Description of Braj:
Braj is a land of meaningful glances and messages. The flute in the hands of Krishna is not merely a musical instrument but the breath of love. Its mellifluous sound attracts the cows and draws the milkmaids out of their homes for a romantic dalliance with their insistent paramour. Only enraptured Brajbalas can hear this call to eternity which reassures them of their closeness to the dark god.
Lord Krishna's Madhurya or Sweet Love
Madhurya or Lord Krishna's loving tenderness, lyrical softness, fragrant limbs, evocative clothes and beautiful adornments is experienced by the simple cowherdesses, steeped in his love.The pastures of Braj uniting the gopis in an eternal bond with the divine,is an idyllic setting for the sweet love of Krishna.
The great good fortune of its nikunjas or bowers is ethereal with every dust particle sighting a fresh escapade. Lord Krishna’s divine play, spirited antics and amorous frolics, prance delicately, freely and constantly in this fabled land.During Bhaktimati Usha Bahenji’s life span, commenced a series of such transcendental incidents within Braj by the grace of Radha-Krishna. The dark-hued God sent one of the sakhis from his own parikar (inner circle) as Bahenji, to express the divine play occurring at present with enthused exultation.
The Supreme Being who is beyond satva (goodness or purity), rajya (which produces worldly desires and passions) and tama (darkness of ignorance) the three constituent qualities of living beings, is all pervasive and called Braj. This ethereal land is the svarupa or living presence of Lord Vishnu who is brilliant and indestructible. Only people above worldly attachments can dwell in Braj,where the god forever dwells. Aatmaram or the Supreme Being dallies romantically and is easily attainable for his devotees in this celestial land.
Shri Radha is Krishna's Blissful Energy
Shri Radha is Krishna's hladini shakti or blissful energy.The Lord manifested her, the symbol of madhurya or the sentiment of sweet romance, from his left portion, denoting the longing of the soul in its quest for the divine. Shri Radha’s sublime prema is rooted in selfless surrender to the divine. He is called Aatmaram; always eagerly desirous of romantic dalliances with her; kama signifies his intense longing. Lord Krishna’s lovable objects are cows, cowherds, cowherdesses and his amorous frolics with them. All of them are constantly manifest in Braj because of which the Lord is called Aapatkam or self-satisfied.
Every particle of Braj’s wealth is marked with Lord Krishna's feet, abounding with his romantic escapades and spirited antics. All seasons bloom as per the wishes of Shri Radha-Krishna providing the perfect setting for their transcendental love.
This lila is nitya or eternal and prakat or apparent, the two distinct forms of its visibility. Nitya lila related to his own parikar is attainable for God and rasikas (people moved by passionate religious devotion especially for Krishna). And the play which occurs before all living beings is prakat. The material world is a manifestation of Brahman and as such is true and not illusory or maya.
Worldly form being in essence of the same nature as the Lord, conceives the ordinary life here as parallel with the other cosmic life of Krishna. Thus both the lilas may appear different but are identical in essence, prakat or worldly being a temporal reflection of niyta or the constant playful dalliances.
The region mushrooming around Mathura has been acclaimed as Braj where the Lord’s nitya lila prevails. Towards the end of the twenty-eighth Dwapar Yuga when devotees gather here, the Lord incarnates in Braj along with his close followers and imparts joy and delight with his divine play. He is replete with three shaktis or energies, hladini, sanghini and sanwit. His sanghini energy is Vrindavan and Braj where the metaphorical search of the impassioned soul for union with God is centered, or perhaps that region in the heart where God is ultimately found, represented by the enraptured village girls with whom he sported in his youth.
Raas on Banks of the Yamuna
Vrindavan is the main site of Braj where the ethereal banks of the Yamuna, picturesque lowlands of Goverdhan and 84 kos land is perceptible till date. The Vedas (Indian Sacred Scriptures) have mentioned Braj where the cows tread and graze. In the Harivansh Purana the neighbouring regions of Mathura are acclaimed as Braj and called Gokul as of today. The Shrimad Bhagavata refers to Gokul, Braj, Gosht and Nandgram as one single place where cows live and Nandrai ji resided.
In the ‘Garg Sanhita’ or collection, Lord Krishna dispatched 84 kos land including Shri Yamuna, Shri Giriraj and Shri Vrindavan to earth for pleasing his most beloved Radha. The Puranas have extensively used Mathura Mandala and Braj Mandala for denoting Braj. In the poetry of the ashtachap kavis, Braj is mentioned as the site of grazing and raising cows plus the dalliance site of cowherds. Because of Shri Akroorji and Udhavaji being Mathura residents, the Braj bhava is distinct from them.
The welling ardour of the Krishna Cult in the fifteenth century endorsed the region’s present identity and the 84 kos land surrounding Mathura, related to Lord Krishna’s divine play was called Braj. Shri Bhatt Maharaj has exalted Braj Bhoomi as enchanting to express his gratitude. Shri Harivyas Devacharyji Maharaj has accepted the idyllic significance of Vrindavan and Braj. In the Vallabha Sampradaya, Shri Vithalnathji raving about Braj Bhoomi has revered it as highly auspicious. And Braj Bhoomi where the son of Nanda spreads his joyous love to Shri Nandraiji plus mother Yashoda and dallies with the Braj beauties, is most fortunate and adorable.
Dark-Hued Krishna Glowing in Yellow
The neel-peet madhurima (the dark-skinned cowherd God, glowing in yellow garments) of Lord Krishna manifested on the banks of the Kalindi River before Bhaktimati Usha Bahenji who was inspired and completely absorbed in the Vrindavan Rasa or essence. Shri Radha-Krishna enchant dedicated devotees, exuding sweetness as they roam in the bowers of Braj Bhoomi till date.
Shri Roop Goswami Paad in the text ‘Laghu BhagwatAmrit’ describes the four dhams of Lord Krishna wherein Braj is also known as Gokul and Shri Vrindavan. Shri Jeev Goswami Paad has called Shri Vrindavan, Gokul and Braj as synonyms of the same dhaam. In the ‘CharitAmrit’ Shri Chaitanya has acclaimed Gokul, Braj, Gaulok and Vrindavan as synonymous with each other. All eminent personalities have accepted Lord Krishna’s Vrindavan and nieghbouring regions of his divine play as Braj (except Mathura).
Braj’s Boundaries and Geographical Form:
The region centered within Var place of Aligarh district, Sonhad (Saund) of Gurgaon district and Shoorsen’s village Bateshwar of Bah district is titled Braj. Reputed scholars have acclaimed the 84 kos region with Varhishad (Barhad) in the east, Yadupur (Shoorsen’s village Bateshwar) to its south and Shonitupur (Sonhad) in the west as Mathura Mandala and Braj.
Braj’s Parikrama or Circumambulation:
The ritual of journeying in Braj has been acclaimed in our Sacred Scriptures since ages. Shri Akroorji and Udhavaji came to Braj. Shri Balramji’s arrival and dalliance in Braj is famed. But with Shri Shandilya Maharshi’s great contribution to the manifestation of pilgrimage sites, the Braj pilgrimage of Vajranabhi became significant. The format of the Braj Parikrama seems to have been defined in the fifteenth century when the Krishna Cult was at its crest.
The subject of journeying in Braj has been cited by Shri Vallabhacharyaji, Shri Madhvendrapuri and Shri Chatura Nagaji. Along with Shri Loknath Goswami, Bhugarbh Goswami, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Goswami Vithalnathji, Swami Shri Haridasji and Shri Hit Harivanshji credited with touring in Braj. Two main routes of Braj Parikrama are currently in use. The order of the Pushti Margis journey primarily starts from Vishram Ghat in Mathura and other Vaishnava Sects begin the tour from Vrindavan itself. The ongoing journey and relaxing sites are roughly the same.
Starting from Mathura the first rest a devotee takes is at Madhuvan. Visiting the near by sites (Talvan, Kumudvan) the traveller gets a second respite at Shantanju Kund. Two days after seeing the places here, he relaxes the third time at Bahulavan. Stopping over for about two days and seeing the spots, the devotee rests the fourth time at Shri Radha Kund and Kusum Sarovar. Absorbing the places here the fifth relaxation is at Goverdhan or Chandra Sarovar for two days. The sixth stopover is at Jatipura where Pushti Margi Vaishnavas stay for a longer time span. The seventh halt of the journey is at Deeg for around two days.
Ghata is the eighth stop of the circumambulation. The tour stays for about three days at Kamvan, the ninth rest, and views all the sites. Barsana is the tenth relaxing stop of the journey. From here onwards Sanket is the journey’s eleventh rest and Shri Nandgaon its twelfth stopover which lasts for about three days. The Braj circumambulation’s thirteenth resting place is Barhi Bathain. Kotvan is the tour’s fourteenth stop and Kosi is the fifteenth rest. Paigam is the journey’s sixteenth stopover and Shergarh is its seventeenth. Cheerghat is the tour’s eighteenth resting site and Bachvan is its nineteenth.
Vrindavan is the Braj Tour’s twentieth rest with a stopover of about three days. From here onwards Lohvan is the parikrama’s twenty-first and Baldev is its twenty-second relaxing site. Gokul is the journey’s twenty-third stop over. Sighting Gokul and the neighbouring sites, proceeding to Mathura’s Vishram Ghat and after worshipping the Yamuna, the parikrama or circumambulation is complete.
Pilgrimage Sites, Nature’s Role in Braj and the contribution of Braj Bhoomi:
Earthly Vrindavan and Braj, temporal reflections of Golok, though easily attainable for materialistic eyes, appear mundane because our perception is flawed. For a divine perception, the romantic dalliance of Shri Radha-Krishna is perennial and can be savoured in this 84 kos region. In the words of Shri Paad Goswami, Braj has been ranked superior to Golok because earthly Vrindavan and Braj make its denizens sight and attain Golok, where the god forever dwells.
The Romantic Dalliance of Shri Radha-Krishna
The romantic dalliance of Shri Radha-Krishna is constantly dynamic in the various pilgrimage sites which have blessed mankind, are blessing them and are desirous to do so in the future. From where shall we procure those ears free from worldly clatter for complete absorption in his sweet love, those eyes which can sight the amorous frolics of the Lord and his beloved, and a heart above mundane pleasures to imbibe Shri Radha-Krishna’s interpersonal romantic exchange.
The pristine sites of Lord Krishna had vanished in the present age due to various reasons. These places were once salvaged by Vajranabhji, great-grandson of Lord Krishna with the orientation of Shri Shandilya Maharshi. Several sites needed to be restored because with the passage of time merely their ruins remained. Shri Ramanujacharyaji and Shriman Nimbarkacharyji had already made their contribution.
Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya ji
Shriman Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharyaji rendered exceptional service for the protection of religion. He journeyed India several times and propagated the Shrimad Bhagwat Saptah and Shri Bal Krishna Upasna while residing in Braj. His son Gosain Vitahlnathji was deeply involved in spreading and propagating religion. Shri Gokulnathji, several goswamis and acharyas strived to renovate the sites which were in shambles.
Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu ji in Bengal enhanced the welling ardour of the bhakti movement. He sent Shri Bhugarbh Goswami, Shri Loknathji, Shri Roopji and Shri Sanatanji to manifest the pilgrimage sites in Braj. Distressed on observing the dismal scene, they fervently prayed to the Lord’s dalliance sites to give darshan for the salvation of mortals. This is precisely what happened; pilgrimage sites appeared before the devotees, expressing Lord Krishna exquisite desire for divine play which is both human and divine at the same time.
The elements of nature are perceived as living sentient beings in Braj. Lord Krishna, Vishnu Incarnate, resides not only in the hearts of the gopis but also in the sap that animates the birds and bees, trees and creepers of this celestial land, providing the perfect landscape where the madhurya or sweet love of Lord Krishna unfolds. The environs of Braj, dense foliage, enchanting bowers, wells and banks of the Yamuna are all related to Lord Krishna’s winsome lilas.
The ethereal sights are gracious enough for us to savour his divine play provided we have an ardent desire and constant longing to do so. Belonging to the lila parikar of Lord Krishna, nature acquires a body as per his wishes, assists in the dalliance and becomes an idyllic setting for the escapades to unveil.
Jaan and Ajaan, trees in the Giriraj lowlands are visible proofs of this doctrine. In the new millennium several such living examples can be cited; experienced mahatmas show us the path to salvation. The lowlands of Giriraj abound with such great saints and Pandit Gaya Prasadji who stayed at Daan Ghati, was one of them. Shri Priyasharanji Maharaj having implicit faith in Braj, affirmed that if one stayed under the sheltered canopy of these sites he could certainly satiate the perennial quest of mankind for union with Shri Radha-Krishna. Shri Madanmohandas Babaji upheld the same view. Great saints saw one of the branches of a neem tree hacked and dripping drops of blood. The tree in Dauji’s garden which blossomed during the sankirtan of Ramdas Babaji attracts emotional devotees with its prominence.
Nature and the Lord’s divine play are basically the same. Because of its joys and abundance we can imagine, experience and share the ultimate indivisibility between Krishna and Radha, purusha (spiritual realm) and prakriti (physical world), God and devotee. Acquiring a living presence on belonging to the lila parikar, nature is a device of Krishna's passionate playful dalliance and the most fortunate. An ardent desire to meet Krishna, the supreme lover, amidst bustling crowds heading towards Nand Bhavan can turn anyone restless.
Lord Krishna With His Sakhas & Cows
The loving tenderness of the Lord taking cows for grazing, spirited antics with his sakhas and trysts with his beloveds at picturesque bowers can mesmerize anyone. Hordes of sakhis venturing to sell curd and milk and Lord Krishna’s fluting in the blossoming pastures can arouse the longing for his love noose. When Brajbalas go to fetch water from the wells and the Lord plays the mellifluous flute they return with empty pots, totally lost in this terrifying rush of love.
Anyone can be passionately captivated by his winsome manners, ardent teasing, lyrical softness, evocative clothes, loving tenderness in the nikunjas, on banks and secluded environs. Oh Giriraj with your support Lord Krishna can prance with his sakhas while grazing cattle and revel in love escapades with the gopis! At the Shri Radha and Shyam Kund, Lord Krishna dallies with Shri Vishakha after midday.
The isolated caverns of Giriraj transforming into a rendezvous of divine play, are awash with episodes of his resting or sleeping. Sankri Khor, the passionate site of Gahar Van, soon enough changes from a narrow lane into a daan dalliance (Krishna’s exaction of tribute when milkmaids go with milk etc to market).
With sheer sensuality and serene spirituality these sites of his divine play gather such transcendental incidents within themselves. It is their kindness that they bequeath to us a vast visual record of the Lord’s dalliance and are eagerly desirous for us to savour his joyous abandon.