Cities are built by its people, by infrastructure and by services. But cities are also built on their past. If not, what would Delhi be without Lal Quila; Jaipur without Hawa Mahal; Agra without the Taj Mahal.
In case of Vrindavan, it was Keshi ghat, Madan Mohan Mandir and Govinda Dev temple which were the signature of this temple town. Today the story is different and the development is focused just around a few temples.
While the three consecutive governments of Uttar Pradesh announced a slew of schemes for the development in Vrindavan, but no scheme was announced for the repair and conservation of the heritage structures, which used to be the signature of Vrindavan.
Instead, the projects have forced the ‘Vrindavan heritage’ to die a silent death. Be it the merger of the civic bodies of Mathura and Vrindavan, Riverfront Development Project or the building of the half-circular bridge; most of the decisions have only attributed to diminish the ethos of the Vrindavan.
The history of the town re-discovered by Lord Chaitanya will be soon forgotten. The numbers of pilgrims are sharply declining in the town, said to have 5000 temples. Although the number of weekend tourists have gone up. Some pilgrims go for the Yamuna Pujan, darshan of the traditional temples, and the places of Krishna’s pastimes. But most of the weekend tourists go to some selected temples, most of them are modern.
Before, the Tirtha purohits used to take their yajman to show where Krishna stole the clothes of the Gopis, where Krishna danced on the Kaliya, where Krishna killed the demon Keshi and so on. Yamuna pujan at Kehsi Ghat was the foremost thing to do once a devotee came to Vrindavan.
According to the Adi – Varaha Purana, taking one bath in Yamuna at Keshi ghat is hundred times more auspicious than taking bath in the Ganges. It also says that by performing Shraddha at Kehi Ghat for the forefathers, one gets the same result of offering shraddha in Gaya.
Keshi Ghat was the only ghat where the Yamuna touched it till the recent times. The only Yamuna temple of Vrindavan is situated on the Kehsi Ghat only. The famous Yamuna arati of Vrindavan is performed at Keshi ghat only. The after death ceremony (shraddha) is being performed at the Panda wala ghat which is adjoining to the Keshi ghat. The river used to touch this ghat also along with the Keshi Ghat. But the Riverfront Development Project has forced Yamuna to leave its favorite ghats where it used to flow gently.
The city is as important for Vaishnavite Hindus as the Vatican for Catholics or Mecca for Muslims, but the State governments in various times brought un-thoughtful projects, which challenged the existence of the Holy Dham.
The panoramic river side architecture of Vrindavan was a phenomenon. During the 17th and 18th centuries more than 32 ghats were built along Yamuna by the Rajput Kings and the zamindars inspired by the pastimes of Lord Krishna. All the ghats were built to commemorate Krishna’s pastimes, and named after the different ‘lilas’ of the Lord. Praskanandan Ghat , Suraj Ghat, Keshi Ghat, Bhramar Ghat, Cheer Ghat, Govind Ghat, Ranapat Ghat, Bihar Ghat, Jugal Ghat and Suraj Ghat are some of the names of the ghats. These ghats are situated adjacent to each other and give a panoramic view when seen together.
The Praskanandan Ghat was built to commemorate Lord Krishna’s praskanandan (perspiration) which caused to create a small lake to appear, but the same is not visible at the present time due to huge construction activities on the river bed. Similarly, Suraj Ghat was named to commemorate, where Surya performed great austerities so that he could achieve darshan of Lord Krishna. Shri Radha Rani also prayed to sun God at the Suraj Ghat to appear and give warmth to Lord Krishna, after he defeated Kaliya Nag in the cold water.
The Cheer Ghat was built on the site where Lord Krishna stole the clothes of the Gopis. The Bhagvatam states that the cowherd girls, having lost their hearts to Krishna, had prayed to goddess Katyayani to have Krishna as their husband and, by His transcendental mischief, the Lord answered their prayers, at Cheer Ghat.
This Kaliya – daman ghat was built on the site from where Krishna leaped to chastise the huge serpent demon Kaliya.
The famous and elegant Keshi Ghat was built on the site where youthful Krishna saved the Vrajavasis from the terrible Keshi demon in the form of an immense horse. The Keshi demon was a henchman of cruel King Kamsa, who was killed at the Keshi Ghat, also known as Keshi Tirtha.
Bhramar Ghat was built by Sawai Jai Singh to commemorate the pastime of Radha and Krishna , who sat here, the sweet fragrance that came from them attracted a swarm of black bees (bhramar). From this even the place is known as Bhramar Ghat.
The construction of each ghat had a ‘Divine cause’ behind it. The grandeur of each ghat has been the centre of attraction for centuries. The ghats of Kashi (Varanasi) are grand with many steps, but the ghats on the bank of river Yamuna in Vrindavan is rich in its miniature architecture value. The red stone heritage structures were built by the different princely states with the inspiration of the saints of Vrindavan.
The architecture of almost all the ghats at Vrindavan is such that the front of the ghats were constructed on pillars and except the stairs, built for the purpose of Yamuna Pujan / Arati and the holy dip, the river was allowed to the under –belly of the ghats so as to keep recharging the ground water.
Instead of saving and preserving these heritage ghats and the river bed of river Yamuna, the Government Authorities have totally destroyed the river bed by constructing road, drains and permanent & temporary structures therein. The area of the river bed between the sheet piling and the ghats is being reclaimed and is being concretized.
None of the ghats have been protected either by the Archeological Survey of India or the State Archeology. Nor the heritage bye-laws are enforced around the temples which are protected by the ASI.
The ghats were built in ancient times to control the monsoon flooding only. Thus there was no need to construct new ghats on the ancient ghats of the city. Most of the ghats have been buried under the debris, on top which illegal roads have been built by the government in connivance with the real estate mafias, who developed colonies on Yamuna’s original bed. The road built in guise of the Parikrama marg, has actually given access to these colonies.
Since Keshi Ghat was the only obstruction for the continuance of the illegal road, the Mayavati government proposed to build the half moon flyover at Keshi ghat. After the project was challenged in the High Court, the half made pillars of the flyover was dismantled. This time the Akhilesh government proposed the Riverfront Development project, which has proved as the death knell to the existence of the heritage ghats.
Not only the ghats are being buried and the river is being forced away from it; but the sheet filing component of the project has dried the aquifers of the ground water. Soon Vrindavan will face an acute water crisis, as the river has stopped recharging the ground water.
The UP State Government departments have also stated in the court that due to the excessive situation, Yamuna River has already changed its natural course and despite this they are going ahead with expanding the ancient Ghats hence ensuring that the river cannot return to its pristine form.