Braj DhaamBraj Dham or Braj Bhoomi or Braj is the region that includes many parts on Uttar Pradesh, mostly around Mathura and Vrindavan. It was never clearly defined as per the political territory but one can demarcate it culturally. Derived from the Sanskrit word Vraj, it is basically associated with Lord Krishna. However, the main cities included in Braj Dham are Vrindavan, Mathura, Dholpur, Agra, Aligarh, Mainpuri, Etawah, Kasganj, Etah and Firozabad. As against the popular belief that Braj region includes Vrindavan, Mathura and Govardhan alone, it comprises of Kaman Tehsil of Rajasthan, Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh and Hassanpur in Haryana. Almost 1300 villages are included in Braj.
Braj is inhabited by the Brajwasis and language spoken is Braj bhasha or Khadi boli. It is closely related to Hindi with a softer accent. Braj is famous for its chaat and sweets of various kinds. Agra petha, Mathura ke pede, Naujheel maal puye, Kasganj Soan Papri, Hatras boora and batasha, Iglas chamcham and Bajna milkcake are some of the varieties that are incomparable and thus, famous throughout the nation.
Braj Dham is closely related to Lord Krishna and finds its mention in the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. The devotees of Lord Krishna have a great regard for Braj Bhoomi and call it as the Braj Dham as Lord Krishna spent his entire childhood and adolescence in the Braj. No doubt, it has a very important status in Hinduism. Numerous pastimes of Lord Krishna and His consort Radha Rani, popularly known as His Leelas were performed at 1,000 kunds, in the 137 sacred forests, on the banks of Yamuna River and on the various holy hills. One finds a mention in Srimad Bhagawatam that Lord Krishna says to Nand Baba, His foster father that “Braj is a culture of forests and hills and not of city”. In the history of mankind, one cannot find such as emphasis of harmony of humans with the natural environment.
Thus, the neo-Vaishnavite religions considered Lord Krishna as the One and Only God and most of the literature pertaining to Krishna are written in Braj Bhasha and was composed in medieval times. Many temples have been established, some of them are ancient while some very recent in the holy city of Vrindavan and Mathura, the heart of the Braj Dham. It is the area where Krishna killed demons, grazed His cattle and played His melodious flute for gopis. It was here where the Lord performed the Raas Lila and ultimately found Radha Rani, who is inseparable from Him. Amongst all the places, Vrindavan was the favourite place of the divine couple where 'They had Their' divine meetings.
The eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Krishna, took the form of a human to help the mankind be free from all evil forces. He was born to Devaki and Vasudeva in a prison cell almost 5000 years ago. As the scriptures reveal, Mathura was ruled by Ugrasen, a king who cared a lot for his countrymen. Once he and his wife were strolling in a garden where a demon saw his wife and fell in love with her. In order to fulfill his lust, he assumed the form of King Ugrasen and fulfilled his desire. From this union, a child was born who was named as Kansa.
When he grew up, he dethroned his father and imprisoned his sister Devaki. Later Lord Krishna was born to Devaki to kill Demon Kansa. When Kansa was driving his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudeva to their new home, a voice from Heaven intercepted saying that the eighth child of the couple will kill Kansa. In order to save himself from death, he imprisoned the newly-married couple and started killing their children one after the other. Although seven children were lost, the eighth one, Lord Krishna Himself escaped his hands and lived to slay Kansa.
Places to see in Braj and their Religious Significance
The Braj Bhoomi tour begins with the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple in the city. Here, Lord Krishna was born in a prison as His parents were imprisoned here by His maternal uncle. Just next to the temple is the Potara Kund where the clothes of the newly born Krishna were washed. Pilgrims from all parts of the world pay their obeisance at this temple that is located at Keshav Deo Katra. Another temple of great religious importance, Dwarkadheesh Temple is located in the heart of the city. It has many fine paintings on its walls that depict the entire lifespan of Lord Krishna. Vishram Ghat also holds a lot of importance as this is the place where the Lord rested after killing his maternal uncle, Kansa.
Located at a distance of 16 from the city of Mathura, Gokul is the place where Krishna grew up in their care of his foster parents, Yashoda and Nand Maharaj. Nand Maharaj’s house is well known for its 84 pillars or Chaurasi Khamba. Various mud temples are built at the places where Krishna had killed demons. Utkal is located nearby and is well known for the Krishna Leela when mother Yashoda tied Him to a mortar for stealing butter.
It is the place where mother Yashoda witnessed the entire universe in the mouth of her child Krishna. Ravalgaon, where Radha Rani was born is enroute Gokul. Bhandivaran, located at a distance of almost 31 km from Mathura is the place where Lord Krishna married Radha Rani under a banyan tree. Both of them frolicked and tossed before they proceeded to Vrindavan. Another place of importance is Toshgaon where Lord Krishna learnt dancing from His friend Tosh. The place where Lord Krishna learnt dancing from Radha Rani, Viharavana is also close by. As demons regularly disturbed Gokul, the family of Lord Krishna and the cowherds moved their residences to Barsana, Nandgaon and Vrindavan.
At almost 40 km distance from Mathura is Govardhan hill. Lord Krishna held this hill on his little finger to protect His people from the anguish of the Rain God, Indra. Saint Vallabhacharya constructed a temple here in 1520.
Barsana, known as the town with four hill tops is around 21 km from Govardhan. These four hill tops represent the four faces of Lord Brahma, the creator of all. Some incident from Krishna’s life is associated with each hill top. The place where Lord Krishna danced as a peacock to win the love of Radha Rani is known as Mor Kutir. Radha Rani’s father lived on the top of Brahma Hill in the town of Barsana. Larily Lal temple located here is devoted to Radha Rani.
At a distance of almost 15 km from Mathura, is the town called Vrindavan where the Divine Couple met many a times. As the scriptures tell, the entire Vrindavan was a tulsi grove at one point of time. As per some other traditions, the town was named after Vrinda Devi who was one of the playmates of Lord Krishna. Home to almost 5000 temples(which includes several private shrines too), Vrindavan is a small town that holds a lot of religious importance.
The local Gosains built the earliest shrine in Vrindavan at a garden known as Nidhivan that was renamed as Seva Kunj later on. It is the place where the Divine couple performed Rasa. At one point of time, Emperor Akbar visited Nidhivan blindfolded and he had some marvellous spiritual experiences in the grove. In order to honour his visit, four temples- Madan Mohan Temple, Govind Dev Temple, Jugal Kishore Temple and Gopinath Temple were constructed.
Some of the ancient temples include the temple of Krishna Chandra by Krishna Chandra Sen of Bengal, Rangnath Temple constructed by Lakshmi Chand brothers, Radha Manohar Temple built by Ram Narayan Singh of Bikaner. The other well known old temples are Radha Gopal Temple, Radha Indra Kishore, Radha Raman Temple and the most revered one, Banke Bihari Temple by Swami Haridas. The three well known tanks that are present in Braj Dham are Brahma Kund (in ruins), Govind Kund and Kewarban.
Among the modern temples, the ISKCON Temple or the Krishna Balaram Temple is dedicated to their founder, Srila Prabhupada. The Pagal Baba Mandir is a 10-storeyed temple that is one of its kinds. Another one is the Gita Mandir that has beautiful carvings and paintings on its walls. All the verses of Bhagvad Gita are inscribed on Bhagwad Stambh, a pillar in the temple. Each and every place mentioned above has a great religious importance and hence, visited by Vaishavas and Shaivites and more.