Seated on more than 200 acres of Texas Hill Country, Radha Madhav Dham sits like a shining pearl in a green bowl. Access is possible only by way of twisting, winding roads and highways, narrowly wending through the rises and falls to the temple. Radiating out from the main building are vast, rolling fields and groves, twisted locks of cedar and oak trees. And the hills, hills in every direction, small perturbations in the flat Texas landscape, forming so complete a ring it feels like the ashram is at the very center of the world.
The first time people come to visit RMD, their first impressions are of size, of scale, of the tremendousness of it all. The golden shikar reaches skyward like a heaven-seeking hand. Prem Sarovar, Radha Kund, Kali Dah, Govardhan, Mor Kuti, the Maharas Mandal and all of the other holy sites within the grounds impress the sense of an immensely holy environment, a place containing multitudes of other places. The ceiling of the prayer hall, covered by an image of the sky, gives the impression that things are even bigger than they appear. The painted landscapes at the back of the stage and behind the murtis seem to beckon you to a larger world, perhaps even the Divine world, a place beyond places. That’s the big picture.
But the longer you stay, the more you see, and the smaller you see. It’s not just the peacocks wandering everywhere, but which peacocks, and where. Watching them jump from the grass to the trees by the Gopeshwar Mahadev shrine, seeing them gently preening their feathers in the walkway towards the dining hall, watching a male perform an exquisite, shimmering dance right in front of the temple doors. Then there are mandals scattered over the grounds, the intricate pillar decorations, the wildflowers, the warm picnic tables, the smiling faces of Radha and Krishn displayed everywhere, in every corner of the ashram, constantly reminding you of the feeling of love.
Everyone has their favorite places. Many relish the prayer hall, where the artistry of the temple is at its finest, and where the real work of devotion, the true sadhana, can be done, in chanting, meditation, or observing lectures. Others find themselves drawn to the ashram kitchens, putting their hands to work, performing sevas like preparing a meal for three hundred devotees or washing the dishes afterwards. Still more seek the outdoor world, walking through the holy places of Braj as they are recreated in RMD, climbing to the top of Barsana Hill to take in a view of the world that you can’t find anywhere else. My preference is to be between all of these. Seated on top of a picnic table at the far edge of the Shiv Shrine mandal, I can hear the chanting from the prayer hall and the noise of the kitchen community simultaneously, all while holding the top of Barsana Hill in my gaze. And once the sun sets, when the stars come out and the moonlight plays around the waters of Prem Sarovar, I can feel the world turning beneath my feet, and I lose myself amidst the ecstasy of the sight of the boundless ashram, the sound of passionate kirtan, and the smell of the night air, scented with a hint of jasmine, a lingering remembrance of the flowers braided into Radha Rani’s hair.
Do you have a favorite spot in Radha Madhav Dham? If you were there for Summer Sadhana Shivir, I would love to hear about your experiences of the dham, the Divine chantings or just the feeling of being close to Radha Krishn. Please do leave your comments below.