Gokul is well known as the place to which newly born Krishna was taken from Mathura,
by his father Vasudev, to save his baby son from being killed by his brother-in-law Kansa.
There, at the home of Nand and Yashoda, Krishna spent his childhood. Mahaban however is
less known although it is the twin township of Gokul and only about two kilometres away.
The word means a big forest which it must have also been in those early times. Mahaban was
the place where Krishna, his step-brother and their cowherd friends played as children.
Nand, their foster father had his second house at Mahaban, where Balaram and his mother
Rohini stayed during those turbulent years.
Believed to be an expansion of this same house of Nand are the 80
pillars or in Hindi the Assi-khamba bhavan on the Chbattipalna of the Mathuranath complex.
When the author and his colleagues visited it on July 14, 2001, it was a temple dedicated
to Nand, Rohini, Balaram and Krishna. When however Cunningham, went there during 1882-83,
he found a masjid established in the time of Aurangzeb. He had known of its existence by
reading its history by Growse, although he himself discovered an inscription on stone of
29 lines by Raja Ajaya Pala Deva dated 1150 AD.
Cunningham called it a masjid which was made up of Hindu materials. It
is difficult to agree with Cunningham. The author feels that a Hindu building was
converted into a masjid and not made up or rebuilt with Hindu materials. If it had been
rebuilt, its Muslim builder would have excluded the inscription of Raja Ajaya as well as
all the statuettes on the pillars and walls. The fact that they have been mutilated is a
clear indication that the then existing Hindu edifice was quickly converted into a masjid.
Apart from the factor of quickness, there must have been the lack of readily available
architects and artisans familiar with Islamic architecture. Hence, a great deal of the
early Muslim buildings in Hindustan were conversions of temples. A distinctly
Islamic style did not emerge until about the advent the Lodis in the course of the 15th
On the day of our visit, we saw two tombs immediately outside the 80 pillared edifice.The
priest told us that they were of Rus Khan and his brother. He howeve did not sound
confident and added that his seniors had told him so. On the other hand, Cunningham has
mentioned in his report that: at the north end of Assi-khamba Masjid, there is a small
tomb of Sayid Yahia of Mashad, under a nim tree. As he is the reputed recoverer of the
fort of Mahaban from the Hindus, I presume that he must have destroyed the temple and
built a mosque in its place. Mr. Growse places this event in the reign of Ala-ud-din, or
A.H. 695 to 715. It would be worthwhile to trust the information of the head of the
ASI and discount what the young priest said. It is possible that the first desecration of
the temple too place during the raid by Mahmud Ghazni when in 1017 AD he also vandalised
Mathura. The next destruction took place during the reign of Khilji. Aurangzeb's crime was
a subsequent one. This version also fits into the theory of direct quick conversions of
temples into mosques belonging to the pre-Lodi centuries.
Due to the series of catastrophes, Mahaban was not able to recover. In 1884, according to
the gazetteer of the North Western Provinces, Volume VIII, it was the headquarters of a
large tehsil. Although it could scarcely be called more than a largish village. In its
heyday, Mahaban was an important satellite township of the fabulous Mathura. Although it
shrank in importance, its history was colourful. It was a gathering place for the imperial
army sent by lltutmish against Kabinagar in 1234 AD. In 1634, Shahjahan hunted in its
vicinity. During 1757, Ahmed Shah Abdali happened to camp at Mahaban. In 1804, Yashwant
Rao Holkar crossed the Yamuna at Mahaban while fighting against the British. The old fort
surrounding quite a large area around Mahaban was, incidentally, built much earlier by
Rana Katira of Mewar.
From our point of view, the crucial question is: when and how did this
tempte turned mosque again become a temple? The young priests present during our visit
were not clear. Nor was an old gentleman who was a trustee of the temple and happened to
be availableon the spot. On the apron of the entrance to the temple as well as in the
courtyard beyond and below the two Muslim tombs, there are innumerable square marble
tiles, say 20cm x 20cm. On each is engraved in lead the name all address of its donor.
Remarkably, all the tiles are dated 1948 or after. On none could we spot an earlier date.
Nor did any of them look very old or worn. This indicates that the worship of the Krishna
family at the temple must have resumed after independence. The priest at the mandir,
which commemorates the memory of newly born Krishna at Gokul, told us that Hindu worship
was resumed at Mahaban after the Muslim officials ran away due to communal tensions that
followed parttion. Until then, according to the priest, the 80 pillars edifice was used as
a kutcherry or office of some Islamic organization. Our young guide had said
earlier that while Gokul was almost exclusively a Brahmin township, Mahaban had a mixed
Enough of legends and impressions. Let us quote what Cunningham had
writhe during 1882-83: the long building known as Assi-khamba or the eighty pillar
which has been appropriated by the Hindus as the scene of Krishna's infancy under the name
of Chhatti-palua or the sixth day cradle, a purif caremony performed on the sixth day
after child birth. This statement implies that to Mahaban edifice had been returned to
the Hindus by 1882 although Cunningham himself calls it a masjid in the same report. Be
that as it may be, to us, Mahaban an example of shuddhi in stone, the return of a
mandir to whom it belonged.
According to Growse, Father Tieffenthaller, a Christian missionary,
visited Mahaban during the middle of the 18th century. From what he wrote, it seems the
both Hindus and Muslims were in joint possession of the eighty pillar edifice. One part
was a mosque, while the other was a temple, although the Frenchman used the word pagode or
pagoda. Keeping in view what we saw on our visit and what we have read since, it appears
that the entire northern portion of the eighty pillar building was used by Muslims as a
mosque, with the grave of Sayid Yahia on the apron. The compound gate was also on the
northern side. The back or the southern side, was used as a mandir.
Subsequently, the Hindus must have withdrawn. This belief is based on
the fact that all the marble tablets belong to the post-Independence period. This
indicates disuse of the temple for a long time. Evidently, when Cunningham visited
Mahaban, there must have been a semblance of Hindu possession although substantively it
was a masjid. Which is what the ASI chief has called it. It is also possible that in
course of time, the building ceased to be used as a mosque and used more as a kutcherry
or office of either a waqf or a government agency. All in all, the mandir's
final shuddhi does not appear to havetaken place until Independence.