Mahavan: Pilgrimage Travelogue of A Devotee

"To save the pious people and eliminate the evil and to re-establish righteousness and principles firmly, I appear millennium after millennium." (Bhagavad Gita 4.8)

      About 15 km south-east of Mathura, close to the banks of the sacred River Yamuna, lie the twin towns Gokul and Mahavan. Gokul and Mahavan two kilometres apart. In order to reach these towns, I had to take the road from Mathura to Agra. After travelling for around 12 km, I took the road to the left which led me to these twin towns. While travelling to Mahavan, I had to cross the Yamuna. I saw the exact spot where Vasudev crossed the Yamuna, carrying Lord Krishna.

Krishna, in order to keep up His promise to Goddess Yamuna, spent a major part of His childhood, playing and frolicking with His friends, in the Yamuna.

      Krishna, in order to keep up His promise to Goddess Yamuna, spent a major part of His childhood, playing and frolicking with His friends, in the Yamuna.

      There seems to be some confusion as to where exactly Vasudev secretly brought Krishna when he left Him in the care of Yashoda and Nandarai. The residents of Mahavan believe that the original town of Gokul stood at Mahavan but it was destroyed by the tyrant king Mahmud Ghazni and his barbaric army at the beginning of the 11th century. Many centuries later, the town was rebuilt but under a different name, Mahavan. However, the people of the current Gokul believe that theirs is the 'real' Gokul. Mahavan is known as Old Gokul and the current Gokul as New Gokul.

      Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu believed that many of the places where Lord Krishna performed His miracles, which are described in the holy scriptures as being Gokul, are mainly found in Mahavan (Old Gokul). Therefore his followers, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, often just visit Mahavan (Old Gokul) and do not visit New Gokul. Gokul attained importance during the time of the famous Vaishnava saint, Vallabhacharya (1479-1531) when it became a major centre of the Vallabhacharya cult.

      Mahavan is an ancient dusty town, two kilometres south of Gokul. Most of the temples are located close to each other, on a small hillock. Next to the hillock is a big field that serves as a huge parking area. As I walked up the hillock, I saw many temples on either side of the road.


      After I walked a few metres on the hillock, I noticed a narrow lane to my right. There was a very old and dilapidated signboard that said that this lane was the one that Vasudev used when he brought Lord Krishna from Mathura on that eventful rainy night when the Supreme Lord descended on this planet.

      As I turned right and walked down this path, I saw a temple right ahead. This was the Yogamaya Temple. Some say this is the birthplace of Balarama and some believe this to be the birthplace of Yogamaya. This is a quiet place and not many visitors come here.

      Inside the temple, is an idol of Yashoda on the right and that of Nanda Rai on the left. At the centre is an idol of Yogamaya. At the back is a black idol of Balarama. In front of Yogamaya is an idol of Krishna playing His flute. The idols look very colourful adorned in red clothes. This is one of those rare temples where the idol of Lord Balarama is bigger than that of Lord Krishna. The reason for giving prominence to Lord Balarama could be the fact that this happens to be His birthplace.

      Yogamaya is considered to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga. She played an important role in Krishna's life. It is believed that She was instrumental in transferring Balarama from the womb of Devaki to the womb of Rohini. Later, when Krishna was born, she put the prison guards to sleep and removed the shackles from Vasudev's legs which enabled him to leave the prison in Mathura and go to Gokul. Yogamaya was born to Yashoda on the same night as Krishna. When Vasudev reached, Nanda's house, he exchanged Krishna with Yogamaya and took the latter to Mathura. When Kansa tried to kill Yogamaya, She slipped from his hands and soared into the sky. She took Her original form of Goddess Durga and mocked Kansa for failing to kill Devaki's eighth Child. It is also believed that She played a vital role when Lord Krishna performed His lilas with the gopis and Radha. Due to these legends, people in Brij Bhoomi revere Yogamaya as much as Radha and Krishna. Almost every town in Brij Bhoomi has at least one temple dedicated to Yogamaya.


      After visiting Yogamaya Temple, I returned to the main road of the hillock. As I proceeded straight and walked up the hill, on my left, I came across temple that marked the spot where the demoness Putana was killed by Lord Krishna. This was the Putana Temple. This temple had a huge yellow idol of Putana, lying 'dead' On the floor. Infant Lord Krishna was crawling on top of her.

      The legend of this temple came as an eye-opener to me. The Supreme Lord is all merciful and He forgives even those who have tried to kill Him. A person who has tried to kill the Infant ends up getting moksha.


      As I walked up the hill past the Putana Temple, on my left was the spot where the demon Trinavarta was killed by Krishna. A temple has been built here known as the Trinavarta Temple. It is also known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple. It has white idols of Narayan and His Consort Lakshmi. Lord Vishnu is in His four-armed form, serving as a gentle reminder to the devotees that Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna are one and the same.

      The atmosphere in and around the temple is very serene and quiet. Forget a whirlwind or a typhoon, there are no signs of even a gentle breeze to shake the leaves of the trees there. After all, Trinavarta, the whirlwind, was dead!


      Proceeding further, I reached the top of the hillock. I noticed a big courtyard, which housed many buildings, each one a temple in its own right. As I looked straight ahead, I saw Yashoda Bhavan. Next to it was the biggest building, Nanda Bhavan, which housed the Chatti Palana Temple. To the left was the Balarama Revathi Temple.

      Yashoda Bhavan, as the name suggests, is the place where Yashoda resided. As is the case in many temples in Brij Bhoomi, here too, the devotees are not allowed to stand. They Say it is disrespectful to stand. I was asked to sit in front of the idols. Only after I sat down, the curtain was drawn aside, showing me the deities of Krishna, Balarama, Yogamaya, Yashoda, and Nanda.

      At the extreme left is a black idol of Lord Krishna. Next to it is the idol of Nanda. To the right are idols of Balarama and Yashoda. In the extreme right corner is the idol of Yogamaya. Surprisingly, the idol of Balarama is black, a colour that is normally associated with Krishna. In front of these idols, an idol of Infant Krishna is kept in a cradle. The devotees are allowed to swing the cradle. One more salient feature of this temple is that the devotees are allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and touch the idols.


      This is the main and the most famous temple in Mahavan. The biggest building in the courtyard, this is the place where Krishna grew up and spent His first three years with His foster parents Nandarai and Yashoda. The walls of this yellow-coloured building have lots of paintings that depict the pastimes of Krishna. Since this was the residence of Nanda Rai, it is known as Nanda Bhavan. It is also known as Chaurasi Khambha (84 pillars) Temple since there are 84 pillars inside the temple. It is believed that there are 84,00,000 species of life in this material world. Each of these pillars is said to symbolise 1,00,000 species, thus representing all the life in the universe.

      This temple has surprisingly huge idols. At the centre is a huge idol of Balarama. The idol of Nanda Maharaja is on the left and that of Yashoda's on the right. In a cradle below, is the idol of Infant Krishna. As in the case of Yashoda Bhavan, here too, the priests allowed the devotees to swing the Infant Lord Krishna's Cradle.


      I spent a considerable amount of time trying to locate the Chatti-Palana Temple. The books and tourist guides that I had read had mentioned that this temple was within this temple complex. The only temples that I could see were Yashoda Bhavan, Nanda Bhavan, and Revathi Balarama Temple. There was no sign of another temple building within these premises. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Chatti-Palana Temple was located within Nanda Bhavan itself!

      On the sixth day after the birth of Lord Krishna, the Chatti Puja was performed here, hence the name Chatti-Palana. This temple has no idols. It has a huge painting on the wall. The painting depicts Yashoda holding Krishna and Rohini holding Balarama. Some believe that this section of Nanda Bhavan was a cowshed where the naming ceremony for Balarama and Krishna took place on the sixth day (hence the name Chatti). Others believe that the actual location of the cowshed is a few metres away from Nanda Bhavan and the painting here only depicts the naming ceremony event.


      Next to the Nanda Bhavan Temple complex, near the entrance, on the left is the Revathi-Balarama Temple. The temple has idols of Balarama and Revathi at the centre. To the left of Balarama is the idol of His father, Vasudev. To the right of Revathi is the idol of Rohini, the foster mother of Balarama. In front of these idols, is a cradle with the idol of Infant Krishna. As in Yashoda Bhavan, here too I was allowed to touch all the idols and swing Lord Krishna's cradle. The bright red clothes of the idols gave the proceedings a festive look.


      As I came out of the courtyard of Nanda Bhavan and descended the hillock, within a few metres to my left I saw an underground temple. This is the Patala Devi Temple. I had to descend about 20 steps to reach the temple entrance. As I stepped inside, I saw many idols, each depicting a different form of Goddess Durga. The main deity is Goddess Yogamaya who is an incarnation of Goddess Durga. She was sitting on a tiger, holding a sword and a Chakra in Her two right hands. In Her two left arms, She held a Conch and a Club. Her bright red dress was adorned with fine gold embroidery. Peacock feathers were placed on either side of the idol.

      On the opposite side was the idol of Maha Gauri Durga. Between these two, on the left wall, were seven idols, all different forms of Goddess Durga - Kaal Yaatri Durga, Kaal Yaayni Durga, Skanda Durga, Kushmanda Chandraganta Durga, Durga, Brahmacharini Durga, and Shail Putri Durga.


      I descended the hillock and went back to the car park. Ashwani did not want to visit the temples so he was waiting for me at the car park. Our car sped towards the outskirts of the dusty town. The next halt was Utkhal, which is located a kilometre away, to the left of the hillock. This place was so inconspicuous that I would have missed it had I not been watchful. It is a small temple housed in a huge compound, on the right side of the road. There is an old signboard that says Sri Utkhal Bandhan Ashram. Utkhal means grinding mortar and Bandhan means tied. This is the place where Krishna, while tied to the grinding mortar, had liberated Nalakuvara and Manigriva, the two sons of Kubera, the treasurer of the Gods, by knocking down the two Arjuna trees. This is also the place where the Damodara incident took place.

      As I entered the compound, to my left I saw a small open room with no doors. There was a painting on the wall that depicts Lord Krishna, in His Infant form, pulling the Grinding Mortar and in the process, splitting the two Arjuna trees. Nalakuvara and Manigriva, having been freed from the curse, are coming out of the trees and saluting and seeking the blessings of the Divine Lord. In front of the painting is an ancient grinding mortar believed to be the same one that Yashoda had used to tie her mischievous Child 5000 years ago. To the right is an ancient tree that is supposed to be a part of the Arjuna tree that Lord Krishna broke. The footprints of Krishna can be seen here.

      The grinding mortar played a key role in this divine incident. After this incident, Lord Krishna was also known as Damodara. Dama means 'ropes' and Udara means abdomen', so Damodara means "one who was bound by a rope around the abdomen".

      Proceeding right ahead, on the other side of the compound, is another temple. There is a white idol of Radha on the right and a black idol of Krishna to the left. To the right of Radha is another white idol, Yamuna. To the extreme right is a silver idol of Lalitha, one of Radha's friends. To the left of Krishna is a silver idol of Vishaka, another friend. "To the extreme left there is another idol of Krishna, playing His flute. Next to this temple is a Goshala that houses many cows. There is also a small hut where a few families stay. They take care of the Goshala.

      On the opposite side of the road, facing Utkhal is the Nanda Rai well on a small hillock. It is believed that Nanda Rai used to fetch drinking water from this well.


      Driving past Utkhal, after a few kilometres, we came across the banks of River Yamuna. On the right is the Brahmanda Ghat. This is the very place where the Lord of the Universe showed the entire cosmos in His mouth to Yashoda. Since Lord Krishna had shown Yashoda the entire cosmos (Brahmanda) at this spot, this place is known as Brahmanda Ghat.

      To the right of Brahmanda Ghat is the River Yamuna and to the left is the temple. The temple, which houses idols of Radha and Krishna, has many paintings depicting several incidents that took place during Krishna's times and one of them depicts this divine incident. I noticed many vendors selling small balls made of mud. These balls symbolise the divine incident when Krishna ate mud and showed the cosmos to His mother.


      Raman Reti is a place on the outskirts of Mahavan, on the way to Gokul. This is the place where Krishna and Balarama played with Their friends and turned somersaults on the sands, hence the name Reti which means 'sand'. I saw a lot of white sand here. especially within the temple premises.

      Inside the huge courtyard, on the right, were three temples. The first one was a small temple of Lord Shiva. The next one was a small temple of the Nava Graha. The third one was the main temple which is snow-white in color.

      The main temple had two pairs of Radha-Krishna idols. The big pair was on the left and the small pair on the right. On the right were idols of two saints Sri Chandraji Maharaj and Sri Gopalji. On the left were two more idols of Sri Harinamdasji and Sri Brajanandaji. To the extreme left was an idol of Lord Hanuman. The entire temple was made of white marble. The walls around the temple had huge paintings, depicting the pastimes of Lord Krishna, which can be seen while performing the temple parikrama. The temple had a beautiful inner courtyard where I saw many sadhus sitting and singing melodious bhajans, the glories of Lord Krishna. The singing was so melodious and enchanting that I didn't feel like leaving, I was tempted to say goodbye to Bengaluru and settle down here! The outer courtyard was surrounded on all four sides by small huts that were ashrams for these sadhus. I could spot lots of deer in and around the temple premises.

      The white sand here is considered very holy since Krishna and Balarama played on them. I noticed many devotees performing parikrama of the temples by rolling on these sands. They hoped to get blessed by the touch of the same holy sand that had touched the bodies of Krishna and Balarama.

      As I left this place, I could still smell the aroma of the food cooked by the Brahmin wives lingering on. I wish I could have seen the cowherds too!

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