Vrindavan was just a Van or forest once upon a time. Indian scriptures mention 12 forests in Braj Bhoomi and Vrindavan was one of them. It was a forest on the banks of Yamuna where Sri Krishna played with the Gopikas of this land. This is where he stole their clothes on the Cheer Ghat. Close by, he also killed the Kaliya Naga.
This is the forest where he did Ras Leela. If you believe, he still does it every night at NidhiVan – another small forest in the city.
Brief History of Vrindavan
Vrindavan literally means the forest of Tulsi or holy basil. A legend says there was a Gopika or Sakhi of Sri Krishna named Vrinda.
This region was essentially a forest lost in oblivion. In 16th CE Chaitnya Mahaprabhu came here looking for the places associated with Sri Krishna. He started identifying the places as described in the scriptures. This is when the town of Vrindavan was really born. Today, it is a temple town full of new and old temples and of course, monkeys. It takes a mighty imagination to think of it as a forest.
During the reign of Aurangzeb, temples in this region came under attack. Imagine a place between Delhi and Agra, both of which were Mughal capitals, full of Hindu temples. Many temples were destroyed and the main deities were transferred elsewhere.
Must See Vrindavan Temples
The holy town is full of temples. You can not visit all of them unless you start living there. Most pilgrims visit the temple they or their Gurus are associated with along with some famous or popular temples.
Sri Banke Bihari Mandir – The most famous temple
Sri Banke Bihari Temple is the most popular and hence the most crowded of the temples of the holy town. Anytime you go, it would be full of people. The Murti of Banke Bihari here was found in Nidhivan close by Swami Haridas. A temple was built in 18th CE around the Murti. His personal temple can be seen in the lane outside this temple.
It is believed that the Radha and Krishna exist together in this Murti. A unique aspect of this temple is that it opens around 9 AM or later. There are no morning rituals or Mangala Sewa like normal temples.
The temple is built like Haveli with an open courtyard in the middle. This is where you stand and take darshan. A lovely Kamadhenu in brass with a calf can be seen on a pillar.
You must eat the Makhan Misri prasad of this temple. It is Yum. The only other temple that offers it is Dwarkadheesh Temple in Dwarka.
This temple is also a popular venue for playing Holi, although it is played in all temples here, Mathura, and Braj Bhumi. For more information, check the temple website.
Govind Dev Mandir
This must have been a magnificent temple of 16th CE built by Raja Man Singh of Jaipur. In red sandstone, this was once a seven-story temple, of which the top 3-4 stories were broken by Aurangzeb. Even without its Shikhara, the temple is huge. One can only imagine how beautiful it would have looked when intact. It stands out because of its red color, as you move through the lanes full of small shops towards it.
The deity was moved to Jaipur when the temple was attacked in 18th CE. This is the same Vigraha that is now worshiped 7 times a day in the royal temple of Govind Dev Ji in Jaipur.
Sri Rangnathji Mandir – South Indian Temple
This temple will immediately transport you to Tamil Nadu with its tall and colorful Gopurams. Built in mid-19th CE, this temple tells us about the coming together of devotees of Sri Krishna from all over India. Inside the temple premises, you are literally ported to south India with the architecture. Gopurams though have local architecture with Jharokhas and ornate parapets.
The temple celebrates the Car festival like they do in South India. The priests here too are as rude as they are in Tamil Nadu.
It was built by the 3 wealthy Seths of Mathura – Lakshmichand Seth, Radhakrishna Seth, and Govinddas Seth.
Sri Radha Vallabh Mandir
This temple was built by the founder of the Sri Radhavallabh Sampradaya Goswami, Harivansh Mahaprabhu who is regarded as the incarnation of Lord Krishna’s flute. The temple was one of the most lively temples I visited, where live music was being played. People were dancing and Holi was being played.
In the sanctum, there is a Murti of Krishna playing the flute while Radha is present only through her Crown or Mukut. Is this not a unique aspect of this temple?
Check out the daily Shringar of this temple on their FB page.
Sri Madan Mohan Temple
Built-in red sandstone like many medieval buildings of this region, this tall temple stands on a hill called Dwadashaditya Teela next to Kalidah Ghat. You have to take a flight of stairs to reach the temple. It was built by one of the Seth from Multan. The original deity was moved to a safe place in Rajasthan, and a replica of it is now worshipped.
The main temple is narrow and tall. There is a smaller temple on the side and a huge mandap or hall also in red sandstone but as a separate building not attached to the temple.
Sri Radha Raman Mandir
A lovely 16th CE temple that was built by Gopal Bhatta Goswami, who had come here with 7 Shilas or Shaligrams (stones found in the Gandaki river of Nepal, considered a form of Vishnu). He used to worship them every day and cover them with a wicker basket at night. One day morning when he removed the basket one of the stones had manifested itself into a beautiful Murti of Krishna. This is the same Murti that is worshipped in the temple.
Due to it being self-manifested, it is considered a living Murti. Radha Raman literally the Love of Radha which is none other than Krishna. Read more on the temple website.
Radha Damodar Temple
This is also a 16th CE temple built by Goswami Srila Jiva who received the Murtis of this temple from his uncle Srila Rupa Goswami. This temple too was moved from here to Jaipur. But it was brought back here in 18th CE. One of the few temples that got back to their original places.
The temple is famous for Giriraj Charan Shila or a rock from Giriraj hill with an imprint of the foot of Sri Krishna. It also has a footprint of a cow. Read more on the temple website.
Garud Govind Temple
This temple is located in Chhatikara, next to Garud Govind Kund. The reason this temple is special is as the main deity here is riding a Garuda. It is not a common thing to see Vishnu riding Garuda. To see the Vigraha, you will have to request the priest to show you, else it remains hidden beneath the Shringar.
A smaller temple in the complex houses a stone murti of Garuda in a seated pose with folded hands. To me, this looks like a Murti that was on top of a pillar, but there was no one who could ascertain this.
Bankhandi Mahadev Temple
This is an ancient Shiva temple located in the lanes of the main market of the town. It is believed to be the place where Srila Sanatan Goswami was blessed by Shiva. There is a huge Kali Murti in the temple. Radha Krishna is, of course, present in every temple in the holy town.
Vanshi Vat and Gopeshwar Mahadev Mandir
Vanshivat is the place where Sri Krishna played flute on Sharad Purnima. It is said that Radha and all other Gopikas left their work and ran to this place when they heard the flute playing. They refused to go back and became a part of the Ras Lila of Krishna.
On the same premises is a small Shiva temple dedicated to Shiva called Gopeshwar Mahadev Temple. It is believed that Shiva too came here in the form of a Gopika to take part in Ras Lila. When Krishna saw him, he called him Gopeshwar instead of his usual name Yogeshwar.
Katyayani Devi Mandir
This is a temple dedicated to the Katyayani form of Devi. I am told Navaratri is celebrated with a lot of festivities here. There is an Ashtdhatu or an 8 metal Murti of Devi in the temple. I remember I was too scared to take pictures as there were a lot of monkeys here. The priest came with a stick and said, I am with you take the pictures. Joys of being in a happy place.
ISKCON Vrindavan – Krishna Balaram Temple
ISKCON temples are the most well-maintained Hindu temples, though their following majorly is non-Indian. Here the temple built in 1975 CE celebrates both the brothers of the land – Krishna and Balaram.
ISKCON also has an Akshaya Patra unit in the town with a facility for the pilgrims to live. The last time I saw their kitchen, which cooks mid-day meals for thousands of children every day. It is fascinating how they cook healthy and hygienic meals using steam primarily and a lot of automation.
This is the youngest but very popular temple in the town. When I visited it a few years ago, it was still being built in white marble. Built by Kripalu Maharaj, this has two sanctums. One dedicated to Radha Krishna and the other to Sita Ram. It is a huge temple in white marble, punctuated with colorful images of Radha Krishna. The temple also venerates various saints of the Vaishnava sect.
Vaishno Devi Temple
This is a fairly new temple with a giant Murti of Durga sitting on her lion. Below her in a cave is the Vigraha of 9 forms of Devi.
Places to visit in Vrindavan
There are many things besides temples that you can visit and enjoy in this holy town.
A sacred forest where you can take a walk and visit the temple dedicated to Radha. The temple is full of bangles and other Shringar items. It is believed that Radha and Krishna still meet here every night. In the evening the priest prepares the bed for them in a palace called Rang Mahal and then leaves. No one is allowed to stay inside after it’s dark. There are stories of people who insisted and stayed and were found dead in the morning.
The premises of Nidhi Van also have Samadhi of poet and musician Swami Haridas. Believed to be an incarnation of Lalita Sakhi, this is the place where he used to do his sadhana or the practice. Tansen, the musician in Akbar’s court came here to meet Swami Haridas. Some of his poetry is carved in stone here.
Murti of Sri Banke Bihari temple mentioned above was found in this Nidhi Van.
As you walk around, you find a temple dedicated to Kunj Bihari. Lalita Kund is a small stepwell in Nidhi Van. Sindoor or vermilion is offered to many trees making them look like a bride wearing red clothes.
There is a lovely temple reminding the visitor of the event when Sri Krishna killed Kaliya Nag here. This is next to the Kaliyadeh ghat of Yamuna. There is a small old temple along with a modern-day interpretation of the event in red sandstone.
A Kadamba tree stands next to it. It is believed that when the Kaliya Nag poisoned the waters of Yamuna, this was the only tree that managed to survive. Today it is worshipped as the wish-fulfilling tree.
Like Nidhivan, this was also a forest probably called Nikunj. This is also a spot identified with the venue of Ras Lila.
Vrindavan Shodh Sansthan Museum
There is a beautiful museum on the premises of Vrindavan Shodh Sansthan. You can see local art forms, the depiction of Radha Krishna in various mediums, and a lot of manuscripts. There are lovely paintings, illustrated manuscripts, artifacts like an old flute from Banke Bihari Temple, and a description of various festivals of Braj.
I would recommend spending some time at this museum to understand the place through its art. You can also buy research books at the museum shop.
This is a book shop full of books on Braj including the history of Braj and a lovely compilation of Hori songs that are sung in the temples of Braj. I love visiting the local book shops like these which still operate in a pretty much old-world way. It is a pleasure to speak to the owners who know everything about every book they have in the shop. They will ask you what you are looking for and simply pull out the perfect book for you. Even if they do not have the book, they will tell you where you can get it.
Boat Ride on the Yamuna
You can spend some time on the ghats of the Yamuna here. Boat rides are also enjoyable if the weather permits.
Read More – Boat Ride on the Yamuna in Mathura
There is a Panch Kosi Parikrama that goes around the holy place. It covers roughly 10 KMs and can be done in about 3 hours at leisure. Check the complete Parikrama path on this website.
The Parikrama can be done any day, any time. You can start it from anywhere but you must finish at the spot you start it. Many people do this on Ekadashi. It is recommended that you chant while walking so that you remain focused on the purpose of walking. Some people also keep fast for doing parikrama, but it is really a choice and not something that is prescribed.
Walking is easy, even if you walk barefoot as is recommended.
Festivals of Vrindavan Temples
- In Braj they say – 7 Vaar, 9 Tyohaar meaning there are 7 days in a week and 9 festivals to be celebrated in Braj. Every day is a festival in a place that was once playground of Krishna in his childhood days.
- Holi is the biggest festival that attracts tourists to Braj. Read our detailed post on – Holi in Mathura Vrindavan.
- Krishna Janamashtami or the birth of Krishna is the biggest festival in the town. It is followed by Radhaashtmi – the birth of Radha that comes 15 days after Janamashtami.
- Every Ekadashi or the 11th day of every fortnight is a festival in the temples here.
- Very local festivals include things like Kans Vadh Mela to celebrate the killing of Kamsa. Others include Lathhe ka Mela and Rath ka Mela.
- Kavi Sammelan or poetry meets are a norm in Braj. If you understand Braj Boli or the language of Braj, it is a delight to listen to the recitation of poems.
- Parikramas happen throughout the year.
Must Eat Food
Mathura Ke Pede is the favorite offering in the temples of Mathura Vrindavan. You must try these. Read our story of the making of Mathura Peda.
Kachori is my favorite thing to eat in Braj Bhumi, followed by Bedai Puri which you get only in the mornings.
Lassi is a famous drink that you must try here, followed by Jal Jeera which is mostly seen in summers.
Monkeys can play havoc on your sojourn here. They are found in each temple, each street, and even on the ghats. They will attack you for anything. But their favorites are – mobile phones, cameras, spectacles, and hanging bags. In the lanes of Banke Bihari temple, I saw them jumping on passers-by wearing spectacles, taking them off, and breaking them, just for fun. It is nearly impossible to walk with any eatable in your hands.
Some of them are addicted to Frooti and will return your stuff only if you buy them a packet of Frooti.
I was attacked by monkeys at Radha Vallabh temple when one snatched my camera and the other my sling bag almost choking me. Although you find monkeys everywhere in Braj Bhumi, be it Mathura, Govardhan, Barsana, or Gokul but nowhere else are they so rowdy as they are in Vrindavan.
Be aware of this when you step out in the town.
How to visit Vrindavan?
- It is located 10 KM north of Mathura, 50 KM from Agra, and 150 KM from Delhi. If you drive down from Delhi, you first get this place and then Mathura. They are almost like twin towns now.
- It is well connected by both road and train. The nearest airport is New Delhi.
- E-Rickshaw is the best way to explore the place. Unless you are willing to walk its pilgrim routes stated above.
- There are many hotels of all ranges available in the town. People also stay at ashrams like the one provided by the ISKCON temple.