Vrindavan-Land of 4,000 Temples
South of Delhi, near the place of Krishnas birth, is the
town of 4,000 temples where the sounds of celebration constantly
In the month of August,
India celebrates the birth of Krishna, much as it has been doing
every year for the past 5,000 years. This festival is known as
Janamastami and falls in the Indian month of Vasant.
From the Delhi-Agra
highway near Mathura, one can see the red temple that marks the place
of Krishnas birth. However, it is only when one ventures a few
miles down to Vrindavan that Krishnas real home is discovered.
It is a town that bears the characteristics of a village with its
narrow streets and many cows that wander freely around, unmolested
and even revered by the Hindus who live here. Although Vrindavan is
not actually where Krishna is believed to have been born, it is here
that he is said to have spent a great deal of time in play and
indulged in the playful act of hiding the clothes of cowherding girls
(the gopis) as they bathed in the rive. The river has now
meandered away and the woods that once flourished here have long
since disappeared although the town maintains some wooded parkland.
The details of Krishnas life have similarly been obscured by
the myth that now surrounds him. However, Krishnas validity as
a historical figure is borne out by ancient scriptures like the
Mahabharata that records great battles that were once waged
in this region.
Of the many roads into
Vrindavan, one of these takes the traveler past the towering temple
of Pagal Baba. This gleaming white temple has eleven stories in all
and is one of the more modern pieces of architecture. The temples
creator, Pagal Baba, died only a few years ago. His infectious
spirit lingers on in the playfulness of his disciples who are ready
to welcome one into the temple interior. It is possible to ascend to
the ninth storey if the monsoon heat and ones constitution
allow. From here there is a good view over the surrounding area but
at the ground floor of the temple one can see something of more
peculiar interest. Around the sides of the foundations, there is an
exhibition of puppets, some mechanized to move occasionally making
simple gestures; they depict scenes from two great epics, the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the latter being the
record of Krishnas time.
To enter the heart of Vrindava, one
must proceed by foot for the narrow streets cannot by and large deal
with the flow of traffic. One of the most important and vibrant
temples is the Bankey Bihari, reached down an alleyway where one can
expect to see devotees engaged in simple acts of worship such as
ecstatically clashing small cymbals together as they move in time to
ancient rhythms. The Bankey Bihari Temple houses a sacred image
of Krishna known as
Thakkur Ji which shows Krishna with an almost blackened body.
Devotees enter the shrine room carrying garlands of flower petals and
offer them to the spirit of the statue as Brahmins move back and
forth in front of the icon, occasionally drawing across the curtain
to shroud the object of devotion for a moment. The curtain is then
drawn back and a great cry of Thakkur Ji ! issue forth from
It is possible to eat
well in Vrindavan for people here tend to cook food in ways that are
prescribed by their religion. It may be simple food but carefully
spiced dishes without the excessive use of ingredients, often found
in restaurants elsewhere, means one can eat a meal that is more
easily digestible. Of course, if one wishes, there are the usual
line of soft sparkling drinks that are to be found all over India,
and the world. However, it is the glory of Krishna that people are
singing the praises of here and not the crores of rupees to be made
from selling such cold drinks for, even after 5,000 years, Krishnas
message is still one of universal celebration!
The Govind Dev Temple was
built in 1590 by Raja Man Singh and now lies empty, its upper
layers having been torn down during the time of the Mughal emperor,
Aurangzeb, who doubtless considered the place one of idolatry. A
line of beggars sit outside and call for alms as one approaches while
monkeys play amidst the sculptured stonework of its interior.
However, what remains of this red sandstone edifice is impressive. A
few devotees take shelter here but if one takes the time to examine
the art work and in particular, the vaulted ceiling, one way
experience a little of the devotional fire that inspired it in the
first place. There are also other temples to visit here such as the
towering Rangaji Temple but if one is only visiting for the day, one
may not have time to see them all for they close during the noonday
hours. In fact, the majority of the estimated 4,000 temples cannot
be visited for they are often private homes which, in some cases,
have been inhabited for generations.
One of the most
impressive temples is another new construction, the ISKON temple,
which was built with funds coming from devotees overseas. Here, the
marble buildings almost glow with a light of their own and there is
evidence of intricate carving. It owes its existence to Swami
Prabhupada, a Hindu devotee born in Bengal in 1896. Today, ISKON is
a worldwide movement with followers from many different ethnic
backgrounds, some of whom have become renunciates themselves,
continually singing and dancing in praise of Krishna as they remember
playful anecdotes from his life, a number of them apparently taking
place in the vicinity of Vrindavan.
Krishna does seem to have
been originally a remarkable individual even if he has been
mythologised with the passing of the millennia.
What seems to emerge is
that here was someone who managed to successfully combine the sacred
and the profane, the spiritual and the material, something that many
people are still attempting to do in the modern world where god is
generally considered to be little more than a concept.
Vrindavan is 10 km north of
Mathura which is 57 km north of Agra and 141 km South of Delhi.
Mathura is an important railway junction with direct trains to many
cities. The fastest train is the early morning Taj Express which
takes 2 ½ hours from Delhi. From Mathura there are tempos
available as well as tongas (horse drawn carriages) and three
steam trains day on the metre gauge run to Vrindavan. One can also
hire a taxi from Delhi to Vrindavan. Buses also operate regularly.