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
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 feel 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 Kamsa. Kamsa 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 Kamsa 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 Kamsa. 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 Kamsa
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
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.
Virindavan, 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
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
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.
EVENTS AND 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!).
The International Guesthouse in Mathura offers good
and cheap accommodation. There are some good hotels
near the new bus stand.
Vrindavan has a variety of dharamshalas and ashrams.
The ISKCON guesthouse is a good place to stay and offers
vegetarian food with comfortable rooms. You may stay
for a donation (Rs. 125 is the minimum suggested). Another
choice is Krishna Sadhak Seva Ashram on Gurukul Road.
HOW TO REACH
The nearest airport is at Kheria in Agra, 62 km from
Mathura. Mathura is well connected by road to Delhi
and other cities of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan
and Haryana. 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.