There’s more to Mathura than just the usual trip during Holi
This may be a tiny little town in the nondescript district of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh); but its religious significance goes back thousands of years, steeped in the Indian epics. Tourists and pilgrims, from all over India and abroad, flock to this holy town throughout the year, to offer their obeisance to Lord Krishna and his consort Radha.
Situated around a wide hill, popularly known as Giriraj Parvat, Govardhan is one of the holiest places. Hindus believe that Lord Krishna came as a saviour of the people here and protected them from devastating rains caused by the wrath of Indra, the Lord of thunder and rain. He lifted the entire Giriraj Parvat on his index finger and sheltered the villagers under it.
After saving them, Lord Krishna urged the villagers to worship Govardhan Parvat. Thus, inhabitants stated worshipping the hill, mainly by doing a parikrama (circumnavigation) around it. The village has since been celebrating this worship as Govardhan puja (worship) every year, a day after the festival of lights, Diwali.
Govardhan is well-connected by air, road and rail. The nearest railway station is Mathura Junction; from there, one can hire autos or cabs to reach the town which is around 150km from Delhi.
I hit the road from Delhi and took the expressway as soon as my car crossed Noida. It was May and the weather was mercilessly hot. The car sped along the highway at a comfortable speed. I just had to halt midway for lunch, two hours after starting from Delhi.
After an hour, we took off from the highway and veered towards the town of Vrindavan. This is another holy place which completes the pilgrim circuit of Mathura, Vrindavan and Govardhan. Our car passed the narrow lanes of the town. The roads were flanked by temples and sadhus (sages) in saffron. Govardhan is about 20km from Vrindavan. Once we entered Govardhan, it was well past 3.30pm and I stopped by a roadside tea-stall. Many young and elderly people—families, students, couples, et al—were walking barefoot performing the parikrama along the perimeters of Giriraj Parvat.
Soon, we reached Shri Brij Vasundhara Resort, a luxurious abode amidst the natural surroundings of the forests and verdant greens, my residence for the weekend. I spent the rest of the day in leisure within the resort and ventured out next morning. I woke up at 6.30am to catch the morning prayers—aarti. I sped past the sights of devotees doing their parikrama early in the morning with their families. It is this parikrama which attracts believers from far and beyond.
The parikrama is an arduous form of walking barefoot around Govardhan Parvat and covers a distance of 21km. There is no fixed timing to complete it and you can start at any time. Walk at your own pace, take rest, and then begin again. But once you start, you have to finish the circumnavigation. There is another difficult form of the parikrama called dandavata (prostration) which takes weeks and months to finish. For this, a devotee offers obeisance by lying flat and then rolling round the hill. In fact, I saw many devotees doing the dandavata on the way to Radha Kund Temple.
The parikrama usually starts from Mansi Ganga Lake and ends in the same place. The entire journey of 21km takes over five to six hours for many as they walk past shrines, tanks, lakes, shilas (stone sculptures) of gods or goddesses, such as Radha Kund, Shyam Kund, Mukharavinda, Kusum Sarovar, Panchari and Danghati.
Next, I went to Shri Chaitanya Temple to offer my prayers to Lord Krishna. The 25-year-old temple looked resplendent in sunshine. Cast in red sandstone, there are intricate murals (of Radha and Krishna) on the exterior walls of the temple. Flowers were blooming in its premises which attracted hundreds of colourful butterflies. If you are in Govardhan, a visit to this Temple is a must.
Next on my itinerary were Radha Kund, Mansi Ganga and Kusum Sarovar. Kusum Sarovar is a huge lake beautifully enclosed in a protected premise. It looks resplendent against the background of the rising sun or in sunset. There weren’t many tourists here but lot of locals who came with their families and friends.
My evening schedule started with a visit to Danghati Temple where I saw hundreds of devotees performing their parikrama. The evening aarti was going on inside Lord Krishna’s temple in Danghati. The sounds of the bells and aarti are mesmerising and touch your soul!
The Temple is flanked by four or five shops selling offerings for worship. You can buy small packets of red rose and yellow sunflowers, a glass of milk and sweets to offer to the Lord. Tej Veer, a young lad, said: “I have been in this business for many years now. It was started by my forefathers. This place becomes all the more colourful during the Adhik Maasa (extra month in the Hindu calendar which comes every three years) or Guru Purnima in June/July.” There were a few who traded in loose coins. Shyam Sundar, a vendor, said: “These are small packets of one or two rupee coins which we sell to devotees, especially those who do the parikrama. They buy it and donate it to homeless people on the way.” I also made a quick trip to Mansi Ganga and Radha Kund, completing my list of visits in this auspicious town of Govardhan.
Amit Sengupta is the founder-editor of travelflat.in. He has travelled in India’s Northeast, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Jharkhand and currently lives in New Delhi with his wife and son. He tweetsfrom @lifeon140 and can be reached at [email protected]