Lord Krishna, arguably Hinduism's most popular divinity, was said to be a nature lover who is forever associated with the Yamuna, worshipped Goverdhan hill and saved forests. But his birthplace (Janamasthami was celebrated last week) has turned into an urban disaster today.
The boom in the construction industry has badly impacted the ecology of what is still known as Krishna's 'Leela Bhoomi', the Uttar Pradesh towns of Mathura and Vrinadavan and their surrounding areas, about 135 km from the national capital.
Critics say that touch and go pilgrims from near and afar have patronised a comfort- backed theology that has brutally transformed the original Mathura and Brindavan. The forests of Braj Mandal and the ghats of the Yamuna where Krishna and his beloved Radha frolicked have made way for concrete monsters.
"The mass invasion of Vrindavan, Goverdhan and Mathura by pilgrims on a short visit combining weekend pleasure with spiritual engagements is a cause for concern," Jagannath Poddar, convener of the Friends of Vrindavan group, told IANS.
In Vrindavan, multi-storeyed buildings and sprawling ashrams of gurus have polluted the ambience of the once serene and tranquil region that was earlier surrounded by dense green cover.
"The Yamuna river is already dead. And so are the numerous forests of Braj Mandal. Colonisers and so-called developers are on the rampage," environment crusader D.K. Joshi told IANS.
Joshi has filed petitions in the Allahabad High Court to highlight the damage done to the ecology of the area.
In recent years, the Krishna lore with its accent on love and bhakti has drawn lakhs of new followers.
Many lovingly bear the physical discomfort, go through the 21 km parikrama, or walk, in Goverdhan without any visible signs of stress despite mounds of dirt and garbage.
In Vrindavan's dirty bylanes, hundreds of widows constantly seek alms.
The former Mayawati-led state government drew up ambitious schemes worth several hundred crores of rupees to restore old ponds and forests and streamline civic amenities for the pilgrims in Mathura and Vrindavan.
The Akhilesh Yadav government has accorded priority to the development and beautification of the area. There are indications that an international airport could be set up in Mathura, close to the newly opened Yamuna Expressway.
"This will further impact the ecology of the region," warns eco-activist Shravan Kumar Singh.
Land grabbers appear to have annexed every bit of prime property in Mathura, Vrindavan and other smaller towns in the circuit. But infrastructural facilities are underdeveloped.
The road from the national highway to Vrindavan has imposing edifices, built by both the new age gurus and corporates plus film stars.
The parikrama route in Goverdhan is being usurped by colonisers to build multi-storey buildings for wealthy pilgrims.
With ever-increasing human settlements and influx from outside, the sensitive ecology of the area is under threat.
Frenetic house building is eating up all the green cover and open spaces in Vrindavan, which has more high-rise buildings and apartments than Mathura, the district headquarters.
In neighbouring regions, the mining mafia carries on illegal dynamite blasting and quarrying of stones from hills that once formed part of the Krishna folklore.
"Where is the space for greenery and a pollution-free ambience for which Krishna killed the poisonous Shesh nag?" asks Bankey Lal Maheshwari of Sri Nathji Nishulk Jal Sewa.
"The divine kunds (ponds) have all but disappeared; only a few are now being restored."
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)