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Vṛndāvana

VNDĀVANA

VNDVANA is both a mythical site, mentioned in the Purāas, 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, Vndāvana is ancient, but as a town it is comparatively new.

Mythical Site

Vndāvana (literally, "sacred basil grove") is described in the Purāas, most notably in the Bhāgavata Purāa, as a beautifully forested land associated with the cowherd god Ka. According to the Bhāgavata Purāa, Ka was born in the royal city of Mathura, but to avoid slaughter by his wicked uncle Kasa his father secretly took him across the Yamuna River to the cowherd settlement of Gokula, where he passed the early years of his infancy. Kasa soon learned of Ka's whereabouts, however, and began to send various demons to destroy him. When the danger grew too great, the cowherds who had taken in Ka moved to a new sitethe beautifully forested land of Vndāvanaand there set up an idyllic village. In the land of Vndāvana, Ka 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 Vndāvana that Ka would meet with the adolescent gopī s (cowherdesses) of the village under the autumn moon for love trysts. Ka's passionate affairs with the gopī s have been elaborated on extensively since medieval times, and one gopī in particularRādhārose to the position of Ka's favorite. The intimate relationships exemplified between Ka and his lovers in Vndāvana came to symbolize the human's true relationship with the divine. For the practicing Vaiava, Vndāvana is an eternal world, a heavenly paradise that the liberated soul achieves after ultimate success.

Modern-Day Town

The modern-day town of Vndāvana (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. Vndāvana can best be understood, however, by viewing it as part of Vraja (Braj), a distinct cultural region, complete with a distinct language (Vrajabhāa, or Brajbhāa) and history, defined by its association with the Ka myth. Through complex historical developments of the sixteenth century, this region came to be identified as the very land where Ka actually lived long ago. The town of Vndāvana, in particular, was built on a site identified as the forest where Ka met with Rādhā and the other gopī s for their nightly trysts.

The historical development of Vndāvana was due primarily to the disciples of the Bengali saint Caitanya (b. 1486 ce), who came to be known as the Gauīya Vaiavas. The "reclaiming" of the sites of Ka's exploits on earth was a cherished dream of Caitanya. Although the saint himself visited the area surrounding Vndāvana only once, he had sent before him a close disciple named Lokanātha cārya and then later, a group of theologians known as the Six Gosvāmins of Vndāvana. The establishment of Vndāvana 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 Vndāvana 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 Ka myth and for creating a center of Vaiava learning in Vndāvana.

Three other Vaiava sects were involved in the development of Vraja culture that took place in and around Vndāvana, namely, the Rādhāvallabhas, the Vallabhācāryas, and the Nimbārkas. Vndāvana continued to grow and develop as an important center for all Vaiavas, and with the construction of a large Śrī Vaiava temple in Vndāvana in the mid-nineteenth century, all major sects of Vaiavism came to be represented in Vndāvana.

Today hundreds of pilgrims flock into Vndāvana daily, their numbers increasing substantially during the four monsoon months when, as legend has it, all other pilgrimage sites come to reside in Vndāvana. These pilgrims come to walk the very land trodden by Lord Ka and to see the natural objects transformed by his contact. They come also to see Ka in another important formas an image (mūrti ) residing for the benefit of his worshipers in the many famous temples of Vndāvana. But most important, they come during the rainy season to see the numerous plays staged all over Vndāvana that depict stories of Ka and his intimate companions. Vndāvana continues to thrivemany new temples are being constructed todaymaking it a living center of traditional Hindu culture.

See Also

Caitanya; Hindi Religious Traditions; Ka; Rādhā; Vaiavism, article on Bhāgavatas.

Bibliography

William G. Archer's The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry (New York, 1957) remains one of the best introductions to the Ka myth. See especially chapter 3 for a good (if brief) description of Ka's exploits in Vndāvana. The best sourcebook for the modern-day town of Vndāvana 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 Vndāvana. Charlotte Vaudeville's article "Braj: Lost and Found," Indo-Iranian Journal 18 (1976): 195213, is useful for understanding the cultural condition of the area surrounding Vndāvana before its development by the Vaisnava Gosvāmins. For a good description of the Ka dramas of Vndāvana, 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).

New Sources

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)

Revised Bibliography

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