Essay The Ban-Yatra Pilgrimage

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If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friend, and never see them again… then you are ready for a walk. -Henry David Thoreau (Haberman 12)


The pains of pilgrimage are deep and various. They are found not simply in the physical walking, but also in the walking away from physical and mental comfort. In his book, Journey Through the Twelve Forests, David L. Haberman describes in graphic detail the parting and participatory pains as he journeys on the Ban-Yatra pilgrimage. The Ban-Yatra (literally ‘forest journey’) is a 200-mile circuit through the forests associated with Lord Krishna’s activities around Braj, a town in central India. Krishna is a deity favored
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This paper will explore the necessary co-presence of intense pain and sheer bliss in the Ban-Yatra, evaluating precisely how this tension is necessary in building the pilgrim’s relationship with Krishna. The pilgrim’s relationship with and reverence for Shiva and Radha will serve as markers in this outsider’s account, guiding in the understanding of the nature of the pilgrim’s pain and consequent joy.

I. Entering a relationship with Krishna by following Shiva

Ironically, the Ban-Yatra - a celebration of Krishna - begins at a Shiva temple. In many respects, the ways of Shiva, the brooding mountain-ascetic, are contradictory to the ways of Ban-Yatra pilgrims. The human condition is one of restlessness, "there is a haunting lack which engenders the incessant flight from on thing to another," Haberman observes (Hab 7). Ascestism, commonly associated with the Hindu term ‘tapas’, seeks to alleviate the discontentment of this condition by self-mastery – the controlling of one’s kama, or desire. The ascetic devotes his or her energy to performing austerities and fixating on one stable point of zero desire. By transcending the tumultuous play of the world, the ascetic attempts to seek perfection. In contrast, Haberman explains, "the religion of Braj involves the cultivation of desire," not the elimination (Hab 28). The Ban-Yatra pilgrim believes that all of life is Krishna’s play – lila – and that life’s

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