Nathdwara and Shrinathji are used interchangeably for this small town situated towards the north-east of Udaipur in Rajasthan, on the banks of River Banas. The whole town revolves around the ‘Thakur Ji Ki Haveli’ or what tourists call Nathdwara temple. Dedicated to the Shrinathji Swaroop of Krishna Avatar of Vishnu. This town re-creates the Braj Bhumi in this town. Is a smaller version of Braj Bhumi – the land that belongs to Krishna and his Krishna Leela.
Shrinathji Avatar of Krishna
The Shrinathji idols and paintings are always seen holding the Govardhan Parvat or the mount Govardhan on the tip of the left-hand little finger with right hand firmly placed on his waist. This image commemorates the event when Krishna broke Indra’s pride by giving shelter to people of Braj by lifting the mountain on his left hand. The event gives him the name Govardhan Giridhari – the one who holds the mountain in his hand.
At Nathdwara, Shrinathji is treated as a child and all the activities of the Haveli of Thakurji revolve around the activity of say a 7-year-old child. He is given a treatment – be it for Shringar or for food just like a mother would treat her child. For the people of Nathdwara, it is not a temple but the home of Shrinathji. They call it Thakurji ki Haveli and not temple.
The only sign that shows it is a temple is the Kalasha and Vishnu’s Chakra on top of the house.
Legends of Shrinathji in Nathdwara
The legend goes that in late 17th CE when Aurangazeb was on his mission to destroy all Hindu Temples. The idol of Shrinathji was taken away from Govardhan near Mathura to Agra and then was being transported down south. It was at this place that the wheel of the chariot goes stuck. And devotees took it as a sign that Lord Krishna or Lord Shrinathji has chosen to stay at this place. In the meantime, a home or haveli was built for him and his idol was set up there. It continues to be there since then i.e. around 1672 CE. Temple had the patronage of Maharanas of Mewar.
The chariot on which Shrinathji came to Nathdwara can still be seen in the temple premises. Image of Shrinathji is made of a single slab of black marble.
People believe that Shrinathji would return to his Braj Bhumi or Govardhan as and when an appropriate temple is ready for him there.
Nathdwara Temple & Rituals
Harsh Pandey Ji, one of the priests at Nathdwara Temple was kind enough to take me around the temple and show me all the parts of the temple and explained all daily rituals that take place at the temple. I also met the officials who handle the everyday affairs of the temple.
Pandey Ji explained me the Pushti Marg and the Kul or lineage of Vallabhacharya who are the caretakers of this temple.
He took me through the various rooms of the Temple like
- Doodhghar – the storage room for milk
- Paanghar – for betel leaves
- Mishrighar – for crystallized sugar
- Pedaghar – for Mithai or Sweetmeats
- Phoolghar – for flowers
- Rasoighar – the kitchen
- Gahnaghar – the jewelry store
- Ashvashala – the horse stable
- Baithak – a commonplace to sit
- Chakki – a gold and a silver, grinding wheel that is still used for preparing temple food.
There is 8 darshan that devotees can do at Nathdwara Temple that is in sync with the activities of the Child Shrinathji and 8 meals that are given to him. Since the Krishna here is treated as a living entity rather than just an idol, his daily routine follows getting up, eating, daily rituals like bathing, getting ready, playing and sleeping. The 8 darshan or 8 times when devotees get to see him are:
The first Darshan of the Day. Main doors of the temple are not opened for this temple, as the emotion is that of a child who has just woken up. He should neither be tempted to go out nor be overwhelmed by the crowds who come to see him. Shrinathji is dressed as per season – light cotton clothes in summers and warm quilted ones in winters. Arti is performed to ward off the evil spirits of darkness.
An hour after the Mangala Darshan, Shringar of Shrinathji is done when he is adorned with all fine things with a priest holding a mirror so that he can admire himself. He is offered dry fruits and sweets and only after that his favorite flute is handed over to him.
This is the time when Lord Shrinathji is informed that all the cows in his cowshed are well and is offered Makhan Mishri and other milk-based food. This is the time when he is supposed to be playing with his friends.
This is the most elaborate darshan of the day when the baby God is offered the main meal of the day. I was fortunate to visit the temple at the time of Rajbhog darshan. The announcement of this darshan is made from the rooftop with an elaborate sprinkling of perfumes. After this darshan, the Lord retires for the next three hours and the temple is closed for the devotees.
In the afternoon baby, Shrinathji is again woken up by the blowing of a conch shell. This darshan indicates the time when the cowherds come back home with their cows.
A light meal is offered for this darshan that is specially meant for Swamini Ji – though in my mind I am not sure if Swamini Ji is Yamuna Ji who is generally depicted with Shrinathji here or is she, Radha Ji.
This darshan is done around dusk when the cowherd lord would have come home from the woods and the mother does the Arti to ward off any evil eye. A light meal is offered along with the flute so that the lord can entertain himself and those around him.
This is the time to retire and it is announced by telling the cook to come early the next day. Paan Beeda is offered along with other foods. This darshan is done for 6 months in a year as it is believed that rest of the six months Shrinathji goes to Vraj or Braj to give darshan to Brajvasis.
At all the darshans, ragas appropriate for that time of the day are played and each darshan has a bhakti poet associated with it. For details see the Nathdwara Temple website.
When I looked at the kitchen, I could see tons of local seasonal vegetables that were being cleaned and chopped by the devotees. I was told by Pandey Ji, that only seasonal local vegetables are cooked in the temple for the God as well as for the family of priests that take care of him.
Pichhwai Paintings & Other Art Forms
The black Idol of Shrinathji has given rise to a whole school of paintings called Pichhwai paintings that would literally translate to shadow paintings. Sometimes they are also referred to as Nathdwara paintings. As you wander the streets of Nathdwara you would see many artists engaged in making paintings using paper, wood or cloth – the subject is always Shrinathji. The Pichhwai painting style is considered a sub-school of Mewar school of Miniature Paintings but is distinct for choosing cloth as a medium for painting.
Dominant colors in these paintings are black and gold.
It is said that during the Mughal Empire when idol worship was banned, devotees painted the image on cloth and worshiped it. Over a period of time, it emerged as a prominent art form from Nathdwara.
Paintings on the walls of the Temple
I was also enchanted by the colorful paintings on the walls of the temple. Some of which can also be seen on the walls of the streets outside the temple. I visited Nathdwara just before Diwali, the time when all the temple walls are re-painted. I could see the various artists perched at various levels on the temple walls and painting colorful images on the freshly painted white backdrop. This annual routine also re-enforces that it is very much a living temple that gets its annual maintenance. I remember asking one of the officials – are there any old paintings and he laughed. Why should we have old paintings when our artists make new ones every year. This made me think – Is this not the best way to preserve both the temple art and the artists who know they would be employed every year.
Outside in the street, I met another artist making 3-dimensional images of Shrinathji in wood.
In the street, I met the artist who writes your name on a rice grain. I thought it would be a tough task but this young man took less than 2 minutes to write my name and I took a few minutes to get its picture right.
Mint or Pudina Chai of Nathdwara
In the winding lanes around the Thakurji ki Haveli in Nathdwara – you can find stalls selling Pudina Chai in the curiously shaped Kulhads or clay mugs. It is regular Indian Chai flavored with fresh mint leaves. It is one of the most refreshing Chai I have ever had. The freshness of mint just flavors your mouth and can wake you up from your most sleepy state. I am not sure if they use a special mint in Nathdwara but the Chai is very special.
You must try Pudina or Fudina Chai in Nathdwara.
Hotels in Nathdwara
I stayed at the newly built Justa Hotels property at Nathdwara. It is located at walking distance from the temple. Built in a typical Mewari architecture on a hill overlooking the Banas River, it provides all the comforts to the luxury travelers. What I admired the most about Justa Nathdwara is that they serve only vegetarian food in their restaurant. A great relief for vegetarians like me when you do not have to deep dive into the menu to find a vegetarian dish.
Being a pilgrimage town, there is no dearth of hotels in Nathdwara – right from Budget lodges to Places like Justa Hotels.
Practical Tips for Visiting Nathdwara
- You can either visit Nathdwara as a day trip from Udaipur or stay there for 1-2 nights. If you want to see the rituals of a whole day, you need to stay there for at least 2 nights.
- While at Nathdwara – you can take a trip to Haldi Ghati & Eklingji. Even Chittorgarh Fort and Bundi are not too far.
- It is a temple town. Respect the sentiment of the people whose lives revolve around the temple. Some rituals may not make any sense to you but they may mean the world to those who believe.
- No photography is allowed in the temple premises. Do not even attempt taking your camera or mobile in the temple.
Recommend you read below posts on places to visit in Rajasthan.