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The vanishing forests of Braj

A dozen forests and countless gardens of Braj Bhoomi, the land in a radius of 100 km around Lord Krishna's birthplace Mathura, are no more.

india Updated: Mar 21, 2007 18:11 IST

A dozen forests and countless gardens of Braj Bhoomi, the land in a radius of 100 km around Lord Krishna's birthplace Mathura, are no more.

The ponds have dried up long ago and the Yamuna that flowed through a wealth of immortal Vaishnavite literature is dying a slow, poisoned death.

While forests have disappeared in this area at an alarming rate, new townships and concrete ashrams (spiritual retreats) have consumed all the land in Vrindavan, where real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years, say ecology activists.

"The Braj culture was essentially a forest-oriented one," said Harsh Nandini Bhatia, a local, on World Forestry Day Wednesday, a day on which the absence of lush green forests in Braj is more conspicuous.

"The leelas (divine play) of Krishna and Radha like Cheerharan Leela, Nag Leela, Ras Leela etc centred around trees, flowers and meadows. Vrindavan itself was a dense tulsi (basil) forest," he added.

Vrindavan derives its name from two words vrinda or tulsi plant and van which means thick growth of vegetation indicating that Vrindavan had an abundance of the tulsi plants considered sacred by the Hindus.

With the passage of time, an increase in population and urban centres gobbling up land for civic infrastructure, the legendary forests of Braj were the first casualties, said Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma.

Sharma is firmly opposed to the construction of multi-storey buildings and new townships in a town that houses a large number of spiritually significant centres. "What is the need for a golf course in Govardhan?" he asked.

Old records mention Vrindavan, Agravan (Agra), Kotvan, Mahavan, Kamvan, Bahulavan, Madhuvan, which were once dense forests constituting the 'leela bhoomi' of Krishna and his divine consort Radha.

"It was the attraction and spiritual pull of these forests that drew Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to Vrindavan, Mahaprabhu Ballabhacharya to Goverdhan from Andhra Pradesh, Goswami Harivansh, Swami Hari Das, Soor Das, Ras Khan and Meera to Braj," said Gopi Ballabh Shastri, a Hinduism expert.

The Braj area used to have 12 big forests and 24 smaller forests, in addition to scores of sprawling gardens around temples.

"Today the whole ecology of the area has been imbalanced and disturbed. The desert is closing in from the western side as large-scale mining activity has denuded the hillsides of its dense forest cover. The Central Pollution Control Board's recent report presents a very gloomy scenario," B.B. Barik, a social forestry expert from the Bichpuri Rural Institute, told the agency.

AK Sinha, a professor, has also expressed concern over the loss of biodiversity in Braj Bhoomi. "So many species of plants and shrubs have vanished and nothing is being done," rued Sinha.

Ipe M Ipe, a former principal of St John's College, said there used to be more than 50 varieties of butterflies, now hardly a handful remains. "It's really shocking how we criminally assault our natural resources that sustain us," he added.

Shravan Bharti, a member of the Yamuna Foundation for Blue Waters, said: "The original flora and fauna of Braj Bhoomi has to be saved from predators masquerading as developers."