Mathura ParikramaThe dusty, little town of Mathura, nestled along the banks of the mighty Yamuna River, exerts great importance on the historical and cultural maps of India. As the birthplace of Lord Krishna and home to many events surrounding his life, Mathura has grown in leaps and bounds as a religious centre of Hinduism, chiefly Krishna worship.
At the centre of the Braj Dhaam which comprises Vrindavan, Govardhana and Gokul, Mathura is well connected by road and rail from New Delhi, the capital, lying as it does on the main trunk line that connects the northern, southern and western parts of India. Its vantage position on the Delhi-Agra National Highway, easy accessibility and connectivity to other well-known places of tourism and sightseeing have made Mathura a hub of activity all through the year.
Mathura, a city of temples and shrines flocked by thousands of devotees all year through, is also the birthplace of Shri Krishna. Mathura is adorned with many wonderful temples.
Vishram Ghat is one among the numerous ghats on the banks of Yamuna in Mathura. Legend has it that Lord Krishna took rest after killing kamsa here. Some of the most important temples at Mathura are in the vicinity of the Ghat.
The city itself covers an area of approximately 4000 sq. km and is lined with numerous, picturesque ghats, a series of steps that lead down to the waters of the holy Yamuna. The entire river bank is lined with beautiful temples, ancient and modern and several arched gateways and its hard not to miss the sacred character that the town is infused with.
The term ‘Ghat’ is also commonly used to refer to difficult passages or pathways on a mountain range – e.g. the Eastern and the Western Ghat mountain ranges of India.
Ghats in Mathura
River Yamuna stretches in a crescent shape around Mathura and the ghats that line the banks on both sides make a grand spectacle, especially in the evenings when lamps are lit along the river and sunset aarti is done.
There are a total number of 25 ghats along the Yamuna, 12 to the north and 11 to the south, with Vishram Ghat the most important of all, virtually in the centre of Mathura town. Vishram Ghat gets is significance and importance from the fact that Krishna, after slaying his evil uncle, Kansa, bathed and rested (vishram) here. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, when he first visited the Braj, arrived at Vishram Ghat and bathed here.
It is, therefore, the starting point for the Mathura Parikrama. Vishram Ghat transforms itself in the evenings when the spectacular and dazzling spectacle of the little oil lamps floating on the river and the soulful prayers and chants that fill the air, make it a ‘not-to-miss’ event.
The Traditional Mathura Parikrama
Mathura Parikrama, which is the circumambulation of the cultural and religious areas, begins at Vishram Ghat. The early morning Mangala Aarti and the blowing of the conch which denotes the beginning of the parikrama is done at Vishram Ghat. The parikrama is done in a clockwise manner around Braj Mandala, first southwest of Mathura town, then north towards the seven main forests (vanas) located along the western bank of the Yamuna. After this, the parikrama crosses the Yamuna and proceeds south through the five forests on the eastern bank of the Yamuna. From here, the route covers Baldeo and then heads north again through Mahavan before returning to Mathura. The Parikrama concludes by bathing on return at the Vishram Ghat.
The twelve ghats to the north of Vishram Ghat are – Ganesh, Dashashwasmedh, Saraswati Sangam, Chakratirtha, Krishnaganga, Somatirth, Ghantagharan, Dharapattan, Vaikuntha, Navtirtha, Asikunda and Manikarnika.
To the south, the eleven are Guptatirth, Prayag, Shyam, Ram, Kankhal, Dhruva, Saptarishi, Mokshatirth, Surya, Ravan Koti and the Buddha.
Alongside Vishram Ghat are beautiful and elegant temples, dedicated to the worship of different deities. Some that fall on the path of the parikrama are:
- Neelakantheshwar Temple
- Radha Damodar Mandir
- Mukut Temple
- Murali Manohar Mandir
- Yamuna Krishna Mandir
- Narasimha Temple
- Langali Hanuman Temple
- Veni Madhav Temple
The Mathura pilgrimage or parikrama is not complete without a visit to the four sacred kunds or ponds. Originally numbering about 150, over the centuries they have fallen into ruins; only four, namely the Balbhadra, Potara, Saraswati and the Shiv Tals have survived.
Temples and Shrines in Mathura
Bustling with thousands of devotees who come to visit and pray in the shrines and temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and to bathe in the waters of Yamuna, Mathura can literally be called ‘temple town’. A rough estimate puts the number of temples, ashrams, places of worship, both ancient and modern and the ruins of several historical sites close to around 5000 which is a staggering number!
The birthplace of Krishna, believed to have been born in a prison cell, religiously significant as Krishna Janmasthan (Krishna’s birthplace) is marked by the new Keshav Dev or Kesava Deo temple rebuilt on the old temple that was destroyed by Aurangzeb and a mosque was built on the same spot. The mosque still exists alongside the new temple and is cordoned off by barricades and heavy security.
The Gita Mandir, a beautiful Mandir (temple) on the Mathura-Vrindavan road, has a splendid image of Krishna in its sanctum sanctorum. The Bhagavad Gita’s verses are inscribed on the temple walls.
The Dwarkadheesh Mandir, dedicated to the ‘King of Dwaraka’ is the most popularly visited temple in Mathura. Situated in the city’s north, this temple was built in 1815 by the wealthy treasurer of the Gwalior state, a staunch Krishna bhakt (devotee).
Mathura is equally known for the number of Shaivite temples that are present here. Dedicated to the worship of Shiva or Mahadev, the most prominent ones are:
- Pipaleshwar Mahadev temple in the east of the city
- Rangeshwar Mahadev temple in the south
- Bhuteshwar Mahadev temple in the west, and
- Gokarneshwar Mahadev temple in the north
The legend of ‘Bhaidooj’ or ‘Yama Dwitiya’
Legend goes on to tell us that Lord Yamaraj, worshipped in Hinduism as the God of Death, visited his sister Yami, the river goddess of the Yamuna, on the 5th and the last day of Deepavali, the most auspicious and most celebrated Hindu festival. She in turn welcomed him with an aarti (or lighting of the sacred lamp) and put a tilak (a mark of vermilion) on his forehead for his well-being and safety. Then she served him delicious food with special dishes and fruits; brother and sister spent time together laughing and reliving incidents and memories. They exchanged gifts and Yamaraj declared that the day would henceforth be known as Yama Dwitiya; any man who rejoices in his sister’s company on that particular day and receives gifts and the mark of tilak from her will have a life filled with good health and good fortune and free of worry and will never be given entry into yamaloka or hell.
The ritual of bathing at Vishram Ghat attains greater significance with the relevance of Yami and Yamaraj; thousands of sister-brother groups come to bathe in the Yamuna’s waters to reiterate and strengthen the bonds of blood and kinship. The temple holding the deities of Yami-Yamaraj was built by Vajranabha, Krishna’s great grandson.
This occasion is also marked as ‘Bhaidooj’ – bhai means brother and dooj represents the second day after the new moon. Bhaidooj is a part of Deepavali or Diwali, the festival that is traditionally celebrated over five days; on the darkest new moon night of Kartik, the Hindu Lunisolar month, Deepavali is celebrated signifying the victory of light over darkness.
At Mathura, the significance of Bhaidooj is equally reverent to Krishna. There is a common belief that the second day of Deepavali celebrations coincides with Naraka Chaturdasi, the day Krishna slew Narakasura, the hated demon who terrorised the common people. After this deed which Krishna accomplished as a parallel to his avatar of Lord Vishnu, he went to meet his half-sister Subhadra; the wife of Mahabharata hero Arjuna, who gave him a hero’s welcome with flowers, the sacred lamp and sweets and then adorned his forehead with the tilak.
Important Do’s and Don’ts
- Try to maintain sanctity of the place at all times
- Be vigilant of surroundings and belongings, do not fall prey to those who divert your attention by trying to sell you religious books or ornaments.
- Be aware of the presence of monkeys everywhere; do not expose food and valuables that are easy to grab
- Venturing near the water area with footwear is risky as it is very slippery and can cause accidents to elders and children
- While shopping, shop keepers usually quote higher prices; never fail to bargain or try to compare prices beforehand