Bhakti yoga is devotional service to God, free of sense gratification or philosophical speculation. In Vrindavan, the heart of bhakti, I encountered a myriad of ways this devotion to Krishna manifests. The essence of the practice is to learn to love God, and in turn, learn to love everything and everyone in the proper way.
To experience bhakti, I found myself drawn to the ISKCON temple, home of the Krishna consciousness movement. In this magnificent white marble structure, the Hare Krishna mantra has been sung by devotees in kirtan 24-hours-a-day, since 1986. With adoration and great love, and frequently tears of joy in their eyes, devotees shower flowers upon statues of the deities (Krishna and Radha) and of bhakti master and the founder of Krishna consciousness, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This outpouring of love, in the form offerings, dance and song create an otherworldly vibration.
Satyagopal Das, in the fourth photograph below, is a truly devoted servant of Krishna. For two years, the 24-year-old has been working his way around the 21-kilometer Govardhan Parikrama. His route is a popular circumambulation of Govardhana Hill, often walked in a single day by devotees. The stone outcrop is believed to be manifest from Krishna’s heart, where he tended his cows and had his loving rendezvous with Radharani.
But Satyagopal isn’t simply walking around the sacred hill; he has been prostrating himself on the ground in devotion the entire distance. With each prostration, he places a stone at his outstretched arm’s length while chanting the Hare Krishna mantra…and he has 108 stones, a very auspicious number. So it goes something like this: pick up a stone, prostrate while chanting the mantra, place stone at arms reach while laying on stomach, get up with new stone from feet, prostrate, chant, place in pile, pick up…108 times. Then, he steps forward to the pile of stones at his feet and begins anew. And he does this again...and again...and again...
It takes him about 25 minutes to move the 108 stones from his feet to his outstretched arms while chanting the mantra...and actually, he is quite fast. He told me he has about another year and a half to go…
Devotion comes in many forms