[Pilgrimage] reconciles the spiritual and the material, for to go on pilgrimage is to make the body and its actions express the desires and beliefs of the soul. – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
In 7 years every cell of your body gets replaced by a new cell. There must be a permanent point inside you around which this process is happening, the point of no cell and no-thing, the site of the holiest pilgrimage – Shunya
Whether you consider a pilgrimage as a spiritual sojourn, or a yearning to visit architectural, religious and/or historical sites, a pilgrimage transforms you. Read about my pilgrimage to Braj Bhumi spread over five days in September of 2022. We covered Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Nandagaon, Govardhan and Barsana; and finally drove across to Haryana and ended it in Jyotisaar, Kurukshetra.
They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I have always yearned to see Krishna janmabhumi. I had already visited the place where He ruled (Dwaraka) and from where He exited this material world (Bhalka Tirth, Prabhas Kshetra) and was hoping to visit the places where He appeared and did His leelas. The first step was when I watched this beautiful cover song , Teri Mitti (Chalo Vrindavan) by The Madhavas Rock Band. The video shows the lead singer going back to Vrindavan to meet his mom and revisit his childhood memories. As he rolled in the dust of Braj Bhumi, my tears fell unwittingly. This was on 16th August. I sent this video to my sister (who has been there twice already) and we immediately started discussing the possibilities of a quick trip.
Three weeks later, on September 5th, I cried silently with sheer joy as the flight took off from Kochi to New Delhi. Before the sun set that day, I had my first darshan of the prison walls in Mathura.
So what is Braj Bhumi? Spread across nearly 3800 Sq. Kms, extending across Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, Braj or Vraj Bhumi refers to the areas where Lord Krishna appeared and performed His leelas until the age of 12. Between His appearance in Mathura, being carried across the river Yamuna to Gokul and growing up there, moving to Nandgaon and living there for most of His childhood, and doing His Leelas in twelve vans or forests (including Madhuvan and Vrindavan), there are close to 1000 places of interest in Braj Bhumi! In the five days, we would visit 27 of them.
Below is a complete list of these places with a short intro about them, and in the order we visited them. I am not going to explain these places in detail nor am I going to clutter this blog with my amateurish attempts at photography. Google does a great job on both counts!
Day 1 – Mathura
- Dwarakadhish Temple – This is one of the must-visit temples at Braj, since the temple is supposed to be built by King Vajranabha, great grandson of the Lord. The current elaborate Rajasthani style of architecture was primarily due to the Maharajah of Gwalior, who authorized his treasurer, Seth Gokul Das Parikh, to construct it in 1814.
- Sri Krishna Janmasthan – This entire complex is heavily guarded as it houses a multitude of temples and shares a wall with the Shahi Eidgah mosque built by Aurangazeb. As I walked through the narrow prison walls and emerged into the prison chamber where there is a small shrine for the Lord, I felt sheer relief that in this lifetime, I got an opportunity to see the place where He appeared. The entire complex is vibrant and filled with devotees and pilgrims thronging to touch the platform in the Garbha Griha that marks the spot where this happened. Adjacent to the shrine is a temple dedicated to Yogmaya Devi.
- Srimad Bhagavata Temple – This huge ISKCON temple is also part of the Sri Krishna Janmasthan complex and was built in 1965. The murthis in this temple – Radha and Krishna, Shri Balaram, Subhadra and Jagannatha, Ram and Seetha – is sure to delight and gladden the heart of any devotee, no matter who their Ishta Devata is.
- Potra Kund – Outside the complex is Potra Kund, the pond where Devaki washed infant Krishna as soon as He appeared as a baby. We saw this well at night, and it was beautifully decorated and adorned with lights.
- Yamuna Darshan and Arti – After visiting Potra Kund we went back to Dwarakadish temple as the Yamuna flows right behind the temple, just in time for the evening Arti. After the Arti, we headed to Vrindavan, approximately 15 kms away.