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Historical
Gobind Dev Temple, Vrindavan, U.P.
Temple beheaded for the ego of Aurangzeb
Feb 2013

The temple today is 55 feet tall. Before its upper part was destroyed on Aurangzeb's orders in anticipation of his visit to Vrindavan in 1670AD, the mandir was reputed to be twice that height. On its roof, after the destruction, a mehrab or prayer wall was erected and the iconoclastic emperor offered namaaz. Almost two centuries later, F.S, Growse, who belonged to the Bengal Civil Service and was Collector of Mathura District, had the mehrab removed. First, because it was an eyesore, and second, in an endeavour to redeem whatever character was left of the temple. Since then, the temple has a flat roof. Probably, no other desecrated temple had been the subject of so much repair and refurbishmentt by British rulers.

The Gobind Dev temple at Vrindavan, Mathura, is indeed massive; its plinth is 105 feet by 117 feet. It is estimated that the original height was about 110 feet without which it would not have been possible to see the mashaal or torch either from Agra or from Delhi. The temple was built in 1590 AD by Maharaja Mansingh of Jaipur.

The Gobind Dev temple is also unique for two other reasons but we shall come to these a little later. For the satisfaction of its desecrators, the celia, or the sanctum sanctorum, was destroyed. Fortunately, the idol of Sri Krishna or Gobind had been removed to Jaipur by the pujaris in anticipation of Aurangzeb's proposed visit in 1670 AD; the emperor was already notorious as an iconoclast. The roof of the truncated edifice was to be reserved for namaaz. No sooner had the mehrab been constructed, as illustrated in the photograph in History of Indian and Eastern Architecture by James Fergusson, Aurangzeb inaugurated it himself by offering prayers.

All except two statuettes were defaced, including the one at the door of what is now the temple, after crossing the foyer hall. The destruction was not confined to the upper floors. It extended to the hundreds of statuettes that even today adorn the temple walls outside as well as inside, the ceilings or doors. The iconoclast over-looked two small statuettes, one of Sri Krishna and the other of Radha, on the outside of the left wall as one faces the temple.

An American historian of Indian architecture, George Mitchell, has concluded that the original sanctum sanctorum was destroyed. In his words, once the garbhagriha has been torn down, there was little point in further wreckage ... It seems to me that only those with some understanding of the ritual significance of the garbhagriha would have been capable of desecrating a temple in this careful manner. 

Prof. R Nath introduces the subject of the Gobind Dev temple by quoting Aurangzeb's decree of April, 1669. It said, ... eager to establish Islam, (Aurangzeb) issued orders to the governors of all the provinces to demolish the schools and tempies of the infidels and with the utmost urgency put down the teaching and the public practice of the religion of these disbelievers The great temple of Gobind Dev fell a victim to iconoclastic vandalism within a year of the decree. Its inner sanctum and its superstructure were almost entirely destroyed. The main hall was also damaged. Sculpted figures on the dvarasakha were literally defaced. 

The temple has yet another unique feature. According to an article in the Calcutta Review quoted by Growse. Aurangzeb had often remarked about a very bright light shiring in the far distant south east horizon and in reply to his enquiries regarding it, was told that it was a light burning in a temple of great wealth and magnificence at Vrindavan. He accordingly resolved that it should be put out and soon after sent some troops to the place who plundered and threw down as much of the temple as they could and then erected on the top of the ruins a mosque wall where, in order to complete the desecration, the emperor is said to have offered up his prayers. 

Incidentally, the canopy standing on four pillars, which must have acted as a shed for the burning torch or mashaal, is lying on the ground at the back of the present sanctum sanctorum. It was so fixed, presumably by Growse in the 1870s. It has no relevance to the temple's architecture. This reinforces the belief that this canopy belonged to the top of the once towering temple. 

While Aurangzeb's ego might have been gratified, the desecration took with it what is described by Fergusson as one of the most elegant temples in India, and the only one perhaps, from which an European architect might borrow a few hints. What did Growse have to say about this? I should myself have thought that solemn or imposing was a more appropriate term than elegance for so massive a building and that the suggestions that might be derived from its study were many rather than few. 

A number of motives have been attributed to the invaders who desecrated temples, such as looting of treasures, subduing the populace by arousing dread, informing the area that a sultan had replaced the raja. There is, however, no other instance of a temple being desecrated because it defied the ego of an emperor. 

Henry Hardy Cole has written: I am not sure that the restoration of the upper-most parapet is correct and think that it would have been better to leave the super- structure, as it appeared when I first saw it, with all the evidence of Aurangzeb's destructive hand.

Comments.

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