Brajbhoomi comprises the twin cities of Mathura and Vrindavan. It is not just the sacred land where Lord Krishna was born and performed his cosmic leela, but a place full of the divine reminiscences. Mathura lies 141 km south of Delhi and is the center of Brajamandala-the traditional name for Krishna country. Within it are located Gokul, Nandgaon, Barsana, Govardhan and Vrindavan, the important sites where Krishna grew up. It was in this area that Krishna grazed his cattle, killed demons, and played on his melodious flute attracting milkmaids whom he bullied for butter. It was here that he ultimately found Radha, his inseparable companion. Virindavan, 15 km from Mathura, however, was the favorite romantic haunt of the divine couple.
The lotus-eyed, dark skinned Krishna is the complete and perfect man of Indian mythological traditions. That makes Krishna a major non-Aryan god in the Hindu pantheon. He was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver of the Universe. He took the human form to redeem mankind from evil forces.
Krishna was born in a prison cell more than three thousand years ago. Legend has it that Mathura was ruled by a king called Ugrasena. One day, Ugrasena and his wife were taking a walk in the gardens, where a demon saw the queen and fell in love with her. In his lust for her, he diverted the attention of Ugrasena, assumed his form himself and fulfilled his desire. The child born of this union was Kansa. Kansa grew up to dethrone his father and imprison his sister Devaki (daughter to Ugrasena). Devaki later became the mother of Krishna.
It so happened that on the day Kansa was driving his newly married sister and her husband Vasudeva to their new home, a voice from the heavens intercepted him. The voice conveyed to him that the eighth child of Devaki would kill Kansa. Consequently, he imprisoned the couple and started killing their children, year after year. Seven children were lost but the eighth, the Lord, escaped the hands of the butcher and lived on to slay Kansa later.
The tour of Brajbhoomi begins with the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple at Mathura. This is the place where Krishna was born in a prison cell. Krishna's parents are said to have been imprisoned here. Near the Janmabhoomi is the Potara Kund where his baby clothes were washed. Located at Katra Keshav Deo, the temple is thronged by pilgrims from all over the world. The Dwarkadesh Temple, built by Seth Gokul Das of Gwalior in 1814, is situated in the heart of the city. It has some very fine paintings all along the walls depicting the entire life of Krishna. The Vishram Ghat on the bank of Yamuna is where Krishna rested after killing Kansa.
Gokul, 16 km from Mathura, is the place where Krishna grew up under the care of his foster parents, Nanda and Yashoda. The most notable structure in Gokul is the Chaurasi Khamba (84 pillars). It is also known as Nand Maharaja's house. Mud temples dot the hillside marking the places where Krishna killed demons. A little distance away is Utkhal where Yashoda tied the child Krishna to a mortar for stealing butter.
Brahmand Ghat is where Yashoda witnessed the entire universe in Krishna's mouth, when she chastised him for eating mud. On the way to Gokul is Ravalgaon where Radha was born. Bhandirvan, 31 km from Mathura, is where Radha and Krishna were married under a banyan tree. On the sprawling sands of Raman Reti, the duo tossed and frolicked before proceeding to Vrindavan. Seven kilometers away is Toshgaon where Krishna's friend, Tosh taught him to dance. In Viharavana close by, Krishna learnt dancing from Radha.
Since Gokul was regularly disturbed by demons, Krishna and the cowherds moved to Nandgaon, Barsana and Vrindavan, 50 km from Mathura. The Nand Yashoda Kund is where the family came for a daily bath. Close by is the Nand Yashoda Temple that also marks the site of Nanda's house.
Forty kilometers from Mathura is a hill called Govardhan. Krishna is credited to have held aloft this hill as a canopy. This was done in order to vanquish the pride of the rain god, Indra. In 1520, Saint Vallabhacharya constructed a temple on the summit of the hill to commemorate the event.
Barsana, 21 km from Govardhan, has four hilltops that represent the four faces of Brahma the Creator. Each hilltop is associated with some incident from Krishna's life. On Mor Kutir top, he danced guised as a peacock to win the love of Radha. The house of Radha's father is atop the Brahma Hill in Barsana. On this site is the Larily Lal (an endearing name for Radha) temple.
Vrindavan, 15 km from Mathura, was the favorite romantic haunt of the divine couple. According to legend, the entire place was a tulsi (ocimum sanctum) grove at one time. According to another tradition, it was named after Vrinda Devi, one of Krishna's playmates. Vrindavan is primarily a place of temples. Nearly 4,000 in number, which include several private shrines, the temples are spread on a 10 km stretch. The Rangaji temple is an architectural marvel.
The earliest known shrine in Vrindavan is said to have been built by the local gosains in a large garden called Nidhiban, later named Seva Kunj. Nidhiban is where the divine couple performed the rasa. According to tradition, Emperor Akbar was taken blindfolded inside the grove where he had some kind of a spiritual experience. The four temples, which were built in honor of his visit, are Govind Deva, Madan Mohan, Gopinath and Jugal Kishore.
At Nikunja Van, there is a beautiful room decorated with glass paintings called Rangmahal. The riverfront has a succession of ghats that cover a distance of 2.4 km. At one end is Kaliya Mardan Ghat with a kadamb (Anthocephalus indicus) tree from which Krishna is said to have plunged into the water to demolish the serpent Kaliya. The Madan Mohan Temple stands on a high cliff near the Kalia Mardan Ghat. Another important temple is that of Radha Ballabh built by Sundar Das in 1626.
The temple of Krishna Chandra, also known as Lala Babu temple, was built by one Krishna Chandra Sen of Bengal. The Ranganath temple was founded by the Lakshmi Chand brothers. The temple of Radha Manohar was built by Ram Narayan Singh of Bikaner on the site of an older shrine where Mirabai is said to have worshipped. The temple of Radha Gopal was built in 1860 by the Maharaja of Gwalior and the temple of Radha Indra Kishore by Hetram, a zamindar (landowner) from Bihar. It has a copper shikhara (temple top). The temple of Radha Raman, commonly known as Shahji Ka Mandir, was built by Shah Kundal Lal, a resident of Lucknow. It is made of white marble with a colonnade of spiral marble pillars flanking the front. The Bankey Bihari Temple was constructed by Swami Hari Das.
Of the two tanks that are considered sacred, one is the Brahma Kund, now in ruins. The other is Govind Kund near the Mathura Road, which was originally a natural pond but was later enclosed with masonry walls and flights of steps. A third masonry tank lies in the grove known as Kewarban adjacent to the Madan Mohan Temple.
Among the modern constructions, there is the 10-storied Pagal Baba and the Gita Mandir. The latter has beautiful paintings and carvings. The entire Bhagwad Gita is inscribed on a pillar called the Bhagwad Stambh. The International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has its the Krishna Balaram Temple, built in white marble and is dedicated to their founder Swami Prabhupada.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS
According to the lunar calendar, Hinduism celebrates Krishna's birthday as Janmashtami on the eighth day of Amavasya (the darker half of the month) in July/August. For Mathura, Janmashtami is the biggest festival held on a grand scale. Plays based on the life of Krishna are staged. Devotional songs blare from loudspeakers. As the hour of Krishna's birth approaches, the atmosphere becomes charged with frenzied dancing and singing in the temples. Brajyatra, which commences a day after Janmashtami and lasts for 50 days, deserves special mention. During the yatra (pilgrimage), devotees observe 30 rules. They have to walk barefoot, sleep on the floor, abstain from sex, intoxicants, greed and anger, have ritual baths and listen to Krishna's exploits. They sing devotional songs and visit the tirthas (there are 2,500 tirthas within Mathura itself!).
HOW TO REACH
BY AIR - The nearest airport is at Kheria in Agra, 62 km from Mathura.
BY RAIL - There are a number of tourist coaches from Delhi leaving for Mathura and Vrindavan everyday. Mathura is 57 km from Agra and 141 km from Delhi. It is an important railway junction with direct trains to many places. The Taj Express from Delhi is a good option.
BY ROAD - Mathura is well connected by road to Delhi and other cities of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana.
WHERE TO STAY
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