Vrindavan is around 12 km from Mathura and is among the holiest cities for Hindus. Though Lord Krishna was born in Mathura, he spent his childhood at Vrindavan and it was here that the stories of his divine nature became known. Krishna grew up in a community of cow herders, along with his brothers. He was raised by his foster parents, Yasoda and Nanda. According to the Mahabharata, he performed many miracles at Vrindavan, which established him as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. From a young age, he was considered as the protector to the people. There are also tales of Krishna killing the demon Putana, who was sent to kill Krishna by the evil king Kansa. On a lighter side, Krishna the child was also known for stealing butter. It was here that he roamed the hills and herding cows, while his importance grew. In a more significant story, Krishna protected the residents of Vrindavan when Lord Indra sent his fury of rain. According to legend, Krishna lifted the Govardhan hill to form a protective umbrella for the people of Vrindavan.
The present Vrindavan was rediscovered only in 16th century by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The ancient town was buried under a forest at that time. Vrindavan today is altogether a different sight. Except for the small patch of forest between Mathura and Vrindavan, the city is fast spreading. Real estate is a big thing here, because of its religious significance. The forest which was often depicted in the story of Krishna, is fast abating, giving way to residential areas.
There are hundreds of temples in Vrindavan as it is an important pilgrimage site for the Hindus. Here are some of the important ones:
Govind Dev Temple:
Also known as Govindaji Temple, it is one of the oldest temples in Vrindavan. The temple was built at a humungous cost of Rs. 1 crore in 1590 by Akbar's general Raja Man Singh. The temple style is a blend of Western, Hindu and Muslim architecture. In its heyday, it was a glorious seven-storey building in the form of a Greek cross, but it was destroyed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who destroyed many other temples in the area. Having survived the demolition, it is a much smaller version of its former magnificence. The red sandstone temple is a bit surprising, considering that not many Hindu temples are built of red sandstone. The road to the temple is lined by people begging for alms. The temple is also home to many monkeys. It has a big hall, although the interior is quite plain.
The Prem Mandir is by far the most beautiful temple in Vrindavan. The temple complex covers an area of 54 acre. The main temple is built with white marble and looks magnificent both from outside and inside. It was built by the spiritual guru Kripalu Maharaj, who was the preceptor of Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat, a non profit international Hindu organisation. The temple complex has various figures of Lord Krishna, depicting him during various events and stories from his life. For example, there is a figure of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan hill. The interior of the temple is clean and well lit, with beautiful chandeliers and lights that change colours.
Ragngaji Temple (Rangaji Temple):
This temple was built in 1850. The temple has a six-storey entrance built in the Dravidian style of South India. The inner temple has a 50-foot-high gold-plated Dhwaja Stamha. The temple is most popular during the 10-day-long festival known as 'Rath ka Mela'.
The ISKCON Temple, also known as Shri Krishna Balarama Temple, is a beautiful temple and one of the most visited. The temple is popular with foreign devotees and pilgrims. The area adjoining the temple is also the samadhi of of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON. The temple is mainly built with white marble. It has a canteen and souvenir shops, most of them manned by volunteers from abroad. Bhajans are sung inside the temple regularly, some of them by foreign singers. The temple also has a tourist guide centre.
Pagal Baba Temple:
This temple was built by the Pagal Baba, as he was fondly called by his followers. The temple is a unique structure made of white marble. The ground floor of the temple is kept aside for puppet exhibition from the scenes of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. There are shops selling religious items at the entrance of the temple.