Braj Bhumi is the most sacred dham spread over 168 miles- 42 miles on each direction with Mathura as the center. The holy place comprises of Mathura, Goverdhan, Gokulam Barsana ,Vrindavan and the surrounding 12 forests. The Supreme Lord manifested Himself as Lord Krishna along with HIS attendants and enacted various pastimes 5000 years ago in Dwapara yugam which attracts millions of devotees to have darshan of this holy dhaam repeatedly .
Lord Krishnavataaram is the POORNA AVATARAM of Lord Maha Vishnu. Every inch in this place is sacred because of its association with Lord Krishna’s lotus feet (as He walked over all these places).
Anyone who visits this sacred place is bestowed with divine love . This is one of the seven mukthi tharum kshetrams , the rest being Ayodhya, Avatnti, Kasi,Kanchi, Puri, Dwarka. Also, Mathura is very dear to Lord Vishnu as it has Lord’s association in all the four yugams. Lord eternally resides in this place.
Braj Bhoomi, is spread over a area of around 5,000 square kilometers spanning Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, Bharatpur district in Rajasthan and Hodal Subdivision of Palwal Dist. of Haryana. On its northern fringe, Braj Bhoomi starts at a distance of around 115 KMs from the border of India’s capital New Delhi, along the National Highway 2.
From New Delhi , Vrindavan and Mathura, the popular townships of Braj are thre to four hours drive (145 Kms) on the Delhi-Agra National Highway .
Vrindavan and Mathura are at a distance of around 10 kilometers along the NH 2.
Out of the 108 Vaishnava divya desams (sacred shrines glorified by the 12 Azhwar saints of South India), Braj bhoomi comprises of 2 divya desams. They are Mathura (Vada Mathura in Tamil meaning Mathura of North) comprising of Mathura, Vrindavan and Goverdhan giri and Thiru aayarpaadi (Gokulam).
Naalayira Divyaprabhandham known as Dravida vedam comprises of the devotional outpourings of 12 Azhwars on the 108 divya desams. Mathura, Gokulam, Goverdhanam, Vrindavanam have been glorified by Azhwars,especially Periazhwar and Andal.
Among all the azhwars, Vishnu chittar(popularly known as Periazhwar) has experienced Krishna bhakti in Yashoda bhaavam(vatsalyam). Azhwar’s transcendental state and then the outporings is discussed in the below appended post linked below .
Periazhwar Thirumozhi composed by Periazhwar is full of the nectarian bliss that azhwar enjoyed as Mother Yasodha. Anyone who reads these pasurams will be captiviated by Krishna bhakti.
Kulasekhara Azhwar, Periazhwar have expressed beautifully about the pastimes of Lord Krishna with the gopikas and Andal has glorified him as the one who simply roams about telling lies ( madhuryabhavam) in Vrindavan.
Lord Krishna manifested his divine play in this land it is this playful nature which endears and establishes his reign over the hearts of those devoted to him throughout time and it is this which endears this land to his devotees. Krishna performed his “leelas” in 137 sacred forests and around 1000 Kunds (water bodies), on holy hills and on the banks of river Yamuna as per the legendary details .
Brajbhaktivilas mentions that over 137 transcendental dense forests on both flanks of Yamuna existed . More than 650 villages of Braj are associated with HIS various leelas. All this makes the entire region of Braj sacred for millions of Vaishnavites all over the world. Braj has a 5000 year old cultural heritage of unbroken continuity.
According to scholars every major forest in Braj corresponds to the various parts of Krishna’s body, hence the land is non-different from Krishna and walking about its sacred spaces is considered synonymous with being with Krishna. This is the feeling evinced throughout history by Krishna devotees and can and will be relished so long as these sites survive.
Lord Sri Krishna lived in Vrindavan upto HIS 10th year and later moved to Mathura to annihilate the demon Kamsa. After this episode , Lord stayed in Mathura and later shifted to Dwarka. Though Lord Krishna resided in Dwaraka by constructing a beautiful city in the sea and was served by 16,108 wives and innumerable assistants,
HIS HEART ALWAYS CRAVED FOR THE GOPIKAS AFFECTION IN VRINDAVAN. The Lord was physically present in Dwaraka but always resided permanently in the hearts of the Gopis and Gopikas of Vrindavan.
Of the 16,108 wives of Lord Krishna, eight are more prominent who are collectively known as Ashta mahishis.
They are Rukmini, Sathyabama, Jambhavati, Kalindhi, Mithravindha, Sathya, Badra and Lakshmana.
WE can have darshan of all these mahishis in Dwaraka which is also a divyadesam. In South India, Lord gives darshan as Srividya Rajagopalan along with Rukmini and Satyabhama at Mannargudi; with Rukmini at Thiruvellikeni; with Rukmini,Satyabhama,Jambavathi at Thiruthankaal which is also a divya desam.
Likewise, out of lakhs of gopis in Vrindavan, eight gopikas(Ashta sakhis) along with Radharani are very prominent. One can have THEIR darshan at ISKCON, Mayapur, ISKCON Tirupati, and in Vrindavan. RAdharani belongs to Barsana(Varsana) and the ashta sakhis serving the lordships appeared in the surrounding villages of Barsana. The villages and the distances are mentioned below .
Divine pastimes where Lord Krishna suffered from severe headache for which Sage Narada said that” applying dust from feet of devotees was the only remedy “reminds us of the deep love LORD has for HIS devotees . The wives of Krishna got perplexed and refrained from committing this grave sin (apacharam ) whereas the gopis hearing this news started dusting their feet and collected the dust in carts and sent it to Dwaraka as they couldn’t digest the fact that their Lord was suffering. Such was their bhakti.
Once ,during Solar eclipse, Lord KRishna decided to have holy bath at Surya Theertham in Kurukshetra and along with HIS entire retinue from Dwaraka went to Kurukshetra. On hearing this news, the gopis of Vrindavan also reached Kurukshetra to meet their life-breath-Krishna.
The wives of Krishna were very curious to know about the gopikas bhakti and approached Rohini, the step-mother of Krishna who was with Krishna during HIS childhood to share their pastimes. Rohini instructed Subhadra to stand guard at the entrance as Krishna would forget everything if HE remembered the sweet pastimes and shared everything with the wives of Krishna.
The Ashtamahishis of Lord Krishna were very excited to see the gopis and their faces lit up in reverence. The gopika bhakti cannot be described in words. All the queens were keen to know from them what was that trait which Lord Krishna was attracted to them.
Draupadi, an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna was also extremely happy to see the Gopis. People who had gathered were all extolling the greatness of Lord Krishna. Draupadi on seeing the queens eagerly enquired the reason for marrying Lord Krishna.
“Na vayam sadhvi samraajyam swaraajyam bhojam abyuthae”
The Ashta Bharyas/ Mahishis beautifully replied to Draupadi’s question that they married Lord Krishna for merely doing service to the Lord and not for acquiring any wealth or even liberation. They wanted to marry the Lord not to enjoy the status of being a spouse, but so that they may be treated like a broom (‘gruha maarjani’) so that there is a nimble chance that He may shower His grace by looking at them in the passing.
Their main purport in life was to do service to the Lord and they clearly mentioned that they learnt this purport only from the Gopis who are verily the personification of godliness.
The Gopis are verily the gurus for the all the devotees who seek Lord Krishna .
The gopikas once visited Dwaraka to meet Lord Krishna and while returning, being unable to bear the pangs of separation from Lord , jumped into a deep pit and gave up their material body and united with the Supreme Lord. The place where the gopis gave up their life is known as Gopi Talab near Dwaraka.
Krishna blessed them that they would change into chandan which would be applied by all HIS devotees who crave for HIM. This is known as “Gopi Chandan”.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead as Krishna used to dance in front of gopis just for taking some butter. Lord Krishna was bound by gopis affection which cannot be described in words. OUr poorvacharyars have lamented that they were unfortunate for not having taken birth in Braj bhoomi during Krishnavataram.
Suka brahmam ensured that while narrating Srimad Bhagavatam to King Parikshit who was cursed to die very soon not to take the gopis names because he would get lost in their bhakti and pastimes and would not be able to complete the Bhagavata Saptaham (Completing Bhagavatam in seven days). Such is the greatness of the gopika bhakti which cannot be extolled in mere words.
Puranas reveal that out of many thousands of gopis, sixteen thousand are predominant and among them 108 gopis are very close , eight are still more prominent . Radharani and Candravalli are very prominent and Srimathi Radharani is the most prominent. Because Radharani possesses all the charm and sweetness to attract Lord Krishna .
The Eight Gopis who are the foremost, dearest and most beloved friends of Shri Shri Radharani are glorified as Asta-sakhis Gopis .
Their names are Lalita, Visakha, Chitralekha, Champakalata, Tungavidya, Indulekha, Rangadevi and Sudevi.
The Astha-sakhis display the zenith of spiritual love for Radha and Krishna. No one can equal or exceed the love they bear for the Divine Couple.
To increase the transcendental ecstasy of Radha and Krishna, the Parama-preshta Gopis show partiality; sometimes they favour Krishna, sometimes Radha.
These Eight Gopis are the leaders of all the other gopis. Although these Varishtha Gopis are the leaders of millions of other gopis, because they are very greedy to earn Radha’s love , they always prefer to serve under the command of Radha and try to please her in every way possible.
These gopi friends decorate their own dear friend Srimati Radharani and they take Radharani’s side whenever she has a lover’s quarrel with Lord Hari. They please the Divine Couple by expertly singing, dancing and playing instrumental music. At the appropriate time they beg to be engaged in various appropriate services.
They serve palatable meals to the Divine Couple and afterward relish tasting the remnants left by Them.
Their minds are pure and they are very expert and intelligent, so they serve Radha and Krsna very appropriately. Lalita-devi is the leader and controller of all these exalted and worshipable young gopis…
To understand the deep devotion of the brajwasees one has to really go and see this place for oneself .
The whole Brajbhoomi vibrates with the name “Radhey Radhey”. Radharani, the dearest gopi of Krishna is “personification of bhakti”.
To attain Krishna’s lotus feet, one must pray to RAdharani for HER divine intervention and grace. She alone is capable of uniting us with Lord Krishna.
Srimati Radharani, the personification of bhakti and the foremost dearest gopi of Lord Krishna appeared on a lotus in a pond at a place presently known as Rawal to Vrishabanu.
She was affectionately brought up by King Vrishabanu and Kirti Devi at Barsana . It may be recalled that in Kaliyugam, our Kodhai nachiyar(Andal) also appeared near a Tulasi plant and was brought up affectionately by Periazhwar.
Like Radharani, Kodhai was also immersed in Krishna bhakti and was enthralled by Gopika bhakti that SHE chose to be one of the gopis in Vrindavan .
Following the footsteps of the gopis who did Kaathyayeni nombu in Dhanur maasam, our Kodhai did Paavai nombu during Dhanur maasam(Dec-Jan) along with her friends for attaining Krishna.!! Finally, she was successful and the Lord married her. This happened in our present Kali yugam.
When Mother Yasodha along with child Krishna visited Vrishnabanu’s palace, little Krishna went to Radharani and touched her. Due to SriKrishna’s sparsham, the little girl opened her eyes and saw Krishna.
From that moment, they became inseparable . Radharani who was elder to Krishna used to be so caring and protective that even Mother Yashdha and Nand Maharaj wondered .
EVeryday Krishna used to come from Nandgaon for grazing cows and Radha other gopis used to come from Barsana to sell butter and milk.
Both of them would meet in the junction which is now known as Sanket.
At the same time, Vrishnabanu’s brother was blessed with a girl named Chandravalli at Rittora. Chandravali attained Krishna by her own means .
The gopis of Vrindavan formed two groups- one whose leader was RAdharani and the other group led by Chandravalli. Both the groups used to compete amongst themselves to be in Krishna’s association.
Radharani was always surrounded and served by her thousands of gopi-friends out of which eight of them are very prominent and are collectively known as Ashta sakhis. They are Lalitha , Vishaka, Tungadevi, Rangadevi, Indulekha, Chitralekha, Sudevi and Champakalatha. These sakhis appeared in different villages around Barsana.
Lalitha at Ucchagaon,
Visakha at Kamaai,
Champakalatha at Karela,
Tungavidya devi at Dabaara,
Rangadevi at Raakoli,
Sudevi at Sunera,
Chitradevi at Chiksoli,
Indulekha at Anjhanak.
These sakhis individually had many assistants under them for serving Radha Krishna. Few of them are elder to Radharani and others are younger to Radha.
The appearance days of all these sakhis coincide with RAdhastami- Radharani’s appearance day which is celebrated after Sri Krishna Janmashtami. Starting from Sashti thithi upto Pournami, the appearance days of these ashta sakhis are celebrated and Radharani’s appearance day celebrated on RAdhashtami.
The beautiful temple of Srimathi Radharani is located on a small hill in Barsana . There are four paths leading to the temple. Devotees have darshan of Sri Krishna and Radharani all through the day. On Radhashtami, ( Abhishekham ) thirumanjanam ( Abhishekam ) is performed to deity of Radharani which had appeared under a tree near the temple some 200 years ago .
Lord Krishna stayed in Vrindavan till HE attained 10 years of age . The exchange of love between our chinni Krishna and gopikas is transcendental and great sages swoon when they remember the rasa kreeda performed by Krishna with the gopis.
It may be noted that Krishnavataram took some 5200 years ago and due to passage of time, all the places related to the divine pastimes of Lord Krishna disappeared.
As per Gaudiya sampradaya ,it is told that just about 500 years ago, Krishna and Radha appeared as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Mayapur to revive the Madhurya bhakti .
When Mahaprabhu arrived in Braj bhoomi, he went into ecstasy and by the will of Providence, discovered all the places related to Lord Krishna. Before proceeding further, adiyen offers humble obeisances to Poojya Vedavyasar who composed Srimad Bhagavatham, Sri Sukarbrahman who expounded it to Parikshit Maharaj, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who discovered the transcendental places, the six Goswamis of Vrindavan who revived all those places .
Adiyen offers dandaavats to all other devotees like Krishna Premi Swamigal, ISKCON Goswamis , Sri Vallabha sampradaya bhaktas , Sri Nimbarka sampradaya devotees and all the great devotees for propagating the importance of these places. All these Ashtasakhi temples are around Barsana and can be covered within half a day or one day by car if we start early.
WE had hired a Tavera driven by Sri.Vishnu, a brajvasi who is familiar with all the places in Vrindavan. He may be contacted on 89583 97684. WE had engaged this vehicle 5 days picking up from Delhi airport and dropping us back at the airport after visiting the holy places in Barsana and Vrindavan. We visited the temples in the following manner:
Barsana to Chiksoli Chitrasakhi temple — 2 kms
Chiksoli to Dabara Tungadevi sakhi temple — 2 kms
Dabara to Rakoli RAngadevi sakhi temple — about 4 kms and return to Barsana.
Take another route from Barsana to visit Lalitha sakhi and Sudevi sakhi temples
Barsana to Oonchagaon Lalitha sakhi temple — 2 kms
Oonchagaon to Sunera Sudevi sakhi temple — 3 kms
and return to Barsana to take Delhi route to visit Indulekha, Vishaka and Champakalatha temples
Barsana to Anjanauk Indulekha sakhi temple– 5 kms
Anjanauk to Kamai Vishaka sakhi temple — 3kms
Kamai to Karela Champakalatha temple (Rajasthan route)– 4 kms
and return to Barsana.
The services rendered by these ashta sakhis as per Gaudiya Sampradayam differs with Nimbarka and Vallabhacharya sampradayas. We need to just realise that these sakhis rendered service to the lotus feet of Radha and Krishna and attained eternal bliss.
In all the temples, we find Radha and Krishna gracing the devotees at the centre, the sakhis who appeared at that place are seen on right side and another sakhi is on the left side.
Detailed travel experiences we had recently to all the Ashtasakhi temples are posted with separate headers for relishing the divine nectar….in the following url
Adiyen Ramanuja dasan
Pictures credits : Google images
video credits : Saadaya..