The small town of Vṛndāvana is today one of the most vibrant places of pilgrimage in northern India. Throngs of pilgrims travel there each year to honour the sacred land of Kṛṣṇa’s youth and to visit many of its temples. Though the neighbouring city of Mathurā has a much longer history—it was an influential Hindu and Buddhist cultural centre already during the Kuṣāṇa reign (1st century AD), an important political and administrative town in the region throughout the centuries, and the capital of several empires—the development of Vṛndāvana and the wider region of Vraja as a place of pilgrimage for Kṛṣṇa devotees as we know it today occurred mostly in the sixteenth century. This period saw both the rise of the Mughal empire, whose court was established in nearby Fatehpur Sikri, and the development of a passionate devotion to Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā, and it is the confluence of these two strands that contributed greatly to the development of the Vṛndāvana area. The rise of Kṛṣṇa devotion resulted in a veritable library of poetry in praise of Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā, theology, as well as ritual practices that provided the vision for the new intellectual and devotional centre. Leading figures at the Mughal court—including the emperor Akbar and his general Mān Singh—provided patronage to several of the developing temples that allowed that vision to be spectacularly manifested.
The establishment of Vṛndāvana and the surrounding sacred sites was accomplished by a variety of Vaiṣṇava groups originating in different parts of South Asia, writing not just in different languages (both Sanskrit and various vernaculars), but also reflecting different regional devotional traditions and their distinct theologies, ritual practices, and aesthetics. As such, Vṛndāvana was not just built in stone but also in theology, poetry, meditative and ritual practice, as well as art.
The Building of Vṛndāvana, a 2 day workshop held in Oxford, will will explore the complex history of Vṛndāvana’s early modern origins—from the late fifteenth century until the reign of Aurangzeb, when several of the traditions of Vṛndāvana moved further west due to political instability and persecution. As a part of the OCHS research project “The Gosvāmī Era”, this workshop seeks to bring together scholars from across the disciplines to examine Vṛndāvana’s history, architecture, art, ritual, theology, literature, and the performing arts in this pivotal period, and how these various disciplines were used to create, develop, and map Vṛndāvana as the most prominent place of pilgrimage for devotees of Kṛṣṇa.
Rembert Lutjeharms (Oxford Center for Hindu Studies)
Kiyokazu Okita (Kyoto University)