Very Berry!

Gunja berries! Used to make garlands to adorn Lord Krsna, one can see these sold in most shops in Vrindavan. Colorful, and cheery, these seeds are used as beads all over India. The seeds are also considered signs of good luck, and wealth in other cultures including South America, and Africa.

To devotees of the Eternal Divine Couple, the gunja mala represents Srimati Radharani, Lord Krsna’s pleasure potency. Following the example of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship Lord Krsna in the form of the Govardhan shila, along with Srimati Radharani, as a gunja mala…

The gunja berries grow on a thorny shrub, the Abrus precatorius plant. The seeds are brightly colored, and represent Srimati Radharani’s affection for Lord Krsna, the redness of Her lips, and the black ‘eye’ resembles Her eyeliner. Lord Krsna, wearing a peacock feather in His hear, decorates Himself with garlands of gunja berries. A mere glimpse of the peacock feather causes Srimati Radharani’s hands to tremble, and seeing the gunja mala, She begins to shed tears in remembrance of Her Beloved…

“Once, Sri Sankarananda Sarasvati came to Sri Puri Dhama from Sri Vrndavana to deliver to Sriman Mahaprabhu a piece of the Govardhana stone together with a string of ‘gunja-mala’ (beads) wrapped in two bundles of cloth which he presented to Sriman Mahaprabhu who, at that time was residing at Gambhira. The Lord became exceedingly pleased on receiving these invaluable items. In continuous remembrance of the divine pastimes of Sri Radha-Krsna, He used to wear the mala (beads) round His neck. By contemplation of the Govardhana stone as non-different from the transcendental body of Sri Krsna, He used to place this stone over His head and eyes, becoming overwrought with loving emotions. In the loving moods, He would exuberantly place it on His head or near His nose as if to catch the overpowering transcendental fragrance of the stone and more often than not, would drench it with tears flowing from His eyes. In this regard, Sriman Mahaprabhu used to visualize the Govardhana stone and the gunja-mala together as the personification of the Divine Couple Sri Radha-Krsna.” – Srila B.G. Narasingha Maharaja.

The Govardhana shila worshipped by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

The gunja berries come in two colors, white or reddish orange. Some say that Lord Balarama wears the white berries exclusively, as the reddish variety is symbolic of Sri Radha’s love for Lord Krsna. In the tradition of Sri Vallabhacharya (Pushti marga), the white gunja malas are offered to the deity of Srinathji at the start of the summer (commencing on Akshaya tritiya, the start of chandan yatra), up until the weather cools around the month of Kartik. Gunja seeds ripen around the month of Kartik, so devotees often collect them in huge numbers and string them to offer to the deities for the pleasure of Their Lordships…

The Abrus precatorius plant

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