Video of Braj Foundation Award for Best Water NGO – Revival of Rural Water Resources
Next, Ranjeni A. Singh wrote an article giving an overview of the Braj Foundation’s work, including new projects and updates:
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Forests full of Pilu, Ashoka and Kadam trees, creepers laden with flowers, chirping birds, the Yamuna river flowing by, lush pastures for cows to graze in, ponds full of water birds and palatial houses – that’s how the Braj landscape is described in scriptures and ancient literary works.
Today’s Braj, however, is a picture in contrast: Shanty settlements, crumbling structures, garbage dumps, water bodies that are sludge tanks and pigs running about; a far cry from the Brajbhoomi where Krishna played pranks with villagers and romanced the gopis. Most of the culturally vibrant regions that resonate with the legend of Radha and Krishna – spanning Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, parts of Bharatpur in Rajasthan and Palwal in Haryana – are in a shambles.
However, there’s hope yet that we might get to see the glorious Brajbhoomi of yore, thanks to the efforts of an NGO that’s restoring water bodies and groves in the area.
The Braj Foundation (TBF) comprising prominent industrialists is doing serious work to restore Braj by conserving its 5,000-year-old heritage and environment through large-scale community participation. TBF, which began with restoration of ancient kunds or water tanks, has now expanded its efforts to revive and rejuvenate sacred vans or groves, transforming 18,000 acres of parvat or hilly terrain into lush-green pasture lands. The Yamuna is also being cleaned up. The TBF’s sister organisation, Braj Rakshak Dal, is promoting organic farming, dairy industry, rural education and employment.
Vineet Narain, CEO of TBF, says, “We drew up a master plan. The TBF has scientifically surveyed over 400 ancient water bodies using satellite imagery, collecting relevant revenue records, tracing the cultural history and evaluating restoration requirements.”
The restoration cost of a kund could be between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 2.5 crore. “We have tried to mobilise support from corporations, private donors and MPLAD funds for the projects,” he says. TBF’s founder-chairman Kamal Morarka has been donating liberally, giving technological and administrative support for the projects.
Restoration work is in progress in 22 kunds, including Gomti Ganga in Kosi, Chandrasarovar in Chaumuha, Roop Kund in Barsana, Jait Kund in Jait and Garud Govind Kund in Chhatikara.
After restoration, TBF opened the Brahma Kund to the public in 2009. The centrepoint of Vrindavan, sound and light shows are held here and this has been attracting tourists. Radha and Krishna, according to legend, played here and Meera Bai is reported to have spent a night at the kund.
There were 137 forests in Braj associated with Krishna but only three have survived. “Devotees spend crores to decorate temples, but do not think about restoring these forests,” says Narain. “Before planting saplings and trees, we are enriching the soil and ensuring that there is enough water for drip irrigation. We also plan to install tree guards and fence the area to protect the groves from encroachers and animals.”
One major grove, Gahvarvan, situated at the foot of Brahmagiri Hills has been restored by TBF with the help of corporate sponsors. Irrigation facilities are in place.
Another important site restored by TBF is Koile Ghat, the spot from where Vasudev carried Krishna in a basket and crossed the Yamuna to reach Gokul. You can take a boat ride or just sit on the steps of the well-maintained ghat and enjoy the clean waters of the Yamuna.
In Jaikund – once it is ready – there are plans for amphitheatres and parikrama paths alongside the tanks. Braj Rakshak Dal volunteers will brief locals on preserving their land and water resources. “We are not promoting temple culture over here. We want Braj’s culture and environmental heritage to be preserved,” says Narain.
He also disclosed that his foundation is pursuing UNESCO to declare Govardhan Hill as a World Heritage Site. Other sites restored by TBF include Jal Mahal, Vrishabhanu Kund and Shri Shri Radha Ras Mandir in Barsana and Radha Shyam Sundar Mandir and Atal Van Ashram in Vrindavan.
Narain says he has been inspired and blessed by Radha Rani and Ramesh Baba, a revolutionary saint of Barsana, who promotes environment consciousness and service to the poor as the highest form of religion. “I find that the people of Braj are truly Krishna-conscious and participate enthusiastically in restoration work. They know that these sacred spots will bring in tourists and money to help the village economy,” he added.
Krishna was a vital link between people, their ecology and environment. In Shrimad Bhagavadam, Krishna tells his father: “The cities, the cultured lands nor the villages or their houses are ours. We are the forest people, dear father, and will always live in the forests and the hills”.
“The legend surrounding Krishna, especially from his birth to youth, tells us to respect and revere nature. Mythology depicts him as purifying the five elements by vanquishing demons or pollutants,” says Narain.
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