In terms of geography, Brajbhoomi falls within the Ganges-Yamuna Doab region, almost encompassed in by the modern day Delhi, Jaipur, Agra Golden Triangle circuit. This are, part of Aryavarta Bharta or Midlands, has had a deep impact on Indian culture, heritage and tradition, owning to it being the setting for Lord Krishna’s birth, childhood and adlosence years, as enumerated among anothers in the Indian Epic Mahabharata, Vishnu Mahapuran and Shreemad Bhagvatam Mahapuran.
Quite well defined, culturally, even though not so geographically, Braj Bhoomi, is spread over a area of around 5,000 square kilometers bound by a periphery known traditionally and historically as 84 Kos spanning Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, Bharatpur district in Rajasthan and Hodal Subdivision of Palwal Dist. of Haryana. On its northern fringe, Braj Bhoomi starts at a distance of around 115 KMs from the political border of India’s capital New Delhi, along the National Highway 44.
From New Delhi – Vrindavan and Mathura, the popular townships of Braj are merely a two and a half hour drive (145 Kms) on the Delhi-Agra National Highway 44. Vrindavan and Mathura are at a distance of around 10 kilometers along the NH 44. Several train and bus connections are available between New Delhi and Mathura. The nearest domestic and international airport is New Delhi.
From Agra - these towns can be reached within an hours drive (around 55 kms) on the Delhi-Agra National Highway 44. There are multiple trains to Mathura from these towns.
From Jaipur - these towns can be reached in approximately four and half hours drive (220 kilometers). There are bus services connecting the two places.
Many tourists think that Vrindavan and Mathura is Braj. Whilst these two towns are very important centres of Braj Bhoomi, there are very many places of cultural, religious and heritage significance scattered all over this large region.
It is estimated that around 50 million pilgrims and tourists visit Braj annually. They come to pay their obeisances in the various Temples, Kunds and Groves of Braj like : In Vrindvan - Bankey Bihari temple, Radha Vallabh temple, Radha Raman temple, Radha Damodar temple, Rang ji temple, In Nandgaon – Nandamahal, In Barsana - Shriji Mandir, In Baldev – Baldau Temple, etc.
Typically pilgrims and tourists perform Circumambulation (called parikramas) of different temples, sites like that of Giriraj Goverdhan, towns such as Vrindavan or indeed the whole of Braj Bhoomi, which is known as the Braj 84 Kos Yatra.
The traditional Braj culture is predominantly rural in nature. Agriculture & Animal Husbandry have been the primary vocation of Brajwasis since ages. The villages of Braj offer a unique colourful experience. The simple kind hearted Brajwasis are superb hosts. They pour their hearts to the visitors. It was this simplicity and soft heartedness that they indebted even the Supreme personality of Godhead – Krishna.
Mud houses with thatched roof, a tulsi plant in the courtyard, women drawing water out of the wells and carrying their pots on heads, cooking of chapatis on chulhas, churning of curd are some of the typical scenes one would find in the villages of Braj.
Towards evening, the Brajwasis have bhajans, kirtans and dance glorifying the innumerable pastimes of Radha & Krishna. If Shrimad Bhagvad Gita can be summarised in one sentence as “Nishkaam Karmayog” (selfless work), Braj culture can be defined as “Simplification of Divine”.
The Supreme personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna is considered to be the founder of this culture. The principles of simple living and high thinking and that of optimal consumption have nowhere been exemplified as that in Braj.
Braj is not just a region on the map. For millions of Indians around the world, it is, even today, Krishna’s abode on earth. Krishna remains the Supreme God Head in Hindu mythology, thought and philosophy. The theology of Krishna devotion emphasizes a very personalized and unmediated devotion towards the Supreme Godhead. Consequently, the whole region has been worshipped for thousands of years.
Krishna manifested his divine play in this land; it is this playful nature which endears and establishes his reign over the hearts of those devoted to him throughout time and it is this which endears this land to his devotees. Krishna performed his pastimes or “leelas” in 137 sacred forests and around 1000 Kunds (water bodies), on holy hills and on the banks of river Yamuna.
In the 10th chapter, 24 canto and 24th verse of Srimad Bhagvatam, Krishna says to Nand Baba: “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”.
Braj is predominantly a forest culture. In Brajbhaktivilas there is a mention of over 137 transcidental dense groves on both flanks of Yamuna. Braj is the land of Lord Krishna, the propounder of world famous Srimad Bhagvad Gita. Lord Krishna appeared in Mathura some 5000 years ago and performed his innumerable pastimes all over the region till the age of 11.
More than 650 villages of Braj are associated with His various leelas. All this makes the entire region of Braj sacred for millions of Vaishnavites all over the world. Braj has a 5000 year old cultural heritage of unbroken continuity. Since the advent of Krishna 5000 years ago, the culture of Braj has been sustained despite innumerable onslaughts.
Braj offers round the years festivity. Every day there is a colorfull festival in Braj.
According to scholars every major forest in Braj corresponds to the various parts of Krishna’s body, hence the land is non-different from Krishna and walking about its sacred spaces is considered synonymous with being with Krishna. This is the feeling evinced throughout history by Krishna devotees and can and will be relished so long as these sites survive.
Krishna lived a simple pastoral life in Braj; according to traditional scriptures, Brajati gacchati iti brajah. “What moves around Braj is Braj: the cows, gopas, gopis, and Gopal.” Krishna as Braja-Bihari always plays in the land of “his own free, joyful movement”.
Krishna is the topic of Braj. Krishna manifested his divine play in this land; it is this playful nature which endears and establishes his reign over the hearts of those devoted to him throughout time and it is this which endears this land to his devotees.
A hundred years after Krishna left this world, Arjuna the Pandava ruler of Indraprastha (present day Delhi), brought Vajranabh, Krishna’s great- grandson, from Dwarka to Braj and appointed him king of the land of Krishna’s childhood and youth. At the time Braj, after the great war depicted in the epic Mahabharata, had been abandoned and the legendry places of Krishna had become untraceable.
Mathura, the capital of Braj during the rule of Ashoka and the Mauryas, was dominated by Buddhist influence and the sites of Krishna lila were once again neglected. The Muslim invasions and the fervour of the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb, further destroyed whatever vestiges time had left of the Braj tradition.
Between the 11th and 15th century images and deities were hidden in these kunds ;once again the forests of Braj grew thick and covered these sites.For over a thousand years the rulers of Hindu society were not Hindus. For eight hundred years Muslims ruled from Delhi. The whole surrounding region, including Vrindavan, bears the deep impression of this rule, which did nothing to foster Hindu culture, and at times bitterly suppressed it. In the 15th century, during the great Renaissance of Europe, the Bhakti movement had spread to most of India. At this very time, Shri Chaitanyadev of Bengal and Vallabhacarya along with their followers began another age of discovery, or rather rediscovery of the lore of Braj through the Bhakti movement. Many images and deities were recovered from the kunds and installed in temples. The ban yatra to the sites of Krishna’s play were initiated by Chaitanyadev and Vallabhacarya. Narayan Bhatta, a disciple in the lineage of Chaitanyadev, was the first person to show how the geographical construct of Braj is a circle, or mandala, and was a great proponent of the yatra.