Religious devotion has been considered superior to karmas and knowledge while bhava is love flowing towards Shri Radha-Krishna. When Krishna is seen as the object of longing and of a love expressed in the cry of the enraptured soul for god, we cast off all worldly cares and move in a delicious anguish to his side.
Shri Thakurji's Seva and Living Presence
Seva and bhajan have an inseparable bond in the perennial quest of mankind for a divine and transcendental love. The individual idol of Lord Krishna or Thakurji becomes a svarupa of his living presence and we experience the deeper ecstasies of devotion according to the intensity with which we attend to his needs.
Shri Shri Ramanujacharyaji gave tangible form to Lord Ranganath. Shaligramji incarnated as the Supreme Being for Nimbarkacharyaji and was his inspiration. Whereas Shri Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhuji's life points to Lord Jagannath lilas or divine play.
Which Braj devotee is unaware of Shri Shri Nathji's astonishing character. He incarnated for Shri Manmahaprabhu Vallabhacharyaji and Goswami Vithalnathji and was close to the ashtachap kavis( a group of eight Krishna poets who lived at Govardhan in the later sixteenth century.) This svarupa would sport with them, visit them and relish milk along with other delicacies. We have the playful dalliance of Shri Madan Mohanji, who spared no effort in escalating the grandeur of Sanatanji.
Shri Shri Banke Bihariji served by Shri Hari Das, Shri Radha Ramanji attended by Shri Gopal Bhatt and
Shri Shri Radha Vallabhji honoured by Shri Hit Harivansh became living forms of Krishna in Vrindavan. And no Braj devotee is unaware of the playful dalliance of Shri Gokul Nathji and Shri Gokul Chandramaji resplendent in Braj.
Similarly several bhaktas have sighted the amorous frolics of Bobo's Thakurji. Initially Bobo's great-grandmother (pardadi) used to do the seva which has been continuing for the past 125 years.Grieved she had no other recourse because her husband had passed away at a young age. Attending to Thakurji's needs particularly escalated after Bobo took over.
Bahenji had inherited Thakurji from her dadi in 1948.The related heightening of spiritual experience, well within the contexts of religious aspiration infused the service at sunrise, noon and sunset. Several people were attached spiritually and helped out as far as possible.
Shri Rang Bhagwan's eminent seva, the enthused seva of Shri Radha in the Nimbarka Sampradaya, the idealistic seva of the Gaudiyas, the pampered seva of the Pushti Margis with remarkable affection for Shri Radha Vallabhji all converged and became tangible in the seva of Ushaji.
I clearly remember that Goswami Shri Lalit Charan of the Radha Vallabh Sect was very pleased on hearing about her dedication. While going with Sushila Bahenji for a dip in the Yamuna, Ushaji would visit him at times. Hearing her perspectives on the thousands of padas sung in daily and festive use he was delighted.
Usha Bahenji clearly distinguished seva or service to the Lord's svarupa from puja or ordinary honorific worship. When the devotee attends selflessly, without expectation to the needs of the Lord and assumes a particular relationship with him, the idol becomes a form of the living Krishna.
The idol of Krishna is a Svarupa of His Living Presence
She could not tolerate the use of words like metal or stone for the svarupa. Once some devotees of the south visited her and one of them promptly asked which metal her icon was made of. She said it was obvious that their devotion had not perfected or they would sight the living Krishna in him.
An incident occurred in 1968. Revered Bobo, Sushila Bahenji, mother and Shri Manohar Dasji of Venu Vinod Kunj were staying on the banks of Mansi Ganga in Goverdhan for the Shivratri Mahotsav.They were singing the glories of Krishna in front of Shri Thakurji and his cheeks puffed up with joyous abandon. Their laughter was checked after several hours when his svarupa came back to his earlier state.
It so happened, that everyone was engrossed in narrating the lilas or divine play of the Lord. Shri Rama Deviji,Shri Santoshji and Sarlaji(bhaktas of Vrindavan) were present. Shri Thakurji imitated the expressions and postures referred to in the padas and this amazing scene was perceptible by all the fortunate devotees.
Once Shri Ghanshyam Dasji came to have darshan of the yugal sarkar or sacred couple. Strangely the holy limbs of Priyaji were radiant but Thakurji's lotus face and arms holding the flute appeared slightly blackish. He wondered why when Thakurji affirmed with his eyes that he wanted to get a massage of attar done through him.
Shri Lalit Bahenji extraordinary spirituality has influenced several people. Amazingly churning curd in her kitchen she felt that someone was standing on the right. After some time she sensed it again and on turning saw Bobo's Shri Thakurji insisting to eat some butter. Taking some butter in a bowl, she ran to Bobo and persisted that it should be served to him.
The waters of Jhelum abound with love tales of Laila Majnu and Shiri Farhad. Born in a Sikh family of those environs and impressed by Gandhi's principles, Santosh Bahenji, daughter of an affluent father longing for Krishna came to Vrindavan. Santosh Bahenji and
Sarla Bahenji were cooking a meal for Thakurji when unexpectedly Vijay dropped in. They kneaded the cooked vegetable with the flour and made a roti which crumbled due to excessive ghee. Apprehensive that Vijay would not relish it they requested Thakurji to do so. Moved by their entreaty, instantly the yugal sarkar (Radha-Krishna)appeared and accepted the bhog.
Once revered Bobo thought that certain clothes were somewhat old and should be discarded. Soon enough the yugal sundar reached Santosh Bahenji's residence and revealed that Bobo was about to give away dresses which were very dear to them. Bahenji's went and narrated the incident to Bobo and ultimately it was decided that she would not distribute the garments.
Revered Dharamji, the guru of Amarnath Sharma a major-general of independent India, and sister of Army Chief V.N.Sharma, is renowned for her exceptional absorption in Krishna and was a very close friend of Bobo. Once she had exulted," Ushaji and I were sitting and singing his glories. This Thakurji as the supreme lover came and sat between us. We were engrossed and he would tease me and her at times with his finger, which we both sensed. Shri Ushjai's seva had an all-consuming intimacy which has made her Thakurji a living presence of Krishna for all times to come.
It was customary for Bobo to visit Barsana on Radha Ashtami. Once the bookings could not be done and the manager of Pili Kothi quickly arranged for them to stay in the personal room of Sethji inspite of no previous introduction.
Sethji arrived two days later and did not approve of this exercise. But enchanted by Thakurji's aura, he enthused," Such a handsome Thakurji will stay on in this room and I will take another."Though Sethji passed away and conditions changed, Shri Thakurji is posited in that same room and grand arrangements are made accordingly whenever he goes to Barsana.
A renowned speaker on the Shrimad Bhagwad had great regard for Bobo and valued her opinion. He would say that such a form of the living Krishna is only possible by Bobo's seva which was the zenith of attending to his needs.
On the other front Shri Gokul Dasji, a resident of Chandra Sarovar and a Pushti Margi enthused,"Bahenji! I have never seen such a spirited form as your Thakurji who seems to be virtually speaking. This has been feasible by your pampered seva."
Dr. AchyutAnand Bhattji is learned in the Shrimad Bhagwad and the principal of a college. Greatly impressed by the norm of adorning Thakurji (shringara or adornments with painting decorative textiles, flowers and jewellery) he affirmed,"The manifestation of her Thakurji is unprecedented because of Bahenji's dedicated seva."
Shri Abhedanandji Maharaj is a famed saint of the south. He would definitely visit Ushaji on coming to Vrindavan. Adulating Shri Thakurji while singing padas he would exult," The romantic dalliance of Shri Thakurji is so lively that it makes me ecstatic."
Not merely an idol, Bobo's Thakurji would literally talk, reveal his views, accept her service, and get the seva done as per his wishes. It seemed he would actually appear before his devotees who had sweet and total commitment and love for him.
The matter dates back to 23.4.1978 when a bhog of khicdi was beeing offered to Shri Thakurji. Reclining against a pillow at one end, Bobo watched Thakurji put a mouthful in Kishoriji's mouth and thereafter help himself to a bite. Smilingly Priyaji ate and kept looking at Bobo who was thrilled on seeing them relish the meal.
An incident of October 1978 is amazing. Bidding farewell to summer, mild winter had sent in and there was a nip in the air. Since she was unwell it was difficult for Bobo to ascertain whether the yugal sarkar needed some woolens to cover them and waited for their approval.
Putting them to sleep, she slept as well. A melodious voice putting hundreds of lutes to shame could be heard,"Cover us with a warm sheet." Once in Keli Kanan Kunj Sushila Bahenji was reading out a lila given by Sakhaji (a sidha). Melodiously,"A bit louder,"could be heard.Stunned Bobo looked at Kishoriji who had made the suggestion. Krishna,the supreme lover and Radha his beloved, eagerly heard their playful dalliance and participated when their glories were sung.
The regime of serving early morning tea to the Shri Yugal was being followed for some time now. Keeping the bhog, Bobo would invariably ask, "How is it?" Priyaji in her lutelike voice answered today,"Slightly sweet,"Everyone found the tea to be a bit sweeter that day.
Bobo woke up slightly late on 8th October 1985. This made her depressed. Seeing her in this state Priya-Priyatam explained naturally,"We ourselves wanted to wake up a bit late due to the cold and rain."
Singing padas, she would wake Thakurji at daybreak. Arranging to provide light, cleansing his mouth with cold or warm water as per the season and the sequence of bathing was worth watching. Serving bhog early in the morning and doing shringar had her sentimentally involved. The yugal seemed highly pleased with the play and choice of colours, beautiful and fitting dresses and were a treat to behold.
Ecstatic and evocative expressions of love are essential for the seva of Krishna or else it is mechanical.She was delighted to know of this bhavna in the Pushti Marg. Complete absorption in the joy of Krishna is the mental perception whereby we begin to know the Krishna that abides in our heart.
Round the year sequence began with muslin dresses, on to synthetic textiles in the rainy season and satin thereafter. Thick garments at the start of autumn, velvet, cotswool and then warm ones. Preferring white in summers, golden in winters, green in autumn and yellow in spring,the choice of colours was in accordance to Ushaji's sensitivity.
The adornments on coming into contact with Shyama-Shyam became living sentient beings for Bahenji. If for some reason a dress or ornament did not adorn the yugal she would assure them of their turn and the joy of proximity to Shyama-Shyam.
Becoming a living presence,Thakurji gave her energy, clues and interacted with her, making her relish the deeper ecstasies of devotion.Shringara was not time bound. Willingly he would get ready very soon and at times the process would take hours.
Occasionally giving us the honour of doing seva she would not let laxity creep into the steadfast norms and depended on nobody. Bhog was also served in accordance to the seasons. She made an indefatigable effort to fan Radha-Krishna herself in summers as far as possible. Personally she remained without a fan in the sweltering heat. She endorsed that there is no insignificant or great seva.
"One should check if the bhog is hot and seasoning is perfect", she asserted. Bobo was very pleased to know that tasters had been particularly appointed for the seva of Shri Nathji. Her bhavna of 'tatsukhe sukhitva' was predominant.
Shri Thakurji would suggest many a times the dress he would prefer to wear. One can sense a particular tenderness affecting objects which come in contact with Thakurji by touch. By acknowledging her seva,Shri Radha-Krishna made her conscious of their living presence with energy and joyfulness and love.
Usha Bahenji would always say," If at any point of time my physique is deprived of service then this body will certainly end.In the course of time she had become increasingly weak. There had to be some excuse for the body to depart so on that fateful day she could not attend to Thakurji's needs and went into close proximity of Shri Radha-Krishna forever.