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The area surrounding the ancient city of Mathurā (now the western part of the Mathurā district of Uttar Pradesh) on the banks of the Yamunā river. Renowned as the district in which Kṛṣṇa-Gopāla grew up, played among the gopīs, and accomplished many extraordinary feats, it includes his specific home of Vṛndāvana (‘the forest of Vṛndā’). From the early 16th century onwards it became the focus of attention for many Kṛṣṇa devotees (bhaktas), especially the followers of Caitanya, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, who viewed it as in some sense coterminous with the heavenly Braj where Kṛṣṇa plays eternally with Rādhā and the gopīs. To be in the earthly Braj is thus to be drawn closer to God and heaven; every grove and pond is connected with a particular ‘pastime’ (līlā) of Kṛṣṇa. According to the hagiographical literature of the Caitanya and Vallabha sects, their founders were instrumental in the rediscovery of these places, known as a līlā-sthala, in the 16th century. It is not surprising therefore that Braj has become a great Vaiṣṇava pilgrimage centre, attracting millions each year, especially during the rainy season when the Ban-yātrā, the circumambulation (parikrama) of the whole area and its various tīṛthas, takes place.

Subjects: Hinduism.

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