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Updated: November 13, 2009 19:02 IST

Presenting Krishna’s Braj

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
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Ras leela in Braj.
Ras leela in Braj.

A festival to celebrate Braj as a living culture.

Just 145 kms from Delhi is Braj, popularly known as Braj Bhoomi — a region in Uttar Pradesh spanning Mathura-Vrindavan, soaked in culture and traditions still very much alive and kicking. Known largely for the Radha-Krishna cult, the residents of Braj continue to safeguard and practice traditions like Saanjhi paintings, Phul Bangla — flower bungalows made in Braj temples for the deities in the summer, Charkula dance and much more. According to Srivatsa Goswami, founder director, Sri Caitanya Prem Samsthan (SCPS), though it is physically closer to Delhi, culturally the distance remains wider. An attempt to bridge this gap is the forthcoming “Braj Mahotsav” organised jointly by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) with SCPS.

Divided into three sections — ‘Braj Darshana’ ‘Braj Vyakhana’ and ‘Braj Lila’, there are a number of panel discussions, music performances, dance programmes and multi-media exhibitions on the cards. “So, there is Braj seen, Braj explained and Braj performed. There will be traditional cuisine too…right from lassi to rabri malai…entire chappan bhog will be available. The multi-media exhibition will showcase photographs and objects like Saanjhi, Phul bangala, headgears, temple shilpa,” relates Goswami who is also associated with the prestigious Radha Raman temple in Vrindavan.

Another high point of the festival will be Bhagwada Katha — Krishna’s stories rendered musically — by Saint Venugopal. Dhrupad recitals, saangeet, a fusion of classical and folk traditions, khayal and lavani performances, raas leela and concerts by Shubha Mudgal and Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran will also mark the exhaustive celebration of Krishna’s soil. Braj poetry, Goswami says, has played a pivotal role in Mudgal’s career.

In the ‘Braj Vyakhana’ section, Goswami enthusiastically refers to historian Irfan Habib’s talk. “Among many things, he will also discuss how Akbar passed a royal decree in 1596 giving Braj an entity of a township. So, the most living example of Hindu culture is a gift by a Muslim ruler which is unprecedented. It led to the growth of art forms which emerged from the Ganga-Jamuni culture. Religion played a different role in Braj and we can all take message from it in today’s times,” he adds. While Jack Hawley will talk on literary streams of Braj, another scholar Mukund Lath, will speak on the varied artistic traditions of Braj.

By the way, the festival is the result of two-decade long multi-disciplinary research undertaken by IGNCA and SCPS. A series of international seminars, research modules, work on history, architecture, massive audio-visual documentations were part of the mammoth project. “Braj being the fountainhead of India’s cultural fabric, it was required to study such cultural centres. Braj has always been at the crossroads of cultural social economic movements in the history. Mathura is the only junction where you can catch a train to go to every part of India. Mauryan kings, Gupta kings and many others interacted through Mathura. We don’t present the pre-historic Mathura, we celebrate Braj as a living culture, a living phenomenon and how it was rediscovered by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in 1515 A.D.,” concludes Goswami.

(The festival will be held from November 21 to December 8 at IGNCA)

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