Krishna, the supreme lord is seen, understood and experienced in different ways and emotions by different people. He is an irrepressible child, a terrible prankster, an enchanting flute player, a graceful dancer, an irresistible lover, a truly valiant warrior, a ruthless vanquisher of his foes, an astute statesman and kingmaker, a yogi of the highest order and the most colourful incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Mathura & Vrindavan – the two holy places where all his childhood pastimes unfolded, where he left a broken heart in each house yet he resides in each heart, each home; where people call him chor (thief) as well as thakurji (lord). Vaishnavites smear the soil of Vrij (Vrindavan) on their foreheads, the soil which once felt the footsteps of Krishna. Today millions of Krishna devotees visit these holy towns, some feel Krishna’s presence in the barren banks of river Yamuna, some experience him in the bylanes of Vrindavan and there are some whose hearts fill with joy on darshan of “Banke Bihari ji”, perhaps the most enchanting idol of the most mystifying lord.
Last year, I visited the Dwarkadheesh temple in Gujarat, where Lord Krishna spent his later years, ruling a kingdom of Yadavs. Dwarkadeesh temple is one of the holy dhams of Hinduism and is a much revered site but it is at these two holy towns of Mathura & Vrindavan is where the true essence of Lord Krishna is felt, where you experience him not as a king, a lord but as a naughty child, a recalcitrant teenager, and an irresistible lover.
I had the opportunity to be in Vrindavan for 3 days. Vrindavan is about 15 km from Mathura town which falls between New Delhi and Agra. One can reach Mathura from Delhi by bus or train in a couple of hours. There are tourism packages which run daily buses from Agra and Delhi covering both Mathura and Vrindavan in a single day. It’s a good option for those who are short of time or have visited these places earlier. However, devotees, especially first-time visitors, who want to visit Vrindavan, not for the architecture of the temples but to understand, feel and immerse oneself in the glory of the supreme lord away from the whirlwind modern life must stay in the town for 2 to 3 days. There are various options for accommodation ranging from dharamshalas to star hotels. I was staying at the Hare Krishna Orchid apartment behind the Prem Mandir which is an excellent option for budget accommodation.
The most important temple in Vrindavan is the “Banke Bihari” temple. The charming idol was initially consecrated by Swami Haridas Thakurji, one of the greatest devotees and saints of the Vaishnavite sect. It is believed that if one stares at the mesmerizing idol with devotion for a long time, the devotee will lose his/her self-consciousness. The priests draw the curtain on the idol to prevent an interrupted darshan of the deity for a long time. There are many such rituals and practices peculiar to this temple. Adjacent to the Banke Bihari temple is the desecrated temple of Shri Madan Mohan ji. The temple was attacked and desecrated during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. During the attack, the original deity was shifted to a temple in Rajasthan where it is worshiped till date.
Walking little ahead on one side is the Nidhivan, where Lord Krishna is believed to perform his rashleela even today after sunset. On walking little ahead on the other side of the Madan Mohan temple is a small shrine with an ancient Kadamba tree which people believe date to the Dwapar Yuga when Krishna incarnated. Lord Krishna overcame the dreaded, multi hooded Kaliya snake after diving into river Yamuna River from a branch of this tree. There are multiple small shrines and temples in Vrindavan carrying small anecdotes of Lord Krishna. You may need a local to help you spot these shrines and understand the legends associated with them. Our voluntary guide was a tuk-tuk (e-rickshaw) driver who while driving us to the Banke Bihari temple was kind enough to explain us few legends on the way.
The next important temple in Vrindavan is the ISKCON temple. ISKCON society is largely responsible for promulgating the Krishna culture around the globe and the crowd of foreigners in Vrindavan can be largely attributed to ISKCON’s efforts. The ISKCON temple is a small yet beautiful temple and high standards of deity worship including sankirtan, chanting of the holy names, religious lecture, worship of erstwhile Vaishnavite saints, etc are observed here. The temple walls have excellent life-size murals, each immaculately painted. Visit the ISKCON temple in early hours is a good start to the day at Vrindavan. Visitors can later visit the Banke Bihari temple which owing to the customs established during the time of Haridas Thakurji, opens a little late as Mangalaarti is not conducted here.
ISKCON temple at Vrindavan
Few murals of ISKCON Vrindavan:
The most beautiful and the largest temple in Vrindavan is the Prem Mandir. It was established by Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj and is now run by a charitable, nonprofit, international trust. The complex is on a 54-acre site and the trust also runs educational institutes, hospitals, community halls, ashrams, etc. One must visit the Prem Mandir during the evening when the temple complex is illuminated by fancy lights. Along with these shrines and temples, while visiting Mathura or Vrindavan one must try the assortment of milk delicacies like rabdi, kadai doodh, peda, etc. At the same time, visitors must be careful of touts and cheats who are looking to fleece vulnerable visitors. During my visit I came across one such cheat who had trained a monkey to snatch spectacles off the passersby, only to return it on throwing a Frooti tetra pack at the monkey which the shopkeeper sold at highly marked up price. Funny as it appears, it’s an absolute nuisance and portrays a bad image of the place.
Prem Mandir, Vrindavan
Mathura is the original birthplace of Lord Krishna where he took birth in a prison cell of Kansa Maharaj. The exact prison cell exists till date, however, a massive mosque built on top of it was constructed during the reign of Aurangzeb and is the reason for many political and religious conflicts. The Birla Foundation has constructed a beautiful temple adjacent to the original janmabhoomi site. This temple has become the iconic Krishna temple of Mathura although the place of real spiritual significance is the underground prison cell where devotees can enter through a narrow winding tunnel. Anyone visiting Mathura must not miss on the karagar (prison) shrine. It would take a maximum of 30-45 minutes to explore this place on a normal day. The janmabhoomi temple is the only important place in Mathura due to which visitors mostly prefer to stay in Vrindavan, which has a more divine atmosphere and travel to Mathura.
Krishna Janmabhoomi temple, Mathura
Walking on the banks of Yamuna, mingling with the devotees, witnessing aarti of the Banke Bihari, participating in joyous kirtans, immersing in the melodies of flute and bhajans, eating at the local eateries, walking in the rustic by-lanes and chanting the holy name of the lord; Krishna and his holy Vrindavan is felt from the heart and not merely seen through the eyes.
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