Vrindavan.2017.04.01 (VT): Just off the Parikrama Marg is a little known temple, that of Hari Shiromani Deva, which was first built more than 300 years ago by a Rajasthani king, Harbakhsh Singh, who governed Karauli. Karauli is the town where Madan Mohan Dev took shelter in the late 17th century. So it was at around the same time that the king took initiation in the Gaudiya sampradaya and built a residence near to the Madan Mohan temple. Originally, this was right on the banks of the Yamuna and there was a nearby ghat which has since been built over.
It is a nice rendition of the typical haveli style of temple and the feel of the place is somehow like that of a southern plantation. There is not much traffic in the temple as most of the religious activities are purely formal. The rooms in the building are all rented out to families who work in the garland trade, making garlands and selling them to pilgrims near the Banke Bihari temple.
The extent to which the kings of Rajasthan were involved in the development and growth of Vrindavan is never to be underestimated. Kings from Jaipur, Kota, Karauli, Vikaner and Bharatpur all built country palaces in Braj. With the collapse of the British empire and assimilation of the princely states into the republic of India, the 22 princely states or riyasats that had previously existed in Rajaputana became the united state of Rajasthan in 1949.
This meant that the temples and other properties that these kings had sponsored in Vrindavan were left without any support. Because of the great cultural and historical importance of many of these temples, the Rajasthan government stepped in to preserve and repair many of these heritage sites, even ones outside Rajasthan itself. Thus the Devasthan (“temples and tirthas”) department was created in 1959. In Braj there are currently about 15 such places that are under the direct or indirect control of the Rajasthan government.
The most famous of these is of course the Jaipur temple on the Mathura Road, built in 1917 by Madho Singh II. This is where the local offices of the Devasthan Vibhag are housed. But it is probably not known that one of the seven principal temples of the Gaudiya sampradaya — Radha Gokulananda — is also under the protection of the Rajasthani government.
According to Braj Bhushan Chaturvedi, the temple had been left without sponsorship after the destitution of the princely states, and was falling into disrepair. At that time he approached the Rajasthani government to take care of this property, which is a heritage of the state of Rajasthan. This took place in 2012.
Since then, repairs have been made to the buildings, which generally look to be in fairly good shape compared to the other abandoned havelis along the old Yamuna. Just across the street is the Nabha Kunj, built by a Punjabi prince. It serves as a tenement for families low on the economic scale. It is crumbling on all sides, though its front gate reveals its original magnificence.
The Karauli temple frescoes are fading. The art gives a primitive folksy and local feeling, rather than being of Michaelangelic magnificence. Nevertheless, they give an unique quality to the temple Jagmohan. Braj Bhushan tells me they are afraid of losing the original paintings prematurely if they were to be restored. But notably the walls have been plastered in places without regard for the murals. It makes sense that some artist should come forth and bring back the full beauty of this art and even complete it where it seems to have been unfinished.
Braj Bhushan Chaturvedi, the sevayat of the Hari Shiromani deity, is himself a man of some stature in the Vrindavan community. His forefathers were engaged as temple priests for three generations. They were astrologers and Ayurvedic physicians besides serving the deity, but not gurus or Bhagavata speakers.
He himself became a scholar of Braj culture and is currently the chief curator of the Vrindavan Research Institute library, where he handles a number of responsibilities, including being the editor of the VRI’s quarterly magazine in Hindi, Braj Salila. He is also a major force in the production of the Braj Encyclopedia, the first volume of which has recently been published.
Some other places run in whole or in part by the Rajasthan Devasthan Vibhag in Braj:
2 Bhima Kunja Vrindavan: This temple was built by the rulers of Kota. Bhima Singh disciple of Hit Jugal Dasji Maharaj. It is situated on the banks of the Yamuna. Deity’s name is Radhakanta.
3. Kushala Bihari temple in Barsana. This is a major temple on the hill near the Shriji templem also built by the kings of Jaipur.
4, Madan Mohan. Built by Udaipur rulers. Self-sufficient. Renters pay annual rent of 8712Rs. Swami Ghat. Mathura.
5. Chatura shiromani temple. Built by rulers of the Jaipur Riyasat. Self-sufficient temple.
6. Radha Gokulananda, responsibility for which was given to the recently departed Sri Purushottam Goswami of Jai Singh Ghera.
7. Bharatpur temple. Badan Singh Ji. Keshi Ghat.
8. Bihariji Govardhan.
9. Lakshman temple in Govardhan. Built by Bharatpur kings.
10. Bikaner temple, Ajab Manoharji. Vrindavan.
11. Jugal Kishor in Barsana.
12. Kishori Shyam temple (Bharatpur temple) in Radha Kund. Also built by Bharatpur rulers.
13. Kunja Parvati Ji. Vrindavan.
14. Rupa Kishor. Bankhandi.