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Why Yogi Adityanath Should Stir A ‘Panchaamrit’ In Mathura For Rejuvenating The Temple Movement

Widows of Vrindavan lighting earthen lamps at the banks of Yamuna River as they begin their three-day Diwali celebrations in Vrindavan, India. (Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Mathura gives Yogi Adityanath a rare chance to establish an altogether new model of urban and cultural revival.

    Empowering Braj with a true Indic awakening will give him stronger legs for bigger journeys, and Hindus, solace in Krishna’s home for bigger battles.

On 19 October, the Pandalam Palace Trust wrote to the functionaries of Sabarimala Temple, asking them to shut the temple doors in case the rituals are breached. P N Narayana Varma, executive member of the Pandalam Palace members committee, explained to Swarajya over the phone why the decision to close the temple doors was being taken. “Our traditions are very old; devotees have to protect the truth of the lord in special circumstances. The special rituals in Sabarimala, the practices surrounding the Naishtika Brahamachari, are continuing for a long time. We are protecting the rituals.”

Two days later, the doors were shut, and the tradition protected. Varma added over the phone, “After this agitation, after the success of the believers and the rights of the believers—not our success, we will visit Ram Janmabhoomi, Kashi, and Mathura.” Krishna’s Mathura has a special place for the foot soldiers of dharma.

However, within Mathura, Braj and Govardhan are witnessing visible and not-so-visible cultural shifts rumbling on subdued anxiety. Early this year, state intervention was sauntering towards the temples. Now, it is knocking at their doors.

The story begins in 2013 when the original application on environmental concerns regarding Govardhan, including discharging waste into ponds and other water bodies there, reached the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The plea was filed by the Mathura-based organisation Giriraj Parikrama Sanrakshan Sansthan and others. In 2014, the NGT made note of practices related to garbage dumping.

This should have been enough for successive governments to be stung by their own sense of responsibility. The order said, “Learned counsel appearing for Applicant submits that the administration is not taking any effective steps for proper collection and disposal of MSW and in the Holy ground garbage is being dumped anywhere and everywhere.”

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The NGT had directed the city administration to take steps regarding garbage dumping. It directed the “Deputy Commissioner and the Regional Engineer, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board and PWD and the Executive Officer of the Nagar Panchayat to ensure that garbage is not dumped anywhere and should be removed, segregated and disposed of in accordance with the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules.”

One end of the seven kos (21 kilometres) Govardhan Parikrama route—where people from across India and the world gather for circumambulation of the hills—is usually marked as the starting point of the journey, which is mostly done on foot. The same point, as per tradition, serves as a culmination. Govardhan is revered as the ‘stthai chinnnh’—the stationary symbol of Krishna—and is worshipped by the people of Vallabh and Vaishnav sampradayas. Outside the Daanghaati Temple, which is known for the worship of Giriraj-ji Maharaj, a shopkeeper points towards a “notice” displayed on the wall at his shop. “This note is regarding the demolition of our shops. All these shops you see here have to go very soon. It is an order from the authorities to save the environment on the orders of a court, and we can do nothing about it. We will quietly shift and go back to our agricultural lands, no pain. We are mostly farmers, we will be fine. But our real concern is, what, eventually, these changes would mean to the temples in Govardhan, especially Daanghaati.” He adds, “Next to go will be the aarati sthhal. It blocks the view of Govardhan Parvat.”

The changes in the Govardhan area caught momentum owing to another NGT order in 2015.

In the order, NGT made recommendations concerning the environment and ecology of Govardhan, and Giriraj-ji Parvat—how the parvat is known traditionally among its devotees and in the cultural ethos of Braj. All environmental aspects mentioned in the recommendations, seemingly, were in desperate need to be addressed. In the seventeenth recommendation in this order, NGT said: “An independent organisation on the lines of other shrine boards in the country may be constituted for the proper management of this religious place, providing all the required facilities and maintain and upkeep the sanctity of holy places/kunds, cultural heritage, environment protection, sanitation, pollution control, eco-balance of the green cover, which includes Kund, Pokhar, Talab, and Jhari, and related aspects.”

Govardhan is revered as the ‘<i>stthai chinnh</i>’ of Krishna. Here, a devotee walks towards the green cover. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) Govardhan is revered as the ‘stthai chinnh’ of Krishna. Here, a devotee walks towards the green cover. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Early this year, media reports said the Uttar Pradesh government proposed to acquire Sri Girija Mukharvind Temple, Daanghaati Temple, and Mukut Mukharvind Temple. The state Religious Works Department was planning to set up a shrine board. Purpose—to protect Govardhan. Uncertainty and anxiety set in among the people of Mathura and Braj, especially those associated with these temples and those whose livelihoods depend on the temples, rituals, traditions, and the temple ecosystem.

The matter did not go down well with the purohits. Power Minister Shrikant Sharma, who hails from Mathura and is Member of the Legislative Assembly from here, ended up playing the role of Brajwasi. His first task—calming down the priests. He tried hard. He told people of his own community that the Yogi Adityanath government was following and undertaking the matter as per the NGT recommendations, and that he would take the issue to the Chief Minister. He even clarified that the NGT order actually came in 2015, long before the Adityanath government came to power. Assurance perhaps not enough, the riled priests raised slogans and protested, and even performed a buddhi-shudhdhi yagya, and made offerings to fire, praying that (better) wisdom prevail in the three men—Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Sharma himself. Photographs of the three were placed near the homam and mantras recited.

In June this year, another NGT order mentioned official “laxity” in Govardhan. “It is noteworthy to mention here that at one point in time, having seen the laxity on the part of the officers to comply with the order, cost was imposed on them and the same was directed to be recovered from their salary. Even such an order could not make the authorities concerned to come out of their slumber.” On 25 October, it became clear that NGT meant business. The Times of India reported: “The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Uttar Pradesh government to remove all illegally-constructed temples on Giriraj Parvat or those which fall within 12 hectare of land under the forest department in Mathura.”

Swarajya had reported on the purohit protests earlier this year. Manish Sharma, a purohit at Daanghaati Temple, whom Swarajya connected with again last month, says the removal of the aarti sthhal is making priests even more anxious. “The aarti of Giriraj-ji Maharaj is an old tradition. Thousands of devotees attend it. The number shoots up during special occasions—like Govardhan Puja, Sharad Poornima, Deepavali, Kartik Poornima, etc. Back then, news of temple acquisition had disturbed people who have been at the forefront of seva. Now, the aarti sthhal’s demolition and removal is making us uneasy. But we cannot do anything. We are bound to suffer in the new scheme of things.”

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What does he think about the setting up of the shrine board? “Our temples and traditions have to go through this. We are 15-20 purohits directly serving the temple.” His estimate is that 3,000-4,000 people from roughly 400 families will bear the brunt of the changes in temple administration under a shrine board. Mathura, the bigger canvas, has nearly 4,000 temples. According to Sharma, many fear interference from the shrine board in the matters of rituals performed at the temples, and traditions.

Among Kashi, Ram Janmabhoomi, and Mathura, one is beginning to pull up efforts to restore its image, ghats, and aartis, one has the deity with no temple for home, and the last, is groping in uncertainty fuelled by the fears of government control and acquisition of temples. Communists have never ruled this state. Successive governments and the current one, under the Bharatiya Janata Party (and Modi rajya), had more or less been unable to restore the glory one would like to associate with the lands of Ram and Krishna. That was until the arrival of Adityanath, from Gorakhpur to Lucknow, who gave Hindus some hope and Mathura, especially, more attention.

“Cultural aggressors have a knack for charades. Before they finally strike to destroy the tangible or intangible of a living tradition, they use a carefully chosen charade to puncture the existing ethos. When cultural aggressors choose to move towards a temple, its rituals, its deity, idol, they sometimes pick up the charade of bhakti (devotion), or of sanrakshan (protection)—promising that they need to protect against what the devotees protect.” This is the gist of what some priests serving in different Mathura temples, and one, heading a group safeguarding the right of priests, and several people from various castes, who are associated with the temple ecosystem in the bhoomi of Krishna, have to say.

Point in Parikrama: Daanghati Temple in Govardhan. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) Point in Parikrama: Daanghati Temple in Govardhan. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Swarajya was in Mathura again last month. In October, Mathura prepares for Deepavali, the festival of lights in the month of Kartik, which brings a heavy “footfall” of devotees from across India. Govardhan puja and parikrama are central to the rituals and related festivities. On the offset, the mood in Govardhan, currently, is a reluctant blend of uncertainty and festivity. Locals are clearly not comfortable with the looming “temple control”.

But, deep within, they admit, hesitantly, that many changes taking place in Govardhan should have happened years ago to save the pilgrimage site from mess and commotion. A priest says, on the condition of anonymity, “People in Govardhan are cooperating with the local administration, and going by what they are told is good for the ecology and safety of the parvat, the sacred hill. The traditional residents of Govardhan do not mind outsiders coming and settling here as sevayats. They are one of us. However, we fear interference in our rituals in the name of Govardhan protection. It is the hill we worship. Its ecology we revere. We do know how to protect it.”

Until Adityanath came to power, dharmic sthalas of Uttar Pradesh, especially those in Mathura, in all their physical proximity to the national capital, were struggling to gain centrality despite the “footfall” they receive. In a better cultural scenario, the priests and people of a dharmic centre like Mathura, should have been serving as the intellectual base and emotional absorbents to any dharmic battle taking place in any part of India. The situation is demanding something else from them currently. Patience and faith. Is Mathura well equipped under a “favourable” political environment to become the pinnacle of Hindu glory and celebrations of civilisational continuity? Have its unique rituals and traditions been restored to exquisite standards they deserve under Krishna’s protective chhatra and chakra?

If you look at the notions that are making room in Mathura, the answer is “no”. Keeping Krishna's own folks unhappy would be ruffling several communities that constitute the Hindu social fibre. As the collective dharma scenario hurtles towards 2019, the state government must think of steps that not only protect the sanctity of temples and rituals, but also, more effectively, change lives of people who depend on temples and their ecosystem.

For that, Adityanath should first restore the faith of the Hindus of Mathura. For that, he must approach dharma in a larger cultural view, transform Mathura into a religious centre that treats its temples and people well. For that, he must arm Brajwasis with a future that makes them stand bravely with Govardhan, rituals, temples, its cultural heritage, and with their civilisational identity.

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Panchaamrit—The Five Essential Elements Of Change

Adityanath could stir a panchaamrit. A blend of five elements, and use it (as prasad)—all for his consumption, restoring the glory of Mathura’s temples in the first place. The efforts have to go beyond the spiritually essential lighting of oil lamps, and beyond announcing funds that rumble into crores. It is understood that Adityanath, the Chief Minister, would have to walk the talk on NGT directives and respect them. Yet, he would be expected to act as per his identity as a mahant. He must preserve both with pride and gusto—no matter what labels and challenges he faces from adversaries and sections of the media.

The five elements of panchaamrit for Adityanath are: bhoomi (the work on ground—beyond the temple), agni (ritualistic, cultural, spiritual, intellectual restoration of Mathura), jal (the restoring of Yamuna and kunds), vyom (communication in the wake of electoral and cultural manthan taking place at his doorstep), and marut (velocity and gusto of a pan Hindu movement).

Bhoomi

Adityanath has an important task cut out for himself in Uttar Pradesh. He is seated at the nerve centre of Hindu identity. He is beginning to make the right set of pre-2019 moves and Mathura should mark the beginning of this manthan for the rest of Bharat. Interestingly, if the Adityanath government follows the recommendations in the NGT order of 2015 and understands all observations on Govardhan's environment and development in the order that came in June 2018, the manthan would only become easier, swifter, and more effective.

One: Keep Head For NGT Orders, Heart For Braj

Mathura should establish the idea of a cohesive Hindu identity. For this, Adityanath should think a bit from his heart to play it out on a bigger field—with the head. Here’s why. Brajwasis directly connected with temples have fears. Possibility of a shrine board instills a feeling of great uncertainty, and it looks something like this: “Yogi-ji is not caring for us and temples; NGT orders are an excuse for controlling our temples; our tradition and parampara are in danger.” At the base of the fear pyramid are the priests of the three temples.

Has the government clarified “control”, especially to priests? Has it clarified its inclination on managing affairs of the three temples in Govardhan? Not at all—as boldly and clearly—as priests in Govardhan mention the fee for conducting the different puja ceremonies on painted boards.

What does the possibility of a shrine board mean to the priests? First, they believe it means that the government can involve itself in the management and administration of the temples, even ritual, through the shrine board. The top concern: once the government gets involved, they may get “apne aadmi” (own men) to interfere in the matters and numbers of purohits for conducting pujas; even fix the amount the priests get for conducting rituals and pujas (currently, as priests of the Daanghaati Temple tell Swarajya, each purohit gets Rs 10,000 per month from the temple and Rs 5,000 for his child’s education). In an event of government managing the affairs of management and administration, every area that concerns regulation or generation of temple funds, would worry the purohits.

Define ‘control’, diffuse fear and worries while following court and tribunal orders. Parikrama has kachcha and pakka paths—the kachcha ones give more fresh air and breathing space.

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The government—this government—must walk the path for both.

Two: Mission Govardhan

Let’s go back to NGT order that came in 2015—before the Adityanath-led BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh. And to recommendation seventeen. What does it tell you? What’s Govardhan, the parvat Krishna held, got to do with a shrine board? Well, everything environment, everything Govardhan. Time well spent in Govardhan, especially on the parikrama marg, again and again, will tell you that all orders of NGT in the list preceding this one, if followed to the minutest detail, would change the health and breath of Govardhan, its ecology, and contribute to the overall well-being of the pilgrimage centre, site, and people.

Keep the farmer of Mathura in the middle of action pyramid. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) Keep the farmer of Mathura in the middle of action pyramid. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Three: Empower sevayat; keep farmer in the middle of action pyramid

Parampara is dignity and dignity, parampara. Preserve priesthood by keeping rituals, practices, and traditions sacrosanct in the set of parampara of temples collectively and respectively. Manish Sharma adds, “Sevayats are of many castes. Each and every caste is important to not only the temple ecosystem but also the priest. If the priest is living in insecurity, emotional and financial, how can the others thrive? We are all united.”

Increase interaction with farmers, respect their wisdom on issues related to temples, use them. On matters relating to Mathura, its festivals and temples, the kisan of Mathura is also sevayat (the one who does seva or serves the deity). He is an important link in the chain that begins and ends at Mathura’s temples. He is the resident, he is the man standing at Raal, the village that opens Govardhan to a visitor, he is the man at Poonchree ka Lauta, bringing together elements used in puja, including flowers. Mathura’s farmer is also the bearer of intangible heritage, the folk songs for every occasion, the tales, the traditional drums and percussion—part of which Swarajya witnessed during Adityanath’s Holi celebrations in Barsana. The kisan of Mathura, owing to his proximity to local culture and abundance of reasons to use it, is armed with intellectual and cultural depth. The kisan of Mathura fascinatingly switches his role to that of a performer in the spiritually moving contest of lathmaar Holi between Barsana and Nandgaon. He is the provider of several materials used in the puja archana at the temples.

In March, when the government organised Holi celebrations on a grand scale, mood among farmers was largely in favour of Adityanath. Discontent regarding farmer loans (complete waiver) was heard in Barsana back then, but farmers had told Swarajya that they were glad a man they “trust” was ruling the state and giving Mathura more attention that it had deserved in the past. It will be a good harvest for the farmer—and—the temple ecosystem.

Four: Firm Up Braj’s Periphery

This could be done through Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad—in core, along with the crores. In 2017, Vrindavan and Barsana were declared pilgrimage sites, respecting the sentiments of devotees. While to “ensure coordination between various stakeholders” including, among others, “temple management/trusts” is one of the aims of the parishad, which is also taking various projects in Mathura that run into several crores, preparation of a Braj development plan, and conversation of Braj region “in accordance with stages indicated in the plan”, also are tasks in its basket. Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad (BTVP) is chaired by Adityanath himself.

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Last month, a report in Dainik Jagran mentioned that the indication for a shrine board got more force when it came from a dais where the Chief Minister was present. The occasion was Braj Vikasotsav. The person giving the indication, as per the headline and report, was Adityanath himself. The report mentioned that the state government is looking at the possibility of funds to meet the budget required for making Mathura a big pilgrimage and tourism destination through a shrine board and industrialists. Meanwhile, crores of rupees have been ploughed into Mathura through various project plans announced and initiated in September on the occasion of Janmashtami. A local businessman in Govardhan told Swarajya in October, “Crores of rupees have been pumped into Mathura. We hope they meet the expectations of people and good intentions of a man like Yogi (Adityanath); however, a lot needs to improve in Govardhan and the work from these funds should, at the end of the day, show results.”

Though one looks forward to the completion of projects and aesthetic value these projects infuse into Braj, through lenses of optimism and no cynicism, it would be great to see that the BTVP simultaneously works towards focussing more on preserving the bhava of Braj—the real essence of the region. This would be a low-budget blockbuster in local sentiment. An assuring development in the eyes of the discerning bhakt. A moment of trust among all sections of the Braj temple ecosystem.

The core is always long-lasting, sturdy, and real when it is spiritual, simple, and about simplicity. Hindu resurgence always seeks a core more than the jumbo crores. Look into the past, be in control of the present, sculpt the future.

Five: Establish Centres Of Education That Brajwasis Deserve

Indication for shrine board in place? Great. Let Braj Teerth Vikas Parishad, industrialists, the state government and the shrine board, all work towards establishing educational institutions for Braj in Braj. Want to reform temples standing tall on Indic values? Dedicate shikshasthalas that give Brajwasis a promising future in the twenty-first century, while they are rooted to dharma in dharmic evolution. “We have no good schools for our children. There are government schools which are not good enough or ‘convent’ schools. We want good value-based dharmic twenty-first century education for our kids,” a priest serving at Daanghaati temple says.

Priests could be given licences. Why not? (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) Priests could be given licences. Why not? (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Six: Help Strengthen Yajmaan-Purohit Relationship

The temples are here. So is the footfall. So is the priest. Oh, priests, so many. On the other side, a devout, a worshipper and lover of Krishna and his swaroops. Everything seems in place. At one of the temples on the Govardhan parikrama route, one of the spiritually valued stops during the parikrama, the not so pretty picture falls into place even before your eyes can find the Krishna swaroop you have come to see. Barely, a few seconds after halt at the temple entrance, a devotee is swarmed by "priests", the "pandas", for daan. Daan, the devotee would, in all shraddha, but something is missing. The assuring priest-yajmaan relationship. No devotee would want to/should leave with a lumpy throat witnessing the sad state of—first, the leelasthal, temples, then, a community (any community, which could be your own), and last, himself. No shrine board would achieve it. A sense of security among priests would. Mishra adds, “the government has to understand one aspect. If the devotees are losing out on the authenticity of a dharmic sthal by falling to touts and middlemen, instead of reaching the real purohits, who would help them with rituals and pujas, the entire temple ecosystem would suffer. Why? Until the purohit gets to host the yajmaan at the temple, the relationship would not achieve what it is meant to. Even the poorest of the poor should be able to reach the purohit.”

Priests could be given licences. Why not? And middlemen and touts spotted.

So, where should change begin? It should begin at temple. At the priest. Through intervention. Not interference.

Empower the priest with a sense of pride, a sense of belief of him being a valuable unit of the temple ecosystem (regardless of what political correctness prescribes). Know his needs as the head of the family. See how these needs are directly or indirectly associated with how the temple he is associated with is run, managed or mismanaged. Put these down in words, vision and action. Power Minister Sharma adds, “The well-being of sevayat is our priority. We will follow the orders of the court, yet at the same time, we shall, care for sevayats. I say that as Shrikant Sharma.”

Seven: Shrine Board, Alright. Temple Funds Should Be For Temple, Dharma, And Yajmaan

No one is under the burden to be a cultural Marxist—currently. Let’s then look at things, the pleasant and dharmic way. Purohit wants to spend the temple money towards certain causes. Maybe it is a good idea to know what those causes are and would be. Maybe the purohit wants to help a shaheed soldier’s family instead of funding a tacky stubble on the road in the name of “development”. Maybe he wants to help a yajmaan in need—for a kidney transplant or a surgery—all from offerings made to the temple in Krishna’s name. Maybe the priests want to dedicate a share of temple money towards protests against a draconian order passed that is detrimental to the cause of dharma. Or maybe a temple decides to host a flautist at the temple for a musical offering to Govardhan. Would, then, he and his co-priests have the independence to make and take decisions?

Last. A different issue. Let’s assume a shrine board member is a musician who has suddenly taken to Sufi music because he wants a balance required to be in Delhi power circles. Would the priests be able to refuse propagation of ideas and cultural aspects on temple money outside the temple?

Eight: Swachchata Means Cleanliness. Keep It Clean.

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Keeping a pilgrimage site infested with dirt, a sorry sewage and sanitation state, pigs roaming on parikrama route is no path to bhakti or Vaikunth. Keeping certain communities or castes appeased by letting pigs and other stray animals harass pilgrims—no hospitality. Take a survey of the parikrama route. Pull it up, please.

Nine: Identify Nuisance—Social And Environmental

Identify areas of nuisance and their value in money per head. Put the micro details of these nuisances roughly on paper. See how nuisance can be replaced by offering constructive opportunities and alternatives that lead to a safe, devotee-friendly experience, which is not only conducive to the priest and his family, but also caps bloating bottlenecks related to ‘malpractices’ that clog the temple system.

Ten: Draw A Line Between Pilgrimage And Tourism

Currently, both, it seems, are spilling into each other, resulting in chaos visible and invisible. Visible chaos—in the areas such as building structures, cleanliness and sanitation, roads, vehicular, and related traffic, crowd flow, etc. Invisible—underlying apathy to matters of devotion and temples, policy regarding urban aesthetics, bhaktas, especially during festivals that attract footfall of both tourists and bhaktas. Vehicular traffic has been an eyesore. The NGT in an order relating to environment in and around Giriraja-ji Parvat (2015) had said: “all vehicular traffic should be terminated on said service road and Parikrama Marg may be completely closed for any vehicular movement with exception to medical and fire services.” It had also mentioned “illegal construction” and said that “it is recommended that such illegal construction between Parikrama Marg and Giriraj-ji be demolished, so that the pilgrims can have a clear and unobstructed darshan/view of the scared Giriraj Govardhan.” Had successive governments, before the current one came to power, drawn a line between pilgrimage and tourism, the situation in Govardhan, at least, would have been much better.

Agni

Cultural vision brings edge and ferocity to political quests. When combined with a political quest and the restoring of dharma, culture and the arts have the power of agni.

Krishna is the greatest artist, the greatest musician, and the master of leelas and nritya. Why should, then, his own bhoomi be deprived of making the best use of his own heritage?

Unfortunately, many Indians, (including many in BJP’s support base in the north), dismiss and deride several facets of their own culture as “naach”, “gana”, “nautanki”—indicating a systematic erosion of cultural values, forms of arts and cultural capital. Ironically, these facets, rich, rustic, classical and bold in character and form, give the region its unique identity. For the Indian left, on the other hand, even social and cultural miseries and divides have served as reasons enough for creating cultural capital through the arts. Why then should Braj, the seat of love and our inherent happiness, rasa and ragas, not celebrate art in the cradle of civilisational continuity?

Invite and involve women power, use their ideas and talent to empower Braj. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) Invite and involve women power, use their ideas and talent to empower Braj. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Eleven: Shape And Protect Braj, The Bhava, Not Braj, The Brand

Braj is a bhava, an expression of Krishna’s love. Its true revival will emanate from its treatment as the beloved land of the greatest ambassador of the arts and the bindu of the many leelas. View Braj for Krishna, perhaps how he would view it. Once that is achieved in right measures, everything else, including the welfare of temples, priests and sevayats, in priority, will fall in place. Bhava restored, branding can be done for tourism-related activities, away from the pitch of temple swarms, away from the Yamuna.

Twelve: Bring A Culture Policy For Braj, Fix Documentation

The mention of Mathura and Braj, separately, is to indicate a line that divides them. Mathura and Braj are different bhavas—bearing different spiritual purpose. Facets—Barsana, Nandgaon, Brindavan, Govardhan, and Mathura had different meanings and bhavas for even Krishna. He left indications on how to love them while governing them, choosing to leave one for another, to exit and reappear. A culture policy for Mathura should be in place soon. It should focus not on funds to be gurgled out for "development". It should be able to hit aspects that need urgent, short-term and long-term uplift. It should prepare a framework of activities that take into account work done towards restoring the cultural heritage and ethos of the pilgrimage centre so far, work in progress and set of new ideas that can bring change under cost and funds minimal. It should be scribbled in Mathura, fined in Lucknow and brought in action back in Mathura—on ground.

Secondly, Braj badly needs a remarkable cultural policy that brings the ancient and civilisational in alignment with the twenty-first century. Bureaucracy, surely, would appreciate leaving this field for thinkers, artistes, visionaries, and vidwans. The country has no dearth of real thinkers in art who would bring philosophical depth to table and sharp cultural vision. Strengthen the system for documentation of intangible heritage, oral traditions, puja vidhis, the songs and ballads of entire Mathura, kunds and leelashtals, associated leelas and so on.

Thirteen: Establish Braj As The Centre For Gyaandaan

The Hindu, today, is looking for answers, seeking them, searching for them. It would be possible with knowledge—that flows freely from gyanis. Gyaandaan is the need of the hour. Make it a part of education for the children of Mathura, first, for the children of priest-sevayats and for residents of all castes and walks of life, who carry Braj in their hearts. Then, keep a share for outsiders. Under a guru-shishya parampara, and under lectures stretching over days or weeks or months. Gyaandaan should involve dharmic academicians, thinkers, visionaries, and vidwans, who would like to congregate, to talk and share knowledge—on the arts and sciences.

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Fourteen: Widen And Deepen The Foundation For Sanskrit, Strengthen ‘Sanskriti

As stated earlier, priests and local residents have told Swarajya that they would like to see better educational institutions in Mathura, including primary education institutions. Most of them, especially priests, feel that the future of Braj depends on the future of their children. Along with the twenty-first century education, they hope to see institutions that impart Indic values among kids, "instead of Western values and way of living". They consider the propagation of Sanskrit an important element of Indic education, which they believe, would give children a reason, thinking and aesthetics to preserve the soul of Braj in the coming times. The children, even when they have to pursue higher education, careers and jobs outside Mathura, or UP or India, would be the direct cultural stakeholders and bearers of tradition, Braj bhasha and other elements of intangible heritage. We see no reason to disagree. Oral tradition of education can be institutionalised, and oral traditions documented.

Fifteen: Invite And Involve Woman Power; Use Their Ideas And Talent To Empower The Bhava Of Braj

Most initiatives involving women at centres of pilgrimage or traditional hubs either aim at using their craft or cooking skills for handicrafts, community kitchens or haats. Fair enough. But, UP, in Mathura, can diversify the role of women, using the same skill sets, or bigger ones. First, know their views and ideas regarding what can be done for improvement at the various pilgrimage destinations, villages, temple peripheries, temples, lanes leading to temples, kunds.

Put these down—against their willingness to contribute, their skill set, backgrounds. Put the ideas separately. As and when trinkets from the cultural policy begin to seed and fruit, use the participation of women backed by homework. The groups and individuals could be absorbed in initiatives on remuneration suiting the structure of the initiative. The widows of Braj are its spiritual soul. They hold emotion of Braj even deeper than its kunds. They are not meant to be mere subjects for an annual gaze of an outsider's camera and lenses on Holi. Know their ideas and skill set, involve them in the various aspects related to temple backup, Braj-bhakta relationship, educational institutions, gaushalas and their management, parikrama routes, festivals and melas, documentation work, etc.

Sixteen: Revive Local Festivals And Melas. Bring Back Ones That Are Lost And Forgotten

Uttar Pradesh and Mathura are the fertile fields of melas. Revive these melas and festivals, especially those forgotten. Put thought into their meaningful organisation, their community matrix and audience. Some can be linked to tourism related activities and the state tourism map. Do not mix celebrations related to bigger festivals like Holi, Govardhan Puja etc with festivals. Whoever suggests "literary fests" in this precious facet, doesn't deserve to have a glimpse of either Sanjhi mela or Sanjhi art for a lifetime—not even at South Delhi art galleries.

Mathura and Braj are different ‘bhavas’—bearing a different spiritual purpose. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) Mathura and Braj are different ‘bhavas’—bearing a different spiritual purpose. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Seventeen: Raag, Raas, Raslila, Haridas

All these facets of aesthetics and narration have found scanty representation in Mathura. Gokul, Braj, Mathura and Brindavan not only find generous mention in our musical composition (especially the Hindustani tradition), but also provide an aesthetic setting to the bhava in the ragas. Mathura has not celebrated the ragas it was meant to, as visualised by the great composers who were inspired by Krishna bhakti. Then, Bhakti sangeet (in its many expressions) has become a thing of New Delhi park concerts and arrogant organisers. It should have flourished in Mathura and Braj. It was meant for bhaktas. Raaslila is grossly underrepresented. Kathak maestro Uma Sharma has cared to preserve a space for it, in Brindavan, but, it needs a bigger audience. Delhi is not a cultural cannon for art prachaar. Raas should travel extensively to Manipur, Assam, other states in the North East, to Odisha and southern states. With help from temples that can become patrons of a new audience.

Eighteen: Gau, Gobar, Gaushala, Govardhan, Giriraj

The five Gs give Mathura and Braj essence and ethos as a pilgrimage destination. The five have to be saved, protected and preserved. The protection and preservation of gau and gaushala, a well planned and ably executed promotion of energy and commodities derived from gobar, a safer and selfless protection of Govardhan and the Giriraj Parvat will ensure a stronger social environment for the residents and visitors here. In March this year, Adityanath was in Barsana to kickstart the grand Holi celebration which attracts people from all around the world. He visited Mataji Gaushala, which is home to 55,000 cows today, and inaugurated a gobar gas plant. Shri Radha Kant Shastri from Maan Mandir Gurukul, tells Swarajya, “We are doing the work the government should do by protecting cows in the region. Many come from neighbouring states and most of them are cows which were on their way to be slaughtered. We manage their fodder needs with no help from government. We have young men helping us as volunteers and the teams are vigilant. We don't milk the cows.”

If waste to wealth is approached in all seriousness, Braj (and Mathura) could become the rightful symbolic pit of the waste to energy revolution. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the roll out of Gobar Dhan Yojana in 2018-2019 budget. Gobar, which means dung, was loaded in meaning and purpose when it was announced as a catalyst to improve livestock and farm yields. Here it stood for ‘galvanising organic bio agro resources’. The scheme aims to collect cattle and solid waste from farmers and selling it for producing manure, biogas and other forms of energy from such waste. Gobar exists in abundance in the region and surrounding villages. Not only that, it has the potential to be the revolutionary raw material for home and handicraft products, architecture, hospitality, areas and sectors where it is already in demand and being used on limited scale. Why should Braj not be made the centre of an evolving industry that aims to penetrate urban and rural life in the coming years? The fast lane and expressways leading to several agricultural hubs, in all four directions, could add steam to the movement.

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Last. Giriraj. The soul of Govardhan. The rock of a thriving temple ecosystem. The stthir chinnh. The centre of ecology itself. The point of solid devotion. Preserve it with all your might. Let even Indra see.

Nineteen: Identify The intellectuals And Representatives Of Mathura

This is about the character of Mathura. Only those intellectuals can restore the dharmic soul of Mathura in the real sense, who have been driven by Krishna bhakti, bhaav, kunds and leelas. The number could be few. Less. Lesser than you can count. Never mind. They could be lesser known—perhaps not "known" at all. Never mind. They may not have accounts on Twitter. Even better. Be generous. Look towards Manipur and Bengal. Look towards Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Look towards Gujarat and Rajasthan. Or, anywhere in between. Look towards Jaunsaar, Tirupati, Sabarimala, Mayapuri. Look into arts. But first look within Mathura to preserve Mathura.

‘Bhaktas’ take back tradition, emotions, family, stories and ‘prasad’ — only to return.(Sumati Mehr ishi/Swarajya) ‘Bhaktas’ take back tradition, emotions, family, stories and ‘prasad’ — only to return.(Sumati Mehr ishi/Swarajya)

Twenty: Braj Is Free For The Bhaktas; Tourism Has A Cost

Restriction is a way towards cultural splendour, exclusivity and diversity. Confusing as it may sound, let's consider tourism, for a moment, a byproduct of pilgrimage in the case of Mathura. Bhaktas, in this scenario, are contributing to tourism and state purse, and would in case, at any occasion. They are going to temples first. Temples are the nerve centre of the dharmic cultural movement. Bhaktas take back tradition, emotions, family, stories and prasadam—only to return.

Now consider a score of tourists with mega lenses, out to shoot lathmaar Holi. Photographs of the divya and bhavya ceremonies at temples—even during the most inclusive occasions like Holi, Janmashatami, Gopashtami, must come at a cost.

Twenty-one: Pad Up The Flow Between Temples For Temples

Make the Department of Culture take active participation in establishing, improving and propagating a cultural circuit between the temples, kunds and other sites of spiritual and cultural importance in the particular town or dharmic sthhal. This would, among other things, set the following: momentum, pattern and a flow to the movement of pilgrims and visits between the temples. This will educate people on spiritual aspects related with the temples and give their exploration a rhythm. What is Manasganga about in a cradle of Yamuna? Where should one go to know stories about how Krishna carved out a kund and how Radha? Which temple should a visit to Govardhan (and not the parikrama) begin with? Why should gauvadh, out of all things Krishna, be discussed in Govardhan? Where should your feet stop at, once you know the answers? This can and should also be done externally.

Twenty-two: Establish Braj As A Centre For Preservation And Promotion Of Traditional Visual Arts Centred Around Krishna

Think museum(s). Go on a mental padyatra (if not a real one) from Mathura to all temples and sites where sculptures and ancient painting retell the leelas and Mahabharata—north to south and east to west. Bring their images and multi-dimensional versions to Mathura. Tie up with art and architecture schools. Introduce segments and celebrate art. Get Krishna's heritage back to Krishna and his Mathura. Establish the city as the centre for viewing art from India's museums. Bring works from the various schools of art dedicated to Krishna and leelas to Mathura, give a wing to Kurukshetra, one to Rajasthan, but keep the bigger slice for Braj. Boost Sanjhi and other local expressions, too. Let Mathura become a home to artefacts, objects and museums on the lines of other cultural hubs.

Twenty-three: Protect And Preserve Village Life

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Between Nandgaon and Barsana, balas still come to the wells, some with mobile phones though, and offer "meetha paani" and carry back water in steel and clay pots. The competitive spirit between people of any two villages in aspects of culture shows that innocence rolled down by Krishna still lives in the villagers.

Twenty-four: Revive The Raatri—The Indic Way

Braj and Mathura have a night life—the spiritual one—under the faint light of the Moon and stars, under the full glow of the Sharad Poornima, when the raas begins to play before any true devotee’s imagination. What use are the night ragas, which emanate out of the greatest works of some of the ancient composers and poets—compositions dedicated to Krishna, Radha their eternal love and raas, if they are not celebrated during the night in Braj? Braj must become, without a second thought, the capital of overnight classical music festivals. Where is the celebration of raas in darkness? Where is the essential celebration of temples in the glow of oil lamps throughout the year? Where is the quiet in darkness, which would attract the millions to Braj? Where is the singing of night ragas to the moon in the dark shadow of Govardhan? Where is the celebration of Malhars under the clash of Indra’s leela with Krishna’s? The government, in short, should not be shy in sketching a night segment in its cultural outreach in Braj. It is a marvellous extension of temple life and needs a consistent—not sporadic expression.

Twenty-five: Bring Bhatkhande To Braj

If Mathura is revived as an educational seat of Hindustani music, classical music and related forms will not only find disciples but also discerning audience and platforms. A part of Braj could also become a home to the greats. Like Mylapore. Also, Mathura would do well with a chapter of Bhatkhande Music Institute, which currently is located in Lucknow. If the city has room for sprawling townships, it surely can accommodate a centre for learning the classical arts. Bringing the core of Hindustani music, and then opening the heart to Carnatic, would raise Mathura and Braj as education and performing arts hub.

Twenty-six: Define Mathura In The Uttar Pradesh Hindu Cultural Quadrangle

If the quadrangle is Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura-Prayagraj, define Mathura, after the above ideas go down well or see light. Now, turn the spotlight to the larger stage—the world. Bhaktas take back tradition, emotions, family, stories and prasadam—only to return.

The <i>kunds</i> of Braj bring it calm, stability and <i>leelas</i>. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) The kunds of Braj bring it calm, stability and leelas. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Jal

In the centre of teerthsthalas and temples, Yamuna completes the flow of prayers between the deity and the bhakta. In Mathura and Braj, it should belong to Mathura and Braj—in the matters of government priority. For cultural sensibilities and their meanings that change as soon as Yamuna leaves for any other heritage or tourist site, Krishna’s Yamuna should not be stretched or stressed. There, it deserves to regain its serenity, flow, and bhava. Moves should be such that Krishna’s Yamuna regains his flute of time, and, his bhaktas.

Kunds: Some of them have witnessed great success stories and revival. Radha and Krishna Kund, on the other hand are examples of how devotion and cleanliness can make a sthala spiritually different from others. The secret—of continuing the momentum lies in keeping those people around for restoration and revival work, who have been able to make the change and create a conducive environment for them to continue work. Jal brings calm, stability, flow, and continuity.

Twenty-seven: Kunds Under A Shrine Board Would Perhaps Be A Good Possibility

However, this should not lead to a tussle of ideas and friction for projects. Restoration work on kunds done by a non-governmental organisation has brought visible change. Photos of the before-and-after in the Braj Foundation’s restoration archives make for difficult viewing. In these pictures, the stench of Hindu middle class complacency and the now decades-tough government apathy can be felt—against the commendable work possible owing to the fruitful stubbornness of Vineet Narain—former journalist and the man behind the restoration of some of the kunds.

Credit should be given where due, and passionate pleas from Brajwasis, about what’s doing good to their Braj, should be heard. Aesthetics are no cut-and-paste business.

Twenty-eight: Think Yamuna As Gyaansthala, Not Kreedasthal

Though promotion of tourism and tourism-related activities on the Yamuna will be advantageous to people who earn livelihood from it, the government should think of establishing Yamuna as the meeting ground for intellect, for making it a site for studies of ancient texts, local dialects and traditions. This will give communities serving temples a spiritual connect with a new tradition.

Twenty-nine: Bring Bhagwatam And Mantras To Yamuna

This could be done through temple representation. Puja saamagri can remain at temples. Mantras won’t disturb the flow of Yamuna. Similarly, narration of ancient texts, won’t, too. Through BTVP, let Mathura and Braj temples have representation on Yamuna’s banks for mantrochcharan, lectures, kathas. Here, the government can “regulate” and “discipline” to keep things under control. This will broaden the temple ecosystem. This will bring Brajwasis of all generations in an interface of their own with the river. This will go back to temples as material that preserves rituals. And that would keep the sevayat and temple life and ecosystem flourishing.

Vyom

Following court directions could be a compulsion for the government. For that, communication is the key to a smoother journey between temples, sevayats, and devotees. In June this year, NGT, in its order said: “The officers, from the lowest level of the ladder i.e. those who were stationed at Govardhan up to the Principal Secretaries at the capital of the State, had put in appearance before the Court and each of them were very positive and optimistic to comply with the order. But no result have come forth.” Fix it.

Thirty: Keep ‘Local’ At The Base Of The Balance Pyramid

A show of shraddha can be deceptive, and nothing below shraddha armed with aesthetics is required to restore the soul of a pilgrimage city. Born-again Hindus are a talented bunch and cultural revival is their table salt. A watch may help. The mood in Govardhan indicates that anyone working towards an electoral deadline is not considered serious enough towards the cause of Braj. Why does every effort towards giving temples and Braj their glory back, have to melt into a fatalistic five-year story? Adityanath should not try to answer that.

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Thirty-one: Improve Communication With The Locals

Keep ears open to people who are distanced or made to feel cut-off from the Chief Minister.

Thirty-two: Define ‘Development’ To The Locals

NGT orders of 2015 and 2018 clearly mention areas needing attention and steps that can be taken in the upkeep and development of Govardhan and Giriraj-ji parikrama route. The perception among people is that all the resulting changes, including demolition, come from the government—from "Yogi-ji". Better communication on these aspects will help better sense prevail.

Thirty-three: Let The Role On Temple Control Issue Speak For Itself

Adityanath’s exclusivity lies in his diversity. Ayodhya, Prayagraj, Kashi, and Mathura—all four need him in all avatars—man, mahant, politician, BJP leader in saffron and UP Chief Minister. He must choose the order he wants, or shuffle it. Mathura and Braj are centre stage. Would it then not be a good idea for him to define it—for himself?

This year, his image as an astute planner has more or less been formalised by his response to cultural and business outreaches for his state. If Adityanath lowers the shrine board pot over Braj, he must not reveal his Krishnaneeti.

Thirty-four: Revisit, Walk, Take A Parikrama

Don’t restrict yourself to the dais and pandal utsavs. Take a parikrama with the people, for Braj, for Lucknow. It will give stronger legs for walking bigger miles across Bharat.

Marut

Thirty-five: Widen Krishna’s Extended Family

People of Krishna’s family, like Ram’s, are waiting to shed inhibitions and for boundaries to crumble that divide them into regions. What unfolded at Barasana on Rangotsava, Adityanath’s cultural initiative to celebrate Holi this year—artistes from Manipur, Assam, Haryana, Maharashtra, UP and other states brought their cultural offerings to Braj. Adityanath’s idea was a grand success. The grand display of diversity at Rangotsav left a great scope for exclusivity of a concept. Lathamaar Holi, which finds audience everywhere, got renewed focus. Mathura under Yogi Adityanath has the power to iron out and even out cultural creases. It needs a sharper approach and widening. The inclusion of Uttarakhand—the home of Yamunotri and the bindu of Yamuna herself, is awaited. Farmers from Jatiputra and others on 84 kos may like to watch Krishnaattam this time or hear Madhurashtakam.

The route to devotion : A ‘sadhu’ moving stones to a spiritual milestone in ‘parikrama’. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya) The route to devotion : A ‘sadhu’ moving stones to a spiritual milestone in ‘parikrama’. (Sumati Mehrishi/Swarajya)

Thirty-six: Celebrate Caste Diversities And Spirituality As A Facet Of Soft Power

Doing it in measures that leave no room for the misuse of religion or caste sentiments would be good for not only the region itself, but the image of the pilgrimage centre. After March, political winds surrounding swarna caste issues were able to seep and snuggle into the public consciousness in the background of temple acquisition anxieties. Any rough pits on the dharmakshetra would translate into bad caste politics in the rannkshetra. Dharmkshatriyas and dharmic foot soldiers come from all castes—this, they must know, or be made to know.

Adityanath, the Mahant from Gorakhpur, should remain in touch with the chief minister of state and chairman of BTVP. Krishna left his manual and guide to transforming his bhoomi into a successful soft power thousands of years ago. Adityanath must pick it—before the non-dharmics do and make a hash of it.

That's the proverbial "chhattees"—36.

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At the parikrama route, Kishan Das, a young sadhu, is observing the 108 dandavat parikrama. He raises his nostril, then stomach, then himself from the ground to speak before calling it a day. He says, “Even Krishna did not want to leave Braj. His bigger journeys started from here.” Emotions are paramount. If Adityanath is able to align with the will of the people, ensure well-being of all communities of Braj and dump the one-size-fits-all approach currently being tried by other state governments, by being proactive on a dharmic-cultural movement (and then Ayodhya, Prayagraj, and Kashi), it would make him fairly, if not completely invincible. Untrammelled in his vision for the development in UP on various fronts, he would become India’s man in saffron on the political whetstone. That would generate friction and heat.

But then, Govardhan and Krishna protect, even from Indra's fury.

This article is part of Swarajya’s series on Indic heritage. If you liked this article and would like us to do more such ones, consider being a sponsor—you can contribute as little as Rs 2,999. Read more here.

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