‘Ukhal Bandhan Ashram’ is the holy site where the Damodar lila of Lord Krishna had taken place. This ashram is situated within Gokul (or specifically old Gokul). It was once part of Nanda Maharaja’s courtyard. There is an old grinding mortar that is worshiped in this temple. The priests claim the grinding mortar to be from 5000 years ago when mother Yashoda had tied little Krishna to it. A grinding mortar is commonly referred to as ‘Ukhal’ in Hindi. Just beside the mortar is kept a small basket with which Vasudeva supposedly carried Krishna from Mathura to Gokul. The sweet pastime of baby Krishna stealing butter and subsequently being tied to a mortar by His dear mother Yashoda is also known as Damodara Lila. In Sanskrit, ‘dama’ means rope and ‘Udara’ means belly. Damodara refers to Krishna who was bound by ropes of affection by His mother Yashoda. It is also known as the ‘Ukhal Bandhan’ pastime as during the course of this pastime Krishna was tied with ropes to a ‘Ukhal’ or a grinding mortar. ‘Ukhal Bandhan’ ashram is situated within Mahavan, the eighth sacred forest of Vraja Mandala. Adi Varaha Purana glorifies Mahavan as follows –
Maha vanam castamam tu sadaiva hi mama priyam
Tasmin gatva tu manuja indraloke mahiyate
The eighth forest of Mahavan is very dear to me. One who goes there is worshiped on Indra’s planet.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had visited Mahavan during His visit to Vraja Mandala and relished the pastimes of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya had manifested His ecstatic pastimes at this place.
Bhavabeshe prabhu nritya-geetite magna haila
Kripa kari sarva chitta akarshana kaila
Chaturdike dhaya loka dekhiya prabhure
Haiya adhairja Hari Hari dhvani kare
Sri Chaitanya manifested His singing and dancing pastimes here (at Mahavana) and mercifully enchanted the hearts of everyone. People rushed from all around to behold Mahaprabhu and chanted the holy names of Hari in ecstasy.
Sri Sanatana Goswami had also visited Mahavana and over here he had attained the divine darsana of Madana Gopal who displayed His pastimes as a cowherd boy to Sanatana.
Damodar Lila (Ukhal Bandhan Lila)
Ukhal Bandhan pastimes or Krishna’s Damodar Lila had taken place during the month of Karthik (October-November) on the auspicious day of Deepavali (Diwali). Karthik (Damodara month) is deemed to be the most favorable for one to progress on the path of bhakti. Mother Yashoda had given time off to her maids on the occasion of Deepavali and she had personally taken charge of churning butter. Little Krishna, who was only 2 years and 3 months old at this time, felt hungry and wanted His mother to stop churning and let Him suck on her breasts. Mother Yashoda took Krishna on her lap and began feeding Him milk. She smiled and enjoyed the beauty of her child’s face. All of a sudden, the milk in the oven began boiling over. So she had to put her child aside and attend to her cooking. Being left aside, Krishna became furious. His lips and eyes turned red with rage. While His mother was away, He picked up a stone and heaved it toward a butter pot. Shattering the pot, He stole butter from it and began savoring it at a secluded place.
On returning Yashoda was astonished to see the broken pot. She understood that Krishna was responsible. She also smiled, considering that Krishna had escaped after smashing the pot, fearing punishment.
Yashoda searched for Krishna all over the house. She finally found Him sitting on a grinding mortar that was turned upside down. Krishna was fetching butter from a pot dangling from the ceiling and feeding it to the monkeys. Krishna feared that His mother would come chasing after Him. Hence He was anxiously looking in all directions trying to keep a watch out. Yashoda noticed this and approached Krishna silently from the back. Krishna, however, saw her coming with a stick in hand. He immediately got down from the mortar and began fleeing. Mother Yashoda chased after little Krishna. With her bulky body, she found it very challenging to run fast and get a grip on her naughty child. Her hair became slackened and its flowers fell onto the ground. She was now trying to grasp the Supreme Lord who could not be easily approached even by demigods or the great Yogis. Finally, she somehow managed to catch Krishna. Krishna was on the verge of crying. His eyes and lips were trembling with fear. He rubbed His hands over His eyes which were smeared with black cosmetics.
Yashoda binds Krishna to the wooden mortar (Ukhal)
Yashoda did not want Krishna to be too scared. Hence she threw away her stick. But she wanted to discipline Him. She wanted to bind Krishna with ropes. But Krishna who was none other than the infinite all-pervading Supreme Lord without any origin or ending, could not be bound. Mother Yashoda wished to bind Krishna to the wooden mortar. No matter how many ropes she used, it always fell two fingers short. She fetched more ropes from inside the house and attached them to the existing rope. But when the final knot was tied, it again fell two fingers short. Srila Jiva Goswami mentions in his purports that these two fingers indicate the two factors required for success in spiritual life. One is the endeavor of the devotee while the other represents the mercy of the Supreme Lord. Unless both of these are accounted for, one cannot attain the desired spiritual result.
Yashoda became exhausted and was sweating profusely. Feeling compassionate toward her mother, Krishna then agreed to be bound by the ropes. Just as a devotee surrenders himself unto the supreme Lord, the Lord also feels transcendental pleasure surrendering Himself to the care of the devotee. Damodara Lila is a witness to Krishna surrendering Himself to the unconditional love of mother Yashoda. This quality of the Supreme Lord where He submits Himself is unknown to the speculators, great Yogis, demigods, or even the goddess of fortune. Krishna has disclosed Himself in this fashion exclusively to the Vrajavasis (residents of Vrindavan) and hence they are regarded to be His topmost devotees.
As discussed before, this sweet pastime of baby Krishna stealing butter and subsequently being tied to a mortar by His dear mother Yashoda is also known as Damodara Lila. In Sanskrit, ‘dama’ means rope and ‘Udara’ means belly. Damodara refers to Krishna who was bound by ropes of affection by His mother Yashoda.
So Yashoda could finally tie Krishna to the wooden mortar. After she left, Krishna thought of doing something even more mischievous than before. There were two tall Arjuna trees nearby. Krishna thought of pulling these trees down dragging His wooden mortar.
Deliverance of Nalakuvara and Manigriva
Nalakuvara and Manigriva were two sons of Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods. Kuvera was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and enjoyed vast material opulence. Nalakuvara and Manigriva however were addicted to wine and women. Once they went into the garden of Lord Shiva in the province of Kailash. Becoming intoxicated they began enjoying themselves with young girls in the Ganges. Just at that moment, sage Narada was passing by. The women tried to cover their bodies in haste as they saw the sage. Nalakuvara and Manigriva however were too inebriated and could not even respect the presence of Narada. Narada noticed the degraded condition of their consciousness and wanted to put them into a condition where they could not become falsely proud. The two brothers are the sons of Kuvera but they had become maddened after drinking liquor so much that they could not perceive that they were naked. Hence he cursed them to become trees (for trees are naked and not conscious) and remain as such for a hundred celestial years. Narada so arranged that the two brothers would retain their memory. At the end of the hundred years, Nalakuvara and Manigriva would be delivered by Krishna, the Supreme Lord. Thus the two brothers became transformed into Yamala Arjuna trees in Nanda Maharaja’s courtyard.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in Chaitanya Shikshamrita that high birth and opulence often lead to pride and arrogance which in turn results in violence towards other living beings, intoxication, corruption, etc. Aristocracy, when used to serve one’s own selfish cravings instead of serving the Lord, is a stumbling block to spiritual progress. It is only Krishna’s mercy that can save us from this dangerous condition.
During Damodara Lila, Krishna pulled the wooden mortar to which He was tied between the two Arjuna trees. Little Krishna escaped between the trees, but His mortar got horizontally stuck between them. As He pushed, the two trees fell creating a deafening noise. As soon as the trees were uprooted, they transformed back into Nalakuvara and Manigriva. The place became illumined due to their presence. They bowed down and offered their respects to Krishna. Knowing Krishna’s divine identity, they glorified Him and prayed so that they could forever focus on His lotus feet. Krishna blessed and informed them that they were fortunate to have come in touch with an exalted devotee such as Narada. Krishna added that they would become released from their material existence in that very lifetime. They would now return to their father’s abode in the heavens and at the end of their lives, they would go back to the spiritual world. The two demigods left after circumambulating Krishna.
Hearing the loud noise of the trees tumbling, the residents of Gokul including Nanda Maharaja rushed to the spot. When they were wondering how the trees got uprooted, a few cowherd boys related what they had witnessed. They explained how Krishna had dragged His mortar between the two trees and caused them to tumble. Also, the trees had then transformed into two beautiful personalities who departed after having a brief exchange with Krishna. Although a few believed, most people did not believe these words. On being pointed out by Krishna, Nanda Maharaja untied the ropes that bound Him to the mortar. Krishna was then handed over to the elderly gopis and He sang and danced around just like an ordinary child.
What to See :
- The five thousand years old ancient wooden mortar to which Krishna was believed to have been bound during the Damodar lila.
- The basket on which Vasudeva carried Krishna from Mathura to Gokul.
How to Reach :
Ukhal Bandhan Ashram, located in Gokul, is well linked via roadways and is situated about 15 kilometers south of Mathura railway station and about 1 Kilometer south of the Mahavan Police station. It is a few hundred meters away from ‘Chaurasi Khamba’ or the ancient residence of Nanda Maharaja.
Damodarastakam – composed by Satyavrata Muni
Satyavrata Muni has glorified Krishna’s Damodara Lila in eight beautiful verses (Damodarastakam). These are found in Padma Purana. Sri Hari Bhakti Vilasa says that a devotee should worship Lord Damodara (Krishna) in the month of Karthik by daily reciting Damodarastakam. We are reciting them below for the pleasure of the devotees.
namamisvaram sac cid ananda rupam
lasat kundalam gokule bhrajamanam
Yashoda bhiyolukhalad dhavamanam
paramrishtam atyantato drutya gopya
rudantam muhur netra yugmam mrijantam
karambhoja yugmena satanka netram
muhuh svasa kampa trirekhanka kanthasthita-
graivam damodaram bhakti baddham
itidrik sva lilabhir ananda kunde
sva ghosham nimajjantam akhyapayantam
tadiyeshita jneshu bhaktair jitatvam
punah prematas tam satavritti vande
varam deva moksham na mokshavadhim va
na canyam vrine ’ham vareshad apiha
idam te vapur natha gopala balam
sada me manasy avirastam kim anyaih
idam te mukhambhojam atyanta nilair
vritam kuntalaih snigdha raktais ca gopya
muhus cumbitam bimba raktadharam me
manasy avirastam alam laksha labhaih
namo deva damodarananta vishno
prasida prabho duhkha jalabdhi magnam
kripa drishti vrishtyati dinam batanu
grihanesha mam ajnam edhy akshi drisyah
kuveratmajau baddha murtyaiva yadvat
tvaya mocitau bhakti bhajau kritau ca
tatha prema bhaktim svakam me prayaccha
na mokshe graho me ‘sti damodareha
namas te ’stu damne sphurad dipti dhamne
tvadiyodarayatha visvasya dhamne
namo radhikayai tvadiya priyayai
namo ’nanta lilaya devaya tubhyam
To the supreme controller, who possesses an embodied form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge, whose glistening shark-shaped earrings swing to and fro, who beautifully shines in the divine realm of Gokula, who stole the butter that the gopis had kept hanging in their storerooms and who then quickly jumped up and ran out of fear of Mother Yasoda but was eventually caught by His mother who ran after Him with a greater speed – to that Supreme Lord, Sri Damodara, I offer my humble obeisances.
He is crying and rubbing His eyes again and again with His two lotus hands seeing the whipping stick in His mother’s hands. The necklace of pearls around His neck, marked with three lines like a conch shell, is shaking due to His quick breaths. To this Supreme Lord Sri Damodara, whose belly is tied not with ropes but with His mother’s pure love, I offer my humble obeisances.
All the inhabitants of Gokula are completely drenched in ecstasy for beholding Lord Krishna’s superexcellent childhood pastimes. To the devotees who are attracted only to His majestic aspect of Narayana in Vaikuntha, the Lord herein reveals: “I am conquered and overwhelmed by pure loving devotion.” With great love, I again offer my obeisances to Lord Damodara hundreds and hundreds of times.
O Lord, although You can give all kinds of benedictions, I do not pray to You for the boon of liberation, nor the highest liberation of eternal life in Vaikuntha, nor any other boon. O Lord, I simply pray for the vision of your childhood form to forever stay in my heart. There is no desire other than that.
O Lord, the cheeks of Your dark-complexioned lotus face, which is encircled by locks of curling hair, have become reddened like Bimba fruits due to Mother Yasoda’s kisses. Millions of worldly pleasures are of no use to me, but may this vision constantly remain in my mind.
O Ocean of love! Damodar! O Infinite Vishnu! Be pleased upon me! By showering Your glance of mercy upon me, deliver this poor ignorant fool who is immersed in a sea of worldly sorrows, and become visible to my eyes.
O Lord Damodara, in Your form as a baby, Mother Yasoda bound You to a grinding mortar with a rope. You then freed the sons of Kuvera, Manigriva, and Nalakuvara, who were cursed to stand as trees and You gave them the chance to become Your devotees. Please bless me in this same way. I have no desire for any kind of liberation.
O Lord, I offer my humble obeisances to the great rope which tied your abdomen from where Lord Brahma, who created the entire universe, was born. I offer my obeisances to Your most beloved Srimati Radharani and Your unlimited pastimes.