Vallabhakhyan, the "Beloved Ballads" sung by Gopaldas in the 16th century, form a poetic praise of Radha Krishna and the bhakti masters Shri Vallabhacharya and his son Shri Vitthalnathji. Born mute, Gopaldas was transformed by the grace of his guru’s chewed betel. He burst into song, producing nine impromptu ecstatic praises, each one attesting to his divine insight. Recited daily by innumerable Vaishnava devotees, these poems have been sensitively translated into English by the American-born Shyamdas, a forty-year practitioner and recognized commentator of the Pushtimarga (Path of Grace). Shyamdas’ translation is accompanied here by the original Vallbhakhyan text in Devangari script and Roman transliteration.
Shyamdas (1953-2013), author, teacher, kirtan singer and beloved friend to so many, travelled to India in 1972 to meet the saint Maharaji Neem Karoli Baba and fell in love with Braj, the land of Radha Krishna lila. Shyamdas’ devotional life further blossomed under the guidance of his guru, Goswami Shri Prathameshji, head of the Pushtimarga Pratham Peeth.
Since the 1980s Shyamdas’ insightful translations have brought the spiritual writings of the Pushti bhakti masters to life for English readers around the world.
Gokul, the village of Shri Krishna’s childhood, is nestled on
the banks of the Yamuna River in Braj, the land of Vrindavan,
the playground of God so highly praised in the pages that
follow. The region of Braj embraces the places associated with
Shri Krishna’s cow herding and dairymaid-loving plays. The
dark lord, Shri Krishna, is at once the darling son of Yashoda as
well as the lord of accomplished yogis. He is the source of all
creation, yet is described in poetic devotional texts as the
beloved of the gopi dairymaids, the blessed swaminis of
Other than the holy sands of Braj, the sacred Govardhan
Hill and the divine meandering Yamuna River, what has
brought me back to this region again and again since the 1970s
is the association I find here with saints and bhaktas (devotees)
who are also drawn to this amazing land. Satsang with bhaktas
is pure association. It is to enjoy the company of kindred souls
and revel in the dialogue and exchange. Mere contact with such
beings can create a spiritual rebirth not so easily awakened
through any other practices.
The tradition of satsang prevails in the Braj region. It is
what pulls me to Gokul, where much of my time has been spent
in small rooms behind crumbling palace walls. Satsang is
hidden from public view, tucked away from the loudspeakers
and pan shops of the bazaar. The spirit of satsang is infectious.
Obstacles such as no running water, scant electricity, extreme
weather and notoriously bothersome monkeys are all a
pittance to pay for the fine spiritual fellowship I have found
Satsang is not merely a recitation of a holy text. It arises
when the speaker and the listener have arrived at the same
karmic point and share similar spiritual addictions. In satsang,
they glow. For a bhakta, the moments spent in satsang are the
precious moments of life.
The mood of satsang is one of sacred imagination, always
original and devoid of shallow whim. It emulates enlightened
bhakti lineage. Like a wet cloth soaks a dry one, satsang
drenches one heart and then another with devotional elixir.
When you hear something refined, uplifting and lyrical
repeated again and again, it takes effect even if you don’t
totally grasp its meaning.
I have spent many years in this pilgrim guesthouse in
Gokul, listening to the satsang of the bhaktas who live
downstairs. The monkey bars in their windows and mine are
the only barriers between us. The sweet fragrance of their
bhakti-soaked voices wafts into my room at about 4:30 a.m. and
continues throughout the day and late into the night. Their
voices have nourished me. They are my inspiration for
undertaking this translation of Gopaldas’ 16th century
Vallabhakhyan, originally composed in Gujarati. The bhaktas
downstairs recite the Vallabhakhyan every evening. While
hearing their songs I look up towards the Vrindavan sky, where
Shri Krishna resides as the moon, and I taste a bit of what they
have been living. If a small portion of that essence appears in
this work, then my efforts in this joyful undertaking have been
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