Mathura has an ancient history and also believed to be the homeland and birthplace of Krishna who was born in Yadu dynasty. According to the Archaeological Survey of India plaque at the Mathura Museum the city is mentioned in the oldest Indian epic, the Ramayana. In the epic, the Ikshwaku prince Shatrughna slays a demon called Lavanasura and claims the land. Afterwards, the place came to be known as Madhuvan as it was thickly wooded, then Madhupura and later Mathura.
Archaeological excavations at Mathura show the gradual growth of a village into an important city. The earliest period belonged to the Painted Grey Ware culture (1100-500 BCE), followed by the Northern Black Polished Ware culture (700-200 BCE). Mathura derived its importance as a center of trade due to its location where the northern trade route of the Indo-Gangetic Plain met with the routes to Malwa (central India) and the west coast.
By the 6th century BCE Mathura became the capital of the Surasena Kingdom. The city was later ruled by the Maurya empire (4th to 2nd centuries BCE). Megasthenes, writing in the early 3rd century BCE, mentions Mathura as a great city under the name Μέθορα (Méthora). It seems it never was under the direct control of the following Shunga dynasty (2nd century BCE) as not a single archaeological remain of a Shunga presence were ever found in Mathura.
The Indo-Greeks may have taken control, direct or indirect, of Mathura some time between 180 BCE and 100 BCE, and remained so as late as 70 BCE according to the Yavanarajya inscription, which was found in Maghera, a town 17 kilometres (11 mi) from Mathura. The opening of the 3 line text of this inscription in Brahmi script translates as: “In the 116th year of the Yavanakingdom…” or ‘”In the 116th year of Yavana hegemony” (“Yavanarajya“) However, this also corresponds to the presence of the native Mitra dynasty of local rulers in Mathura, in approximately the same time frame (150 BCE—50 BCE), possibly pointing to a vassalage relationship with the Indo-Greeks.
After a period of local rule, Mathura was conquered by the Indo-Scythians during the first 1st century BCE. The Indo-Scythian satraps of Mathura are sometimes called the “Northern Satraps”, as opposed to the “Western Satraps” ruling in Gujarat and Malwa. However, Indo- Scythian control proved to be short lived, following the reign of the Indo-Scythian Mahakshatrapa (“Great Satrap”) Rajuvula, 10–25 CE.
The Kushan Empire took control of Mathura sometime after Rajuvula, although several of his successors ruled as Kushans vassals, such as the Indo-Scythian “Great Satrap” Kharapallana and the “Satrap” Vanaspara, both of whom paid allegiance to the Kushans in an inscription at Sarnath, dating to the 3rd year of the reign of the Kushan emperor Kanishka c. 130 CE. Mathuran art and culture reached its zenith under the Kushan dynasty which had Mathura as one of its capitals. The preceding capitals of the Kushans included Kapisa (modern Bagram, Afghanistan), Purushapura (modern Peshawar, Pakistan) and Takshasila/Sirsukh/ (modern Taxila, Pakistan).
Faxian mentions the city as a centre of Buddhism about 400 CE while his successor Xuanzang, who visited the city in 634 CE, mentions it as Mot’ulo, recording that it contained twenty Buddhist monasteries and five Hindu temples. Later, he went east to Thanesar, Jalandhar in the eastern Punjab, before climbing up to visit predominantly Theravada monasteries in the Kulu valley and turning southward again to Bairat and then Mathura, on the Yamuna river.
The city was sacked and many of its temples destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1018 CE and again by Sikandar Lodhi, who ruled the Sultanate of Delhi from 1489 to 1517 CE. Sikander Lodhi earned the epithet of ‘Butt Shikan’, the ‘Destroyer of Hindu deities’. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, built the Shahi-Eidgah Mosque during his rule, which is adjacent to Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi believed to be over a Hindu temple.
Vrindavan is filled with approximately 5000 temples which are dedicated to Lord Krishna, located about 15 km north of Mathura on the bank of sacred Yamuna River and was blessed by Krishna during his early life.
ORIGIN OF THE NAME ‘VRINDAVAN’
‘Vrinda’ or Brinda refers to Tulsi or Holy Basil, the single most important ingredient of all poojas or worship of the gods in Hinduism. The Tulsi leaves are offered in worship and garlands are strung to adorn the gods. ‘Vana’ is the Sanskrit word for forest; it is believed that Vrindavan was once abode to large, dense growths of the Tulsi plant, hence the name.
The modern town came into existence in the early 16th century, around one of the oldest surviving temples, the Govinda Dev temple, renowned for its stupendous architecture. Govind is another name, by which Krishna is referred to. Since the time of the Mahabharata and the famous Kurukshetra war, where Krishna held centre stage, Vrindavan fell into decline and lost its once pristine glory. Hinduism had by then been undergoing upheavals and revolutionary movements and it was not until Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the singer-saint from West Bengal set out to re- discover Vrindavan, did the world hear once more of this once historic site.
Krishna is considered the complete incarnation of Vishnu and the Bhagavata Purana includes the most comprehensive collection of tales and anecdotes about Krishna with particular reference to his time at Vrindavan. The various stages of human life that he took in the incarnation of Vishnu form the basis for the poems and songs that are sung by the devout in the belief that it will truly liberate them from the bonds of the material world and fill them with transcendental knowledge.
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