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Krishna and Radha
The Lord's Birthday
... Janmashtami

E-Mail this travel feature to a friend Janmashtami, Krishna's birthday, will be celebrated in Krishna shrines all over India on August 23.

The day will be marked with performances of Rasleela, fasting, feasting and prayer. suggests some pilgrimage centres and temples to head to, to experience the festival:

Dwarka, Gujarat

Krishna's capital, Dwarka, located on the Kutch coast, is one of the four holy cities -- char dham -- of India. Visitors by the thousands flock to this town of narrow streets and temples during Janmashtami.

The impressive, beautifully carved Dwarkadish temple soars above the melee of pilgrims. The temple, which consists of 60 columns, is five storeys high and its majestic spire climbs a further 60 m into the sky. The inner sanctum or the Nij Mandir, the faithful believe, dates back to 500 BC. Non-Hindus are allowed in the temple if they complete some formalities.

East of central Dwarka is the tiny, pretty Rukmini temple, dedicated to Krishna's consort, Princess Rukmini.

A short trip away from Dwarka, via Okha, is Bet Dwarka, the spot where it is thought Krishna died. Several temples are located on this island in the Gulf of Kutch.

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Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

By the banks of the Yamuna at Mathura, on a stormy night sometime at the beginning of time, Lord Krishna was born. Mathura became one of the most divine cities of India. But history dealt Mathura a severe blow and the age-old Krishna shrines did not survive the pillages by Muslim conquerors. That has not detracted in any way from its magnetic pull with pilgrims. The land of the Krishna legend, Brajbhoomi, draws the devout by the thousands especially during Janmashtami.

On the ruins of one of the oldest temples of Mathura -- Kesava Deo -- stands Aurangzeb's Katra Masjid. The vestiges of the shrine can be still seen and nearby one of the city's more important temples -- the Sri Krishna Janamsthan -- has come up. The spot believed to be the place of Krishna's birth is right here.

Scattered all across Mathura are various sacred points where mythology dictates events in Krishna's babyhood and youth took place -- the place where his clothes were washed (Potara Kund), the neighbourhood where he was raised (Mahaban), the spot where Vishnu first took life as Krishna (Gokul), the site of a Krishna miracle (Govardhan), the ghat where Krishna relaxed after his skirmish with Kansa (Vishram Ghat).

To visit Mathura is to immerse one's self in one of the greatest and dearest legends of India. At Janmashtami, Mathura literally comes alive.

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Nathdwara, Rajasthan

ShreenathjiThe coal-black idol of Krishna is one of the most loved images of the community of Vaishnava Sindhis, Marwaris and Gujaratis. He appears all over Western India in homes, offices, shops, cars and even as a pendant around the neck.

Shreenathji, as he is called, resides at the 17th century Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan, 48 km from Udaipur, where he is cared for lovingly by a crew of priests. History records that the black marble idol was transported here from Mathura in the 1660s to escape the reformatory zeal of Aurangzeb. Legend records that attempts to rehouse the idol were resisted by the famous deity himself.

A major centre for Krishna worshippers, Nathdwara sees a procession of pilgrims throughout the year. It is believed that at least 100,000 devotees arrive in Nathdwara during Janmashtami. A dusty, unpretentious town of a few thousand people, Nathdwara has another claim to fame. It is celebrated for its pichchwai tapestries -- Krishna legends painted on cloth.

Entry to the temple is denied to non-Hindus and taking photographs of the temple -- interiors or exterior -- is prohibited.

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Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

The forests of Vrindavan, about 15 km from Mathura, adjacent to the Yamuna were the stage for Krishna's youthful escapades -- cavorting with Radha, sporting with the cowherd girls or gopis and playing the flute. These escapades and the sacred woods have been immortalised in devotional songs by the famous poet-saint, Mirabai.

The forests have since vanished -- except for a few woodlands -- and even the Yamuna meanders away from the grimy town, on a changed course. Still it is estimated that anywhere up to 500,000 pilgrims stomp through the legendary land every year.

The Govind Dev temple, built by Raja Man Singh in 1590 and half-destroyed by Aurangzeb, about a hundred years later, is one of the oldest shrines in this area.

There are numerous temples in the area in different stages of repair, some more noteworthy than others -- the Jaipur temple, Kaliya Ghata, Radha Vallabha temple, Banke-Bihari temple, Radha Damodara temple -- and it could take many days to do any meaningful sightseeing of these shrines.

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Guruvayur, Kerala

Guruvayur shrineThe four-armed, lavishly decorated idol of Krishna, carved from pathalanjana shila and affectionately dubbed Gurvayurappan, is the most famous resident of this Kerala beach town, the Dwarka of the south, close to Thrissur.

Myth has it that Dwarka -- as destiny had foretold -- was submerged on Krishna's death. The Krishna idol, however, was saved. Guru, mentor of the gods, and Vayu, the god of the winds, after some deliberation, transferred it to Kerala to Rudratirtha, a temple tank location suggested by Parasurama. The place was dubbed Guru-vayur.

The Guruvayur shrine, which dates back to the 1500s or earlier, is said to be one of the wealthiest in the state. Built in the typical, imposing style of Kerala temples, the main Guruvayur shrine has a gold plated roof. It is surrounded by a courtyard or chuttambalam, which has a high wall. Located in the courtyard is a huge tower of lamps or dipastambham, which looks spectacular when lit and a 33 m high gold coated flagpole or kodimaram.

Near the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum are 10 exquisitely ornate pillars. It is believed that Melpattur Narayana Bhattathiri sat here and composed his famous 1,036 slokas devotional epic -- Narayaniyam -- praising Krishna.

The temple teems with devotees -- usually clad in stiffly starched, sparkling white. Darshan can take place anytime from 0300 hours to 2200 hours (it is closed from 1300 to 1600 hours) and a continuous, colourful flow of activities occurs all day and most of the night. Non-Hindus are not allowed entry into the temple. Janmashtami, called Ashtamirohini, is a special day of worship at the shrine.

Four km from Guruvayur is the Punnathur Kotta elephant sanctuary. This is the official stable of the temple elephants. Forty pachyderms, used for important Guruvayur festivals, are housed here in style.

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Udupi, Karnataka

There are several legends about how the the famous Sri Krishna Mutt came to be at Udipi. One theory put forth is that after Dwarka was submerged, a mariner sailing around the coast of Gujarat spotted a sandalwood object floating off shore and loaded it on his ship. This was actually an idol of Krishna.

As the mariner's vessel approached the coast near Mangalore a typhoon began to whip the oceans into a frenzy and the mariner was caught in the eye of the storm. The saint Madhvacharya sensed the approach of the divine idol and with his great powers calmed the storm. In gratitude, the mariner turned the statue over to the saint and it was installed at Udupi.

Another legend declares the mariner offered all his cargo but the saint asked for a piece of stone which he split open to reveal the idol of Krishna.

Whatever be the right story, the Krishna murti is richly clad and hundred thousands pay homage to him every year. The main temple, located near a tank, is surrounded by eight monasteries. From a window in the wall that surrounds the temple it is possible to view the deity. There is a story about this window or kanakanakindi too. Apparently, a Harijan or untouchable, Kanakadasa, was not allowed entry into the temple and was peeping at his god from this window and Krishna turned to look him in the eye. Don't miss the viewing deity's splendid golden rath or chariot.

Ceremonies at the Sri Krishna Mutt have a fair amount of pomp and circumstance. Performed by the pandits they usually begin at the crack amidst much chanting and incense. Non-Hindus are allowed a darshan. The priests of the temple are said to be the the providers of the state's famous Brahmin Udupi cuisine.

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