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Brajbhoomi the land where Lord Krishna was born and spent his youth is a famous pilgrimage place for Hindus. Braj Bhoomi is the name which covers all the places where Lord Krishna has spent his childhood and days of youth.
The land of Braj starts from Kotban near Hodel about 95 km from Delhi and ends at Runakta which is known specially for its association with the great poet Surdas, an ardent Krishna devotee.
Brajbhoomi can be divided into two distinct units –
The Eastern Part in the Trans-Yamuna zone with places like Gokul, Mahavan, Baldeo, Mat and Bajna.
The Western Side of the Yamuna covering the Mathura region that encompasses Vrindavan, Govardhan, Kusum Sarovar, Barsana and Nandgaon
The city Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh, is the nucleus of Brajbhoomi.
The birth place of Lord Krishna, "the best known, best loved and most complex of Lord Vishnu's manifestations" - Mathura is today an important place of pilgrimage. The city is situated on the right bank of the Yamuna River and the continuous line of ghats along the river makes a splendid spectacle when viewed from the opposite bank.
Today, Mathura is a city of temples and shrines abustle with the thousands of devotees who come to visit the city of Lord Krishna.
Katra Keshav Dev :
A splendid temple at the Katra Keshav Dev marks the spot that is believed to be the Shri Krishna Janmasthan - the birthplace of the Lord, by his devotees.
Gita Mandir :
The Gita Mandir, located on the Mathura -Vrindavan Road has a fine image of Shri Krishna in its sanctum. The whole of the Bhagwad Gita is inscribed on the walls of this temple.
Dwarikadhish Temple :
The most popular shrine at Mathura is the Dwarikadhish Temple to the north of the town, dedicated to Shri Krishna. This was built in 1815 by a staunch and wealthy devotee, Seth Gokuldas Parikh, Treasurer of the State of Gwalior.
Ghats : There are about 25 ghats in Mathura today, of which the most important is the Vishram Ghat. Where according to legend, Shri Krishna took his rest after killing Kansa.
It is at Vishram Ghat that the traditional parikrama (circumbulation of all the important religious and cultural places of the city) starts and ends.
The 12 ghats to the north of Vishram Ghat include the Ganesh Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat with its Neelakantheshwar Temple, Saraswati Sangam Ghat, Chakratirtha Ghat, Krishnaganga Ghat, Somatirth or Swami Ghat, Ghantagharan Ghat, Dharapattan Ghat, Vaikuntha Ghat, Navtirtha or Varahkshetra Ghat, Asikunda ghat and Manikarnika Ghat.
To the south, there are 11 ghats - the Guptatirth Ghat, Prayag Ghat marked by the Veni Madhav Temple, Shyam Ghat, Ram Ghat, Kankhal Ghat, the site of the Janmashtami and Jhula festivals, Dhruva ghat, Saptrishi Ghat, Mokshatirth Ghat, Surya Ghat, Ravan Koti Ghat and Buddha Ghat.
The Vishram Ghat is lined with elegant temples and some of Mathura's most important shrines are found here - the Mukut Temple, Radha-Damodar, Murli Manohar, Neelkantheshwar, Yamuna-Krishna, Langali Hanuman and Narasimha temples.
The baithak of the great Vaishnava Saint, Shri Chaitanya, is also near by.
The aarti held at the Vishram Ghat each evening is not to be missed, for the little oil lamps that are floated on the river set the placid water as sparkle with myriad flickering lights.
No pilgrimage to Mathura is complete without a visit to its kunds. Tradition has it that there were 159 ancient kunds in all. Of these only four survive and can be seen. There is the elegant shiv Tal, the more famous Potara Kund associated closely with Lord Krishna besides the Balbhadra and Saraswati kunds.
Sati Burj :
Sati Burj, 17 mt. high, built of red sandstone in 1570 AD, is a slim tower which commemorates the death of a noble lady - widow of Raja Bihari Mal of Amer who committed sati. The four storeyed towers was erected by Raja Bhagwan Das on the right bank of the Yamuna at Sati Ghat
Jama Masjid :
The Jama Masjid with its four lofty minarets and bright mosaic, built in 1661 AD, is also a must see.
Government Museum : The Government Museum, Mathura originally founded by F.S. Growse in 1874, is today one of the leading centres for research, study and the preservation of Mathura' s splendid heritage of art.
The museum housed in a fine octagonal, red sandstone building, located at Dampier Park, has the largest collection of Kushana sculptures in the country.
The Museum has also fine collections of stone sculpture and terracotta, gold, silver and copper coins, clay seals, ancient pottery, paintings and bronzes.
The Rainy month of Bhadon, the month when the Lord Krishna was born, is a time of colourful celebrations. The famous Braj Parikrama - a pilgrimage of all the places in Braj that associated with Shri Krishna, is undertaken. Traditionally, the Chaurasi kos (84 kos) pilgrimage of Braj Mandal, with its 12 vanas (forests). 24 upvanas (groves), sacred hill Govardhan, divine River Yamuna and numerous holy places along its banks, is undertaken annually by lakhs of devotees from all over the country.
The Yatra extends to Kotban to the north of Mathura, to Nandgaon, Barsana and the Govardhan Hill to the west and South-west of the city and to the banks of the Yamuna to the east, where the Baldeo Temple is located.
The most celebrated of Shri Krishna's abode, Gokul lies to the west of Sadabad, 1.6 km from Mahavan and 15 km south-east of Mathura, on the Mathura - Etah metalled road. It was here that Lord Krishna was brought up in secrecy by Yashoda, in the pastoral beauty of this village on the banks of the Yamuna.
Gokul attained importance during the time of Vallabhacharya (1479-1531) when it became a major centre of the Bhakti cult. The three oldest temples in the place are those dedicated to Gokulnath, Madan Mohan and Vitthalnath, said to have been built around 1511.
The other temples include those of Dwarika Nath and Balkrishna in the shrines which were built in the honour of Lord Mahadeo in 1602 by Raja Vijai Singh of Jodhpur.
Important sites worth visiting in Gokul include the Gokulnath Temple, Raja Thakur Temple, Gopal Lalji Temple and the Morwala Temple.
Around 18 km from Mathura, lying on the left bank of the River Yamuna, is the large shrine of Mathuranath. It is famed for its Chaurasi Khambha (eighty four pillars). The palace of Rohini, the mother of Baldeo is now the Chhathi-Palana Temple.
Other important shrines include the Shymlalji Temple, the Yogmaya Temple, Tranairatri Temple and the Mahamall Rai Ji's palace.
Baldeo is 20 km south-east of Mathura and 8.5 km south - east of Mahavan on the road to Sadabad.
It derives its name from the famous temple dedicated to Balram, the elder brother of Lord Krishna. It was built by Shyam Das of Delhi 200 years ago. The main image in the sanctum is that the Baldeo or Balram with his spouse Revati. Near by is the brick lined tank, the Khir Sagar or Balbhadra Kund, from where the original image housed in the temple was found.
Govardhan is situated 26 km west of Mathura on the state highway to Deeg. A famous place of Hindu pilgrimage, Govardhan is located on a narrow sandstone hill known as Giriraj which is about 8 km in length. The young Lord Krishna is said to have held Giriraj up on the tip of a finger for 7 days and nights to shield the people of Braj from the deluge of rain sent down by Lord Indra.
Govardhan is set along the edge of a large masonry tank known as the Mansi Ganga, which is believed to have been brought into existence by the operation of the divine will.
Barsana, 50 km to the north-west of Mathura and 19 km north-west of Govardhan, is situated at the foot of a hill that is named after Brahma. Barsana was once the home of Radha-Rani, Krishna's beloved and consort.
Temples dedicated to the divine couple ornament the four elevations of the hill.
The main among them is the Radha-Rani Temple, more fondly referred to as the Ladliji Temple. The most beautiful temple at Barsana, it was built by Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo of Orchha in 1675. The new marble temple adjoining it is a later addition.
The other three shrines are the Man Mandir, Dargah and Mor-Kutir temples. The area between the hill housing the Radha-Rani Temple and the adjoining one, is known as the Sankari-Khor. This is the venue of the annual fair held in the month of Bhadon (July-August).
Barsana is also famous for its 'Latthmar' Holi-celebration of the festival of colour that is unique to this town.
Nadgaon lies 8.5 km north of Barsana on the metalled road to Mathura (56 km). According to tradition, it was the home of Shri Krishna's foster father, Nand. On the top of the hill is the spacious temple of Nand Rai, built by the Jat ruler Roop Singh.
The other temples here are dedicated to Narsingha, Gophinath, Nritya Gopal, Girdhari, Nand Nandan and Yashoda Nandan which is located half way up the hill. A little beyond is the Pan Sarovar, a large lake with masonry ghats along its sides. Legend has it, that this was the place where Shri Krishna used to take his cows for water. Not far away is the Kadamb grove called Udhoji - Ka- Kyar.
Just 5 km north of Govardhan and 26 km west of Mathura, Radhakund is a large lake, where Shri Krishna is said to have killed Arista - the bull demon. To commemorate this event, every year on the 8th day of the dark half of the month of Kartik (Oct./Nov.), a large fair is held here.
Vrindavan, just 15 km from Mathura, is another major place of pilgrimage. It is noted for its numerous temples - both old and modern. The name Vrindavan evokes the playfulness and lovable characteristics of Shri Krishna. This is the wood where he frolicked with the gopis and tenderly wooed Radha.
Vrindavan today, is noted for its numerous temples. The most important are :
Madan Mohan Temple :
The Madan Mohan Temple located near the Kali Ghat which was built by Kapur Ram Das of Multan. This is the oldest existent temple in Vrindavan today. The temple is closely associated with the saint Chaitanya. The original idol of Lord Madan Gopal was shifted from the shrine to Karauli in Rajasthan for safe keeping, during Aurangzeb's rule. Today, replica of the image is worshipped at the temple.
Banke Bihari Temple :
The Banke Bihari Temple built in 1864 is the most popular shrine at Vrindavan. The image of Banke Bihari was discovered in Nidhi Vana by Swami Haridas Ji, the great Krishna devotee, belonging to the Nimbarka sect.
Radha Vallab Temple :
The famous Radha Vallab Temple set up by the Radha-Vallab sect has the crown of Radha-Rani placed next to the Shri Krishna idol in the sanctum.
Jaipur Temple :
The Jaipur Temple which was built by Sawai Madhav Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur in 1917, is a richly embellished and opulent temple. The fine hand - carved sandstone is of unparalleled workmanship. The temple is dedicated to Shri Radha-Madhav.
Shahji Temple :
The Shahji Temple, another popular temple at Vrindavan, was designed and built in 1876 by a wealthy jeweller, Shah Kundan Lal of Lucknow. The deities at the temple are popularly known as the Chhote Radha Raman.
Rangaji Temple :
The Rangaji Temple, built in 1851, is dedicated to Lord Ranganatha or Rangaji depicted as Lord Vishnu in his Sheshashayi pose, resting on the coils of the sacred Shesha-nag. The temple built in the Dravidian style has a tall gopuram (gateway) of six storeys and gold plated Dhwaja Stambha, 50 feet high. A water tank and a picturesque garden lie within the temple enclosure. The annual festival of Jal Vihar of the presiding deity is performed with great pomp and splendour at the tank. The temple is also famous for its 'Brahmotsav' celebration in March-April, more popularly known as the 'Rath ka Mela'. The ten day long celebrations are marked by the pulling of the rath (the chariot car) by the devotees from the temple to the adjoining gardens.
Govind Deo Temple :
The Govind Deo Temple was once a magnificent seven storeyed structure built in the form of a Greek cross. It is said that the Emperor Akbar donated some of the red sandstone that had been brought for the Red Fort at Agra, for the construction of this temple. Built at the astronomical cost of one Crore rupees in 1590 by his general Man Singh, the temple combines western, Hindu and Muslim architectural elements in its structure.
Shri Krishna-Balram Temple :
The Shri Krishna-Balram Temple built by the International Society for Shri Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), is one the most beautiful temples in Vrindavan today. The principal deities of this temple are Shri Krishna - Balram and Shri Radha - Shyam Sundar. Adjoining the temple is the samadhi of Shri Prabhupada, the founder of the ISKCON sect, built in pure white marble.
Other places of interest include the Sriji Temple, Jugal Kishore Temple, Kesi Ghat, Lal Babu Temple, Raj Ghat, Meera Bai Temple, Imli Tal, Kaliya Ghat, Raman Reti, Varah Ghat and Chir Ghat.
Vrindavan is connected to Mathura and all other places of Braj by rail and bus services.
How to reach
By Air : Nearest airport is Kheria (Agra), 62 km
By Rail : Mathura is on the main lines of the Central and Western Railways and is connected with all the important cities of the state and country such as Delhi, Agra, Mumbai, Jaipur, Gwalior, Calcutta, Hydrabad, Chennai, Lucknow etc.
By Road : Mathura is connected to all the major cities, by National Highways. It is linked by the regular state bus services of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana.
Local Transport : Private buses, Tempos, Rickshaws, Cycle Rickshaws and Tongas are also available.