Book On Vasudeva Krishna Of Mathura Reinforces Hindu Claims To Janmasthan

by R Jagannathan - Nov 26, 2021 08:36 AM
Book On Vasudeva Krishna Of Mathura Reinforces Hindu Claims To JanmasthanThe cover of Vasudeva Krishna and Mathura.
Snapshot
  • Meenakshi Jain’s book makes it obvious that Krishna Janmasthan belongs wholly to Hindu parties.

    Hindus owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jain and her tireless scholarship.

Vasudeva Krishna and Mathura. Meenakshi Jain. Aryan Books International. 2021. Page 222. Rs 795.

With every new book, Meenakshi Jain’s credentials as one of India’s foremost historians get burnished. Her latest, Vasudeva Krishna and Mathura, follows the trajectory of her earlier work on Rama and Ayodhya, linking these Hindu deities with the places they are associated with by devotees. This work is sure to upset our 'eminent' Leftist historians, who will either dismiss it as “communal history”, or ignore it altogether, as they have done repeatedly in the past.

Vasudeva Krishna is a must read for three reasons. Jain, who specialises in cultural and religious developments in ancient and mediaeval India, has provided historical evidence that clearly establishes the Hindu claims to Krishna Janmasthan in Mathura beyond doubt. An Idgah now stands on the temple premises, courtesy Emperor Aurangzeb.

Second, more than being just about the claims and counter-claims surrounding the Katra Keshavadeva Temple in Mathura, the book provides deep insights on the birthing and rise of the Vaishnava sect in which Shri Krishna gradually begins to dominate. It provides the background in which the Vedic religion, based on fire worship and sacrifices (yagnas), gradually started using images for worship, and this shift was probably pushed from below by popular pressure. Sacrifices have remained a part of Hinduism, but they became more symbolic in nature. The Vedic religion was democratised through bhakti and the institution of the pilgrimage (teertha yatra), which was considered as cleansing as yagna and sacrifices.

And third, Jain points out that all three major religions of the ancient era, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, grew in tandem, often sharing the same cultural roots and symbols that emerged on this soil.

The book provides a fascinating explanation on how “the Bhagavata religion that evolved around Vasudeva Krishna, eventually fused with the cults of the Vedic Vishnu, the cosmic god Narayana, and the pastoral deity Gopala.” The fusion made Vasudeva Krishna an avatar of Vishnu, first among equals in the Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh triad.

The book, divided into 10 chapters, can broadly be grouped into three (or even four) parts. (Note: This segmentation is mine, not the author’s). The first part, which comprises three chapters, starts with the emerging shift in the culture of worship from sacrifices (yagnas) to images and deities, followed by a summary on the origins of the Bhagavata religion. It ends with the fusion of the cults of Vasudeva Krishna, Vishnu, Narayana and Gopala. Vasudeva Krishna of the Vrishnis and the Shri Krishna of the Mahabharata are shown as likely to be one and the same person.

The next segment of four chapters provides the evidence on growing Krishna worship, and organises the literary and epigraphic evidence about the phenomenon. From the earliest mentions of Shri Krishna in the Chandogya Upanishad (6th-7th centuries BCE), to the works of grammarian Panini (5-th-6th century BCE) and Patanjali (mid-2nd century BCE), and with further corroboration from the Mahabharata and Buddhist and Jain texts, the author builds a case for the gradual and steady rise of the Krishna cult that ultimately converged into Vaishnavism. The third chapter in the second segment talks about the emergence of Mathura as the ancestral land of the Vrishnis, the ethnic group which Shri Krishna belonged to. The fourth documents Bhagavatism in the Common Era.

The third segment comprises three chapters that Islamic iconoclasm, starting with Mahmud Ghaznavi, who plundered and desecrated the sacred city of Mathura in his ninth invasion (1071 CE). For 21 days, his armies vandalised the city and its temples.

But here’s the important thing: despite this, and subsequent destructions and plunder, Hindus never abandoned Mathura. After Ghaznavi left, the Gahadavalas emerged as the protectors of Hinduism, with Katra (market place) being an important pilgrimage site in Mathura. It is now called the Krishna Janmasthan. A vassal of the Gadahavala dynasty, Jajja, built a huge temple at Katra in 1150 (CE). But then came Muhammad Ghori, whose victory over Jaichand resulted in more destructions of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines in and around Mathura. The Jajja temple was destroyed too. Again, Hindus did not abandon Katra and, by a quirk of fate, during the time of Emperor Jehangir, a vassal, Bir Singh Bundela, rebuilt the Katra Keshava Temple. But under Aurangzeb Katra Keshavadeva got its final demolition order in 1669, and an Idgah was built over it.

History turned in favour of the Hindus when the Marathas won the battle of Govardhan in 1770 and obtained control of Mathura and Agra. They declared the entire Katra Keshavadeva land as nazul (government) land, which brings us to the genesis of the current dispute over Krishna Janmasthan and its antecedents.

Once Katra Keshavadeva was declared nazul land by the Marathas, in 1815, Raja Patnimal of Banaras bought the entire parcel of 13.37 acres. The Muslims of the Idgah launched various legal challenges to this sale, but all failed. The descendants of Raja Patnimal kept winning, and the only thing the Muslim side won was the right to access the Idgah.

In February 1944, Katra Keshavadeva was bought over by Seth Jugal Kishore Birla, with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and two others as key players, and a trust was created (Sri Krishna Janambhumi Trust) in 1951. But this trust seemed to have become non-functional and a new trust, Shree Krishna Janamsthan Sewa Sangh, which included some members of the earlier trust, entered into an “illegal compromise” in 1968 with the Idgah group to transfer some of the land of Katra Keshavadeva to the latter. This illegal transfer is now being challenged by a group of Shri Krishna devotees with the deity itself being the prime litigant (in Indian law, the deity is treated as a minor and a proper legal entity).

Meenakshi Jain’s book makes it obvious that the land belongs wholly to Hindu parties, and several lower court judgements have upheld this position repeatedly. What stands in the way of Hindus reclaiming the Krishna Janmasthan is the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991, which prevents changes in ownership of places of worship after 15 August 1947. The Supreme Court will have to decide this finally, as it did in the Ayodhya case.

But that’s another story. With Vasudeva Krishna, Meenakshi Jain joins that elite list of historians whose scholarship cannot be denied anymore. Among her other books are The Battle for Rama: Case of The Temple at Ayodhya, Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries and the Changing Colonial Discourse, and Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples. Vasudeva Krishna and Mathura mirrors an earlier work that links Rama and Ayodhya, clearly connecting these Hindu sacred places with the popular deities worshipped by millions.

Hindus owe a huge debt of gratitude to Meenakshi Jain and her tireless scholarship.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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