Brajmandala is the domain of Lord Krishna. Each spot is considered hallowed ground because it evokes some memory of Lord Krishna’s life According to Vaishnavas, or those who worship Lord Vishnu in all his incarnations, including Lord Krishna, Braj is heaven on earth. Apart from Mathura, where Krishna was born, Gokul and Nandagaon where he was raised, Barsana which was his consort Radha’s village, and Vrindavan where he frolicked with Radha and her milkmaid friends, there are countless other sites, which attract devotees and travellers alike.
Twenty-one kilometres from Mathura, we chanced upon one such site, the serene Kusumsarovar. The name literally means flower gardens by the lakeside. This area was once full of flower gardens and forest groves and it is believed to have been frequented by Radha and Krishna. Their favourite pastime, it is said, was swinging from the kadamba trees near the Killolbihari temple or playing and dancing while Radha’s friends such as Madhavi and Kusuma collected flowers to make garlands to decorate the divine couple. So enchanting was this sight that even the gods yearned to see it. Humans, however, were not allowed to do so.
When the wandering sage Lord Narada arrived here, hoping for a glimpse of the divine couple, he had to bathe on the northwestern side of the lake in order to assume the form of a milkmaid. After an audience with Krishna, the sage had to bathe on the southeastern side to regain his original form. Narada then performed penance here and on Krishna’s request wrote the Narada Bhakti Sutra. There is a temple and tank dedicated to him at the site. Krishna’s friend Uddhav is said to reside here in the form of grass. A temple and a tank are also dedicated to him at this site. Uddhav is said to have later recited the famous Bhagvata Purana recounting Krishna’s exploits, to his wives, his great grandson Vajranabh and the last Pandava king, Parikshit.
Another temple houses the idol of Krishna’s brother Balrama also called Dauji. On the south is the site known as Ratnasimhasana where Krishna brought his cattle to graze. The demon Shankhachurna is said to have been killed here. Kusumsarovar is located on the route of the Brajyatra, the annual pilgrimage performed by devotees a day after Janamastami or Krishna’s birthday in the month of Bhadon, around August. This arduous journey to all the sacred spots associated with Krishna is undertaken in forty days covering around 275 kilometres. Once a year this quiet neighbourhood is transformed by hordes of pilgrims. They cross the Kusumsarovar en route to Govardhan five kilometres away, where Krishna had lifted Mount Govardhan to protect his people from a deluge sent by Lord Indra. The 15th century Vaishnavite saint Chaitanaya Mahaprabhu is said to have rested here on his way to Govardhan.
We visited the area during the monsoon. The countryside was a verdant green, the cool crisp air resonated with the incessant chirping of birds. Rivers, ponds and lakes were brimming with water and women chatted and sang as they filled their glistening pots. Cattle grazed while carefree boys leapt in and out of the water, teased by girls swinging merrily from the branches of trees.
There are few flowering shrubs at Kusumsarovar today, but tall trees still form a backdrop to the spectac ular lake; a vast stretch of clear water reflecting the blue sky overhead dotted with fluffy snowball clouds playing hide and seek with dark rain clouds and the bright sun. It is said that a saint once threw a sacred stone into the lake and since then green scum never forms on the water. According to legend Vajranabh who became the King of Mathura after the war chronicled in the Mahabharata, is said to have first renovated this site and held religious discourses here. In historical times it was paved and an embankment made by Raja Birendra Singh Deo of Orchha in AD 1618. Later, Jat Raja Surajmal spent enormous amounts in AD 1710, enlarging the lake and conserving the neighbouring forest groves needed by his army for military exercises. The lake supplied water to his soldiers. It is said that even in the worst of droughts the lake was never fully dry. Surajmal frequently visited Govardhan to pay obeisance at the shrine of the saint Swami Haridev. Akbar promulgated a decree prohibiting the killing of animals in this area. The British maintained this tradition as revealed by an inscription dating from 1866.
The Jat kings of Bharatpur chose Kusumsarovar to be their final resting place. The architectural splendour that Kusumsarovar is today is largely the handiwork of Surajmal’s son Jawahir Singh. Expansive embankments can be seen on all sides with platforms and broad steps leading to the water’s edge. Arched galleries leading to enclosed corner towers, with latticed windows and arched openings, probably inlets for water also adjoin the steps. Made of brick and faced with sandstone these structures display beautiful carvings of floral and geometrical motifs.
The beautiful memorials appear on the south side of the lake. Raja Surajmal’s chhatri is the most imposing. It is a double storeyed structure with a partly curved roof surmounted by a huge central dome flanked by four smaller corner domes and topped by an inverted lotus and a metal finial. The exterior is beautifully carved but it is the square interior chamber on the first floor that bears some exquisite murals conveying the grandeur of the Raja’s life and times. The vaulted ceiling and a broad freize just below it on each wall display excellent floral and geometrical motifs besides scenes of Radha and Krishna’s exploits, daily life of the Raja including elaborate court and hunting scenes, wars and royal processions. All around can be seen smaller structures belonging to the royal kin. Those of the queens appear on the southeast and northwest. Though a protected site the structure was broken in many places and overgrown with weeds, trees and creepers and clearly needs restoration.
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