The Twelve Forests of Vraja

November 26, 2015 in Articles by Laksman dasa

Submitted by Hasti Gopala dasa, compiled by Agrani Krsna dasa

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The Twelve Forests of Vraja
The Padma Purana describes twelve principal forests in Vraja situated east and west of Yamuna. On the east side are Madhuvana, Talavana, Kumudavana, Kamyavana, Bahulavana, Vrindavana, and Khadiravana. On the western side are Mahavana, Bhandiravana, Lohavana, Bhadravana and Baelvana. Krishna performed various pastimes in these twelve forests.
Madhuvana
ramyam madhuvanam nama vishnu-sthanam anuttamam
yad-drshtva manujo devi sarvan kaman avapnuyat
There is a most enchanting place of Lord Vishnu called Madhuvana. By taking darshana of this holy place all one’s desires are fulfilled. (Text 347, Mathura-mahatmya)
The forest of Madhuvana is currently known as Maholi. This is the only forest where the Supreme Personality of Godhead performed His pastimes in all the four yugas. In the Satya-yuga, He killed Madhu demon. In the same yuga, He gave darshan as Lord Prshnigarbha to Dhruva Maharaja. In the Treta-yuga, Lord Shatrughna killed the demon Lavanasura, the son of demon Madhu. In the Dwapara-yuga, Krishna performed pastimes with the gopis and the cowherd boys and in the Kali-yuga Lord Chaitanya took a sacred bath in the Krishna-kunda situated here. This forest is called Madhuvana after the Supreme Lord Madhusudana. The word ‘madhu’ also means nectar. Krishna performed nectarean pastimes with gopis here. It is also said that profound amount of honey (madhu) was available in this forest. Krishna and Balarama would come here to drink this honey. And hence this is another reason why this forest is called as Madhuvana. Places of darshana include Dhruva tila, the cave of Madhu demon, Krishna-kunda and temple of Shatrughna.

Talavana
vanam talavanakhyam ca dvitiyam vanam uttamam
yatra snatva naro devi krta-krtyo abhijayate
The second among the twelve forests of Mathura is Talavana. By taking bath there one’s life becomes glorious. (Text 348, Mathura-mahatmya)
Talavana was the forest of tal trees. Tal is a kind of palm and bears and extremely delicious fruit. This forest is now known by the name Tarsi. One can see very few tal trees still remaining in this forest. In this forest Lord Balarama killed Dhenukasura demon, who had assumed the form of a wild-ass. Places of darshana include Sankarshana-kunda and temple of Dauji.
Kumudavana
vanam kumudavanakhyam ca trtiyam uttamam param
tatra gatva naro devi krta-krtyo abhijayate
O Devi, the third forest is called Kumudavana. Simply by visiting this place one’s life becomes successful. (Text 352, Mathura-mahatmya)
Also called as Kamudavana, this is the smallest forest of the twelve forests of Vraja. Kudarban or Kudura is its current name. This forest gets its name from a special flower called as kamuda or kamudini, a variety of lotus flower like a water lily. Kamuda flower grew in abundance in the Kamuda-kunda in Kamudavana. Radha and Krishna performed Their water pastimes in this kunda. Lord Kapila Muni also spent time in Kamudavana. Krishna and Balarama would regularly get cows to this forest. Sometimes cowherd boys would make beautiful garlands by stringing kamuda flowers and gift them to Krishna and Balarama with great affection. Places of darshan include Kumuda-kunda or Padma-kunda and the imprint of Lord Chaitanya’s lotus feet.
Kamyavana
chaturtham kamyakavanam vananam vanam uttamam
tatra gatva naro devi mama loke mahiyate
Among the twelve forests of Mathura the fourth forest of Kamyavana is the best. By visiting this place a person becomes qualified to be worshiped in My abode. (Text 353, Mathura-mahatmya)
The Kaman town in Rajasthan was earlier known as Kamyavana or Kamavana. Kamya means charming and vana means forests. Kamyavana was a very charming forest. Nanda Maharaja stayed in Kamyavana for sometime while on his journey from Shakatikara to Nandagaon. Krishna enjoyed a number of His boyhood pastimes in this forest. Pandavas also resided here for sometime during their exile from Hastinapura. The Puranas mention that Kamyavana had more than three hundred holy tirthas, most of whom have disappeared now. There are many places to have darshana in Kamyavana. Few places are – Vimala-kunda, Chaurasi Khamba, Gaya-kunda, Surabhi-kunda, Charan Pahadi, Bhojana-sthala, Vyomasura’s cave, Rameshwara Mahadev and many more.
Bahulavana
panchamam bahulavanam vananam vanam uttamam
tatra gatva naro devi agni-sthanam sa gacchati
The fifth forest is called Bahulavana. By visiting this place one attains the planet of Agniloka after leaving his present body. (Text 357, Mathura-mahatmya)
Krishna and Balarama would get Their cows to this place while grazing the cows. Bahulavana is currently known by the name Bati. This forest is named after Bahula-devi who is the consort of Lord Hari. Bahula-devi had taken birth in the form of a cow in Bahulavana and was tested by the Supreme Lord before she becoming the wife of Lord Vishnu. Places of darshana here are temple of Bahula-devi and Bahula-kunda.
Bhadravana
tasmin bhadravanam nama shashtham ca vanam uttamam
tatra gatva tu vasudhe mad-bhakto mat-parayanah
tad vanasya prabhavena nagalokam sa gacchati
Bhadravana is the sixth forest of Mathura-mandala. By going to this holy place a surrendered person is promoted to Nagaloka by the influence of this forest. (Text 361, Mathura-mahatmya)
The word bhadra means attractive. This forest was the playground of Lord Balabhadra or Balarama. One can have darshan of Sri Bhadrishwara Mahadev and Sri Radha Bhadra Bihari in this forest.
Khadiravana
saptamam tu vanam bhumau khadiram loka-vishrutam
tatra gatva naro bhadre mama lokam sa gacchati
The most renowned Khadiravana is the seventh forest of the abode of Mathura. O gentle one, visiting this place is just like visiting the abode of Vishnu.  (Text 362, Mathura-mahatmya)
This forest was filled with Khadira flowers. Krishna killed Bakasura in this forest.
Mahavana
mahavanam chashtamam tu sadaiva hi mama priyam
tasmin gatva tu manuja indraloke mahiyate
The eighth forest of Mathura mandala is called Mahavana and it is very dear to Me. One who visits this places becomes honored in the abode of Indra. (Text 363, Mathura-mahatmya)
Mahavana means great forest. This was the second largest forest after Kamyavana. Krishna performed His early childhood pastimes in this forest at Gokula. There are many places of connected to the pastimes of Krishna in this forest. Some of them are – Nanda Bhavan, Utkhal, Chore Ghat, Birthplace of Balarama, etc.
Lohavana
loha-jangha-vanam nama lohajanghena rakshitam
navamam tu vanam devi sarva-pataka-nashanam
The ninth forest of Mathura-mandala is Lauhajanghavana, which destroys all sinful reactions. It was protected by a demon named Lauhajangha (Text 368, Mathura-mahatmya)
This forest was also known as Lohajanghavana. Currently it is known as Lohban or Loban. This forest was always covered with the aroma of fragrant flowers which grew in abundance here. Here Krishna killed the Lohasura or Lauhajangha. Krishna brought His cows here for grazing. While the cows grazed He would play water sports with His friends in the kunda here. Places of darshana include the Krishna-kunda, cave of Lauhajanghasura and the temple of Sri Radha Gopinath.
Baelvana
vanam bilvavanam nama dashamam deva-pujitam
tatra gatva tu manujo brahmaloke mahiyate
Bilvavana of Mathura Mandala is the tenth forest and it rarely attained by even the demigods. By visiting this place one becomes worshiped in Brahmaloka. (Text 369, Mathura-mahatyma)
Baelvana or Bilvavana – was the forest full of bael trees or bilva trees. Bael is a big round fruit covered with a hard shell. When the fruit ripens, the soft yellow pulp is very delicious. Krishna and Balarama would come to this forest to eat the sweet ripe bael fruits. Baelvana is also known as Lakshmivana or Srivana because Lakshmidevi performed penances here in order to achieve the form of a gopi. She had a great desire to participate in the pastimes of Krishna. In this forest one can have darshana of temple of Lakshmi and Krishna-kupa. The famous Maan Sarovar lake is also a part of this forest.
Bhandiravana
ekadasham tu bhandiram yoginam priyam uttamam
tasya darshana-matrena naro garbham na gacchati
Bhandiravana is the 11th forest and it is very dear to the yogis. If a person visits this forest he no longer has to enter into the womb of a mother. (Text 370, Mathura-mahatmya)
Currently the village here is called as Chhanhari. The word chhanhari is derived from Hindi word chaya which means shade. Here cowherd boys sat under the cooling shade of banyan trees and used to eat their lunch with Krishna. Krishna and Balarama would enjoy wrestling and other sporting pastimes in this forest. According to Garga Samhita, Brahma performed the marriage of Radha and Krishna in this forest, when they were 2-3 years old. The places of darshana include temple of Sri Radha Ananda Bihari, Bhadiravata, Venu-kupa, the crown of Balarama and the temple of Dauji. Nearby is Vamshivata where Krishna performed rasa-lila pastime.
Vrindavana
vrindavanam dvadashamam vrindaya parirakshitam
mama chaiva priyam bhume sarva-pataka-nashanam
O Vasudha, the twelfth forest of Mathura-mandala is Vrindavana, which is protected by Vrinda. This forest destroys all one’s sinful reactions and is very dear to Me. (Text 373, Mathura-mahatmya)
Vrindavana is the forest of Vrinda. Vrinda is another name for tulasi. It is the most famous and the most important forest amongst the twelve forests. The highest pastime of Krishna called as Rasa-lila took place in Vrindavana. Krishna also performed pastimes like subduing of Kaliya serpent, swallowing the forest fire, etc in this sacred forest. Vrindavana is the topmost destination of the heart of devotees. In fact devotees of Krishna always carry Vrindavana in their heart. Krishna never steps out of Vrindavana, even one foot. Thousands of devotees perform the parikrama of Vrindavana every day to mark their respects to this great forest. Important places of darshana include Nidhivana, Seva-kunja, Kaliya-daha, the seven temples established by six Goswamis, Vamshi-vata, temple of Gopishwara Mahadev, Brahma-kunda, Davanala-kunda, etc.
Devotees should visit these sacred forests of Vraja in order to get relieved from the pangs of this material life.
prathamam madhuvanam proktam dvadasham vrndikavanam
etani ye prapashyanti na te naraka-bhojinah
If one visits the twelve forests beginning with Madhuvana and ending with Vrindavana, then one no longer suffers the pangs of hellish life. (Text 416, Mathura-mahatmya)
This article has been prepared based on the references from ‘The Mathura Mahatmya’ by Srila Rupa Goswami and ‘Vraja Mandala Parikrama’ by Rajashekhara Prabhu
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Gopashtami

The eighth day of the bright fortnight of the Karthika month (Oct-Nov) is known as Gopashtami. This is one of the major festivals celebrated in the goshalas (cow-sheds) all over India. In Vraja this festival is celebrated with great grandeur.

Significance of Gopashtami

The Padma Purana states:
shuklashtami karthike tu smrta gopashtami budhaih
tad-dinad vasudevo abhud gopah purvam tu vatsapah
From this day onwards the Supreme Lord Krishna started to tend the cows. Earlier to this He had been tending to calves. (Glories of Karthika Month)
On this day Krishna became qualified as a cowherd boy as He reached the pauganda age (from 6th year to 10th year). A ceremony was performed by Nanda Maharaja in which he worshiped cows and made Krishna and Balarama the incharge of his nine lakh cows. Given charge of the cows, Krishna and Balarama traversed Vrindavana, purifying the land with Their lotus footprints. Being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna practically demonstrated how to protect the cows and worship them. He Himself did so on various occasions like Gopashtami and Govardhana-puja.
After lifting the Govardhana Hill for seven days and seven nights, Krishna smashed Indra’s pride. Realizing his mistake of offending the Supreme Lord, Indra begged for forgiveness from the Lord. On the eighth day, he approached Krishna and worshiped Him along with Surabhi cow.  All the demigods performed abhisheka to the Lord and thus named Him Govinda. Govinda means one who gives pleasure to the cows and the senses.
On this day, devotees clean the goshala, bathe the cows and decorate them with cloth, flowers and ornaments. They feed them with jaggery and grass and later worship them. Devotees circumambulate the cows several times.
This festival is especially celebrated at Ter Kadamba. Ter Kadamba is a grove near Nanda Gaon. After being given the charge of cows, Krishna came to this place and started calling His cows and the cowherd friends with the sweet sound of His flute. Vrajavasis dress their children as little Krishna and Balarama and enact the pastime of go-charana lila at Ter Kadamba. The pujaris narrate the detailed pastime of the Lord and distribute sweet rice as prasadam to devotees. Many temples in Vrindavana dress Srimati Radharani as a cowherd boy and bless devotees with the darshan of Her lotus feet. The whole of Vraja becomes colorful on this day to celebrate Gopashtami.
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Vraja – The All Pervasive Abode of Lord Krishna

Vraja means ‘all-pervasive’. This land is spiritual, situated beyond the three modes of material nature. It is ever-blissful, effulgent, indestructible and the abode of liberated souls.
The entire creation is divided into two parts – material and spiritual. The spiritual creation of the Lord contains innumerable Vaikuntha planets which are abodes of various incarnations of the Lord. Above all these planets is the abode of Lord Krishna called as Goloka Vrindavana. Go means cows and loka means the planet. When Lord Krishna descends on earth, He comes along with His land called Vraja. Vraja is a confidential part of Goloka Vrindavana. When Krishna was on this planet, He performed His pastimes on this land. These pastimes of the Lord are constantly being performed in the spiritual world. Lord Krishna enacts His transcendental pastimes for the benefit of the world. The primary reason for the Lord to descend to this world is to attract the suffering living entities, to His eternal abode Goloka Vrindavana. The self-realized souls constantly experience Krishna, whose form is made of bliss, eternity and knowledge in the holy land of Vraja.

Description of the Lord’s eternal abode

“I worship that transcendental seat, where as loving consorts the Laksmis in their unalloyed spiritual essence practice the amorous service of the Supreme Lord Krsna as their only lover; where every tree is a transcendental purpose tree; where the soil is the purpose gem, all water is nectar, every word is a song, every gait is a dance, the flute is the favorite attendant, effulgence is full of transcendental bliss and the supreme spiritual entities are all enjoyable and tasty, where numberless milk cows always emit transcendental oceans of milk; where there is eternal existence of transcendental time, who is ever present and without past or future and hence is not subject to the quality of passing away even for the space of half a moment. That realm is known as Goloka Vrindavana only to a very few self-realized souls in this world.” (Brahma-samhita 5.56)
Vraja Mandala, which is sometimes referred to as Vraja Bhumi, covers an area of 1453 square miles and stretches from Agra in the south to Banchari in the north. It is spread over 84 krosas, with Mathura in the centre. This Vraja Mandala, even though appearing to be the part of this world, is not destroyed at the time of universal dissolution. Even demigods cannot understand how this land manifests and is not annihilated. What to speak of us then?

Glories of Vraja

After the disappearance of Lord Krishna from this world, His great-grandson Vajranabha Maharaja, identified and named every forest, lake, hill and village connected to Krishna’s pastimes within the entire area of Vraja Mandala, based on the descriptions in the puranas. It is said that Vajranabha installed at least sixteen very important Deities at various places around Vraja Mandala. He established four shiva lingas known as the dik-palas, or protectors of the holy Dhama. He also established four Deities of Krishna’s Sister Yogamaya Devi.
The Adi-varaha Purana says that there are over 600 million tirthas on this earth. The benefit of going to all these tirthas and more, is attained by going to the tirthas in Mathura. It also says that by circumambulating Mathura you attain a hundred times the same results as circumambulating all the holy places and temples in the world, the benefits of giving all charity and doing all rituals for the well-being of the world. It also says that even those who just see a person who has just returned from Mathura get cleansed of their sins.

Vanas of Vraja

IN the 84 kosas of Vraja Mandala, there are 48 different forests which are categorized as vanas, upavanas, prativanas and adhivanas. According to Padma Purana, there are twelve principal forests situated east and west of the Yamuna. On the east side are Madhuvana, Talavana, Kumdavana, Kamyavana, Bahulavana, Vrindavana, and Khadiravana. On the western side are Mahavana, Bhandiravana, Lohavana, Bhadravana and Baelvana.
The Varaha Purana mentions twelve upavanas. They are Brahmavana, Apsaravana, Vihvalavana, Kadambavana, Svarnavana, Surabhivana, Premavana, Mayuravana, Manengitavana, Sheshashayivana, Naradavana and Paramanandavana.
The Bhavishya Purana mentions the following twelve prativanas: Rankavana, Varttavana, Karahavana, Kamavana, Anjanavana, Karnavana, Krishnakshipanavana, Nadaprekshana Krishnavana, Indravana, Shikshavana, Chandravalivana and Lohavana.
The Vishnu Purana describes the following twelve adhivanas: Mathura, Radha-kunda, Nandagaon, Gadha, Lalita-grama, Vrishabhanupura, Gokula, Balabhadravana, Govardhana, Javata, Vrindavana and Sanketvana.
It is said that the forest of Vrindavana forms Krishna’s head, Kumudavana and Talavana form His chest, Bahulavana and Mahavana His arms, Nandagrama His fingers and Bhandiravana His feet.

Vraja Mandala Parikrama & Mahatmya

Vaishnavas circumambulate the sacred Vraja-bhumi, visiting all these above mentioned vanas. The going around the land of Vraja is called as parikrama or pradakshina. The Vraja Mandala parikrama was first performed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the year 1515, when He travelled on foot to the twelve sacred forests of Vraja and visited all the important holy places where Lord Krishna had performed His transcendental pastimes five thousand years earlier. This historic parikrama, ultimately led to the rediscovery of the sacred land of Vraja by the Goswamis and other Vaishnava acharyas. This famous parikrama performed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was recorded in a number of important books, including the highly acclaimed Chaitanya-charitamrita by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami completed in 1581. The Bhakti-ratnakara by Narahari Chakravarti Thakura, written during the same period, gives a vivid account of the Vraja Mandala Parikrama undertaken by Raghava Pandita Goswami, Shrinivasa Acharya and Narottama Dasa Thakura, who retraced the same route originally taken by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The purpose of the Vraja Mandala parikrama is to pay homage to the holy dhama by circumambulating the twelve sacred forests of Vraja just as Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had done five hundred years ago. The goal of performing parikrama around Vraja is to increase one’s smaranam of Lord Sri Krishna, while seeing all the holy places where He performed His transcendental pastimes five thousand years ago. By performing parikrama around the sacred forests of Vraja, one’s faith in the lotus feet of the Lord automatically increases with every step.
It is said in the Mathura Mahatmya, “What is the need for any further consideration, anyone who simply hears about the glories of Vraja Mandala automatically delivers two hundered generations of both his paternal and maternal family members.”
The Mathura Mahatmya also says, “Those who with firm faith and devotion to Lord Krishna, perform the parikrama of Vraja Mandala – are freed from all sins and go back to Godhead at the time of death.”
The Adi-varaha Purana says “Those who visit the twelve sacred forests of Vrindavana will no longer suffer the pangs of hellish life.” It also says, “By bathing at any place in Vraja Mandala a person is redeemed of all his sins.”
Srila Jiva Gosvami has stated that the devotee should reside physically in Vraja. If he cannot be present there physically, he should dwell in Vraja within his mind. Residence within the mind and physical residence in Vraja both bestow the attainment of the final goal. And this is our purpose to present the glories of Vraja Mandala Parikrama to our readers. Just by reading and understanding the glories of Vraja and the pastimes of Vraja Nandana one can be liberated from the pangs of this material life.
We are eternally grateful to our beloved spiritual master His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who revealed this holy land of Vraja to us. It is only by his mercy that we all know about Vraja Mandala, the transcendental land of Krishna’s transcendental pastimes.
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