Soaking in splendours of Braj

Whether it is the fascination for divine bliss or the quest to unravel the holy land, Braj Bhoomi vows travellers with loads of mythology, amazing architecture, and picturesque landscapes.

For the ever-exploring Indian travellers with a penchant for mythology and intending to take a break in the enchanting land of Radha and Krishna, then the Land of Braj is your preferred destination. The birthplace of Lord Krishna, the 8th avatar of Lord Vishnu is popularly known as Braj Bhoomi which falls in Golden Triangle and is a mere two hours drive from New Delhi taking the Yamuna Expressway. For those who opt to travel en route Delhi-Agra National Highway, it is around 155 km.       

Mathura and Vrindavan are the two significant destinations in Braj with a plethora of tourist attractions. It is best to halt at one of these destinations and make a complete tour of the Braj circuit.    

Vrindavan vignette

Nearly 181 km from New Delhi is the pilgrim resort of Vrindavan which is synonymous with Radha and Lord Krishna. One needs to devote a couple of days to exploring the pilgrim resort of Vrindavan replete with renowned and grand shrines. Start off with a visit to Katyayani temple in the old quarters of the town. Devoted to Goddess Parvati, Katyayani temple is highly revered as one of the 51 Shakti Peeths in the country. From here move on to the spectacular Sri Ranganath temple honouring Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi. Ranked as one of the largest shrines in North India, the foundation of Sri Ranganath temple was laid in 1845 and completed in 1851 at a whopping cost of Rs 45 lakhs. The high point of Sri Ranganath temple is the presence of Garor Stambh- a huge pillar carved of gold.

      The next point of exploration is Vanshi Vat, the holy site on the banks of river Yamuna where Lord Krishna had performed the Maha Raas along with Radha and Gopis. Vanshi Vat has the famed, age-old banyan tree where Lord Krishna played his flute. This is incidentally the destination that Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited on his Vrindavan sojourn.

When it comes to Banke Bihari temple, is the most visited shrine in Vrindavan and enjoys the distinction of being the holiest of shrines devoted to Lord Krishna. Here the devouts converge to get glimpses of Nand Gopal (Lord Krishna in the form of a child). Pilgrims need to head to the shrine during its scheduled visiting hours. The shrine came up way back in 1864 and was the creation of Swami Haridas, the mentor of Tansen.

The next day should be devoted to visiting the new-age shrines of Vrindavan. There is the fabulous Prem Mandir sprawling over 54 acres of land area on Sri Kripalu Maharaj ji Marg that stands as an outstanding masterpiece of marble architecture. The glittering two-tiered shrine boasts profusely adorned interiors and has been the brainchild of Jagadguru Kripalu Parishad. Also known as Shyama Shyam, the interiors of the shrine flaunt chandeliers and lighting facilities in a riot of colours. At Prem Mandir, there are life-size portraits of the great Hindu reformers of India like Shankaracharya, Madhavacharya, Ramanuja, Kripalu, and Lalita Avatar. The shrine complex has a fascinating, landscaped garden.

 In the vicinity of Prem Mandir stands another massive shrine and is none other than Shri Krishna Balaram temple honouring Radha and Lord Krishna. The shrine traces the journey of Sreela Prabhupada who took the Bhakti movement to the world. For travellers interested to know about the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, this is the place to be. Sreela Prabhupada made huge strides to lay the foundation of international temples and establish Krishna consciousness in New York way back in 1965.

Legendary Gokul

Around 15 Km from Mathura is the 5,500-year-old pilgrim hamlet of Gokul on the banks of the serene-flowing river Yamuna. One has to cross the Gokul Barrage to reach Gokul.  This is the destination where Lord Krishna was raised in secrecy in order to protect him from the evil clutches of his maternal uncle, Kansa. Gokul Dham in Mahavan Tehsil of Mathura has a lot of attractions for pilgrims. One can stroll around the impressive Thakurani Ghat on the banks of river Yamuna or opt for a river cruise. Devote some time to soak in the ambiance of the destination. A tour of Gokul begins with the Baithak of Shri Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhu, the great saint, and philosopher of Vaishnavism who visited Gokul after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Gokul is incidentally the birthplace of Yogmaya, the incarnation of Goddess Parvati. There is a slew of shrines including Yogmaya and the shrine of Goddess Yamuna on Thakurani Ghat. There is Makhan Chor Gali in Gokul Dham where the mythological tales come alive. The most significant monument in Gokul is Shri Nand Kila Bhawan which forms the palace of Nand Baba where the naming ceremony of Lord Krishna was performed. Lying nearby is a 6,000-year-old Shri Nand Bhawan temple built by Vishwakarma that has highly carved stone pillars. This shrine forms the birthplace of Goddess Yogmaya and Balarama.  

The pilgrim point of Nand Gaon

For those interested to catch a glimpse of the site associated with Lord Krishna’s childhood years, head to Nandgaon. At a distance of 52 km northwest of Mathura, the semi-forest of Nandgaon has countless tales of Lord Krishna having spent his boyhood years along with his foster parents- Nand and Yashoda. 

At the entrance of Nandgaon is the huge statue of Shani Dev. The premier sightseeing spot is the 5,000-year-old Nand Bhawan – the bygone residence of Nand that lies on the hillock of Nandiswar and is a steep climb. Once you climb the Nandiswar hill, navigate your way through the ancient, narrow lane to reach Nand Bhawan. The inner walls of Nand Bhawan are adorned with age-old fresco paintings illustrating Lord Krishna and his brother Balarama with snippets from his formative years. Here darshan of Lord Krishna comes at a price. On the foothills of Nandiswar lies the sacred Pavan Sarovar dotted with fascinating Chhatris.

It is essential to know for travellers that Nandgaon lacks basic infrastructure facilities and there are no such decent accommodation centers. Hence travellers are advised to halt in Mathura or Vrindavan.

Tranquil Raval

Regarded as the birthplace of Radha, the traditional hamlet of Raval in Mahavan Tehsil is at a distance of 7 Km from Gokul and about 13 km from Mathura. Raval is in the vicinity of Gokul and the path leading to Raval is less travelled by tourists. There is Radha Rani Devi temple carved of white marble in the interior part of Raval with the highly adorned deity of Radha in sitting posture. This is the only shrine that honours Radha in the form of a child and is looked after by Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad. While in Raval, one feels a sense of bliss. The rustic green ambiance of Raval with mushrooming of milkweeds has dancing peacocks.

A tour of Braj will rejuvenate your mind and will leave you with a bucketful of memories and a lifetime of experiences.

by Swati Chaudhury

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