By Alokoarna Das:
Braj is a region where new temples are built almost every year. Each of these grand new buildings claims to be bigger and better than the older ones; never mind if they are adding to the already burdened civic infrastructure, chocking the narrow roads and contributing to the overall pollution levels of Yamuna and groundwater. Even as
countless ancient heritage structures lie in utter neglect, fund pours in to build mansion-like ashrams of various sects in the area. This is indeed a matter of great concern. For, Braj – in many ways the central point of the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra – is also of pivotal significance to our collective cultural consciousness.
The last couple of years have, however, seen Braj and especially Vrindavan boast of a heritage/ tourist site that’s not entirely new, but wasn’t frequented by pilgrims for the last several years. The historic Brahma Kund, close to the famous Rangnathji temple, is now attracting tourists and pilgrims alike with various cultural events, including the performance of a Polish choir. These events, besides having a religious theme, also highlight the need for water conservation and recharging of ancient water bodies as the core message for visitors.
Located at the heart of the temple town, Brahma Kund is said to be one of the eight ancient water bodies of Vrindavan frequented by the likes of Vaishnav reformer-saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and saint-poetess Meerabai. However, after the restoration work carried out by Orchha’s Raja Bir Singh Deo in the 17th century, the site lay neglected for years with British district collector F S Growse describing its ruinous state in his memoirs in 1882.
The place had turned into a garbage dump with pigs a common sight till Braj Foundation – an NGO working towards water conservation since 2005 and winner of UNESCO-sponsored award – stepped in to restore it. Ornamental octagonal ghats with life-size statues of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Meerabai, Roop Goswami, Krishnadas Kabiraj and others, an
eight-feet-tall idol of Brahma on a 13-feet-wide lotus at the centre of the kund with each petal throwing water back to the stepwell to ensure oxygenation of water, a fountain, an 18-minute-long sound and light show, two well-preserved original pillars with slim bricks, performances by the likes of Pandit Jasraj, no entry fee and no
nagging pandas – all these have ensured a steady flow of tourists and heritage enthusiasts to this place since 2009 when the kund was inaugurated after renovation.
Elaborating on the work done so far, chairman of Braj Foundation Vineet Narain recalled the difficulty he faced while getting an earthmover through the narrow bylane, slow pace of work during the 30 months of de-silting and restoration, fighting land sharks, and lack of local support. “Once the work was complete with the financial aid
from Piramal Group, we decided not to have a religious guru inaugurate the place. Instead, the presiding deity of Govind Dev temple in Jaipur was invited for the purpose,” he said.
The success of Brahma Kund prompted Braj Foundation to restore 45 such ancient water bodies across the region, one of them being Lalita Kund, a stepwell inside Seva Kunj. Discovered by medieval Bhakti poet Swami Hit Harivansh, the narrow stepwell with an oval base is located at the centre of a grove believed to be the site of the mythical raaslila. Restoration meant renovating dilapidated walkway to the central shrine of Radhaji, rebuilding the outer wall, covering parikrama marg to counter monkey menace, recharging water tank and undertaking plantation around it.
De-silting and excavating the water body led to the recharging of natural aquifers. The steps and inner walls were rebuilt with artistic stone work in Rajasthani style.
As Narain said: “If you carefully read Krishna’s legend in Braj, you will notice that the story revolves around groves, hills, river, water bodies and not grand structures. The religious myth is actually a reminder of the fact that Krishna was a pastoral hero with a deep bond with nature. It is this association with nature and consciousness
about environment that one seeks in the various heritage sites across Braj.”