Mathura

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Contents

Mathura / मथुरा

Introduction of Mathura

Introduction


Mathura is believed to be the third oldest living city of the world, only behind Kashi (Varanasi) and Rome. For the past more than 2,500 years it has witnessed many dynasties and innumerable rulers deciding its destiny and ruling its fate. Nature, mainly through flooding from River Yamuna has wrecked less havoc on its temples, shrines, stupas and monasteries than the waves of marauding invaders. Being a prominent religious city and located on the main highway it has always been on the hit list of the invading armies. Its dauntless spirit always made it to rise up after every fall. Krishna told Arjun in Gita that whenever there is darkness and loss of Dharma he would take incarnation to uplift and reestablish the Dharma (order and rule of law), ominously Mathura recovered miraculously after its devastation at the hands of Huns. After Sikander Lodhi's destruction it saw the revival through Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's disciples, Vallabhacharya, music maestro Haridas, Mirabai, Surdas, and innumerable devotee poets and saints. Again when Aurangzeb let loose hell over this sacred city, Jats and Marathas proved saviours of its cultural vestiges. People mostly regarded it only as a Vaishnava religious city and termed Krishna, its presiding deity, as a mythological figure. It was rediscovered by the civilized world in 1836 when Colonel L.R. Stacy chanced upon a mound and got unearthed an antiquarian masterpiece popularly known as Silenus and a Cage-bearing Yakshi. It turned out to be a groundbreaking momentous discovery. The renowned archaeologist Alexander Cunningham became quite fascinated with Mathura. Between 1853 and 1882 he made several trips to the city and its outskirts and carried out excavation work in different mounds. These mounds proved to be a goldmine of classic sculptures. He and an archaeologist administrator, F.S. Growse (Collector of Mathura) made herculean efforts in bringing out innumerable sculptures and art pieces and in the process unveiled the historical, social, economic and political life of Mathura in last about 2,000 years. Recovery of huge haul of sculptures, inscribed stone-pieces, coins and architraves proved beyond doubt that Mathura in ancient times was a great centre where not only Hinduism, but Buddhism and Jainism also flourished. This book is a humble attempt to piece together these scattered historical facts. It is rather a spiritual journey into Mathura's colourful history. There is some magnetism in Mathura, popularly known as Brajbhoomi, because once in Mathura's lands, one feels immersed in the devotional feelings. This magical land erstwhile was a melting pot of a diverse cultural heritage—rich, diverse and colourful. Hence we hope that tourists, pilgrims and the followers of Krishna, Buddha and Mahavira will find in this book some food for their thoughts. Mathura is such an ancient and sacred city that it should have a huge number of visitors to it. But in comparison to Varanasi or Rome (other cities older than it), the number of its pilgrims, tourists and visitors are far less. Reason being its historical, religious and cultural importance has not yet been publicized properly and aggressively. Hence, feeling a spiritual urge to fulfill this vacuum and promote the glory of ancient Mathura this treatise is being brought out.

Mathura of Today

As per mythological belief Mathura is eternally enjoying the protection of Krishna's fabled wheel (Sudarshana Chakra). For a visitor, the walled city of Mathura is the place for chaste Brajbhasha, peda, dahi (curd), milk, and of course its divine posterboy— Krishna. `Radhey, Radhey! chanting pandas keep alive the township's age-old culture and are always ready to recount innumerable anecdotes related to the lilas of their dear Lord Krishna. Howsoever incongruous it may seem, the congested walled city with its century-old buildings, ahatas, bagichis, akharas and galis–has gelled well with modern antiseptic Mathura. Though the ancient tin lok se nyari Mathura is gone, yet the modern small town continues brimming with enthusiasm and life. A century or more back, the ancient mounds gave way to the mansions, havelis and kothis and now these crumbling mansions are being marred or demolished to make way for residential colonies, commercial establishments and multi-storeyed apartments. The historically oldest structures of the city chronologically are–Satiburj (17th century), Manoharpura's mosque (Ahmad Shah's period), Jama Masjid of Chowk (Aurangzeb's times), Idgah Masjid (Aurangzeb's period), Dwarkadhish Mandir (19th century), old Museum (19th century), Lala Babu's cenotaph (19th century), Collectorate (1860), and Sacred Heart Catholic Church (19th century). It is difficult to come across an original walled city house today. Old era is gone and so has its architecture and lifestyle. Today's generation does not realize what a treat it is to live in huge, spacious, airy mansions, hence only a few dozen houses have got old dalans, sahans and small gardens in their courtyards. Multicultural flair still exists in the city hence adherents of every creed and religion have got their place of worship here. While the Jama Masjid of Chowk dominates the landscape of the old walled city, the spires of Krishna Janmabhumi temple have got an aura of highest religiosity. JambuSwami Jain temple of Chaurasi and Sacred Heart Church of Sadar Bazar have got their own believers. The entire walled city of Mathura always bustles with activity as there is one festivity or other through out the year.

Chaubes of Mathura

(न केशव समो देव न मथुरा समो द्विज)
(Na Keshava samo deva na Mathura samo dvija)
[i.e No god like Keshava, and no Brahman like a Mathuriya Chaube.] Thus is said in the Varaha Purana about Krishna and the Chaubes of Mathura. Since then little has changed in Chaubes. They are a peculiar race and must not be passed over so summarily. Till middle of 20th century they were very celebrated as wrestlers. Their Bhuteshwar Akhara (arena) was popular far and wide in whole of North India. In the religious Sanskrit text `Mathura Mahatmya', their learning and other virtues also are profusely extolled. Extremely fair in colour, sporting tilak on their forehead, wearing rudraksha beaded garlands in their necks, frequently chanting `Radhey, Radhey' while greeting each other, sporting crisp muslin kurti and dhoti they may always be seen with their portly forms lolling about near the most popular ghats and temples. One of their most noticeable peculiarities is that they are very reluctant to make a match with an outsider, and if by any possibility it can be managed, will always find bridegrooms for their daughters among the residents of the town. Hence the popular saying:

‘मथुरा की बेटी गोकुल की गाय
कर्म फूटे तो अन्त कू जाय’

Which may thus be roughly rendered: `Mathura's daughters and Gokul's cows will never move out while fate allows.' Because as is implied, there is no other place where they are likely to be so well off. In the later half of 19th century a considerable migration of Chaube populace was made to Mainpuri, where the Mathuria Chaubes now form a large and wealthy section of the community and are in every way of life better than the parent stock. On important festive occasions bhang-rolling groups of Chaubes are a sight worth enjoying. They complete the masti (revelry) of Braj.

Jainism In Krishna's Land

Neminath was the 22nd Tirthankara of Jain religion. He was the cousin brother of Lord Krishna. There is a place called Shauripur (near Bateswar) in Bah Tehsil of district Agra. King of Shauripur Andhak Vrishni had ten sons. Eldest son was Samudravijai, while the youngest one was Vasudeo. Neminath took birth in the house of Samudravijai, while Sri Krishna was born in the house of Vasudeo. Out of fear from Jarasandh Yadavas left Shauripur lock, stock and barrel and got settled at Dwarkapuri. There Neminath became an ascetic. He left behind his would-be-bride and after scaling the Girnar hilltop started his penance there. Following the footsteps of Lord Rishabhdeo, he renounced his cloths and turned a digambara (bare bodied). Vasudeo married the sister of Mathura's king Kansa and moved to stay there. Hence being related to each other Sri Krishna and his devotees and followers of Jain Tirthankara Neminath had no acrimony between them. Gradually Mathura turned into a centre of Jainism as well. The inscriptions on artpieces discovered from the Kankali mound of Mathura date from second century BC to fifth century AD; hence they sufficiently prove the antiquity of Mathura as a very old and important centre of Jainism.
Historian and renowned archaeologist Fuhrer narrates the antiquity of Jainism at Mathura like this: "This stupa is so ancient that till writing of the inscription the original description of the stupa has gone out of local populace's memory." Innumerable Jain sculptures discovered from several sites at Mathura prove beyond doubt that Jainism remained prevalent in this region for many centuries and also got patronage of many of the contemporary successive rulers of this part of the world.
Jambu Swami (Chaurasi) Jain mandir is located on the outskirts of Mathura city, close to the Govardhan crossing on Agra–Delhi bypass road. It is believed that Jambu Swami here practiced penance, and that his name is recorded in an old inscription on a stone slab that is still preserved under the altar. He is reputed the last of the Kevalis, or divinely inspired teachers, being the pupil of Sudharma, who was the only surviving disciple of Mahavira, the great apostle of the Digambaras. In this magnificent Jain temple are placed his footprints. Every year between Kartika Krishna's dvitiya to astami, Rathotsava (chariot-pulling), an annual fair, is held here. Kankali mound was near to it from where hundreds of Jaina sculptures were found out. One statue of the 24th Tirthankara Lord Mahavira was discovered from Chaurasi mound, which is said to have been chiseled during Kumargupta's reign. On the Chaurasi mound stands the Jambu Swami temple.
A famous art historian writing in `Indian Sculpture Art', reiterates that Mathura's Shunga Age art is mainly of Jain order. Mathura, up to the end of 3rd century AD flourished as an important centre of Jaina art and iconography. In comparison to contemporary Jaina centres in the other parts of the country, the position of Mathura is much superior. Epigraphical sources reveal that during 2nd century BC to about 3rd century AD several Jaina monuments existed at Mathura; famous being Sanctuary, hall, cistern and a Jaina temple built by the courtesan Vasu. Stupa at Kankali Tila termed as deva-nirmita (built by God) due to its hoary antiquity, which continued to exist at least up to sam. 1036, that is, 979 AD.
Following archaeological material, strictly Jaina in nature, has come down to us from the Mathura region: Some symbols, including 20 Ayagapattas and 5 Silapattas. Figures of seated Tirthankaras, 93 in number. Figures of standing Tirthankaras, 26 in number. Male Divinities, 17 representations. Female Divinities, 8 representations.
The Jainas had their own stupas, and stupa worship has been depicted in a number of sculptures. Actual Jaina stupas were very few but the most important of them was that of Mathura at Kankali Tila. From Mathura 27 stone tablets, mostly square, or sometimes rectangular in shape, have been brought to light. Very often in the inscriptions appearing on them they have been named as Ayagapatta or Silapattas installed for the worship of the Arhats. The word Ayagapatta is obviously a compound word meaning a tablet or patta installed in an ayaga (place of worship). Ayagapattas were installed on high platforms in the stupa premises, they served as media for the worship of the stupa, and flowers and other offerings were directly placed on them. Most of the Ayagapattas have been roughly attributed to a period between the times of Mahakshatrapa Shodas and Kushanas. The Ayagapattas and Silapattas show a very rich variety of religious and secular symbols such as the group of eight or even fourteen auspicious marks (nangalas), the wish fulfilling tree (Kalpavriksha), full vase (purnaghata), stupa, dragons etc. Ayagapattas and Silapattas are carved on one side only. In the border frame of the slab there appear motifs like wine creepers (drakshalata), sacred symbols (mangalas), winged animals (ihamrigas) and dancing figures. In the inner field along with the decorative motifs and auspicious marks, there are to be seen some sacred objects such as the wheel (chakra) or sacred seat (bhadrasana). In the centre sits the Jina. National Museum Delhi, State Museum Lucknow and Government Museum Mathura have got the following Ayagapattas as their pride possession.

The Renaissance Of Vaishnavism At Mathura

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left behind him six Gosains to take up the mission of spreading Krishna bhakti in Braj region–Sanatan Goswami and Rup Goswami (Gosain) brothers, Raghunath Das, Raghunath Bhatta, Gopal Bhatta and Jiva Goswami. They established Gaudia order here. They identified and restored the sacred places attached with the different lilas (activities) of Krishna. All the local legends that the festivals involve are creditable to these Vrindavan Gosains of 16th century AD. The only divinities who are popularly commemorated in almost all the festivities of Braj are Radha, Krishna and Balram. Different festivals represent the popular incidents in the life of Krishna.
Till the close of the 16th century, except in the neighbourhood of the one great thoroughfare, there was only here and there a scattered hamlet in the midst of unreclaimed woodland. The Vaishnava cult then first developed into its present form under the influence of Rupa and Sanatan, the celebrated disciples of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and they seem to be the probable authors of the Brahma Vaivarta Purana or Mathura Mahatmyam, the only recognized authorities for all the modern local legends. It was their disciple, Narain Bhatta, who first established the Ban-jatra and Raas-lila traditions. It was from him that every lake and grove in the circuit of Braj received a distinctive name, in addition to the some seven or eight spots which alone are mentioned in the earlier Puranas. On their arrival at Vrindavan, the first shrine which the Gosains erected was one in honour of the eponymous goddess Brinda Devi. Their fame spread so rapidly that in 1573 the emperor Akbar was induced to pay them a visit and was taken blindfold into the sacred enclosure of the Nidhivan where a marvelous vision was revealed to him, that he was feign to acknowledge the place as indeed a holy ground. Hence the cordial support which he gave to the attendant Rajas, when they expressed their wish to erect a series of buildings more worthy of the local divinity. The four temples erected in honour of this event are: Govind Dev, Gopinath, Jugal Kishore and Madan Mohan.
The Govind Dev Temple was built in Sambat 1647, i.e. AD 1590 under the direction of the two Gurus–Rupa and Sanatan. The temple of Radha Damodar of Vrindavan has a special distinction for the fact that it contains the ashes of Jiva; its founder, as also of his two uncles, the Gosains Rupa and Sanatan, the founders of the temple of Govind Dev, who in their life-time had expressed a wish to be buried together within its precincts. Their joint anniversary is celebrated in the month of Sawan, when the three shrines are visited by great crowd of Bengalis. During the 16th century Mathura region had come under the influence of the Vallabha or Pushti sect of Vaishnavism. Bhakti way of worshipping Krishna and Radha gained quite a currency in that age. Surdas was one of the Ashtachhap saint poets of Pushti Marg (tradition).

Shodas Inscriptions From Mathura

The Mathura Museum has acquired a stone inscription belonging to the reign of Shodas and it is of great significance from a variety of aspects. Measuring 96 cms in length and 44 cms in width, this rectangular buff sandstone slab with red patches records a five line epigraph in pre-Kushana Brahmi characters. It was an accidental discovery as the result of leveling of the ground for long jump by the boys of the hamlet Mirjapur, in the southern outskirts of Mathura near the Delhi-Agra National Highway. The find was made over to the Museum on August 4, 1979 by Baba Bal Kishan Das, the priest of a small Siva temple located in the village, from the ground of which the slab was unearthed.
The inscription, preceded by a beautifully carved Srivatsa motif, is sharply incised in large and bold letters and can be read easily except for one or two spots where the letters are rubbed off due to weather effect. It may read as follows:

1.1 Svamisya Mahaksatrapasya Sodasasya gamjavarasya Brahmanasya.
1.2 Segravasa gotrasya Mulavasusya bharyaye Vasusya matare.
1.3 Kausikiye Paksakaye karita puskarini imasam Yamada pu
1.4 skaraninam purva puskarani aramo sabha udapano stambho siriye pratima
1.5 ye sila patto ca

Incription of Shodas, 1st Century BC, Mirzapur Village, Mathura

Translation
"Kausiki Paksaka, mother of Vasu and wife of Mulavasu (who was the) treasurer of Svami Mahaksatrapa Shodasa and (who was) a Brahmana belonging to the Saigrava gotra, caused to erect the eastern (water) tank out of the twin tanks, a grove or garden, place for assembly, a well, a pillar and a stone slab of the image of Laksmi."
The scribe had a set hand for calligraphy as the writing is sharp and perfectly legible. The language of the epigraph is Prakrit or hybrid form of Sanskrit as was generally used in Kushana and pre-Kushana period. From the name of the reigning king Svami Mahaksatrapa Shodasa we can infer that it was recorded in the later half of the 1st century BC. So far the Mathura region has revealed several inscriptions recording the name of Shodasa. Of these, two were set up in the reign of his father and predecessor Rajuvula who has been mentioned as Mahaksatrapa while Shodasa is referred to as Ksatrapa. The first inscription in Kharosthi script insised on a Lion Capital was unearthed at the Saptarishi mound in 1869 by Bhagwan Lal Indraji. It was installed by Kamuia or Kambojika, the chief queen of Mahaksatrapa Rajuvula and refers to the erection of a Buddhist monastery and stupa and other religious deeds at the instance of the Sarvastivadin acharyas. The second inscription is recorded on a large stone slab acquired from village Mora in Mathura District. Dating to the time of Shodasa, it records the installation of five statues of Vrishni heroes in the reign of Mahaksatrapa Rajuvula. The title of his son "Svami" is intact but the remaining part is damaged, although the scholars have restored the name as Mahaksatrapa Shodasa. As revealed from other epigraphs, the son of Rajuvula associated with Mathura region was certainly Shodasa. This large slab was discovered by Cunningham in 1882 and was shifted to the Mathura Museum in 1908.
While excavating at the site of Kankali between 1888 and 1891 Dr. A. Fuhrer, Curator, Lucknow Museum unearthed a Jaina Silapatta or Ayagapatta, besides hundreds of other architectural remains and sculptures which were moved enbloc to Lucknow Museum. The upper horizontal band of the slab bears a three line epigraph which informs that in the year 42 or 72 of Lord Mahaksatrapa Shodasa, one Aryavati was set up by Amohini for the worship of the Arhat and Aryavati.
The fourth document mentioning Svami Mahasatrapa Shodasa was recovered by Pt. Radha Krishna in 1913 from a well in his Kothi in Mathura Cantt. It originated from the site of Katra, the famous Bhagavata spot. The epigraph is seen on the side of a temple doorjamb showing beautiful lotus creeper and some other vertical bands. The upper part of the inscription is corroded and five lines cannot be made out properly. The remaining part is better preserved and it can be translated as: "At the great temple of Lord Vasudev, a gateway and a railing was erected by Vasu son of Kausiki Paksaka. May Lord Vasudeva be pleased and promote the (welfare) of Svami Mahaksatrapa Shodasa". This is the earliest archaeological evidence to prove the tradition of the building of Krishna's shrine at the sacred site of today's Krishna Janma Bhoomi.

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Temples Of Mathura

Bhuteshwar Mahadev · Dirgha Vishnu Temple · Dwarkadhish Temple · Gatashram Temple · Krishn Janm Bhumi · Gokarneshwar Mahadev · Gaudiya Matha Shri Keshavji · Kankali Devi Temple · Mahavidya Temple · Mathura Devi Temple · Pipaleshwar Mahadev · Padmanabhji Temple · Rangeshwar Mahadev · Adivarah Temple

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