Braj, the area around Mathura-Vrindavan where Krishna was born and lived as a boy, is a particularly fine expression of India’s syncretic culture. It’s the seat of the Vaishnava cult, which draws its romance from the myth of the makhan chor, the boy god frolicking with the cows and gopis on the lush pastures of Brajbhoomi.
Braj is important to the Buddhists too — the Buddha is supposed to have preached and opened monasteries in these parts, with the Chinese traveller Fahien reporting that as many as 3,000 monks lived in the 20 monasteries in Mathura. Later, these monasteries and the area’s many temples were ravaged by the Islamic raiders Mahmud Ghazni and Sikander Lodi, but it was Mughal emperor Akbar who gave Vrindavan the status of an independent revenue entity and gifted it to the Goswamis. No wonder, Brajbhoomi is where many of our traditions in art, architecture, music and theatre trace their roots.
Much of Braj’s distinct culture is lost today to neglect and insensible development.
This is where the Braj Mahotsav comes in. For a week starting today, Brajbhoomi will be recreated at the Matighar and lawns of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts with an exhibition, lectures (musicologist Mukund Lath, historian Irfan Habib, etc) and performances. There’ll be Bhagat Sangeet (narrative theatre by Deviprasad Sharma and troupe, Sat 6.30-8 pm), dhrupad (Premkumar Mallick, Sunday), raslila (Fateh Krishna Ras Mandali, Monday, Friday, Sunday) and Brajras Geeti (Shubha Mudgal, Tuesday) among others.