Banke Bihari Temple is a Hindu temple in the town of Vrindavan, Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, India. The temple is dedicated to Banke Bihari who is believed to be the combined form of Radha and Krishna. Banke Bihari was initially worshipped at Nidhivan, Vrindavan. Later, when Banke Bihari temple was constructed around 1864, the icon of Banke Bihari was moved to the new temple.
In Banke Bihari temple, the icon of Radha Krishna’s united form stands in the Tribhanga posture. Swami Haridas originally worshipped this murti under Kunj Bihari which means the one who enjoys in the groves or Kunj of Vrindavan.
The idol of Banke Bihari is believed to be the combined form of the divine couple Radha Krishna. The idol was manifested by Vrindavan musician and saint Swami Haridas who was believed to be the incarnation of Lalita gopi, a close associate of Radha Krishna in their celestial abode Goloka. Swami Haridas was the guru of the famous singer Tansen.
According to popular belief, once at the request of his disciples, Swami Haridas sang the following verse in Nidhivan in the praise of the divine couple Shyama Shyam (Radha Krishna).
Mai ri sahaj jori pragat bhai ju,
Rang ki gaur shyam ghan damini jaisen,
Pratham hun ahuti ab hun aagen hun,
Rahihai na tarihai taisain,
Ang ang ki ujraii sugharaii,
Chaturai sunderta aisain,
Shri Haridas ke swami shyama,
Kunj bihari sam vais vaisain
‘Bānke’ means ‘bent’, and ‘Bihāri’ or ‘Vihāri’ means ‘enjoyer’. This is how Kṛiṣhṇa, who is bent in three places, got the name “Bānke Bihāri”. According to Śrī Brahma-saḿhitā (verse 5.31), Brahma says the following about Kṛishna
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, round whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers beautified with the moon-locket, whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jeweled ornaments, who always revels in pastimes of love, whose graceful threefold-bending form of Śyāmasundara is eternally manifest.”
In Banke Bihari temple, Banke Bihari is worshiped in the form of a small child. Thus, no early morning aarti is performed and no bells are hung anywhere inside the temple premises as it may create a disturbance to Banke Bihari. Only on the occasion of Krishna Janmashtami, mangala aarti (early morning aarti) is performed. Curtains are drawn closed repeatedly every five minutes to avoid the uninterrupted darshan of Banke Bihari as according to popular belief if darshans are not interrupted, Banke bihari may accompany devotees to their homes, leaving the temple empty. Only once a year, Banke Bihari holds the flute in his hands which is on the occasion of Sharad Purnima.
One of the earliest legends surrounding this temple says that a Rajasthani princess from one of the ancient kingdoms that ruled over the land visited Vrindavan to offer obeisance and prayers to Lord Krishna. As soon as she set eyes on the all-black mesmerizing idol of Krishna, the princess was lost in rapture and divine love; she wished to stay with Krishna forever in Vrindavan. But the princess had her duties and tearfully she dragged herself away from Krishna and Vrindavan, returning to her palace never a moment passed without her thoughts going back to the Lord and the strong emotions in her heart.
This went on for some time till one day the priest at the Banke Bihari found Krishna’s idol missing! A frantic search was launched till word arrived that the Lord was safe in the princess’ palace, being worshipped and tended to by him. The sheer magnetism and pull of her devotion melted Krishna’s heart and he went to the princess leaving behind his seat of worship. Since then, it is believed a purdah (curtain) is drawn in front of the idol between the worshippers and the image to break the intensity of feeling that Krishna’s image stirs in his devotees so that one gazes long enough on Krishna’s face to be lost forever in his divine love and forget their worldly surroundings.
The method of worship and rituals in this temple set it apart from the others. It is believed that once the temple closes after the evening worship, Krishna silently goes to Nidhivan, the enchanting forest adjacent to the temple, and plays the flute till the wee hours of the morning. It is even said that the gopis visit him and they dance to the soulful notes of the flute losing their selves in the Bhakti Ras that emanates from the Lord’s presence and the magic of his music. Brajwasis claim to hear the notes of the flute in Braj Bhoomi. No temple bells or conches are sounded with the rituals so as not to wake the sleeping Lord. Since Krishna is believed to spend a great part of the night in the forest returning to the temple only in the early hours, the rituals do not include a Mangala (dawn) aarti, thereby allowing the Lord to sleep longer. Instead a 3-part ritual in the order of Shringar (bathing and adorning jewelry), Rajbhog (feast or Prasad offering to the deity), and Shayan Sewa (a sleep aarti/pooja) done in the evening before the temple closes for the night.
With such thought-provoking and profoundly influential beliefs surrounding them, it is no wonder that there are many miracles attributed to the worship of Banke Bihari; countless stories of Krishna’s gentleness and the mercifully soothing embrace that he envelops his devotees have become an intrinsic part of the folklore surrounding the temple.
There are no scientific explanations or attributes according to any of these happenings or miracles; as with every faith and most places of worship, such miracles and beliefs are governed by the intensity of faith of the individual or group and have been passed on through word of mouth.
There are many tales of Krishna appearing in physical form to help his beloved devotees, especially those who have no one to turn to or those who have been outcast by family and society, and many others who simply believe that being in the Lord’s presence will enrich their lives. Some of the oft-repeated ones are set out here.
There is the story of an old lady, who lived in a hut in Vrindavan offering fresh drinking water to devotees doing the Parikrama. She would sit there all day singing praises of Krishna, making garlands of flowers to offer for worship at the temples, rolling cotton wicks for lamps, and performing any other service that was asked of her. She had no personal belongings except a set of clothes and some utensils for cooking and lived in the hut with her meager possessions. She would visit the Banke Bihari Temple every day and sit in a corner singing praises of Krishna completely oblivious to everything except his divine presence. Although she was getting on in years, her face reflected a child-like innocence and charm and her appearance was captivating to everyone who came across her.
To any willing ear, she would tell the story of how she came to be in Vrindavan.
As a young woman, she lived with her parents and two younger brothers in Aligarh, a small town in Uttar Pradesh. Her father, a school teacher, and her mother, a homemaker held the family together with their simple living and deeply spiritual beliefs. When the time came for her to marry, the father found an ideal bridegroom for her; as always the family had to arrange for extra finances to conduct her marriage ceremony. Towards this, he tried to raise loans through the help of friends and acquaintances but no one came forward to help him.
In dire need and against all advice, he mortgaged the house they owned to a money lender who loaned him the money towards marriage expenses, however, this moneylender had the dubious and evil reputation of being unethical and unscrupulous and people were scared of the enormous power and influence he exerted. Her father worked very hard to repay the loan and he managed to do it in full. Being the simpleton he did not insist on taking back the receipts and documents that he should have done on repaying the loan. And as things turned out, although the father repaid the loan in full, the wicked moneylender kept harassing him for more money saying that the entire amount had not been repaid. This went on for some time and the matter was dragged to the local court. The moneylender had influential lawyer friends who helped him in such cases. After a prolonged legal battle, where at every instance the father was unable to prove his argument that the debt had been fully paid, the family was at the end of their resources and energy. If the moneylender was able to prove that the money was not repaid, they would have no roof over their heads.
Dejected with life and unable to find a solution, the father in the course of his distraught wanderings came to Banke Bihari Temple with a group of Krishna devotees. He had heard of the temple but had not visited it. On seeing the image of Banke Bihari in its splendor, he was lost in a trance completely. After spending a great deal of time in the temple praying to his heart’s content, he left a rejuvenated man filled with renewed vigor and strength that truth would triumph.
At the next court hearing, when he was asked to name a witness who would testify in court that he had repaid the loan, he mentioned the name ‘Banke Bihari’. As the curious members looked on in disbelief, a court notice was issued in the name of Banke Bihari and stuck on the outer doors of the temple, for the ‘witness’ to present himself in court on a particular day. This apparent move resulted in a lot of ridicule for the family and the moneylender was of utmost confidence that he would win the case and also be able to keep the house for himself.
On the appointed day, the proceedings in court began. When it was time for ‘witness Banke Bihari’ to present himself, an elderly gentleman wrapped in a dark blanket appeared and gave full details of the loan transaction, how much was given, and how much was returned and informed the court where the documents were hidden away. When the location was disclosed and the documents were produced in court, the father’s innocence was proved and the moneylender was arrested for cheating. When the Judge turned around to question the witness further, he was nowhere to be seen. Immediately realizing that he had seen a divine spectacle, he insisted on knowing the truth. Upon hearing the full details of Banke Bihari, he gave up his legal practice and moved to Vrindavan, where he spent the rest of his days in divine prayer at the feet of the Lord, earning the name ‘Judge Baba’. As for the family, they sold their belongings and moved to Vrindavan where they spent time helping devotees and living a life of service, in thanks for the merciful blessings they had received from Lord Krishna.
There is the tale of a Ticket Collector who worked on the shuttle service train from Mathura to Vrindavan. Each day he would arrive at Vrindavan station and while the train halted there, he would make a quick visit to Banke Bihari Temple and then get back to work. He did not miss the schedule for a single day of his working life. One day, however, when he went to the temple, the image of Krishna was curtained off and the altar temporarily closed. He waited for the curtain to be pushed aside so that he could have a darshan of the Lord before leaving. By this time the train had left. When he arrived at the station and realized this he was filled with remorse for failing in his duty and immediately tendered his resignation to the Station Master. The Station Master, however, stared at him nonplussed, wondering at the strange behavior of the ticket collector when only a short while ago, he had collected all the documents from the office and left with the train. The ticket collector was stunned and rushed to find out who could have boarded the train and performed the ticket collector’s duty. When he came to know from those on the train that he was indeed present on duty checking passengers’ tickets, his eyes filled with tears and his heart filled with deep emotion at the thought that he had been at the receiving end of a divine miracle. Of course, it was one of Banke Bihari’s divine performances again when he took the form of an earthly mortal to save him from losing his job. Needless to say, the ticket collector withdrew from official service and devoted himself to the service of Lord Krishna.
In the early 1900s, there was a mithaiwala (sweet shop owner) who had set up a shop selling sweets near Banke Bihari Temple. One day he received an order to make 40 kgs of laddoos in a single day for a special occasion. While he sat in his shop, diligently working to finish his order, he heard the voice of a young child beseeching him to give him something to eat as he was hungry. Turning to look in the direction of the voice, he saw a young boy with a smile on his lips, a glow on his face, and an outstretched hand. Knowing that he was racing against time to fulfill the order, the man was caught in two minds; however, the hypnotic voice of the young child falling on his ears softened him and he gave a handful of laddoos to the young boy, sending him on his way. The boy thanked him profusely for his generosity and gave him a gold bangle in return. The shop owner was perplexed but he did not have time to dwell on the matter. In time his order was finished and dispatched.
The next morning when he arrived at the shop, there was commotion all around. Someone said that one of the bangles worn by Banke Bihari had gone missing and was nowhere to be found. When the shop owner heard this, he went to the temple immediately and showed the officials there the bangle he had received earlier. To everyone’s astonishment, it was the same bangle that had gone missing from the idol. The shop owner immediately understood the significance of his kind act and the appearance of the Lord in front of his eyes. He prostrated himself before the image and thanked Krishna from the bottom of his heart for allowing him a glimpse of his divine persona. He continued making sweets for many more years and never tired of telling his customers about the ‘miracle’ that he had witnessed.
It is said that even criminals are reformed when they step on Krishna’s divine land and turn to a life devoid of crime and wrongdoing.
This is the story of a wealthy businessman’s wife who was ostracized by her family. All her life she spent looking after her husband, their three sons, and the sons’ families, without even a moment for herself or the things she wished to do. She sacrificed all her energy and focused only on the work in her home taking great care to see that every member of the family was well looked after, all their needs addressed; in turn, she was shown great respect and affection by everyone, young and old. There were many maids and helpers in the large household but she was at the very center of the home, holding all the responsibility and fulfilling her deeds with utmost devotion.
One day, she developed a small sore on her foot which refused to heal. On discovering that it was leprosy, an immediate change came in the attitude of her family. From being the most loved person she went to become the most avoided person; they distanced themselves from her and did everything they could to avoid being in her presence. Even her loving husband began to spend more time away from her. Sensing that they did not like to be around her anymore, she confined herself to one of the back rooms in the house, avoiding all contact with anyone, washing her clothes, and cooking her meals in separate utensils that had been set aside for her. One day, even this came to an end. Her sons came to her and in hesitant but very certain terms told her that it would be wise if she went on a pilgrimage to some faraway place, she would be given enough money to take care of herself where she went. After all, they said, the disease was infectious and they were sure she wouldn’t want to pass it on to her children or grandchildren. She wondered to herself, was it the same sons who showered her with so much affection and insisted on eating their meals only after she sat down and ate the first morsel? This was the last straw.
Tears filled her eyes and all sorts of thoughts ran through her mind; she even considered taking her own life and ending the misery. Somehow she mustered courage; gathering her dignity and meager belongings together she left the house quietly in the dead of night without informing anyone and without a single rupee in her hand.
Not knowing where to go, she approached a lady in her neighborhood who was associated with charitable work. On hearing her story, the lady advised her to go to Vrindavan and seek help in one of the ashrams there. Dejected, she arrived in Vrindavan and made acquaintance with an old lady outside one of the temples who lived on alms and donations given by devotees and prasad from the temple. At first, this lady was hesitant to beg for food and clothes but without any alternative, she was forced to do so. It became a way of survival for her, begging for alms in the daytime; in the evening she would go to the Yamuna River, bathe herself, and return to the temple in time for the evening aarti when prasad would be distributed.
One day when she when to the ghats to bathe, she slipped on the steps and fell into the river. All she remembered is seeing a very attractive young boy with a strange glow on his face dive into the waters to save her before she lost consciousness. When she came to and asked around, no one remembered seeing the young boy! She looked down at her foot there was no sign of the festering wound and her foot was whole again! Someone told her to go to Banke Bihari Temple and say thanks to Krishna. On reaching the temple and seeing the image, she almost fainted, for it was the face of the same young man who had saved her from drowning.
Understanding that she had been cured by Krishna’s divine touch, a shiver of excitement ran through her; suddenly all the troubles that had plagued her fell into place. The wound had been just a ruse to detach her from her worldly ties; her place was here in Vrindavan with Banke Bihari. From then on, she stayed there helping others in similar conditions and worshipping the Lord with all her faith. She continued to receive guidance from Lord Krishna; she always seemed to know in advance when some person was coming to see her or when some help was on the way for a needy person. She could identify the person even before the person knew it was her they had come to meet.
Swami Haridas, in one of his famous padas, sang ‘If you want to show love, then show it only to Bihariji or his people for he is the one who guides and loves, not your family or friends who desert you in your time of need. Only his love is permanent; you are safe with Banke Bihari”.