians, attempted to explain to me the meaning of the beautiful songs and ballads that I had just enjoyed for the past three hours. After a few passionate comments about Vaishnava aesthetics and the writings of Jayadeva and Śrī Hita Harivaṃśa, he spoke the following soliloquy in a calm tone of voice:
After we sing these songs, the entire sound vibrates in our minds night and day, bringing a deep and unspeakable joy. The līlās or pastimes of Lord Krishna were composed in the form of these ballads right by the side of the Yamunā River. The nature and activities of Lord Krishna and Rādhā have been described by our poets in such a way that it will take years to explain them. Even then, it is not possible to give the full explanation. That is why we go on singing these songs. Our only activity is to observe the love affairs of Rādhā and Krishna by singing these songs. Then the divine beauty manifests in different colors, aspects, and forms. I have been singing these songs here for over forty years.
(Interview conducted with Śrī Ramnath Prasad at the Rādhāvallabha Temple in Vrindaban, U.P. on July 20, 1988. The content was transcribed and edited from an audiotape.)
For me, after only a few nights of listening to the enraptured sounds of the Rādhāvallabha temple music, I was permanently transfixed and felt that I was to become a lifelong chelā (devotee).