Sitting on the banks of Yamuna, just 15 km away from the city of Mathura, adorned with temples and a religious bustle, spreading the idea of faith and spirituality, is the small pilgrimage town of Vrindavan. Attracting up to 500,000 pilgrims every year, it is the focal point for festivals like Janmashtami, Holi, Radhashtami, etc. The streets of the town are lightened with the slight humming of religious chants, the melody of songs sung for deities and the ringing bells of its temples. Despite its unplanned nature, the town has a character defined by its 5000 temples, all different in some way or the other, despite showcasing an underlying similarity. What adds to the beauty of Vrindavan even further is the lush greenery of gardens and multiple forests, taking the temples in their arms, cradling their charisma with ecstatic vibrancy.
On the first look, Vrindavan strikes as a simple town in north India characterising itself with its plethora of temples, chaotic lanes, shops laden with sweets and flowers at every corner, carefully crafted and held together. But the reality of the town is quite the contrary. Despite there being temples everywhere, the unplanned nature of the city is quite evident. Most of the temples seem to be misplaced, from a planning perspective, having been planned, placed and built; having been made with no thought given to context or location. A large part of this can be associated with the need of royals to demonstrate their wealth, portrayed as a manifestation of their power. The temples, too, seem to follow a similar path. While most of them can be classified under the North Indian Style of temple architecture, many still conform to Mughal or mixed styles. Despite it all, the overall character of the town, and the built mingled with the lush greenery, make it seem to put together.
Being the temple town of North India, Vrindavan’s architecture can best be defined and explained through its best temples. Owing to the irregularity and unplanned situations, it becomes impossible to put its architecture language under one umbrella. This city hosts hundreds of Lord Krishna and Radha temples, scattered all around. The most famous and architecturally significant temples, out of these are Banke Bihari temple, Govind Dev temple, Jaipur Temple, Radha Vallabh temple and Rangaji temple. The temples show a strong influence of Islamic architecture, in addition to the North Indian temple architecture. Slight undertones of Buddhist and Jain temples can also be noticed, owing to these having been destroyed to allow for more Hindu temples into the city.
Three of the most important temples, summing up the architectural highlights of the town are:
1. GOVIND DEV TEMPLE
The largest temple constructed in North India, since the 13th century, the Govind Dev temple is one of the unique temples of the temple town of Vrindavan. It shows a beautiful amalgamation of Hindu, Muslima and Western style of architecture, through its interior, planning and even choice of materials and elements. Dedicated to Lord Govind, another name for Lord Krishna, it is designed in the form of a Greek cross, creating a slight controversy.
The temple is introduced to the audience through a majestic flight of stairs, leading the person to the main hall, standing under a hand-sculpted ceiling, adorned with a beautiful lotus, weighing several tonnes. The architectural elements, especially their use of red sandstone, give an intense depiction of Mughal architecture, making this temple unconventional and unique. This is further enhanced by its use of vaults, bracketed pillars, decorative motifs and domed interiors and corridors. The sides of the temple exhibit a traditional Nagara style of architecture, giving it an added conservative look; rounding the overall architecture of the temple.
2. BANKE BIHARI TEMPLE
One of the most critical, populated and respected temples of Vrindavan, the Banke Bihari temple is quite the opposite of the Govind Dev temple. It follows the traditional stone masonry and speaks volumes with its size, rather than its height. Present at a low altitude, it provides the worshippers with a large open space before entering the temple, and a courtyard, once inside. The beautifully adorned and decorated GarbhaGriha stands at the height of 2 M, from the courtyard, being visible while showcasing a sense of supremacy. The temple’s overall architecture is uniquely Rajasthani, with its arched windows and sculpted stonework. What is even more interesting is that this temple does not have any conchs or bells, owing to the belief of them not pleasing Lord Krishna.
3. ISKCON TEMPLE
Despite being built in what can be perceived as the typical architectural style of temples, the ISKCON temple in Vrindavan is an architectural enigma. The temple is made entirely of white marble, paying tribute to its builders for the design and outlay. The entry is marked by a vast white marble gateway, leading to the samadhi of the founder of ISKCON. The temple doors, unlike that of the other temples, are gigantic and made wholly of wood. This is one of the few temples to showcase exquisite landscaping on site, exuding a feeling of calm and peace in the entirety of the temple complex.
The realisation that out of the 5000 temples of the small town of Vrindavan, there are at least 50 different architectural details and marvels, with all standing their ground. Despite these three forming the strongest and most diverse of these, the architecture of the town is worth discovering, in vast detail.