If you ask any one who has ever been to Braj the question, “How many Vrindavans are there?”, you will probably get the answer, “Two” – Golok Vrindavan and the Vrindavan on earth. The idea of there being two Vrindavans represents the basic dichotomous nature of everything in this world – the spiritual ideal and the material manifestation. Such a dichotomy helps us to understand what we see on the streets of Vrindavan and relate what we read in the descriptions of Braj in scriptures.
Philosophers who consider the nature of Braj have previously divided Braj into five categories. In her work, “Vrndavana in Vaishnava Literature”, Maura Corcoran cites P.D. Mitala’s division of Braj into five categories, as follows:
1)Political Braj, which became known as Braj in the 18th century under the Jats.
2)Linguistic Braj – the area in which Brajbasha is spoken
3)Cultural Braj – the Braj connected to Sri Krishna’s lilas that was uncovered by Rupa Goswami and Sanatan Goswami.
4)Religious Braj – The pilgrimage places associated with Brajyatra
5)Spiritual Braj – The form that Braj takes when it is meditated on and worshiped.
Mitala’s first category, Political Braj has been further divided into three parts by Jagananda Prabhu according to Vrindavan’s development and the history of globalization. According to this theory, political Braj can be divided into (1) The historical town and its ancient temples (2) The ashrams that pilgrims of yore built surrounding the ancient temples (3) The recently developed temples and urban sprawl. Jagananda Prabhu’s analysis of the three Vrindavans relates to Vrindavan only, however it is likely that a similar pattern of development is taking place in the other towns of Braj although Vrindavan is emerging as the centre of 21st century Braj.
In the process of thinking Braj’s mysteries, we also create another Braj – philosophical Braj, so we have identified eight expansions of Braj: (1)The Braj of ancient temples (2) The Braj of the ashrams built by the pilgrims of yore (3) The 21st Century Braj of Globalization (4) Linguistic Braj, (5) Cultural Braj, (6) Religious Braj (7) Spiritual Braj (8) Philosophical Braj.
Devotees make the basic distinction between physical Vrindavan and the spiritual Vrindavan in order to try to make sense of what they see in Braj and answer the question, “Is everything in Braj spiritual?” Perhaps the answer is yes, but, the people, places and things in Braj have varying levels of spiritual power and, perhaps, a consideration of Braj’s eight expansions can help us to understand whether we are acting as part of political Braj, religious Braj or spiritual Braj.