|Historical region of North India
Braj (Hindi/Braj Bhasha: ब्रज) (also known as Brij or Brajbhoomi) is a region mainly in Uttar Pradesh of India, around Mathura-Vrindavan. Braj, though never a clearly defined political region in India, is very well demarcated culturally. It is considered to be the land of Krishna and is derived from the Sanskrit word vraja. The main cities in the region are Mathura, Bharatpur, Agra, Dholpur, Aligarh, Etawah, Mainpuri, Etah, Kasganj and Firozabad.
Geographically and culturally Brajbhoomi is a part of the Ganges-Yamuna Doab region, which has had an extensive influence on the entirety of Indian culture. Brajbhoomi falls right in the middle of the Doab. The area was an important part of the Madhya-desha or Aryavarta or midlands.
The region lies well within the golden triangle of Delhi-Jaipur-Agra. Covering an area of about 3,800 km2 today, Brajbhoomi can be divided into two distinct units - the eastern part in the trans-Yamuna tract with places like Gokul, Mahavan, Sadabad, Baldeo, Mat and Manigarhi (Nauhjheel) Bajna; and the western side of the Yamuna covering the Mathura region that encompasses Vrindavan, Govardhan, Kusum Sarovar, Barsana and Nandgaon. Contrary to the popular belief that Braj is Mathura, Vrindavan and Goverdhan alone, this region comprises Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, Kaman Tehsil of Bharatpur district of Rajasthan and Hodel, Hassanpur of Palwal district of Haryana, and it spans 1300 villages.
The land of Braj starts from Kotban near Hodel (about 95 km from Delhi). It covers Agra, Aligarh, Hathras Bharatpur bareilly and Dholpur; in broader terms Firozabad Mainpuri Etah kasganj Etawah and Gwalior Morena Bhind area are also part of Brajbhoomi or Braj Pradesh.
Braj is famous for its sweets and Chaat. Pede from Mathura, Petha from Agra, Soan Papri from Kasganj, maal puye from Nauhjheel, Soan halwa from Raya, chamcham from Iglas, Boora & Batasa from Hathras and Milkcake from Bajna are famous throughout India.
Hathras is also known for its sindoor.
Region and the cult of Krishna
Krishna performed his numerous pastimes popularly called his leelas in the 137 sacred forests, at the 1000 Kunds, on the numerous holy hills and on the banks of the river Yamuna. In Srimad Bhagawat, he himself says to his foster father, Nandbaba that Braj is a culture of forests and hills and not of city. Nowhere in the history of mankind, can one find such an emphasis on the harmony of human life with the environment.
Thus, the Brajbhasa, the language of Braj was the language of choice of the Bhakti movement, or the neo-Vaishnavite religions, the central deity of which was Krishna. Therefore, most of the literature in this language pertains to Krishna composed in medieval times.
If Bhagwat Geeta can be summarized in one word as "Nishkaam Karmayoga", Braj can be summarized in one word as "Simplification of Divine". The Divine in the form of Krishna got so simplified over here that he stole milk, curd and butter from the Brajwasi's homes, grazed cows as a shepherd and shared the same plate of food with his friends, played with them, danced with them and did all those activities that a common man does, forgetting all about his divinity.
Many international Hindu communities and disciplic successions established temples in the heart of Braj, the holy city of Vrindavan.
Protection of the heritage
The vast heritage of the region is thought to be deteriorating. Out of the 1000 kunds which used to be the source of fresh and potable drinking water source and rain water harvesting, 90% of them have dried and silted up, and been encroached upon and reduced to sludge tanks. Out of the 137 forests, only 3 are left and the rest have been cut down. Out of the 27 picturesque ghats on the banks of river Yamuna, only one remains and rest have been encroached upon and smuggled out. Due to the wide scale illegal mining of Braj hills, the heritage spots associated with Krishna are being lost. There is an overall destruction of the most culturally vibrant and heritage region of Vaishnavas, Hindus, Indians and mankind on the whole.
Efforts are being made by The Braj Foundation, a voluntary organization towards the revival of the 5000 year old holy region of Braj. The Braj Foundation is dedicated to the all round development of Braj – the culturally vibrant region lying in close vicinity to Taj Mahal and associated with the legend of Sri Radha-Krishna. The Foundation works directly on projects to restore Braj as an idealistic rural society by conserving its 5000 year old heritage and environment through planning, conservation, renovation and encouraging local community participation.
The current focus is on the restoration of 1000 ancient water retention tanks (kunds), revival of 48 important sacred groves, regeneration of around 18,000 acres (73 km²) of hilly terrain into lush-green pasture lands & forests and the resurrection of River Yamuna. Till now the foundation has restored 35 ancient water bodies and 1 sacred forest out of the 3 forests left in the entire region. A small group of dedicated professionals has achieved all this in a period of 5 years.
The Foundation is making several interventions in areas like organic farming, dairy industry, rural education, health care etc. towards the realization of its broader mandate. Some Indians still carry the name of Brijen which is one way how the story of Krishna coming down to the Earth will be preserved in oral tradition.
- Rupert Snell, The Hindi Classical Tradition: A Braj Bhasa Reader. Includes grammar, readings and translations, and a good glossary.
- Brajdiscovery.org (Hindi)
- Brajwasi.in For Braj Dham
- The Braj Dham Seva (service)- The organisation that has really been inspiring and mobilizing to restore Braj
- Braj Chaurasi Kos Yatra explained in detail
- The Braj Foundation