VṚNDᾹVANA is both a mythical site, mentioned in the Purāṇas, and a town in modern India that is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage centers of North India and the focus of much religious activity. As a sacred locality known in scripture, Vṛndāvana is ancient, but as a town it is comparatively new.
Vṛndāvana (literally, "sacred basil grove") is described in the Purāṇas, most notably in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, as a beautifully forested land associated with the cowherd god Kṛṣṇa. According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Kṛṣṇa was born in the royal city of Mathura, but to avoid slaughter by his wicked uncle Kaṃsa his father secretly took him across the Yamuna River to the cowherd settlement of Gokula, where he passed the early years of his infancy. Kaṃsa soon learned of Kṛṣṇa's whereabouts, however, and began to send various demons to destroy him. When the danger grew too great, the cowherds who had taken in Kṛṣṇa moved to a new site—the beautifully forested land of Vṛndāvana—and there set up an idyllic village. In the land of Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇa charmed the elders of the village with mischievous pranks and frolicked in the forest herding cattle with his young companions. Most important, though, it was in the forests of Vṛndāvana that Kṛṣṇa would meet with the adolescent gopī s (cowherdesses) of the village under the autumn moon for love trysts. Kṛṣṇa's passionate affairs with the gopī s have been elaborated on extensively since medieval times, and one gopī in particular—Rādhā—rose to the position of Kṛṣṇa's favorite. The intimate relationships exemplified between Kṛṣṇa and his lovers in Vṛndāvana came to symbolize the human's true relationship with the divine. For the practicing Vaiṣṇava, Vṛndāvana is an eternal world, a heavenly paradise that the liberated soul achieves after ultimate success.
The modern-day town of Vṛndāvana (also known as Brindavan) is located on the west bank of the Yamuna River, about eighty miles south of Delhi and forty miles north of Agra, and is situated in the modern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Vṛndāvana can best be understood, however, by viewing it as part of Vraja (Braj), a distinct cultural region, complete with a distinct language (Vrajabhāṣa, or Brajbhāṣa) and history, defined by its association with the Kṛṣṇa myth. Through complex historical developments of the sixteenth century, this region came to be identified as the very land where Kṛṣṇa actually lived long ago. The town of Vṛndāvana, in particular, was built on a site identified as the forest where Kṛṣṇa met with Rādhā and the other gopī s for their nightly trysts.
The historical development of Vṛndāvana was due primarily to the disciples of the Bengali saint Caitanya (b. 1486 ce), who came to be known as the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. The "reclaiming" of the sites of Kṛṣṇa's exploits on earth was a cherished dream of Caitanya. Although the saint himself visited the area surrounding Vṛndāvana only once, he had sent before him a close disciple named Lokanātha Ᾱcārya and then later, a group of theologians known as the Six Gosvāmins of Vṛndāvana. The establishment of Vṛndāvana as an important religious center is chiefly the work of this group of theologians, especially two brothers among them, Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmin. These brothers were to have the first of the magnificent temples of Vṛndāvana built in the sixteenth century with the help of wealthy rajas of Rajasthan. They were also responsible for establishing the location of many of the sites associated with the Kṛṣṇa myth and for creating a center of Vaiṣṇava learning in Vṛndāvana.
Three other Vaiṣṇava sects were involved in the development of Vraja culture that took place in and around Vṛndāvana, namely, the Rādhāvallabhas, the Vallabhācāryas, and the Nimbārkas. Vṛndāvana continued to grow and develop as an important center for all Vaiṣṇavas, and with the construction of a large Śrī Vaiṣṇava temple in Vṛndāvana in the mid-nineteenth century, all major sects of Vaiṣṇavism came to be represented in Vṛndāvana.
Today hundreds of pilgrims flock into Vṛndāvana daily, their numbers increasing substantially during the four monsoon months when, as legend has it, all other pilgrimage sites come to reside in Vṛndāvana. These pilgrims come to walk the very land trodden by Lord Kṛṣṇa and to see the natural objects transformed by his contact. They come also to see Kṛṣṇa in another important form—as an image (mūrti ) residing for the benefit of his worshipers in the many famous temples of Vṛndāvana. But most important, they come during the rainy season to see the numerous plays staged all over Vṛndāvana that depict stories of Kṛṣṇa and his intimate companions. Vṛndāvana continues to thrive—many new temples are being constructed today—making it a living center of traditional Hindu culture.
William G. Archer's The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry (New York, 1957) remains one of the best introductions to the Kṛṣṇa myth. See especially chapter 3 for a good (if brief) description of Kṛṣṇa's exploits in Vṛndāvana. The best sourcebook for the modern-day town of Vṛndāvana is still Fredrick S. Growse's Mathurā: A District Memoir, 3d rev. ed. (Allahabad, 1883). Although this work is now quite dated, it provides detailed descriptions of the history and temples of Vṛndāvana. Charlotte Vaudeville's article "Braj: Lost and Found," Indo-Iranian Journal 18 (1976): 195–213, is useful for understanding the cultural condition of the area surrounding Vṛndāvana before its development by the Vaisnava Gosvāmins. For a good description of the Kṛṣṇa dramas of Vṛndāvana, see Norvin Hein's The Miracle Plays of Mathurā (New Haven, Conn., 1972) and John Stratton Hawley's At Play with Krishna: Pilgrimage Dramas from Brindavan (Princeton, N. J., 1981).
Case, Margaret H. Seeing Krishna: The Religious World of a Brahmin Family in Vrindaban. New York, 1999.
Das, R. K. Temples of Vrindaban. Delhi, 1990.
Entwistle, A. W. Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage. Groningen Oriental studies, v. 3. Groningen, 1987.
Mahanidhi, Swami. The Gaudiya Vaisnava Samadhis in Vrindavana. Vrindavan, 1993.
David L. Haberman (1987)
"Vṛndāvana." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vrndavana
"Vṛndāvana." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved December 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vrndavana
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