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42 Makhan Mishri in Gokul

It so happened that by chance (or you can say by providence, depending on your inclination) that we took a short road trip to Mathura on the day of the Choti Teej - also called Hariyali Teej in North India.

This festival is celebrated on the 3rd day of the Shukla paksh of Shravan month - and although not as grand and superflous as Badi Teej - which comes only 5 days before the largest festival in Mathura - Krishna Janmashtami, Choti Teej has its own charm. The weather at this time of the year is usually very pleasant, with the monsoons making the nortern plains look sparking green (hence the name - Hariyali Teej), and the people in the five villages of Brij - Mathura, Vrindavan, Govardhan, Barsana, and Gokul - especially Gokul - have a sparkle in their eyes in anticipation of festivities and also of good business during the times.

Apparently a visit to this region is equivalent to a complete Char Dham yatra, since this is the root of the tree - a place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. The Char Dhams (four holy places associated with different avatars of Lord Krishna) are - Jagannath Puri in the East (Odisha), Rameshwaram in the south (Tamil Nadu, near the bridge that Ram built to cross over to go to Lanka), Dwaraka on the west coast (Gujarat), and Badrinath up north (in the Himalayan ranges).

Rather than spending time in Mathura - which is a conjusted city and has only the main Krishna temple - we went to the village of Gokul across river Yamuna. Our guide - a local brahmin - was taking every opportunity to tell us Krishna's bal lilas (childhood stories) - even the most famous ones - in his own way, which was charming. He told us that when Krishna did this journey - i.e. crossed Yamuna - he was only a day old. It was night. It was pouring. His father carried him in a basket and swam across the river. In Dwapar yuga, this was possible. Today, we are in Kali yuga. Dharma walks only on one leg. So we need to take the newly constructed bridge across the river.

Locals believe that the five villages in Brij cover an area of 84 kos (1 kos = 3 km, so you can do the math). This is to remind us - again, as told lucidly by our 'bard' - that man has to pass through 84 lakh yonis (cycles of rebirth in different species of animals or birds) as per the Hindu belief, before we are born again as human beings. (Unless, of course - as the belief goes - you are able to break the cycle of rebirth and attain moksha).

Anyway, although the Hariyali Teej festivities at Banke Bihari Mandir at Barsana are more well-known, we chose the more secluded Gokul for the day. From Mathura to Gokul is about 10-12km.

Mathura is considered by locals the land of Kamsa - the evil maternal uncle of Krishna, the usurper who overthrew the council of elders and declared himself king of Vrishnis. The locals think that the city of Mathura was defiled by him, so even after Krishna killed Kamsa and restored the city to the people of Mathura, it is not as pure as Gokul, or for that matter Vrindavan or Govardhan.

It is interesting to note that nowhere is there any mention of, nor do the locals talk about Jarasandha - Kamsa's father-in-law - and to me, a much more formidable enemy of Krishna. Jarasandha was the ruler of Magadha (modern day Bihar), and had two daughters Asti and Prapti, both married to Kamsa. There is no mention about other foes of Krishna too - like Sisupala and Dantavakra for example - who appear in Mahabharata.

As the accounts in Mahabharata suggest, Kamsa's claim to infamy is that he disbanded the local council of Yadava elders in Mathura - which, some say was an early form of democratic government, and declared himself the soverign ruler, thereby forcing Mathura into a dictetorial regime. But while doing so, one can imagine that he must have been emboldened by the encouragement and support of formidable allies like Jarasandha, Banasura, and Chanura (who, by the way, appears along side Kamsa in the famous line in Krishna stuti - one of the names of Krishna is 'Kamsa-Chanura mardana' - the killer of Kamsa and Chanura, which is in a way incorrect as Chanura was killed by Balarama in a wrestling match, not by Krishna).

But coming back to Jarasandha -- In fact, Jarasandha brought the vast army of Magadha to Mathura under the pretext of his daughters' weddings to Kamsa, and then aided Kamsa in overthrowing his father Ugrasena from power. Jarasandha also held some 95 kings captive for his yagna, and would have killed them all - had Bhima not killed Jarasandha first.

Yes, Kamsa did kill the infants born to Devaki and Vasudeva before Balarama and Krishna, and that makes him a villain no doubt. But Krishna had a far more formidable adversary in Jarasandha - the mighty ruler of Magadha.

It was Jarasandha who attacked Mathura some 17 times, and it was his nuisance which finally forced Lord Krishna and Balarama to move the settlement westward to Gokul. During all these times of turmoil, Krisha and his brother Balarama were able to defend Mathura, but I would imagine the losses during the battle were significant. Also, even after trying many times, Krishna could not kill Jarasandha. He had to get Bhima to fight Jarasandha. In case of Kamsa, Krishna could outpower and kill him on his own, and that too at a very young age during a wrestling match in Mathura.

Anyway, in the land of the Lord, Kamsa is considered the evil villain for all practical purposes. So we will leave it at that.

On the way, after passing Mathura cantonment - famous for its role in the 1857 freedom struggle - you will come across Aurangabad. Here is where the Mughal Emporer Aurangzeb camped while going from Delhi to his campaign in Deccan. He built a mosque too, and you will see some Muslim paras (establishments). You will also see some butcher shops - quite an interesting sight in a place considered holy by Hindus - (especially Vaishnavaits) who by and large do not associate meat with anything that is scared and holy.

However, once you cross over the river to go Gokul, the scene changes completely. This is now the land of Baal Krishna. No longer do you see any city or town. And no meat, no eggs. Gokul is a tiny village with small huts, almost like any other village in Northern India, and that too from older times. In fact, Time seems to have stopped still ... I am not romaticizing this enough, but the changeover is almost dramatic.

At Gokul, we were taken to the house which used to belong to Nand and Yashoda. This is supposedly the place where Krishna, along with his elder brother Balarama, spent 11.5 years of his childhood before moving to Govardhan. It is here that Kansa sent a number of rakshasas (demons) to kill the little boy - Putana, Bagalasura, and a whole list of others - every one sent to their death by the prodigal son - who was in fact God walking on earth in the form of a child.

The house of Nand Baba is naturally converted into a temple. But it is maintained well, and at least on the day we visited, was found clean and in good condition. In Mathura and its surrounding places, Krishna is worshipped as Bal Krishna - as a child - and in Gokul, he is worshipped as an infant. Since He is an infant, he needs to be fed every 2 hours. So He is given makhan-mishri - sweets made of butter and ghee - every 2 hours!

We witnessed the feeding session (of course, you cannot see the Lord eating, so you have to sit on the other side of the curtain), and then, once the feeding was done (called 'bhog'), we were allowed to rock the baby in its cradle. This rocking of cradle is done for 3 months in the year - 2 months of Shravan and Bhadrapad, then 15 days in Diwali and another 15 days in Holi. To offer prayers, you get to sit on a small 2' x 3' rectangle ... which is raw - i.e. not tiled. You sit on the leveled, dried mud. It is said that this is the same dirt in which the Lord played as a child, and so it is highly revered.

The poojaries - priests - are friendly and chatty. Of course, they cajole you to make the donations, but I guess that is part of such visits to holy lands. The priests told us that since this is the house where the infant played, the house should always be filled with mirth and laughter. The visitors are expected to smile and laugh while offering 'bhog', while pulling the cradle - and generally have 'ananda' - (a pleasant, good time).

The house has different rooms in which you can see scenes from Harivamsha - especially about Krishna's childhood - depicted. One of these statues is that of Putana - a Rakshasi (demoness) sent by Kamsa to feed poisonous milk to the infant Krishna. But Krishna sucked the life out of the Rakshasi, and put her to death.

Interestingly, locals believe that once the lady was killed, she attained moksha / nirvana, as she met her death at the hands of the Lord Himself. So now, she is revered as a goddess. In fact she is considered a foster-mother to Krishna as she tried to feed him. The locals call her Shitala devi, and what is most interesting is that she is considered a guardian of infants (!) ... Imagine - a rakshasi sent to kill an infant is now converted into a goddess who cares for the well-being of children! ... I always find it fascinating how legends and myths develop over time.

(By the way, I am not sure if this Shitala devi has any relationship with the famous Shitala Mata though - who is considered an incarnation of Goddess Shakti and whose temples appear across the country. This one appears more like a local lore. The similarities in characteristics are striking though. Both are called Shitala, both are known as protectors of children and also both are considered relievers for those who suffer from small pox).

Nand Baba's house also has a large idol of Balaram, and then a shoter version of him - with his wife Revati. I came across Revati for the first time. The locals claim that this is a unique thing - you do not get to see Balaram with Revati (they call it 'joda' - couple) anywhere else. Even at Puri Jagannath, you see Balaram only. I will write about the marriage of Revati with Balaram later.

Back to Gokul, we went around the house, had a nice prasad of sweet makhan mishri, and paid respect to all the gods and goddesses. By the time we were done, the rain had stopped. The weather was pleasant, and we decided to head back home after a quick thali lunch at the famous Brijwasi in Mathura.

- Shreekant
15 July 2012