Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
The Krishna Balram Temple is one of India’s most jaw-dropping modern temples. The centerpiece shrine for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, it is a standout in a city full of centuries-old temples, most of which are dedicated to the Lord Krishna. It is now considered to be among the most important Krishna religious sites in India, and devotees from all over the world now travel here on sacred pilgrimage.
The city of Vrindavan has been strongly associated with the worship of Lord Krishna at least as far back as the early 16th century, though its history as a sacred place may go back far earlier. According to local tradition, Krishna, who was born not too far away in Mathura, spent time in Vrindavan periodically during his life. However, knowledge of his time in Vrindavan became lost for many centuries.
However, in the early 16th century, a monk named Chaitanya Mahaprabhu began a quest throughout India, seeking holy places associated with the Lord Krishna. During his travels, sometime around 1515, he came across Vrindavan , and guided by a divine force ascertained the city’s importance. From that moment on, Vrindavan was recognized as a major spiritual and religious center.
A related story tells of a woman named Meera Bai who traveled to Vrindavan in search of Lord Krishna, and sought to meet with Rupa Goswami, a disciple of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. However, he would not meet with a woman, and her love remained unrequited for fourteen years. In later years she was recognized as an incarnation of the goddess Madhavi, which added to the sanctity of Vrindavan.
Over the last five centuries, Vrindavan developed into one of India’s most important pilgrimage centers for devotees of Krishna. Dozens of major temples and many lesser ones grew up to accommodate the religious visitors. In the 1970s, the greatest of these, the Krishna Balaram Temple, was built under the auspices of Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement. The temple is the spiritual center of that movement and is an incredibly popular pilgrimage destination for its members.
The Krishna Balram Temple is a stunning white marble masterpiece. A veritable labyrinth of domed buildings, courtyards, towers, gateways, staircases and bridges, it almost looks more like a fairy tale palace than a place of worship. Thanks to the movement’s great devotion to cleanliness, the temple virtually sparkles year round.
The temple primarily honors the deities Krishna and Balarama. However, a number of other deities and saints are represented here, including Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Murals throughout the temple depict scenes from the adventures of Krishna. Immediately next door to the temple is the mausoleum of Swami Prabhupada.
The Krishna Balram Temple dominates the town of Vrindavan about seven miles north of Mathura, approximately eighty miles south of New Delhi. It is open every day from 4:30am-8:30pm. There is no cost for admission. Web: www.iskconvrindavan.com (official website).
There are literally dozens of other major temples in Vrindaban. Among the highlights are the Madan Mohan Temple and the Govind Dev Temple, the city’s two oldest; and the Banke Bihari Temple, the city’s second most visited.