Where lies Kr­ishna con­scious­ness?

ISKCON's planned Chan­dro­daya tem­ple may fur­ther de­plete Vrin­da­van's ground­wa­ter and harm its en­vi­ron­ment

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - K SOMA BASU VRIN­DA­VAN |

“Nei­ther the ci­ties, the cul­tured lands nor the vil­lages or their houses are ours. We are the for­est peo­ple, dear fa­ther, and will al­ways live in the forests and the hills”

Sri Kr­ishna (Sri­mad Bhag­vatam, Chap­ter 10, Canto 24, Verse 24)

RISHNA, THE god of love in Hindu mythol­ogy, is said to have lived a sim­ple­ton’s life.He danced with pea­cocks, splashed in the rivers, played the flute that mes­merised hu­mans and an­i­mals alike and spent his time in the forests herd­ing cows. Sri­vatsa Goswami, a Vaish­nava scholar, con­sid­ers Kr­ishna’s life to be “the great­est chap­ter in en­vi­ron­men­tal his­tory”. “One who is de­voted to Kr­ishna can never be cal­lous to­wards the en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause Kr­ishna him­self loves na­ture,” writes Bri­tish au­thor Ran­chor Prime in his book, Hin­duism and Ecol­ogy: Seeds of Truth.

To­day, Kr­ishna’s devo­tees are di­vided in their bhakti. While one camp wants to glo­rify their master through mag­nif­i­cent tem­ples, the other be­lieves in re­viv­ing the very forests where Kr­ishna grew up, now lost to ur­ban­i­sa­tion. The for­mer thinks erect­ing mon­u­ments ded­i­cated to Kr­ishna is the best way to spread his mes­sage; the lat­ter says the right way to hon­our him is fol­low­ing in his foot­steps and car­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment. What

emerges from th­ese dif­fer­ences of opin­ion is po­lar­i­sa­tion in Kr­ishna wor­ship and a de­bate on the idea of bhakti.

Does de­vo­tion de­mand tem­ples?

The In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Kr­ishna Con­scious­ness (iskcon), a global Vaish­nava spir­i­tual in­sti­tu­tion with tem­ples all over the world, be­lieves ar­chi­tec­ture is one of the ways to prop­a­gate Kr­ishna’s mis­sion. Dur­ing a lec­ture in Mumbai on Fe­bru­ary 25, 1974, Srila Prab­hu­pada, the founder of iskcon, said, “Oh, there are so many sky­scrapers.Why not con­struct a nice sky­scraper tem­ple of Kr­ishna? That is Kr­ishna con­scious­ness.”

Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from his words, iskcon plans to build a large and swanky tem­ple in Vrin­da­van ded­i­cated to Kr­ishna. “An im­pos­ing tem­ple would pro­claim the sta­tus of Vrin­da­van as one of In­dia’s spir­i­tual cap­i­tals and at­tract global at­ten­tion to­wards Kr­ishna and his mes­sage,” ex­plains Su­vyakta Narasimha Dasa, pres­i­dent of the Vrin­da­van unit of Akshaya Pa­tra Foun­da­tion, a char­i­ta­ble body set up by iskcon to look after the new tem­ple.

On the other hand, Braj Foun­da­tion, a non-profit led by se­nior jour­nal­ist Vi­neet Narain, fo­cuses on re­ju­ve­nat­ing the forests as­so­ci­ated with Kr­ishna’s life. “Kr­ishna was a pri­mor­dial en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. This is my way of wor­ship­ing him. One who serves Braj serves Kr­ishna, ”Narain says.

Braj, spread across 5,000 square kilo­me­tres around Mathura-Vrin­da­van in Ut­tar Pradesh, is Kr­ishna’s own body, claim vedic texts. Once upon a time, the re­gion had 137 forests and 1,000 kunds or wa­ter bod­ies. To­day, only three of the 137 groves, as­so­ci­ated with the legend of Radha Kr­ishna, re­main, while the rest have been lost to rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion. Most of the kunds have ei­ther silted up, been en­croached upon or have be­come garbage dumps. Braj Foun­da­tion aims to re­ju­ve­nate the wa­ter bod­ies, for­est groves and hills in Braj, in what it con­sid­ers is the best form of Kr­ishna bhakti.

If Braj is abun­dant in forests and kunds that find men­tion in vedic texts, it also houses brick mon­u­ments ded­i­cated to Kr­ishna. Vrin­da­van, where Kr­ishna spent his child­hood and ado­les­cence, is called the “heart of Braj” .To­day, the town has at least 5,500 tem­ples and hun­dreds of dharamsha­las (shel­ters) and ho­tels to cater to more than six mil­lion tourists who visit the town ev­ery year.

A swanky build­ing for God

iskcon’s pro­posed tem­ple will be another ad­di­tion to Vrin­da­van’s con­crete jun­gle. The Chan­dro­daya Mandir is be­ing built on the out­skirts of the town in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Kolkata-based In­fin­ity Group.The glas­sand-steel tem­ple, spread over 2.2 hectares, is set to be the world’s tallest, mea­sur­ing 210 me­tres with 70 floors. This is taller than the Qu­tub Mi­nar in Delhi, which is 70 me­tres tall. The foun­da­tion stone for the pro­posed tem­ple was laid in March this year and con­struc­tion is ex­pected to be com­pleted in five years.

Ac­cord­ing to the project brief of Chan­dro­daya Mandir, the grand tem­ple will be sur­rounded by 12 hectares of for­est area to recre­ate the forests of Braj, in­clud­ing the 12 ver­dant forests, men­tioned in Sri­mad Bhag­vatam, where Lord Kr­ishna is be­lieved to per­form his raas lee­las (love plays). A Ya­muna creek that will be recre­ated in the forests will pro­vide boat­ing op­por­tu­nity to vis­i­tors. The build­ing will also house a he­li­pad, an am­phithe­atre, a hi-speed lift and a 4D the­atre.The en­tire project area spreads across 60 hectares, equiv­a­lent to the size of six Ak­shard­ham tem­ples in Delhi,and will also com­prise res­i­den­tial vil­las and apart­ments with mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties.

In its ea­ger­ness to serve Kr­ishna, iskcon seems to be in­dif­fer­ent to the trou­bles Bra­jwa­sis (peo­ple of Braj) might face from a grand tem­ple in their vicin­ity.The wa­ter for the tem­ple, toi­lets, kunds and the creek would be ex­tracted from the ground. “The Ya­muna is 5 km away from the project site.As it is dif­fi­cult to lay a pipe­line for such a long dis­tance, we have iden­ti­fied a ground­wa­ter source 3 km away from the tem­ple. Soon, bor­ing will be done and pipe­lines will be laid, ”Dasa says. He claims that the Foun­da­tion has al­ready ac­quired en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance for the project from the State En­vi­ron­ment Im­pact As­sess­ment Au­thor­ity.

Manoj Mishra, con­venor of Ya­muna Jiye

PHOTOGRAPHS: SOMA BASU / CSE

Years of neg­li­gence and ur­ban­i­sa­tion dried up Ru­dra Kund, which once served as a peren­nial source of fresh­wa­ter. Braj Foun­da­tion has re­vived the pond

and is cur­rently beau­ti­fy­ing its ghats

An artist's im­pres­sion of Chan­dro­daya Mandir in Vrin­da­van, es­ti­mated to be the tallest in the world

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