Bhandirvan / भांडीरवन
Bhandirvan, where Shri Krishna performed a variety of sweet pastimes, is prominent among the twelve forests. In this forest there are many pastime places to visit, such as Bhandirvat, Venu-Kup, Ras-sthali Vanshivat, the place of wrestling, the temple of Shridham, Shyama-Talaiya, Chhaheri-Gaon and Agiyara-gaon. That place where all kinds of tattva-Gyan fully manifest and where pastimes that are filled with opulence and sweetness manifest is called Bhandirvan. Some of these pastime places are described here.
This vat (banyan) tree is famous in Bhandirvan as the site of many different pastimes of Shri Radha-Krishna Yugal. At the time of Shri Krishna's manifest pastimes, a huge banyan tree stood here full of long branches that spread in all directions. Nearby, Yamuna made a sweet sound as she followed her meandering course. Shri Krishna, Balram and the sakhas would cross the river by walking on the branches of this tree. Male and female parrots, peacocks, peahens, cuckoos and papihas were always sitting singing on the tree's profuse branches. They remained satisfied by eating its fruit. Deer, does and other forest animals drank the sweet water of the Yamuna and took rest in the cool, pleasant shade of the banyan tree. It was mostly to this Bhandirvat that Mother Yashoda and the mothers of the other cowherd boys used to send lunch with some gopas for their respective sons. While grazing the cows, Shri Krishna, Baldev and the sakhas used to have the cows drink the water in the Yamuna and then freely graze on the lush, green grass of the forest. The boys themselves bathed and engaged in water sports in the Yamuna's cool water. They would then sit in the shade under this banyan tree and eat the various tasty preparations sent by their mothers. Shri Krishna sat in the midst of them all, and the sakhas would sit around Him in thousands of rows that extended here and there. Each and every sakha, even if sitting at the back or far away, experienced that Shri Krishna was sitting right in front of him. Their eating was accompanied by laughing and joking, and they would play various games together. Brahma and other demigods in the sky became astonished to see their festive and joyful picnics. Brahma performed the Gandharv marriage of Shri Radha-Krishna Yugal beneath this banyan tree.
According to the Gargasanhita and Git-Govind, Nand Baba once took Shri Krishna to Bhandirvan to graze the cows. This forest was very attractively covered with the dense foliage of the tamala and kadamb trees and the lush creepers, and therefore it was only lit by scant sunrays. Suddenly, black clouds gathered from all directions and a raging rainstorm developed. Darkness pervaded. Nand Baba became frightened of the bad omen and carefully hid Kanhaiya on his lap. At that moment, the extraordinarily beautiful daughter of Vrishabhanu Maharaja, Shri Radhika, appeared there in the form of a young girl. She held Her hands out to Nand Baba, indicating that She wanted to take Krishna with Her. The astonished Nand Baba gave Shri Krishna to Her. Radhika then took Krishna to the inner part of Bhandirvan under the shelter of Bhandirvat. Here Shri Krishna manifested Himself as manmatha-manmatha kishor, a beautiful youth who bewilders even the mind of Cupid. Meawhile, Lalita, Vishakha and the other sakhis also appeared here with Chaturmukh Brahma. Knowing the desire of Kishor-Kishori, Brahma performed Their Gandharv wedding by reciting Vedic mantras. Radhika and Shri Krishna exchanged beautiful flower garlands. The delighted sakhis sang wedding songs as the demigods showered flowers from the sky. While everyone looked on, Brahma left that place. The sakhis also disappeared, and Krishna again assumed the form of a small boy. Radhika took Krishna by hand and returned to Nand Baba, who was standing waiting for Him. Meanwhile, the clouds dispersed and the storm abated. Nand Baba now returned with Krishna to his Nand-Braj.
The following incident also took place here in Bhandirvan. One summer's day, Shri Krishna and the sakhas brought the cows to drink water at the Yamuna and then let them graze freely. The boys became so absorbed in their delightful picnic that they were unaware that their cows had wandered off. The cows made their way to the completely parched Munjavan, through which even elephants could not force their way. It was the month of Jeth (May–June), and the blazing sun scorched the sand. The cows could not find shade anywhere, and had forgotten the pathway out of this wild muñja forest. Dying of thirst, they began to cry out in distress. The sakhas went to look for the cows without telling Krishna and Baldev where they were going. Finally, they too arrived at the munja forest in the same dire condition as that of the cows. Meanwhile, the servants of the wicked Kansa set Munjavan on fire, and within a moment the wind had spread it everywhere. The fire's blazing flames surrounded the cows and cowherd boys, who saw no other means of rescue than to call out to Krishna. They did so, and Shri Krishna arrived immediately. Telling the sakhas to close their eyes, He swallowed the forest-fire within a second. Upon opening their eyes, the sakhas saw that they were again under the cooling shade of Bhandirvat, immersed in festive eating pastimes with Krishna and Baldev, the cows grazing peacefully nearby. The distress of the forest-fire seemed like a dream. The place where Shri Krishna swallowed the forest fire is called Munjatavi or Isikatavi, and in its middle is Agiyara. We have already described this earlier. The place where Krishna and the sakhas had festive picnics, and where, after Krishna swallowed the forest-fire, the sakhas again began to joke and laugh while eating and the cows happily chewed grass is called Bhandirvat.
tatheti militaksesu bhagavdn agnim ulbanam
pitva mukhena tana krcchrdd yogadhiso vyamocayat
"`Okay,' the boys said, and closed their eyes. Then Bhagvan, the controller of all mystic power, swallowed the terrible fire, thus saving the sakhas from the danger."
After killing Vatsasur, Shri Krishna met the gopis near Bhandirvat and boasted His strength. The gopis accused Krishna of killing a cow and forbade Him to touch them. Krishna said, "I did not kill a cow but a demon in the form of a calf." The gopis, however, did not accept this. Krishna then inquired how His purity could be restored, and the gopis answered, "If You bathe in all the sacred rivers and ponds on the earth, You will again become pure and can touch us." After hearing the words of the gopis, Krishna created a beautiful well (Kup) with His flute (vertu) and summoned all of the earth's sacred places to enter it. He bathed in that well and then met with the gopis. This well, known as Venu-Kup, is situated near Bhandirvat. By bathing in it, one obtains the same result as by taking bath at each and every sacred place. Even today, the women of Braj worship this well on certain occasions. Those who do not have a child or whose child has died untimely make a vow to propitiate the deity here by their worship. Their hearts desires are then fulfilled.
The Temple of Shri Baldev
Shri Balbhadra, His younger brother Kanhaiya and the sakhas used to come to Bhandirvan to pasture the cows. Shri Balbhadra presides over the forests on the east side of the Yamuna, like Bhadravan, Bhandirvan, Belvan, Gokul-Mahavan and Lohvan. Therefore, all these places have temples of Shri Baldev. It is recommended that one visit the temple of Baldev in Bhandirvan.
The village located between Bhandirvat and Vanshivat is called Chhaheri-gaon. After playing with the sakhas in Bhandirvan, Shri Krishna and His friends used to come here, sit in the shade underneath the trees, and enjoy their meals with much joy and laughter. The name Chhaheri is derived from the word chhaya, which means "shade" or "shadow". This village is also called Bijauli.
Ras Sthali (Vanshivat)
Shri Krishna's place of Ras at Vanshivat is situated a short distance from Bhandirvat. This Vanshivat is a different place from the Vanshivat in Vrindavan. At the time of cow herding, Shri Krishna would climb this banyan tree and play His flute to call the cows. In this way, He would gather them and bring them all back home. Sometimes, on a beautiful, pleasant night, He would also call His beloved gopis from here – "Radhika, Lalita, Vishakha!" Upon their arrival, Ras-lila would unfold under this Vanshivat.
The Temple of Shridham
Beneath this Vanshivat is the temple of Shridham Bhaiya. When Shri Krishna went to Mathura, Shridham Sakha was heart-broken. He went to this solitary Vanshivat, where he remembered Shri Krishna's sweet pastimes, filling his heart with sorrow. Many days later, when Shri Krishna returned to Gokul after killing Dantavakra, He again met with Shridham here and took Shridham with Him. One can have darshan of Shridham in the temple here.
This pond (talaiya) is situated near Vanshivat. When the gopis became thirsty during Ras, Shri Syamasundar made this pond with His flute and satisfied all the gopis with its luscious water. Now days, this pond lies in a completely dilapidated condition with very little water, but still, people take achaman here with faith.