Chunri Manorath Ritual – When Yamuna River Wears Sari
They say there are only three things from the time of Sri Krishna – Govardhan Parvat, Land of Braj and river Yamuna.
The Yamuna with her dark waters is like Krishna in her looks. She is one of his wives and in Mathura, she is the Pattarani or the chief wife. Your visit to Braj Bhumi can not be complete without visiting the holy river.
Boat Ride on the Yamuna river in Mathura
Taking a boat ride on the holy river is a popular pilgrim and tourist activity. So, one morning I also took a boat to admire the different ghats of Mathura from the waters of the river. I probably wanted to see what the river gets to see every day.
Video of the Boat ride
As I was walking towards the ghat, I heard a group of young boys chanting Vedas, repeating after an acharya, sitting under a small canopy. The bazaars were still opening up, but temple bells could be heard just about anywhere.
We started from the famous Vishram ghat on a colorful boat. It is believed that Sri Krishna took rest here, after killing Kamsa and that is how it got its name – Vishram Ghat. It is located bang in the middle, there are 12 ghats on either side of it.
Boats here have colorful flags all around them and an equally colorful carpet to sit on. The boatman told us stories of Braj Bhumi in Braj Bhasha. Poems and saying just flow from his mouth. They add to the joy of a boat ride on a warm March morning.
Kamsa Qila Fort
He tells us about different ghats and their stories as we row towards the left of Vishram Ghat towards Kans ka Qila or the Kamsa’s fort. I am keen to go inside and see the fort, although I know at best it could be the place associated with Kamsa. The fort in red sandstone is obviously recent. Everyone tells me, there is nothing inside to see. From the river, it looks a fairly large fort. Reflecting on the waters, it looks even more majestic.
Rest of the river is lined with colorful ghats buzzing with activities. I was visiting a few days before Holi when the historical city is already in Holi mode. I saw many families playing Holi with the Yamuna. Yes, you heard it right. Playing Holi with the holy river. They would sing Hori or the Holi songs, throw some color in the river and then play among themselves. In fact, this was a ritual inserted in almost every ritual taking place on the ghats. The mood was that of joy and celebration – which is the eternal mood you associate with a place that was chosen even by Sri Krishna to play and do his Raas Lila.
The only distinct feature I can remember is a tall tower in red sandstone built in Rajasthani Jharokha style called Sati Burj. Apparently, a queen, who was also the mother-in-law of Akbar, did Sati here and this tower was erected in the memory of that.
Verses from Puranas
Across the ghats, there are boards with verses from Puranas talking about Mathura in Sanskrit with Hindi Translation. I loved it. Hope other places also replicate this practice of putting the Sthal Purana or the literature on the city in public places.
Unfortunately, the ghats of the river are not clean. I saw the sewerage flowing right into the river. The garbage lines up like a threshold between the steps of ghats and the water. It is a painful sight to look at dirty water.
Having said that, there is no dearth of stories when you sit by the river quietly flowing along the moon-shaped ghats of Mathura. Just sit back and let the Brajwasis regale you in the stories of the land.
Chunri Manorath ritual – When the Yamuna Wears Sari
On the boat ride, my guide told me about this unique ritual that is performed on the holy river. As luck would have it, the boatman informed us that a couple of Chunri Manorath is planned for the day. I quickly reworked the plan for the day and made sure I see this unique celebration.
What is the ritual?
Manorath means a wish. Chunri is the scarf that is worn with Indian dresses. On auspicious occasions, women are offered Chunri as part of festivals or during auspicious functions like weddings and engagements. It is generally a sign of acknowledging the auspicious aspect of the divine feminine.
At Mathura, the ritual involves offering a Chunri to the Yamuna, for she is the most auspicious goddess of the land. Families bring rolls of many Saris stitched together, usually 101 Saris but sometimes as many as 400 saris stitched together. This long roll of clothing is then taken on multiple boats to the other end of the holy river. The long cloth is held in a way that it looks like the Yamuna is wearing a Chunri.
It is usually done by families to mark an occasion or to say thanks for a wish fulfilled. I saw two Chunri Manoraths that day. A family of 90-100 people from Gujarat was celebrating the 60th birthday of the patriarch, who performed all the pujas with his wife. .
Who Does Chunri Manorath?
Chunri Manorath is mainly done by Vaishnavs from Gujarat and Rajasthan who follow Pushti marg. For the followers of this sect, Yamuna is the prime deity. However, there is no restriction, anyone can do it. Priests there will tell you stories of their famous MP Hema Malini doing this ritual here. I assume for winning the parliament seat.
This ritual can be done almost around the year. A shelter has been built on the steps of a ghat to enable people to sit while the ritual is performed. The ritual is long and can take many hours.
Story of Chunri Manorath
It is said that the Gopis of Braj while playing with Sri Krishna developed a sense of pride that Sri Krishna listens to them and would do anything, they ask him to. As soon as Krishna sensed it, he wanted to correct it. He vanished in the waters of the holy river leaving Gopis in a dire state. They were lost and in despair sang Gopi Geet.
They went from forest to forest, from pond to pond looking for Krishna. Finally, they went to the Yamuna and asked his whereabouts. The holy river was moved by their desperate state and she requested Krishna to come out and bring the joy back on the faces of Gopis.
Gopis thanked Yamuna Ji by offering Chunri to her. Since then this ritual is followed by people who want to thank the holy river for fulfilling their wishes.
Video: Watch the Chunri Manorath ritual
Families come in a procession, carrying the Chunri or the roll of Saris on their heads. They are dressed in their best clothes. One family has all the women wearing red bandhani saris. Another one has women wearing heavy silk saris and best of jewelry. I guess most of them were wearing new saris. They come to the ghats of the holy river dancing and singing to the love music. As they pass through the markets, everyone knows that the river is going to look beautiful once again.
They sit on the steps of the ghat as the priest prepares for the Chunri Puja. A platform is a setup to perform the following Pujas in sequence:
Krishna and Yamuna Puja
Two pots are painted as Krishna and Yamuna. They are decorated like a bride and groom. Every person participating in the puja offers them clothes and jewelry. They are surrounded by sweets of all kinds. I watched the Murtis being decorated with lots of love and affection by the priests as well as the family members.
Offerings to the Holy river
The holy river at its edge is offered various things that are offered to any deity in temple worship like milk, curd, Haldi, Kumkum. Since this was also the Holi time, they also offered her 5 colors as if playing Holi with her.
Once all Pujas are done, people start boarding the boats in a sequence holding the Saris, Challenge is to keep the Saris high up in the air. It is a beautiful scene to see the colorful Saris unfold as the boats move slowly across the river, adding color to it. However, the best part is the joy on the faces of people offering the Chunri. It is like they are living a dream.
In between the instructions for the boatmen, we could also hear ‘Yamuna Maiyya ki Jai’. Once done, everyone congratulates each other for the task well accomplished.
Going by the amount of time spent on doing the Puja or number of things offered, I am sure it is a pretty costly ritual to undertake.
I spent a good 3 hours observing this ritual. The big family was kind enough to invite me to join in for a part of Puja where you offer color to the river. They even invited me to come on board for taking the Chunri on the other side. I said thanks but stayed back to look at from the ghats.
It is one of those serendipitous experiences that make you present at the right time and right place. Till a day before, I had no idea of this ritual. In the morning, I just thought we will look at the ghats on the boat ride and then go on with exploring the rest of Mathura. The holy river has other plans for me. She wanted me to see her draped in colorful Saris. It could not have happened without her grace. These are moments when you feel fulfilled as a traveler.
I later learned that a similar ritual is done at the Narmada as well. Let’s see when the Narmada decides to include me in her glorious moments.
Do try to witness this unique ritual as and when you get a chance.
Stories of Krishna and Yamuna
On the ghats of Mathura, you hear various stories.
One story says that it was the Yamuna who got to touch his feet first, just after he was born. As we know, when Krishna was born, his father Vasudeva carried him in a basket across the Yamuna to Gokul to the home of his friends Nand and Yashoda. When he was carrying the waters of the river came till his neck. This is when Krishna took out his feet from the basket and let the Yamuna touch them. The waters receded and Vasudeva could easily cross the river.
Another story is if various acts of Krishna, all of which were done on the banks of this river, including his Raas Leela and Playing of Flute.
Yet another story depicts the river appearing in her human form with a garland of lotus flowers to marry Krishna.
The Yamuna, as we know is the daughter of Sun and sister of Yama – the God of death. She is also considered the Shakti of Krishna in liquid form, sometimes called the form of Birja Devi.
Travel Tips for Boat Ride
- You need about an hour or so to leisurely enjoy the ghats here, including the boat ride.
- I paid Rs 400/- for an exclusive boat ride for an hour. It can easily seat 15-20 people.
- Try visiting in the morning when the ghats are buzzing with activity and the sun is favorable.