Lord Krishna was the most revolutionary and dynamic figure in Indian history. As an extraordinary political leader, a practical philosopher, and kingmaker, he is venerated as the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. ‘Krishna made play divine’, was declared by ‘Sister Nivedita‘; the origins of his divine plays begin at his birthplace in Mathura. This land is known as ‘Krishna Janmasthān’ or ‘Krishna Janmabhoomi’ (‘The land of the birth of Lord Krishna’). Lord Krishna was born on this land over 5,000 years ago on the midnight of the eighth day of the dark half of the Shrāvana month. Today, the land is known as the ‘Krishna Janmasthān Temple Complex’ or ‘Katra Keshav Dev‘, consisting of a collection of temples in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India. These temples are built around the exact prison cell in which Lord Krishna is supposed to have taken birth. Krishna is worshipped here in the form of ‘Keshavadeva’. The temple is frequented by thousands of pilgrims and devotees, especially around the festival of Janmāshtami. Throughout its history, the temple has undergone a myriad of attacks by foreign invaders, resulting in the temple being rebuilt five times.
The entrance and front view of the ‘Krishna Janmasthān Temple Complex’
The Birth of Lord Krishna
The most accurate account on the life of Lord Krishna can be found in the ‘Harivansha‘, an appendix to the Mahābhārata, and a later version in the ‘Shrimad Bhāgavatam‘. Krishna means the one who is ‘attractive to all’.
The birth of Krishna is described as follows: The president of the democratic republic of the Yadavas (the Vrishni-Andhaka alliance) was Ugrasena. His son, Kansa, influenced by the autocracy of his father-in-law ‘Jarāsandha’, he desired to impose a dictatorial rule on the Yadavas. He imprisoned Ugrasena, and ascended the throne as the ‘King of Mathura’. Nārada, the messenger of the deities, conveyed to Kansa, that the eighth child of Devaki (his cousin sister) and Vasudeva would kill him. Kansa quickly imprisoned the couple in their house, transformed into a prison cell, and killed their six children. The seventh child – Balarāma – was transferred to the womb of Vasudeva’s seventh wife, Rohini, by Goddess Yogamāyā (Durgā). Kansa’s guards grew anxious of the eight conception, and Devaki gave birth to Krishna. When he was born, the oceans stormed, the earth and its mountains shook, fires burned, wind blew, dust settled and planets and stars shone brightly. The deities and sages sang the glories of Vishnu, played their instruments and showered Krishna with flowers. Krishna revealed his Vishnu form to the couple, and Vasudeva urged him to withdraw this form and return to his child form.
The birth of Lord Krishna in the confined house of Devaki and Vasudev
He persuaded Vasudeva to take him to the house of his friend Nanda, who had come to Mathurā to pay his yearly taxes. Vasudeva exchanged the baby girl of Yashoda, the wife of Nanda, with Krishna. Kansa tried to kill this child, but she took the form of Yogamāyā and warned Kansa that his doom had already taken birth. For Krishna’s safety from Kansa, Vasudeva urged Nanda and Yashoda to leave for Vraja. Vraja (Vrindāvan) is the land of Krishna’s childhood. Later, Krishna overthrew Kansa and oversaw the political affairs of Mathurā for over eighteen years.
5,000 years ago, this temple was built by the great-grandson of Lord Krishna, Vajranābha. In the second instance, the temple was re-constructed in 400 AD, in the Gupta period under the reign of Chandragupta Vikramāditya. The city of Mathurā, dating back to 1600 BC, lies on the banks of the river Yamunā within the Ganga-Yamunā Doab. According to the Vālmiki Rāmāyana, it was established by the younger brother of Lord Rāma, Shatrughna after slaying the demon Lavanāsura. The region was named as Madhuvan due to its dense forests, then Madhupura and later Mathurā. Mathurā was firstly the capital city of the democratic Shūrasena republic around 600 BC. [It was later reigned by the Maurya Empire and the Shunga dynasty.](https://mathura.nic.in/history/#:~:text=The city was later ruled by the Maurya,a Shunga presence were ever found in Mathura.) Currently, Mathurā is also of military significance. It is the headquarters I Corps, a military field formation of the Indian Army.
The renowned Greek historian and Indologist, Megasthenes (visited India during 302 – 288 BC), has described Mathurā in his work, ‘Indika‘. Mathurā is remarked as ‘a place of great regional importance’ and the ‘Athens of Ancient India’, and the largest kingdom of India. He remarks the residents being culturally enhanced and well-organised. He noted Mathurā as a ‘center of Heracles worship’. [Due to similarities between the Greek hero ‘Heracles’ and Krishna, Krishna was given this pseudonym by the Greeks](https://ramanan50.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/lord-krishna-was-also-a-greek-god-hercules/#:~:text=It is said that Greek explorer Megasthenes took,with appropriate modifications to fit into Greek environment.). The proof attained from foreign historical records, unarguably establishes the antiquity of the worship of Krishna in Mathurā.
Archaeological excavations around the temple site, reveal Jain sculptures, indicating the existence of Jains in the region by 100 BC. Buddhist relics and a large Buddhist monastery, found near the temple site, have been dated to Gupta period (4th century BC). Archaeologists point towards the consecration of the ‘Keshavadeva temple’, at least by the first century BC. The inscriptions made on the temple, dating to the 8th century, are suggest donations made by the Rāshtrakuta dynasty.
This clearly highlights the existence of indigenous and non-Islamic religious sites and temples in the region, primarily dedicated to Krishna.
Shahi Eidgah (1949) – ruins of the destroyed temple surround the Eidgah
Significance of Lord Krishna
Why is this temple significant for Hindus? Krishna is one of the most important forms of the ‘Ultimate Reality’ (Brahman) in Hinduism. Krishna’s playfulness challenged societal norms and empowered the marginalised, igniting a societal revolution. As a political leader of a republic, Krishna evoked a democratic revolution against autocratic leaders, defeating the likes of his uncle Kansa and cousin Shishupāla. As a king-maker, he supported and guided the righteous Pandavas in the Mahabharata War. Krishna’s perfect balance between enjoyment and sacrifice is seen in his roles as a politician and a philosopher. He combined differing philosophies and expressed them as a poem at the brink of a war to the warrior prince Arjuna, in the Bhagavad Gitā. This poem imparts the wisdom of duty in struggle, selfless actions, and the knowledge of an internal divinity.
Krishna overthrowing the dictator Kansa, and re-establishing the democracy of the Yādavas
The Temple Complex
The numerous temples within the site were destroyed multiple times throughout history. Financial industrialists aided the reconstruction of the new temple complex. The current temple complex contains many shrines and temples. It consists of the ‘Keshavadeva Temple’, the ‘Garbha Griha’ shrine, the ‘Bhāgavata Bhavan’ and the ‘Potrā Kund’.
The Keshavadeva Temple
The original Keshavadeva temple was destroyed in 1670 by Aurangzeb, and a ‘Shahi Eidgah‘ was built in its place. The original Keshavadeva temple contained the room in which Lord Krishna was born. The recent Keshavadeva Temple was constructed in 1958 by the Dalmia Group, and is positioned south of the ‘Shahi Eidgah’. This temple contains the child form of Krishna – ‘Bālakrishna’ as the main deity.
The idol of the deity Keshavadeva in the main Keshavadeva temple
The present day temple is built on the area of the ‘prison cell’ in which Lord Krishna took birth. Only the ‘Sabhā-Mandapa’ (Assembly Hall) was occupied by the ‘Shahi Eidgah’, and the region in which the Garbha-Griha (the inner sanctum of the original temple) was spared. In the modern-day Garbha-Griha, a pavilion and an underground prison cell, made of red stone, was built. A stone slab marks the original spot of the birth of Lord Krishna, in which one can find footprints. Near the Garbha-Griha, there is a small shrine dedicated to the ‘Goddess Yogamāyā’. The deity is composed of silver metal, and the shrine borders the rear wall of the ‘Shahi Eidgah’.
The entrance of the Garbha-Griha, the birthplace of Lord Krishna
The Bhāgavata Bhavan
Near the Keshavadeva Temple, there is a magnificent ‘Bhāgavata Bhavan’ constructed to pay respects to the ‘Shrimad Bhāgavatam’. It was constructed between 1965-1982. The Bhavan comprises mainly of five temples. The primary temple is of the six-feet tall, human sized idols of the deities Rādhā and Krishna. On its right, are the shrine of the siblings Balarāma, Jagannātha and Subhadrā. These idols have been designed by the same sculptor of the idols at the ‘Jagannātha Temple’ in Puri. On the left-side, there is a temple dedicated to Rāma, Lakshmana and Sitā. An idol of Chaitanya Mahāprahbu is seen in front of Lord Jagannātha, beside the Garūda Stambha (pillar). A statue of Hanumāna is placed in front of the shrine of Lord Rāma. Opposite Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, there is a temple of Goddess Durgā along with the temple of Lord Shiva in the form of ‘Keshaveshvara’. There is a ‘mercury Linga’ dedicated to Lord Shiva at this shrine. The walls, pillars and ceiling of the hall are painted depicting events from the life of Lord Krishna. The entire Bhagavad Gitā is engraved on the walls of the Rādhā-Krishna temple. A huge wall of the ‘Shahi Eidgah’ mosque can be seen near the temple.
The deities ‘Rādhā-Krishna’ in the main temple
Towards the South-East of the Janmasthān Temple, there lies a large, quadrangular water tank – the ‘Pavitra’ or ‘Potra Kund’. It is constructed using red sandstone. It is deep-stepped, with a series of steps on all four sides of the tank, descending to a water reservoir. These steps were built by ‘Mahadji Shinde’ in 1782, and they were enhanced by his descendants in 1850. http://uptourism.gov.in/pages/top/explore/top-explore-mathura—vrindavan/krishna-janmasthan-temple](http://uptourism.gov.in/pages/top/explore/top-explore-mathura—vrindavan/krishna-janmasthan-temple)”>It is believed that Krishna was washed here right after his birth.
The Potra Kund
Destruction and Reconstruction of the Temples in Mathura
The holy city of Mathura, specifically the area where the current Krishna Janmasthān Complex is located, faced the full brunt of brutality and iconoclasm due to multiple invasions by foreign empires, including the Ghaznavids and Mughals. The first set of invaders were the Ghaznavid Empire, led by Mahmud of Ghazni, who plundered Mathura in 1017 AD and stole much of the gold and silver belonging to the temples he had burnt and leveled. One of the temples is described by his scribe (Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Muhammad al Jabbaru-l ‘Utbi), in the ‘Tarikh-i-Yamini’, where a fine temple was described as being the “handiwork not of men, but of angels”, however, this was ordered to be razed to the ground. The city was plundered for around 20 days, with multiple temples being destroyed and looted with gold/silver idols being taken on the backs of camels; the value of the loot being estimated at 3 million rupees. Along with this, it is said that around 5,000 Hindus were taken into captivity, with thousands of others being killed by the invading forces.
The second sacking of Mathura came under Sikandar Lodi of the Lodi Dynasty in the 16-century AD, who destroyed multiple temples including one built by a man named ‘Jajja’ ( possibly a vassal of the Gahadavala Dynasty) which was described as on being “brilliantly white and touching the clouds”. Under the Lodi rule, many pilgrims that came to the site for worship were not allowed to bathe in the river or shave their heads, thus not completing the customary pilgrimage rites. In 1618, Raja Verr Singh Deva Bundela of Orchha had reconstructed the temple. The famous Mughal prince, Dara Sikhoh, also protected and donated to the temple. In 1670, the most recent temple destruction came under the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb of the Mughal Empire, who destroyed the original Keshava-Deva Temple that stood there, erecting the Shahi Eidgah Mosque, which still stands today, on top of it.
Mughal painting depicting the destruction of Krishna Janmasthān and the construction of the Shahi Eidgah
In 1804, Mathura came under British control. In an auction made by the East India Company, the land of Krishna Janmabhoomi and the Shahi Eidgah, was purchased by Raja Patnimal, a wealthy banker of Vārānasi. In 1953, Muslims challenged this ownership, but the Allahabad High Court ruled in favour of Raja Patnimal’s descendants. Due to frequent threats and militant activities by local Muslims opposing the move, a temple could not be built.
After 1947, the industrialists – the Birlas – purchased the land and formed the ‘Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust‘. In 1968, the Trust and the Shahi Eidgah committee reached an agreement which granted the land beside the mosque to the Trust. Notably, no Hindu organisation or general public was consulted before reaching the agreement. It was directly between the Birla Group and Shahi Eidgah committee. The ‘Modern Krishna Janmabhoomi’ temple was completed in 1982.
Present day Keshavadeva Temple (right) adjacent to the Shahi Eidgah (left)
The Krishna Janmasthan Complex in Mathura to this day remains an important site of pilgrimage for Hindus worldwide, who visit the shrines to devote their prayers to Shri Krishna. As Krishna was born to oppose autocracy, the complex itself is a symbol of rising up against the oppressive forces of invaders who plundered the birthplace of an important figure in India’s history. While under Islamic rule, be it under the Ghaznavids or the Mughals, the people of Mathura and surrounding areas, stood tall and continued to worship Shri Krishna. They worshipped him despite suffering brutalities, in which their most fundamental human rights were snatched away from them.
Picture Credits: Original Creators/Producers/Publishers – SAHF Does Not Own The Rights To These Pictures.