is one of the most important festivals for the followers of Lord Krishna, celebrated during monsoon season in the Bengali month of Shravana, on the day of ‘Pavitra Ekadashi’. This religious festival celebrates the divine love between Lord Krishna and Radharani. According to Gregorian calendar, this festival falls in the period of July-August. This festival is usually observed for five days till the ‘Balaram Purnima’ or ‘Shravana Purnima’. Jhulan Yatra is also known as ‘The Swing Festival’ for the spectacular display of decorated swings, song and dance. Jhulan Yatra is a joyful festival, celebrating the Radha-Krishna amature, coupled with the romantic atmosphere of the rainy season in India. There are several temples in Brajabhumi where Jhulan Yatra is observed for a longer or shorter duration. There are also some temples where the festivals of Jhulan Yatra is celebrated with lots of pomp and glory, only for a single day; whereas in various other temples the same is observed for five days, starting from ‘Ekadashi’ till ‘Purnima’. Jhulan Yatra is not only a mere ritual. Besides commemorating the divine love between Lord Krishna and Radharani, it also celebrates the love of the devotees towards them. It is believed that Sri Krishna is the ultimate enjoyer and that He only arranges several situations wherein He could incorporate His different parts and parcels into His , which is regarded as the natural condition of human beings in the spiritual environment.
Origin : Jhulan Yatra has been inspired from the swing pastimes of Lord Krishna and His consort Sri Radharani, during their romance in the idyllic pastoral groves of Vrindavan, where the divine lovers along with their cowherd friends and gopis took part in joyful swinging in the cool monsoon season. These pastimes are mentioned in literature such as ‘The Bhagavad Purana’, ‘The Harivamsa’ and ‘The Gita Govinda’. The metaphor of the swing of the monsoon or ‘Sawan Ke Jhuley’ have since been used by the poets and the songwriters to describe the romantic feeling that permeates the rainy season in the Indian subcontinent. “When we think of Jhulan Yatra, Radha Krishna sit on the beautiful swing, which is so wonderfully decorated by their confidential associates, decorated in such a way that all of the wealth and opulence of the world can never compare” (Radhanath Swami).
The popular Krishna literature ‘Hari Bhakti Vilasa’ (performance of devotion to Hari and Krishna) mentions Jhulan Yatra as part of the various festivals, dedicated to Lord Krishna : “...the devotees serve the Lord during the summer by placing Him on the boat, taking Him out on a procession, applying sandalwood on His body, fanning Him with chamara, decorating Him with jewelled necklaces, offering Him palatable foodstuffs and bringing Him out to swing Him in the pleasant moonlight”. In ‘Bhakti Ratnakar’, a Bengali scripture written by Narahari Chakravarty - it is written that Jhulan Yatra is performed in Kamyavan, one of the 12 forests in Braja Mandal. One Goswani of South India performed bhajan in Gobardhan. At that time, he had shown all the places of pastimes of Radha-Krishna to Srinivas Acharya and Narottan Thakur. When he came to Kamyavan, he had shown them nice groves of the kadamba trees, where Radharani, Sree Krishna, their sakhis and other confidants get immersed in immensely blissful transcendental pastimes there.
Divine embrace between Radha and Krishna : The love of Radha and Krishna is timeless and eternal. Therefore, it is difficult to miss many stories and fables associated with them. Of all such tales, the Radha-Krishna affair is the most brilliant and unforgettable one. The romance of Lord Krishna with Radharani has served as an ideal example of male-female bonding through many celebrations in India. The mystical love of Radharani for Sree Krishna has found expression in some of the most popular festivals as such Jhulan Yatra in the holy Brajadhama, where Lord Krishna appeared 5000 years ago. Devakinandan’s youthful romance with the cow-herding maidens symbolizes the interplay of love and adoration between the Almighty and the human soul. Radharani’s ecstatic love and devotion for Shyamsundar is often explained as the pursuit of union with Lord.
After the blistering summer heat, when the clouds float in the skies above and the roaring thunder ushers in the monsoon, the ‘Brajawasis’ were overjoyed when the rains finally arrive, providing respite from the sweltering heat. With the onset of the monsoon, the birds hum and the peacocks dance in the enchanting forests of Vrindavan. The forests of the holy Braja come to life with rush greenery and new colours. The trees sprout green leaves and colourful blossoms and the bees hang around the blooms drinking sweet nectar from the flowering blooms. With the raindrops touching the ground, the ponds and the lakes fill with fresh water, the lotuses bloom, the air fills with a pleasant fragrance. So, with the arrival of the rains; the magical forests of Vrindavan, where Radha and Krishna spent time together on a decked out jhula, turns stunningly beautiful. When Radharani ascends the beautiful jhula adorned with flowers, Sree Krishna swings the jhula with force with a longing to hold Radharani in a sweet embrace. Being scared with the forceful swinging, Radharani calls out Krishna’s name and when the Lord climbs the jhula, Radhika hugs Devakinanadan in a warm embrace. Lord Krishna drowns in an ocean of spiritual bliss while the sakhis feel elated watching Shyamsunadar’s tricks to come close to Radharani. This is how Radha and Krishna enjoyed blissful swingings in the holy groves of Vrindavan.
The story behind Jhulan Yatra : Lord Krishna and Radharani met in the verdant forests of Vrindavan, where the sakhis prepared a beautiful flower-adorned jhula that hung from one of the high branches of the Kadamba tree. The long golden ropes were interwined with madhavi and jasmine creepers and other fragrant blossoms. When Shrimati Radhika arrived at Vrishabhanupur, the sakhis made preparations for the Jhulan festival. In the Bhakti shastras, you will find descriptions of the different jhulas on which Radharani and Devakinanadan sat together. There was one swing on which Shyamsundar and Radharani sat facing each other. There was another lotus shaped jhula with eight petals and this was where the ‘ashtasakhis’ sat with Krishna and Radha at the centre. Sometimes Devakinanadan pulled Radharani onto His jhula or jumped onto Her swing all of a sudden, taking her by surprise. The sakhis standing around showered flowers on Radha and Krishna, offering ‘arati’ to them. They also offered beautiful garlands, served sweet paans and sprayed cold rose-water on Radha and Krishna. The sakhis sang melodious songs and played musical instruments to please the youthful couple. A famous ‘brajawasi bhajan’ for Jhulan runs as follows :
1) “Radhe jhulana padharo jhuka aye badara / Jhuka aye badara, ghir aye badara”. (Oh Radhika, go and sit in the swing. Low rain clouds have filled the sky).
2) “Jhula jhule Radha Damodara Vrindavan mein / Kaisi chayi hariyali kunjan mein”. (Radha and Damodara are swinging on the swing in Vrindavan. Oh friend, how very green the kunja is!)
Aesthetical approach On Jhulan Yatra : Traditionally, in the Jhulan Yatra (swinging festival), conditioned souls (ordinary aspirants) are not entitled to enter. Yet, our Guruvarga has introduced this. This is a type of worship of Supreme Lord. Radha and Krishna are the object of ‘all love’. Now we are actually worshipping Lakshmi Narayana, not Radha Krishna. Where there is wealth, love is restricted. We are not entitled to worship Radha and Krishna as we have not reached that stage, which is completely a sweet aspect. Thus, in the swinging festival, only the gopis were allowed.
Gopi’s love is the highest level of love, that one cannot imagine. How gopis are completely attached with Lord Krishna is completely beyond our imagination. During Jhulan Yatra festival, the Lordships show Their mercy by engaging in many wonderful loving pastimes with Their devotees and allow these devotees to intimately serve and express their love for Them; through the medium of their prayers, home-cooked offerings, songs, lamp-offerings, dances and showers of flowers. In swinging festival, only Radha, Krishna and the gopis are there. Even Nanda Maharaj, Yashoda Devi and other friends and servants are not allowed. In Krishna-leela, sakhas (friends) are boon companions. Sakhya rasa-friendship relation is there in Vaikuntha also with Narayana, but with awe and fear. With boon companions, there is no such restriction. They even climb upon the shoulders of Lord Krishna. (What is this bhakti! They climb upon the object of worship? Yes, it is Bhakti). They say, “Oh! Krishna you are our friend and we are equal to you. But you have got some power and you are very healthy...so you should remain on the ground and we shall climb upon your shoulders and get you the fruit from the tree”. This way, they go up, up, up, up (climbing one upon another’s shoulder) and Lord Krishna is standing on the ground. They pluck one fruit for Krishna’s sake. They taste whether it is sweet, bitter or sour. “Aah, its very sweet! Give it to Krishna” and passes on to the next one. Next one also wants to taste whether it is true or false – “Let me taste”. In this way four or five friends taste the fruit and then give it to Lord Krishna. But who will take it with so much satisfaction?
How can you understand that transcendental world and this sort of ‘prem’? Yet even the sakhas are not allowed there in this swinging ceremony and Nanda Maharaja’s prem is further more affection for Lord Krishna than friends and they also have no entrance.
Observances in Mathura, Vrindavan and Mayapur : Of all the places in India; Mathura, Vrindavan and Mayapur are the most famous for Jhulan Yatra celebrations. During the thirteen days of Jhulan – from the third day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month of Shravana, until the full-moon night is known as ‘Shravana Purnima’, which usually coincides with the Raksha Bandhan festival – thousands of Krishna devotees throng from around the world to the holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh and Mayapur in West Bengal. The idols of Radha and Krishna are brought outside, at the temple’s courtyard and placed on heavily decked swings, which are sometimes made of gold and silver. Shyamsundar, Radha and the sakhis (Vishakaha and Lalita) enjoy blissful swinging there. The Krishna bhakts also prepare delicious foods to please Radha-Krishna and ‘arati’ is offered while they swing on the beautifully adorned jhulas. The Krishna bhakts alternatively swing the idols of Radha and Krishna while kirtans are performed, thus, creating a holy and spiritual environment. Vridavan’s Sri Rup Sanatan Goudiya Math, Banke Bihari temple and Radha-Ramana temple, Mathura’s Dwarkadish temple and Mayapur’s ISKCON temple are some of the major places where this festival is celebrated in their greatest grandeur.
Celebrations at International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) : Many Hindu organizations, especially the International Society for Krishna Consciousness; observe Jhulan Yatra for five days. At Mayapur, the world headquarters of the ISKCON, deities of Radha and Krishna are decorated; and placed on an ornate swing in the temple courtyard for the devotees to swing their favourite deities using a flowery rope while offering flower petals amid bhajans and kirtans. They dance and sing the popular hymns ‘Hare Krishna Mahamantra’, ‘Jaya Radhe, Jaya Krishna’, ‘Jaya Vrindavana’, ‘Jaya Radhe, Jaya Jaya Madhava’ and many other devotional songs. A special ‘arati’ ritual is performed after the deities are placed on the swing, as devotees bring their bhog or food offerings for the divine couple. Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON, prescribed the following rituals to honour Lord Krishna on the day of Jhulan Yatra : During these five days the deities’ clothes should be changed daily, a nice prasad (food offering) distribution and ‘sankirtan’ (group-singing) should be performed. A throne may be constructed on which the deities (Radha and Krishna) can be placed and swayed gently with accompanying music.
For the last 33 years, an enthusiastic group of ISKCON youths has worked together each year for an entire month before the annual Jhulan Yatra festival in Mayapur. In order to prepare for the festivities, these dedicated servants of Sri Sri Radha Madhava work day and night to ensure that the ‘divine couple’ and Their associates will be well-served during the 5-day festival. The Jhulan Yatra team turn a dense forest of weeds and overgrown trees and plants into a magnificent flower grove decorated with winding pathways, lit by lamps and fairy lights, colourfully lit waterfalls and ponds with fountains, blossoming flowers, trimmed bushes and a multicoloured lights. The breath-taking marvel of the grove is accompanied by an atmosphere, with the boundless love and devotion of the devotees of the Lord; making it the perfect place for Their Lordships to enjoy many wonderful pastimes together and to engage the devotees in Their loving devotional service.
Roles of arts and crafts in Jhulan Yatra : Jhulan Yatra owes its popularity and enthusiasm, among the young people owing to the immense possibilities. It opens up for the display of one’s talent in art, craft and decoration. Many childhood memories are etched with many funny activities that surrounded Jhulan, especially the construction of miniature landscapes that form the backdrop of the altar, the decoration of the swing and the creation of replicas of the forest groves of Vrindavan to relieve the enchantment of the setting where Lord Krishna courted Radharani.
The last day of Jhulan Yatra : The last day of Jhulan Yatra festival is the auspicious appearance day of Sri Madhava’s elder brother Balarama and is known as ‘Balarama Purnima’. On this day, the devotees are decorated with colourful powders and decorate others in the same way. To celebrate, the devotees take part in the breaking of clay pots filled with honey, gur and various types of sweets while Lord Balarama’s favourite ‘varuni drink’ is served throughout the night. To conclude the night’s festivities, Sri Radha Madhava is mounted on a beautifully decorated palanquin and is taken to a small pond, close to the entrance of their ‘kunja’ and enjoy display of lights on the water. Once the light-show is finished, the Lord is then taken back to the temple and is greeted with more display of lights on the road; accompanied by the dramatic exhibition of devotees breathing fire. The procession is ecstatically tumultuous and is heard in all directions.