A brief note on the history, significance and prevailing state of Hills, Forests, Kunds (water tanks) situated in Braja Mandal
What is Braja?
Bra + Ja is comprised of ‘Bra’ from Brahma and ‘ja’ from raja which means the dust of the lotus feet of Lord Krishna.
* It is a well known fact that Braja (which comprises mainly the districts of Mathura in UP, Bharatpur in Rajasthan and Palwal in Haryana) is associated with the transcendental pastimes of Their Lordships Shri Radhakrishna Bhagwan. It has a history of five thousand years. During these centuries, millions of devotees have been coming to Braja from different parts of the world. Several renowned poets of ancient and medieval times and saints have composed thousands of Sanskrit verses and poetry glorifying the Braja Leela (transcendental pastimes) of Sri Sri Radha Krishna Bhagwan. Such poetry exists in almost every language of our country. All the well-known Indian dance forms such as Bharatnatayam, Kathakali, Odisi, Manipuri and so on, have dedicated themes of Lord Krishna’s wonderful pastimes in Braja.
* It is significant to understand that The Divine Couple did not perform their transcendental Leelas in the palaces, temples or ‘five star’ Ashrams of today’s Braja. Their pastimes were performed at the ghats of river Yamuna, at the steps of hundreds of kunds (ancient tanks), in the forests of Braja, such as Vrindavan, Ghevarvan, Kaamvan, etc. and on dozens of hills such as Goverdhan, Ranku parvat, Ashtakutt hill and Brahmagiri etc. Even today these fabulous natural sites continue to attract thousands of pilgrims and tourists.
* Unfortunately, this rich cultural heritage of India is being rapidly and ruthlessly destroyed by the mine mafia, land mafia or the forest mafia. This is happening because of the total apathy of local administration, which is making it criminally convenient for these mafias to continue with these crude acts against nature and our cultural heritage. Governments of UP, Rajasthan and Haryana are not bothered about loosing this invaluable treasure. They are doling out leases for blasting these hills, which are repeatedly mentioned in several scriptures. Unfortunately, political compulsions are such that governments cannot take bold steps unless compelled by the Apex Court.
A brief note on each aspect is as follows:
* The Hon’ble Supreme Court’s active intervention in the Taj Corridor Case has already stopped the ruthless destruction of the river Yamuna at Agra. Unfortunately, worst has happened in Vrindavan, where unauthorized colonies, ashrams, temples and even government buildings have mushroomed on the bed of river Yamuna by ignoring the adverse effects on its bed. This has been done by defying all laws of nature and water resource management. If this was not enough, the beautiful historic ghats (more beautiful than Banaras), at the bank of river Yamuna, have been encroached upon or destroyed. This is not something that needs to be pointed out by an enquiry commission to this Hon’ble Court. If taken to these sites, one see with naked eye the damage being done.
* Incidentally it is the same Yamuna, which is often glorified while describing the Ras-Leelas of Lord Krishna. The plight of its ghats is a shocking sight and disturbs every devotee or tourist, who knows the importance of these leela sthalis (sites). A significant point for all environmentalists and the devotees of Sri Radha Krishna Bhagwan is that by dredging into the bed of Yamuna, the river flow can be brought back to these ghats. This will revive the lost glory and charm of Vrindavan and will help the depleted water table to rise again in the surrounding areas. Something government is so concerned about these days.
The Holy Hills of Braja Mandal:
* There are dozens of hills or hillocks in the Deeg and Kama Tehsils of Dist. Bharatpur (Rajasthan) and in Chhata Tehsil of Dist. Mathura, which are associated with the pastimes of the Divine Couple. Many of these hills bear marks (such as footprints) believed to be associated with Lord Krishna.
* Some of these hills are considered to be demi-gods personified in hill forms. For example Nandishwar Parvat in Nandgaon is considered to be Lord Shiva himself. The four hills in Barsana named Brahmanchal are considered to be the four heads of Lord Brahma. Giri Goverdhan is Lord Vishnu personified and the Ashtakoot hills in Dist. Bharatpur are considered to be associated with the eight main sakhis of Radharani. A number of scriptures such as: Srimad Garg Samhita, Srimad Bhagwatam, Sri Braja Bhakti Vilas and a number of other puranas have detailed descriptions of these hills and their spiritual importance. Millions of people go on parikrama of these hills round the year. Many of these hills have several wonderful kathas (stories) associated with Lord Radha Krishna’s pastimes.
* For centuries, saints of different Bhakti Sampradays (devotional sects) have meditated in the caves of these hills. Even today a number of renounced saints can be found in these hills. Unfortunately, the stone mafia is ruthlessly blasting these hills for financial gains. The illegal dynamite blasts on these hills throw rock splinters and sand dust over large areas. This causes serious injuries or kills innocent deer, peacocks, other animals, grazing cattles and local population. The concerned state governments have been granting lease for this kind of mining. These leaseholders exploit the opportunity to the maximum benefit violating all norms. Their overloaded stone filled trucks perennially damage the roads of Braja. These roads are daily used by the pilgrims who have to suffer a lot because of their extremely bad condition. If one surveys the area one will be shocked to see the kind of destructive activities going on in this area. The recent example is of the Vyomasur’s cave, which is at the verge of destruction. Located in today’s Kama Tehsil it was here that Krishna had killed the demon Vyomasur. The mining activity is a few yards away from this cave and soon this too will be blown off. Future generations will only read about this cave in the storybooks. The need is to immediately ban mining in Braja.
Forest of Braja Mandal
* As per the Padmapuran, there are twelve forests north and south of the river Yamuna in Braja Mandal namely: mahavan, kamvan, kokilavan, taalvan, kumudvan, bhandirvan, chatravan, kandhirvan, lohjhungvan, bhadravan, bhahulavan, belvan.
* As per Varaha Puran there are twelve upvan or sub forests namely bhramvan, apsaravan, vivhavan, kadamvan, swaranvan, surbhivan, premvan, mayurvan, maningitvan, sheshaivan, naradvan and parmanandvan.
* There are also twelve prativans in Braja Mandal. Their names in Varah Puran are rankvan, vartavan, karahvan, kaamvan, anjanvan, karanvan, krshanshapvan, nandprekshanvan, indarvan, shikshavan, chandravalivan and lohvan.
* Along with these 36 forests there are twelve more forests known as adivan. As per vishnupuran their names are mathurvan, balakundvan, nandgramvan, garhvan, dalitagramvan, vrishbhanupuramvan, gokulvan, baldevvan, govardhanvan, javavatvan, vrindavan, sanketvan.
* Going through the list of forests one can appreciate that the entire Braja Mandal was once covered with a thick umbrella of these transcendental forests. Most of them existed until two decades ago. Some of them continue to survive against heavy odds. Every year when Acharya’s of different sampradayas go on the 40 day long parikrama of the Braja chaurasi (84) koss, they camp in these forests along with thousands of their disciples. Discourses are held in these night camps about the glories of these forests and special prayers are offered to them. There are number of Sanskrit verses dedicated in glorification of these forests. Unfortunately, these forests are in terrible condition and need to be restored and protected. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India can undo the damage done in the past and ensure protection for the future by directing the state governments. Well known individuals and NGOs can be involved in monitoring the restoration of these forests. This would also restore the ecological balance of this historic region.
Ancient Kunds (tanks) of Braja Mandal:
* In an agrarian society like ours, proper irrigation is the backbone of our survival. In ancient times thousands of kunds (tanks) were constructed in most part of the country. The kunds benefit people in many ways. They conserve rainwater. They allow the sub-soil water table to be maintained. They are used to irrigate local fields and orchards and they sustain people in the drought-hit years. Hence, they were maintained and protected by the community, which treated them as demi-gods and worshipped them for being so generous. Braja Mandal has several hundred such ancient kunds, most of them are 5000 years old and mentioned in the scriptures and folklores related to Sri Sri Radha-Krishna’s pastimes.
* During the medieval age, several Hindu kings rebuilt and restored these tanks such as: Vrishbhanu Kund in Barsana, Pawan Sarovar in Nandgaon, Gomti Ganga in Kosi, Radha Kund, Shyam Kund, Govind Kund, Mansi Ganga etc. in Goverdhan, Potra Kund in Mathura, Davanal Kund in Vrindavan, Shirsagar Kund in Dauji, Nain Sarovar Kund in Kama and so on. Each of these kunds has an exciting history. Unfortunately, 80% kunds are in deplorable condition. They have been converted into garbage dump yards and sludge tanks where dirty drains pour in. Devotees and tourists both from India and abroad get a shock when they come to visit these kunds. They have read so much in glorification of these kunds in the scriptures but what they see is pathetic. It is unfortunate that despite being heritage sites, these kunds are being encroached upon by vested interests. Some saints of Barsana have taken bold initiative to revive some of these kunds. They have done so against heavy odds. However, it is amazing to see how beautifully Gomti Ganga in Kosi, Pawan Sarovar in Nandgaon and Vrishbhanu Kund in Barsana have been brought back to their old glory. These efforts are on but to break the apathy of the local administration and to drive away the encroachers a strong directive needs to be issued to the respective state governments to revive and protect all the ancient tanks in its areas. When the whole country is talking about water conservation then is it not suicidal on our part that we are not restoring the existing Kunds of Braja.
* Interestingly, most of the Braja Mandal falls under the Taj Trapezium Zone, this makes the job of the Apex court easy. By protecting the Taj and Braja area, the Hon’ble Court will ensure the conservation of our common heritage. Both Hindu and Muslim sites in Taj and Braja will be shown to the global tourists since they exist side by side. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has already taken various steps to protect Taj area along with its historical sites. The mining mafia and encroachers however continue to destroy the area’s ecology, the rich cultural sites and spiritually important heritages in a clandestine manner.
* It is high time that environmentalists, devotees of Sri Sri Radha Krishna Bhagwan, spiritual gurus, like-minded NGOs and social foundations highlight these issues and demand the following remedies from the Hon’ble Apex Court and Government.
* All the illegal construction done on the bed of river Yamuna in Vrindavan must be removed by the government of UP. The ancient ghats must be rebuilt with the help of ASI or corporate sector. The silt filled in these ghats must be dredged to allow the natural flow of Yamuna on these ghats. Dredging of Yamuna bed can bring back the depleted water table in this area.
* All types of mining and destruction of the hills in the Deeg and Kama Tehsils of Dist. Bharatpur (Rajasthan) Palwal (Haryana) and Mathura (UP) must be completely banned forever. These hills should be declared heritage sites. The government of both the states must be held responsible for the protection of all the hills in Braja area. Simultaneously all stone crushing activity in Braja Mandal area must also be banned forever.
* All the 48 forests mentioned above must be declared protected forests and special efforts must be made by the respective state governments to revive and protect these forests.
* All historic kunds (water tanks) must be restored and protected by the respective state governments. The respective District Administrations must remove encroachments on the land attached with these kunds. No construction should ever be allowed on the land in the vicinity of these kunds.
* Hon’ble Court may give directions to the state governments and the Union Government to form a Common Control Board comprising of eminent individuals to monitor these works. Each govt. can nominate two suggested people for the job.