One of the most popular events in the holy town of Vrindavan, India – where Lord Krishna appeared 5,000 years ago – is the celebration of Jhulan Yatra, the Radha-Krishna swing festival. In Vrindavan among the local villagers and inhabitants this festival lasts for 13 days. In Vrindavan this is one of the biggest festivals of the year and Vrindavana is very crowded at this time, literally hundreds of thousands of people from surrounding towns and villages visit Vrindavan over this period in the auspicious sacred month of Shravana (July-Aug). Opulence or simplicity, but often the swings are made of gold or silver.
In Sri Vrindavan for five days, in many of the 5000 temples there, the small Utsav-vighraha functional Deities (Vijay-utsav bera) are taken from the altar and placed on an elaborately decorated swing in the temple room. After receiving the traditional arati worship, the Deities are pushed on Their swing. Members of the congregation are invited to participate. Each person offers flower petals and personal prayers, and then pushes the swing several times as the other members chant Hare Krishna, Jaya Radhe Jaya Krishna jaya Vrindavan, or Jaya Radhe, Jaya Jaya Madhava dayite in kirtan. The atmosphere of this festival is especially sweet as everyone has the chance to intimately serve Radha and Krishna.
The same festival is observed in other parts of India too in this sacred month of Shravana. For example in Jagannath Puri, for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath’s utsav vighraha (Madan-mohan ji, this festival is celebrated from Shravana Shukla Dashami (10th Tithi/phase of the Moon of the light fortnight) until Pratipada (1st tithi of the dark), a period of seven days. Sri Madanmohan, Jagannath’s representative deity (vijay utsav), as well as Laxmi and Vishwadhatri are placed on a decorative wooden swing on Muktimandap (Jhulanmandap). There, worshippers have a chance to swing the Lord, thus entering into His pastimes. On the day of the full moon (Gamha Purnima or Jhulan Purnima), Lord Balabhadra’s appearance day is celebrated.
In Vrindavan it starts on the Tritya (third day) of the bright fortnight of Shravana and lasts until the full moon night of the month. During this festival the Radha-Krishna Deities in the temples are swung on a swing. Some of the main temples that this festival is celebrated at are the Banke Bihari Temple and the Radha-Raman Temple in Vrindavana, the Dwarkadish temple in Mathura, and the Larily Lal Temple in Varsana.
In our Iskcon temples we observe for five days in accordance with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions. So whether one observes for the four days or for the seven, or thirteen days, the same festival is put on for the pleasure of the Lord and His loving associates.
This is a wonderful ceremonial function of Lord Krishna’s pastimes that reflects practically how we are to render service to the Lord for His pleasure.
At the time of the Jhulan Yatra festival it is Monsoon in India and the air is thick, heavy and humid with the heat and the rains. In the midst of the rainy season, when fields and jungle have turned shades of lush green and flowers are blossoming all around, the festival of Hariyali Teej is celebrated.
These festivals are not in any way mere rituals, as they all have practical service functionality to invoke loving servitude of the devotees for the Lord. Lord Sri Krishna is the Supreme enjoyer and doesn’t have to work hard like us in this world. Everything He does is pleasurable, and He organises many situation in which He can incorporate us, His separated parts and parcels into His loving service which is our natural condition in the spiritual realm.
When Sri Krishna had his pastimes in rural Vrindavan with His cowherd friends together they lovingly tended the cows, and wandered in the pastures playing, frolicking, and feasting. Throughout the various seasons they all continuously enjoyed being part of Sri Krishna’s pastimes, and rendering loving service to Him as best they could.
Over the past few months as the climate had changed from Vasant Panchami (Spring festival) where everyone dresses in yellow and goes to the fields, performs fertility rites, and plants new crops, etc.) to Dola Purnima where scented powders and flowers are thrown on the body of the Lord playfully, and singing and dancing goes on for His pleasure. Similarly all the other different festivals were observed where the friends of Lord Krishna would look after His express comforts or pleasure, go to the forest with Him, serve Him and have fun.
As the temperature rises toward Summer the Chandan Yatra is performed where from the Akshaya Tritiya for a period of 21 days the body of the Lord is anointed with scented sandalwood mixed with camphor, musk, saffron. As the sandalwood is applied to the body it immediately cools, but then there is a natural cycle that also follows with the heat naturally there is some perspiration, and as the perspiration again mixes with the sandalwood it is dried and cooled by even the slightest breeze creating a pleasant feeling like being covered with Talcum powder.
However, as the temperature increases just to be anointed with something cooling is not enough therefore on (or from for some sampradayas or temples) the Snan Purnima in the month of Jyestha (Trivikram Vaishnava mase) there is the ceremonial bathing of the Lord called Snan Yatra. Although it has become especially festive in Jagannath Puri the actual event originates in Vrindavana with the devotees bathing Krishna, and Balaram for their pleasure and then taking bath themselves too. Actually at this time there is no other solace than to bathe in some kind of pleasing water. All the temples of Vrindavan follow this festival, and many devotees follow a trail of pilgrimage from one temple to the next from early morning to late evening when the temperature lowers to about 35-40 degrees centigrade absorbed in the Snan rasa.
The next major interactive event is Rathyatra where the devotees symbolically bring Lord Krishna (Jagannath) His brother Balaram and Subhadra maharani on high chariots, with beautiful flapping canopies, back to rural Vrindavan after their spell in Kurukshetra.
After this comes the Jhulan Yatra festival. Starting on the ekadasi of waxing moon of Sridhara month, many temples in Vrndavana celebrate Krsna’s swing festival, some for one day, others for more days. Traditionally many of the Deities of the Lord wears various clothing with green in it over this period until the Balaram Purnima. Again it is a practical festive service that the devotees provide for the Lord. Monsoon is so humid, and the temperature is still so hot despite the cooling rains. With so much water coming from the sky, on the ground, and just about everywhere the last thing that anyone wants is more water to cool off. The opulence at this time is to find a breeze, as the air is heavy with the humidity of the rains. So the devotees arrange for the pleasure and satisfaction of Krishna, Balaram, and Srimati Radhika by placing them on a swing (Jhulan) and creating their own breeze from the motion.
It is a most pleasing and satisfying festival, with the swings often highly decorated with forest creepers, Jasmine (Malati) that has newly blossomed in the season, and streamers of garlands. Sometimes they use a fine spray of rose water and direct it toward the Divine couple of Radha and Krishna on Their swing.
Today in Iskcon temples all over the world by the mercy of his Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad all the devotees and the congregational members get the opportunity to come forward after purifying their hands and remember these loving interactions of Sri Krishna with His devotees, and also assist in the direct personal service of the Lord by applying themselves to pushing the swing.
On the last day of the Jhulan, on the Purnima (full moon) this comes Lord Balaram’s appearance day festival.
“Regarding Jhulanayatra Ceremony, during these five days the Deities’ clothing should be changed everyday, and there should be nice Prasadam distribution and Sankirtana as far as possible. If you are able to do it, a nice throne may be constructed on which the Deities can be placed. This throne may be swung gently during Kirtana. That will be very good, and surely the Deities will enjoy the function.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.1st August. 1969. Letter to Jayapataka Swami. Letters book pg. 977.)
“So we have to practice this Krsna consciousness. Here, in this material world, we have to work. Without work, you cannot maintain even your family, your body. That is not possible. Sarira-yatrapi te na prasiddhyed akarmana-. Krsna says (to) Arjuna that without karma you cannot maintain even your body. So you have to work. Sarira-yatrapi te na prasiddhyed akarmana-. And this material world means you have to maintain by working. And spiritual world means na tasya karyam karanam ca vidyate. There is nothing to work, as Krsna has nothing to work. He is simply enjoying What is called? Swing. So Krsna is enjoying, and Krsna’s associates are enjoying. They have nothing to work. That is spiritual world. Cintamani prakara sadmasu kalpa vrksa: that is a different world. There is no material body. Therefore there is no need of the material body. That is a different world. But in this material world we have to work. Trt’ya-karma-samj<anya avidya-karma-samjanya trtiya aktir isyate. This material world means you have to work and adjust things for your maintenance. That you cannot escape. But still, we have to become Krsna conscious” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. 10th August 1976. Srimad Bhagavatam 3:22:21. Tehran, Iran.)
“Radha and Krsna may be swung in this way, but you may avoid swinging Lord Jagannatha like that.”(A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. 5th Jan. 1973. Letter to Jagdish. Letters book p.2220.)
A pastime of Srimati Radharani and Sri Krishna’s:
As stated Jhulan-yatra is very dear to Krsna, He likes it very much, now from another perspective you will see why !!!. From a cultural perspective in India during this period, all daughters go to their father’s house to stay there for some days and enjoy the swing festival – a custom celebrated even up to this day.
Every year Srimati Radharani used to go to Varshana to her parents’ house and have a very nice time there with her Gopi friends and Krsna, whom She could freely meet (because Jotila and Kotila were not around).
‘One time Radharani was waiting for her brother Sridam to come and take her to her fathers’ house. She was waiting, waiting, and waiting, but there was no sign of Sridam and She became so sad. One day a person from Varsana was there. She asked the man to ask her father, “Why have they have forgotten Me?” She then started to cry bitterly. The person went to Varshana and told Vrsabhanu Maharaja about the condition of his daughter. Hearing this news, Vrishabhanu Maharaja immediately sent Sridam to Varshana to get Radharani.
Srimati Radharani’s Mother Kirtida packed many presents for Jotila to send with Sridam, knowing that if she did not do this, Jotila, being harsh of character sometimes would not send Srimati Radharani to Varshana.
Meanwhile, day and night Srimati Radharani was staring at the road coming from Varshana. One day, She saw Sridam and when he finally arrived at the front gate they embraced each other. She was weeping, “Oh brother you had forgotten Me?; My father and mother too?; Everyone forgot Me?”
At first Jotila refused to let Srimati Radharani go. “No no, She cannot go. She has so much work to do here, and there is so much danger there because of that black boy. She cannot go.”
Then Sridam gave Jotila all the presents given by Kirtida ma. Seeing this, she said, “Alright, she can go, but only for a few days.”
“Then Srimati Radharani and Sridam went on a cart pulled by four bullocks to Varshana. Seeing the palace of her parents on the hilltop, feeling great happiness Radharani started weeping and even more weeping when She saw Her father and mother face to face.
At that time Jhulan-yatra had already started and Srimati Radharani started swinging with Her sakhis (friends) during periods in the day and night, but She was not satisfied alone, without Krsna there. Knowing this, Krsna sometimes came in disguise to the palace. Sometimes He dressed as a Gopi selling bangles or beautiful garlands. Or He appeared in any other form and made an appointment for Them to meet each other somewhere in a very secret place in the forest.
Once, Srimati Radharani was seated on the Jhulan and Krsna was pushing the swing very gently. Suddenly Krsna put so much force in pushing the swing that Srimati Radharani became fearful and started crying out, “O Krsna, save Me, save Me!” That transcendental trickster Sri Krsna climbed on the swing and She firmly embraced Him, giving Him so much pleasure. Why so much pleasure? Because normally He has to do so many tricks so that Radharani will embrace Him, but in this instance She embraced Him out of Her own will, without much effort on His part. Therefore He is so fond of these swing pastimes.
Some meditations on Sri Jhulan Yatra in Sri Vrindavan Dham.
The Jhulan time is very intense. In general the Shravana masha have an exceptional mood, it is raining all the time, Yamuna Mayi became very wide, flooded and there is a fresh atmosphere for devotees who move daily to whorship and take the lila-darshan which is performed in diverse temples in Vrindavan. As an example, in Jai Sing Geera, the lilas are performed during the whole week: every morning Gauranga-lila and at the evening Krishna-lila’s theatre is played.
Devotees tell that some time ago a king, who was a great devotee of Sri Radha-Raman used to came to Vrindavan in the Shravana month to assist that performances which started out of his own desire. The rasa-lilas and theatre performance of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu and Sri Krishna lilas was very dear to him and surely to Sri Radha Krishna also because since that time it now takes place as a yearly event.
In each of Vrindavans’ temples a wonderful swing-kunja is to be found, each with singular features along with the swinging mood and the always happy “Jay Sri Radhe! Jay Sri Radhe!”. There took place also the golden swing darshan of Sri Banka Bihari ji, which occurs once yearly. It happen the first day of Jhulan in which streets are completely crowded, any vehicles, like cars, even Auto-rickshaws transit is very much restricted and Rikshaws can move only in the main roads. Some devotees wait until the midnight special aratis to get darshan because during the day it’s just ridiculous to try and get in with the hundreds of thousands of villages who descend on Vrindavan township to be absorbed in this wonderful festival.
There’s a good business made by devotees engaged in making the huge amounts of garlands that are used in all the temples, by all the devotees wanting to offer garlands, and to decorate the temples and Jhulan(s) during the whole week. It’s a perfect example how everyone benefits, both economically – financially, socially, spiritually etc., simply by rendering some simple service for the pleasure of the Lord. Vast amounts of prasadam is cooked and offered to the Deities, and sold for a small donation; the hotles, dharmshallas, guest-houses etc, Rickshaws, taxis, everyone, all are happy and satisfied knowing that simply by serving the Lord, the root of everything all their needs will be taken care of.