This Janmashtami, explore the places in Braj Bhoomi that Lord Krishna is believed to have lived and grown up in. Manjulika Pramod spends one day
Gokulashtami, the occasion of the birthday of Lord Krishna is a grand affair across India, with unparalleled, high–spirited celebrations at his birthplace, Mathura. The spiritual character of Braj Bhoomi (Mathura) and the towns of Vrindavan, Gokul, Govardhan and Barsana (located in Mathura district) is defined by the belief that Lord Krishna was born and raised here.
>> I start my spiritual trail in Mathura with an early morning visit to the Krishna Janmasthan Temple. This pious place opens for devotees at 5 am and it is here that one gets to see the prison cell where Lord Krishna was born to queen Devaki and king Vasudeva. From here, I head to Vishram Ghat along River Yamuna to witness a peaceful morning aarti (a religious ritual with oil lamps) that is performed early in the morning. The river is a serene sheet of blue, dotted with tourist boats decorated with colourful flags fluttering in the cool morning breeze. My next stop is Dwarkadheesh Temple, one of the holiest shrines in India. With intricate architecture and paintings, the temple is stunning. Mathura draws a lot of tourists and the temples here are always bustling with devotees. My Braj Bhoomi temple tour over, I head to Gokul, stopping at a local food stall for a breakfast of hot kachoris (deep-fried dough pancakes) with a vegetable curry.
>> Just 15 km away from Mathura, Gokul is pleasantly less crowded. My cab driver, who is also my guide, stops at Raman Reti, a spacious compound, whose sacred sands (reti) are where Lord Krishna is believed to have walked and played as a child with his brother Balarama and friends. After this, I head to the famed Ukhal Bandhan Ashram. Legends say that Lord Krishna would find ways to steal fresh butter from every house in the village in Gokul. One day, his mother Yashoda (who raised him) tied him to an ukhal (stone pounder) to punish him. The Ukhal Bandhan Ashram is believed to be the place where this incident had occurred. Another legend says that one day when Yashodaji asked Krishna if he had eaten mud, he opened his mouth to reassure her he hadn’t. She was astonished to see the entire universe inside little Krishna’s mouth. Today, a ghat (steps by a river bank) and a small temple commemorate this divine miracle.
>> My next stop is Govardhan hill. Devotees generally take a day or more to circumambulate the sacred peak. According to mythology, this hillock was lifted by a teenage Lord Krishna so that the people of Vrindavan could shelter themselves from heavy rain.
I visit the nearby Radha Kund pond, which is said to be at the centre of the universe, and the Kusum Sarovar (about two km away), a pond surrounded by a complex of beautiful temples. This waterbody is popular as the place where Radha, Lord Krishna’s consort, used to come to pick flowers. In Govardhan, one should not miss the Mansi Ganga, a sacred lake believed to have been created by Lord Krishna. If mythology is to be believed, once, the Lord killed a demon in the form of a calf. To make up for his sin, he was urged to purify himself in River Ganges. Reluctant to leave, he meditated instead and convinced Ganges to come to him at Govardhan.
>> As the sun sets, I enter the holy town of Vrindavan, with a temple at every turn. Most temples stay shut between noon and 4 pm, so plan your trip accordingly. The Banke Bihari and Shri Krishna Balaram Temple (under ISKCON) are the two most popular temples here. End your trip with the evening aarti at the Yamuna ghat, generally performed around 7 pm.
>> If you have time, visit the Madan Mohan temple, one of the oldest in the neighbourhood. It is associated with saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is said to have propagated great devotion to Lord Krishna. Vrindavan is said to be home to more than 5,000 temples around a route called Parikrama Marg.
So, this Janamashtami (September 3), visit Braj Bhoomi and experience the legends of Lord Krishna.
The author is a travel writer and the views expressed in this article are her own