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The Embodiment of Earthly Divinity

Lighting candles at the Sri Radha Raman Temple.
Alex Chadwick, NPR
Lighting candles at the Sri Radha Raman Temple.
A woman floats a flower lit with a candle down the Yamuna River.
Alex Chadwick, NPR /
A woman floats a flower lit with a candle down the Yamuna River.

The Yamuna River flowing past Vrindavan is considered sacred, and the faithful often make temporary shrines on its shores and float flowers downstream, lit by candles. Krishna is said to have bathed here 5,000 years ago, and it is auspicious to follow in his footsteps.

With all Vrindavan's past splendor, there is evidence everywhere that belies its spiritual purity. It's not just the pollution — the waters of the Yamuna are black with pollution — it is also the poverty.

The Hindi word "vrinda" translates to a devotion to spiritual purity. That devotion is shared by most in the city, regardless of their place in the highly stratified caste system that still rules Indian society. They seem united by their spiritual quest.

"Everybody is suffering," says religious teacher Vrinda Davidasi. "And our ultimate aim is to merge into our beloved — when we are into that, then no more sufferings. We won't come into this material body again. Our soul will be merged."

The focus of many worshippers is the Sri Radha Raman Temple, where a black stone statue of Krishna sits enshrined.

The tiny figure, no more than six inches high, is nearly lost in the folds of saffron and maroon robes — but the sight of the black rock sends the faithful into raptures of joy.

"They surge forward," says Alex Chadwick. "The raise their faces, they raise their arms, they raise a sense of a deep, shared, harmonious bliss — and they look so happy."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
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