Alex Chadwick, NPR
Pilgrims walk barefoot in the soft dust paths linking holy sites in and around the city of Vrindavan.
Pilgrims walk barefoot in the soft dust paths linking holy sites in and around the city of Vrindavan. Alex Chadwick, NPR
Krishna devotee bathes in the Yamuna River, where the faithful believe the Hindu god also once bathed thousands of years ago.
The heart of Vrindavan pulses to the beat of its pilgrims — thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom make an arduous, month-long circuit of all of the area's holiest sites on foot and often sleeping outdoors.
Framed by the stones of ancient temples and bathing pools, those marching Hindu pilgrims chant praise to Krishna and his consort, Radha. They touch the holy water of the Yamuna River and walk barefoot down the same paths they believe Krishna himself once trod.
Simply being in Vrindavan is a form of worship for the faithful. "The more you live in the sacred places associated with Krishna, the more you enter that sense of existing in the eternal presence of Krishna," says Hindu scholar Ranchor Prime.
Alex Chadwick, NPR
Young women tend a makeshift shrine on the shores of the Yamuna River.
Young women tend a makeshift shrine on the shores of the Yamuna River. Alex Chadwick, NPR
The devout believe Vrindavan is the physical manifestation of heaven, here on Earth. And maybe heaven would look like this: around every corner there seems to be a stunning display of the miraculous mastery of earlier Indian architects and builders.
At the city's heart, a series of arches and domes flank an immense bathing pool longer than a football field. Against the ancient stones, darkened by centuries, the saris and robes of hundreds of pilgrims are a mosaic of brilliant colors.
Behind the color and celebration, there is a profound sense of purpose among the pilgrims. "Here, common people are spiritual minded, " says Hindu holy man and teacher Bhakti Nandan Swami. "These people consider this is to be one of the most important jobs in life."
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Alex Chadwick's extended interviews on the roots and beliefs of the Hindu faith: