Vrindavan, 2018.02.14 (VT): Modern cities are made up of people, infrastructure and services. But, cities are also built on their past. Just think, what would Delhi be without its iconic Lal Quila? Jaipur without the Hawa Mahal? Agra without the Taj Mahal?
In Vrindavan, Keshi Ghat, Madan Mohan temple and Govinda Dev temple were the signature monuments of this ‘temple town’. Today, the story is different as development is focused just around a few temples.
While three consecutive governments of Uttar Pradesh have announced a slew of schemes for the development of Vrindavan, no scheme scheme has been announced for the repair and conservation of the monuments that used to be the signature of Vrindavan.
Instead, the projects are forcing Vrindavan’s heritage to die a silent death. Be it the merger of the civic bodies of Mathura and Vrindavan, the Riverfront Development Project or the attempt to built the half-moon bridge… most of the decisions have only attributed to diminishing the ethos of Vrindavan.
The history of the town which was uncovered by Lord Chaitanya and the six Goswamis is being forgotten. The number of visitors in many of Vrindavan’s 5000 temples is declining, despite the increase in the number of visitors.
Although the numbers of the weekend tourists have gone up, only a few follow the tradition of attending Yamuna Pujan, taking darshan of the traditional temples, and visiting the places of Sri Krishna’s pastimes. Most of the weekend tourists visit a few selected temples, beginning with the modern temples on the outskirts of town.
In days gone by, the Tirtha purohits used to take their yajman to show them where Krishna stole the clothes of the Gopis, where Krishna danced on the Kaliya serpent, where Krishna killed the Keshi demon and so on. Yamuna pujan at Keshi Ghat was the foremost thing to do once a devotee came to Vrindavan.
According to the Adi – Varaha Purana, taking one bath in Yamuna at Keshi Ghat is hundred times more auspicious than taking bath in the Ganges. The Purana also says that by performing Shraddha ceremonies at Keshi Ghat for the forefathers, one gets the same result of offering Shraddha in Gaya (the place where Lord Buddha achieved liberation).
Until a few years ago, Keshi Ghat was the only ghat where the Yamuna reached, but now this is also becoming a distant memory, to be seen only in the photos of the Yamuna at Keshi Ghat – one of the most attractive and scenic places in Vrindavan. Vrindavan’s only Yamuna temple is situated on Keshi Ghat. Vrindavan’s famous Yamuna arati is only performed at Keshi ghat.
Shraddha ceremonies for the benefit and remembrance of ancestors are performed at the Panda wala ghat adjoining Keshi ghat. The river used to touch this ghat along with Keshi Ghat. But, the Riverfront Development Project has forced Yamuna to leave its favorite ghats where it used to gently flow, creating a beautiful and spiritual atmosphere that made Keshi ghat the iconic image of Vrindavan.
Vrindavan is as important for Vaishnavite Hindus as the Vatican for Catholics or Mecca for Muslims, but the state governments of the last few decades have implemented ill conceived projects without consultation with locals, which have threatened the existence of the Holy Dham’s most sacred places.
The panoramic riverside architecture of Vrindavan was a phenomenon that was witnessed and described by many historians and travellers. During the 17th and 18th centuries, more than 32 ghats were built along Yamuna by the Rajput Kings and zamindars (landlords) who were inspired by the pastimes of Lord Krishna. All of the ghats were built to commemorate Krishna’s pastimes, and are named after the different ‘lilas’ of the Lord – Praskanandan Ghat , Suraj Ghat, Keshi Ghat, Bhramar Ghat, Cheer Ghat, Govind Ghat, Ranapat Ghat, Bihar Ghat, Jugal Ghat and Suraj Ghat are some of the names of the ghats. These ghats are situated adjacent to each other and give a panoramic view when seen together.
The Praskanandan Ghat was built to commemorate Lord Krishna’s praskanandan (perspiration) which caused to create a small lake to appear, but this ghat is not visible at the present time due to large scale construction activities on the riverbed. Similarly, Suraj Ghat commemorates the place where Suryadev performed great austerities so that he could achieve darshan of Lord Krishna. Shri Radha Rani also prayed to Suryadev (Sun God) at the Suraj Ghat to appear and give warmth to Lord Krishna, after he fought with the Kaliya serpent in the cold Yamuna water.
Cheer Ghat was built on the site where Lord Krishna stole the clothes of the Gopis. The Srimad Bhagvatam states that the cowherd girls, having lost their hearts to Krishna, prayed to goddess Katyayani to have Krishna as their husband and, by His transcendental mischief, the Lord answered their prayers, at Cheer Ghat .
Kaliya Daman Ghat was built at the place where Sri Krishna leapt into the Yamuna to control and chastise the huge serpent-demon Kaliya.
The famous and elegant Keshi Ghat was built on the site where youthful Krishna saved the Vrajavasis from the terrible Keshi demon who had taken the form of an immense horse. The Keshi demon, a henchman of cruel King Kamsa, was killed at Keshi Ghat, which is also known as Keshi Tirtha.
Bhramar Ghat was built by Sawai Jai Singh to commemorate the pastime of Radha and Krishna who attracted a swarm of black bees (bhramar) with their sweet fragrance when they sat here.
The construction of each ghat had a ‘Divine cause’ behind it. The grandeur of each ghat has been the centre of attraction for centuries. The ghats of Kashi (Varanasi) are grand with their many steps, but the ghats on the bank of river Yamuna in Vrindavan are rich in architectural value. The red stone monuments were built by the different princely heads of states, who were inspired by the saints of Vrindavan.
The architecture of almost all the ghats at Vrindavan is such that the front of the ghats were constructed on pillars and, except for the stairs, which were built for the purpose of Yamuna Pujan / Arati and to facilitate snan (holy dip), the river was allowed to flow underneath the ghats so as to keep recharging the ground water.
Instead of saving and preserving these heritage ghats and the Yamuna riverbed, the government authorities have totally destroyed the river bed by constructing roads and drains as well as permanent & temporary structures. The area of the riverbed between the sheet piling and the ghats is being reclaimed and is being concreted.
None of the ghats have been protected either by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) or the State Archaeology Department. The heritage by-laws which are enforced around ancient temples which are protected by the ASI are not applied to the ghats.
As well as their religious significance, the ghats were built in ancient times to control the monsoon flood. Thus, there was no need to construct new ghats on top of the ancient ghats of the city or extend the ghats. Most of the ghats have been buried under the debris, on top of which illegal roads have been built by the government in connivance with the real estate mafias, who developed colonies on the original Yamuna riverbed. The road built in guise of the Parikrama marg, has actually given access to these colonies.
Since Keshi Ghat was the only obstruction for the continuance of the illegal road, the Mayavati government proposed to build the half-moon flyover at Keshi Ghat. After the project was challenged in the High Court, the half made pillars of the flyover were dismantled. At this time the Akhilesh government proposed the ‘Riverfront Development Project‘, which is proving to be the death knell for the ancient ghats.
Not only are the ghats are being buried and the river forced away from them; but the sheet filing component of the project has dried the ground water aquifers. Soon Vrindavan will face an acute water crisis, as the concrete construction along the riverbed prevents the river from recharging the ground water.
UP State Government departments have admitted in court that, due to the construction, the Yamuna River has already changed its natural course, yet, despite this, they are going ahead with expanding the ancient Ghats thereby ensuring that the river can never return to the natural riverbed.
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