Chaurasi Kos YatraVrindavan, better known as Braj, is the place where Lord Krishna spent His entire childhood. This is the reason why it is one of the main pilgrimage centres for Hindus and Vaishnavites. There are almost 5,000 temples devoted to the Lord and semi-gods. There are many austerities that are practiced in order to come closer to the Lord. Braj Chaurasi Kos Darshan Yatra is one of the most opted pilgrimages in Braj.
One of the most divine and sacred visits in the Hindu annual calendar of pilgrimages is the Braj Chaurasi Kos Yatra or the 84 Kos Yatra. A ‘kos’ is approximately 2.25 miles or 3.62 kilometres.
The “84 Kos parikrama” refers to a roughly 300-km circumambulatory trek or visit to sacred places around Vrindavan along the banks of the Yamuna. Annually, lakhs of devotees or pilgrims (yatris) undertake this yatra in the belief that they are cleansed of their earthly sins and can evil deeds and find a place in ‘parlok’ or heaven.
The 84 Kos Yatra is also known as the Braj Bhoomi Yatra as it covers the places and sites connected with the life and events of Krishna. Tourists who visit Agra and Mathura sometimes complete the Braj Bhoomi Yatra on the same trip as a dedication to Lord Krishna. Many others come specifically to do the Braj Bhoomi Yatra as a 4 to 7-day planned itinerary trip.
Traditionally, the yatra is undertaken during the monsoon or the month of bhadon; the significance of the rains cannot be overlooked here as Krishna was born on a night of torrential rains when the Yamuna was flooding. So, the most devout undertake this pilgrimage, many of them on foot, during the rainy season. To most people, it is in culmination of a wish fulfilled and offer of thanksgiving; to others it is a kind of penance undertaken for grant of a wish or prayer.
The Braj Yatra or Braj Parikrama covers 12 vanas (forests), 24 upavanas (smaller forests or groves), the sacred Govardhana hill, the Yamuna river and various holy sites and gardens along its banks that have been witness to the history and heritage of Vrindavan. The yatra forms a circumambulatory (circular) route; in the north the yatra extends to Kotban, towards the west and south-west are Nandgaon, Barsana and the Govardhana hill, spreading to the east along the banks of the Yamuna to the Baldeo temple. All along the route there are many places where ancient temples lie in partially destroyed ruins with idols and artefacts, a mute testimony to the effects of invasion by foreign rulers and dynasties.
Significance of the Yatra
Legend has it that Yashoda ma and Nand baba (Krishna’s foster parents) were keen to go on a pilgrimage (char dham yatra) and expressed this desire to Krishna. The Char Dham literally means Four Abodes or the four mighty sacred pilgrimage centres of Hinduism – namely Badrinath, Puri, Rameswaram and Dwaraka. Broadly, these four places in the North, East, South and West of India have come to denote the seats of Hinduism (Vaishnavite, Shaivite and mixed). To fulfil the desire of his aged parents, Krishna with his divine powers summoned all the divine aspects of these places of worship and brought them to Vrindavan within a 300-km radius and blessed the land, granting sacred status, thus giving it the name ‘Braj Bhoomi’.
Since then, the pilgrimage to this Braj Bhoomi is known as Braj Chaurasi Kos Yatra and any one performing this yatra is believed to be free of the cycle of birth and death and attain nirvana. Another folklore mentions that Brahma cast a spell on Gokul and Vrindavan and spirited away Krishna’s cowherd friends and their cows, to test if Krishna was truly a divine incarnation. Krishna immediately understood this and enacted one his ‘leelas’ or antics, taking the form of his numerous friends, human and animal. Brahma immediately felt mortified at his misdeed and asked Krishna for pardon. In jest, Krishna remarked that he could only atone for his ‘sins’ by going around the sacred land. Thus Brahma became the first one to perform the Chaurasi Kos Yatra; this explains the significance and relevance of the yatra and the inspiration that drives thousands of people to perform it.
How Chaurasi Kos Yatra Begins
There are many religious organizations and groups that organize the yatra each year for people who are broken into groups, led by a religious guru and his assistants. On the first day of the yatra, pilgrims attend the Mangala aarti of Shri Radha Vallabhlal; prayers are offered to the Yamuna River, along with bathing of Lord Krishna’s idol with milk (Dughdaabhishek). The pilgrims then collectively take a vow to complete the yatra, chanting the name of Radheshyam all along the way.
Duration of Chaurasi Kos Yatra
The most devout pilgrims undertake this yatra by foot which takes about a month or more to complete the entire distance and come back to where they started. Some people are quick to point out that the trip can be done in 20-25 days but this may be for a shorter version of the yatra. To enable the elderly to also take part in the yatra and fulfil their vows, organizations arrange vehicles and cars to take groups in batches so that the journey is comfortable with stops along the way where basic amenities are provided. A tour arranged by vehicle can take anywhere between 7-10 days.
However, of late, abbreviated yatras have begun to take into effect mostly for convenience’s sake because the traditional time-bound yatra to complete the parikrama is not available to most people these days. Despite the strain and hardships in undertaking the yatra, many thousands do the Braj Parikrama each year.
Organizations like ISKCON and Maa Vaishnodevi Mandir and Ashram, which have regional centres and offices outside Vrindavan and many other prominent temple organizations undertake the responsibility of seeing to the pilgrims’ welfare on the yatra. Hence, a planned itinerary with stops along the way in comfortable rest rooms or hotels to break the journey is advised. Itineraries vary among various organizations arranging the yatra depending on the requirements of the groups, the time factor and the places to visit.
On average, an ordinary yatri spends Rs 8 to 10,000 on this yatra while others who use more expensive facilities spend close to Rs 25,000. With rising costs, this amount will definitely vary and pilgrims are often advised to keep in mind that additional expenditure may have to be incurred depending on circumstances prevalent at the time of the yatra.
Points to Remember
To undertake a trip of this magnitude, it is always better to do bookings in advance with a reliable group or organization that has wide experience in catering to the travelling requirements of pilgrims, young and old, and to have back-up plans for any unforeseen incidents or circumstances that may occur along the way. Most importantly, the weather plays a huge role in this yatra especially if it is undertaken during the monsoon months, as is usually the case, and so extra precautionary measures for comfort in stay and food have to be taken. An additional fact to remember is that only minimal facilities like lighting, drinking water, bathing facilities and camping are available for those taking the traditional yatra. The district administration has not made arrangements to provide any of these facilities and whatever minimum facilities have been provided is thanks to the temple trusts and charitable organizations.
As the organizers are quick to point out, pilgrims are advised not to share personal information with pundits or guides who are single and not attached to any tour organizer. Vrindavan attracts a lot of foreign visitors and they are specially cautioned to travel with registered guides and organizations and not have contacts with anyone outside their group. Personal belongings are entrusted in the care of the organizers and no valuables are allowed to be carried on the person of these yatris, especially those using the basic facilities and camping along the way. Another reason to avoid carrying valuables is the large presence of monkey colonies along the way that snatch anything visible like foodstuff, spectacles, phones and even bags containing clothing. Temples in Vrindavan are also teeming with the simian population and it is one of the first safety guidelines that pilgrims are warned about.
On the Sidelines of Chaurasi Kos Yatra
Apart from the intangible benefits of religious and self fulfilment that yatris get from undertaking the Braj Parikrama, there are thousands on the fringes of the yatra whose livelihoods depend on it. Catering establishments, tent houses, labourers, carpenters, artisans and of course temple priests are entirely dependent on seasonal festivals and occasions at Vrindavan and Braj Bhoomi. It is estimated that annual revenue during the festivals and yatras is to the tune of around Rs 10 crores. While those who can comfortably afford expenditure to undertake a comfortable yatra are unmindful of the discomforts, many thousands feel that some of the money earned can be invested in upgrading facilities and providing a better and healthier environment for the yatris.
In spite of these drawbacks, there is no doubting the popularity and immense religious fervour that goes into the 84 Kos Yatra, with numbers doubling year after year.