Where lies Krishna consciousness?
ISKCON's planned Chandrodaya temple may further deplete Vrindavan's groundwater and harm its environment
“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