Unlike the much-hyped Ayodhya "parikrama" (circumambulation) with political overtones, the "84-kos Braj parikrama" around the shrines associated with Sri Krishna is a quiet, dignified and almost unnoticed affair.
Some 1,000-odd faithful from all parts of India Saturday began their 40-day trek through the Braj area, the "leela bhoomi" (places of divine play) of Sri Krishna on an annual "parikrama" of 84 kos (250 km).
According to Acharya Madhukar Chaturvedi, "The famous 'Braj Parikrama' - a pilgrimage of all the places in Braj associated with Sri Krishna, is undertaken before Diwali."
He adds: "Braj Mandal, with its 12 "vanas" (forests), 24 "upvanas" (groves), sacred hill Govardhan, divine river Yamuna and numerous holy places along its banks, are visited."
Chaturvedi says: "The 'yatra' extends to Kotban near Kosi, north of Mathura, to Nandgaon, Barsana and the Govardhan Hill to the west and southwest of the city and to the banks of the Yamuna to the east where the Baldeo Temple, Gokul and Mahavan are located."
The pilgrims walk the distance, halting at various shrines associated with Sri Krishna-Radha lore.
Led by Acharya Ballabh Rai of Surat, the caravan consists of jeeps, matadors, bullock-carts with private security, medical teams, diesel generators for lighting, tents and furniture. Trained cooks ensure timely supply of food and "prasad" (food or other things) for the deities.
Chaturvedi says: "For the next 40 days, the pilgrims, mostly family members or friends, and a large number from Gujarat, will stay in tents, join celebrations, enjoy 'bhandaras' (community meals), special 'darshans' (sight of deities), 'raas leelas' (aesthetics dance) and 'keertans' (singing of God's praises)."
"The Chaturvedi samaj of Mathura provides the back up support for a charge. A large number of people wait the whole year to make a living from this yatra," says Bankey Bihari, who undertook the trip two years ago.
The "yatra" organisers charge around Rs.10,000 per person for all expenses, including food. Normally, the "yatra" halts outside towns or in forests.
Bihari adds: "What you get to see in this yatra, you would not be able to see if you went on your own, like the footprints of Krishna and Radha or the Badri-Kedar temple."
This season, the Pushtiya Marg sect of the Vaishanavs has planned two more "yatras". The "yatris" have to take a "sankalp" (vow) at the Vishram Ghat in Mathura before they leave for the "parikrama" and take "deeksha" (benediction) from the Vaishnav acharya, generally members of the extended Sri Nathdwara priestly family in Rajasthan.