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Temple Destruction at Mathura
Apr 2016

 As during the period of the Sultanate of Delhi, Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor, pursed the repressive policy towards the Hindus. This was the aim of every good Muslim says Sir Stanley Lane-poole, an eminent historian (Aurungzeb, 1890). In April 1669, the emperor was informed that the Brahmans of Benaras and other Hindus centers were in the habit of teaching their wicked sciences. The Director of the faith, we are told, in the Maasir-i-Alamagiri of Mustadid Khan issued orders to all the provincial governors to destroy the schools and temples of the kafirs; and they were strictly enjoined to put an entire stop to the teaching and practising of idolatrous forces of worship. With this object, the temple of Siva at Benaras was destroyed and a splendid shrine at Mathura was razed to the ground; to make room for mosques.  The following writeup is based on F. S. Growse's Mathura: A District Memoir 1882 and Rev. M.A. Sherring's Benaras: The Sacred City Of The Hindus, 1868.

F.S. Growse belonged to the Bengal Civil Service.  In 1871 he was appointed the Collector and District Magistrate of Mathura and served this billet upto 1877.  In 1874 he founded the Mathura Museum. He made an everlasting contribution by writing Mathura Memoir, a standard work on the culture of the region.
In February 1669, Aurangzeb had descended in person on Mathura.  The temple specifically marked out for destruction was one built so recently as the reign of Jahangir (1605-1627), at a cost of twentythree lakhs, by Bir Sinh Deva Bundela of Urcha. Beyond all doubt this was the last of the famous shrines of Kesava Deva. To judge from the language of the author of Maasir-i-Alamgiri, the demolition of the temple was regarded as a deathblow to Hinduism. In the words of the author: In a short time, with the help of numerous workmen this seat of error was utterly broken down. Glory be to God that so difficult an undertaking has been successfully accomplished in the present auspicious reign, wherein so many dens of heathenism and idolatory have been destroyed! Seeing the power of Islam and the efficacy of true religion, the proud Rajas of Hindustan felt their breadth burning in their throats and became as dumb as a picture on a wall. The idols, large and small alike, all adorned with costly jewels, were carried away from the heathen shrine and taken to Agra, where they were buried under the steps of Nawab Kudsia Begum's mosque, so that people might trample upon them forever. Henceforth, Mathura was named Islamabad.
Apart from its connection with the deified Krishna, the city of Mathura has been a place of note from the most distant antiquity. In Buddhist times, it was one of the centers of that religion and its scared shrines and relics attracted piligrims even from China.  Fa Hian visited the place about the year 400 AD. Some 200 years later, Hwen Thsang spent about sixteen years from 629 to 645 AD traveling throughout India. Mathura styled the capital of all Jambu-dwipa and on that account it was one of the first place suggested as fit for Buddha to take birth in. He had rejected it, however, on the ground that the king by whom it was ruled, Subahu, was a heretic. Similarly, Ujaini and Banaras were considered unworthy. The ancient Buddhist buildings described by Chinese pilgrims were first discovered by General Cunningham in 1853 within the enclosure of the Katra, the site of the Hindu temple of Kesava Deva. A more important discovery was made later in 1860 while digging the foundation of the British collector's new courthouse.
Mathura had already acquired the character for sanctity  which it still retains, as the reputed birth place of the deified Krishna writes F.S. Growse. Probably, the triumph of Buddhism was a mere episode, in the history of the city. The city represented as the second of the capitals of the Lunar race, Kusasthali. (Dwarka, Mathura ranked among the seven sanctuaries of Hindustan;).  Kasi, Kanti (kanchi), Maya (haridwar) with Ayodhya, Dwarvati, Mathura and Avintika are the seven cities of salvation.
The records of travelers show that the neighborhood of Mathura was crowded with sacred sites, which for many generations, were revered as the traditionary scenes of Krishna's adventures; but thanks to Muhammdan intolerance, there is, at present not a single building of antiquity either in the city itself or its environs.  Its most famous temple dedicated to Kesava Deva was destroyed in 1669, the eleventh year of the reign of iconoclastic Aurangzeb.
The mosque erected on its ruins is a building of little architectural value, but the natural advantages of its lofty and isolated position renders it a striking feature in the landscape writes Growse in his Mathura:A District Memoir. The Katra in which it stands is an oblong enclosure, like a saral, 104 feet in length by 653 feet in breadth, its centre is a raised terrace, 172 feet long and 86 feet broad upon which now stands the mosque, occupying its entire length, but only 60 feet of its breadth.  About five feet lower is another terrace, measuring 286 feet by 268. There may still be observed, let into the pavement, some votine tabltes with Nagari instriptions, dated Sambat 1713 and 1720 corresponding to 1656 AD and 1663 AD. In 1650 AD, the temple attracted the attention of the traveler, Tavernier.

“After the temples of Jagrenath (Jagannath) and Banarous, the most important is that of Mathura, about 18 Kos from Agra on the road to Delhi. It is one of the most sumptuous edifices in all India, and the place where there used to be formerly the greatest concourse of pilgrims; but now they are not so many due to change in the course of river Jumna. The temple is of such a vast size that, one can see it five or six Kos off, the building being very lofty and very magnificent. The stone used in it is of a reddesh tint, brought from a large quarry near Agra. It is set on a large octagonal platform, which is all faced with cut stone, and has round about it two bands of many kinds of animals, but particularly monkeys, in relief; the one band being only two feet off the ground level the other two feet from the top.  The ascent is by two staircases of 15 or 16 steps each; the steps being only two feet in length, so that two people cannot mount abreast. One of these staircases leads to the grand entrance of the temple, the other to the back of the choir.  The temple, however, occupies only half the platform, the other half making a grand square in front. Like other temples, it is in the form of a cross, and has a great dome in the middle with two rather smaller at the end.  Outside, the building is covered from top to bottom with figures of animals, such as rams, monkeys, and elephants, carved in stone: and all round there are nothing but niches occupied by different monsters. In each of the three towers there are, at every stage from the base to the pinnacle, windows five or six feet high, each provided with a kind of balcony where four persons can sit. Each balcony is covered with a little vault, supported some by four, others by eight columns arranged in pairs and all touching. Round these towers there are yet more niches full of figures representing demons; one has four arms, another four legs; some human heads on bodies of horned beasts with long tails twining round their thighs. There are also many figures of monkey, and it is quite shocking to have before one's eyes such a host of monstrosities.
The pagoda has only one entrance, which is very lofty, with many columns and images of men and beasts on either sides. The choir is enclosed by a screen composed of stone pillars, five or 6 inches in diameter, and no one is allowed inside but the chief Brahman.
From the above description, the temple would seem to have been crowded with coarse figuresculptures, and not in such pure taste as the somewhat older temple of Govind Deva at Brindaban; but it must still have been a most sumptuous and imposing edifice, and we cannot but detest the bigotry of the barbarian who destroyed it.  At the time of its demolition it has been in existence only some fifty years, but it is  certain that an earlier shrine, or series of shrines, on the same site and under the same dedication, had been famous for many ages. Thus it is said in the Varaha Purana-
Na Kesava Samo Deva na Mathura Samo Dvija.
“No god like Kesava, and no Brahman like a Mathuriya Chaube.”

Another French visitor, Bernier observed. Between Delhi and Agra, a distance of fifty or sixty leagues there are no fine towns; the whole road is cheerless and uninteresting; nothing is worthy of observation but Mathura, where an ancient and magnificent pagan temple is still to be seen. The plinth of the temple-wall may be traced to this day at the back of the mosque and at right angle to it for a distance of 163 feet; but not a vestige of superstructure has been allowed to remain, wrote Growse.  


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