Braj also known as Brij or Brajbhoomi is a region mainly in Uttar Pradesh of India, around Mathura-Vrindavan. Brajati gachchhati iti Brajah– That which moves around is Braj." This is the original understanding of the word Braj. The places where Nand Baba dwelt and moved around with his cows, calves, family and associates are called Braj. "Brajanti gavah yasminnati Brajah – the land where the cows, cowherd men. cowherd boys and cowherd girls wander is known as Braj." Braj particularly denotes the land of the Supreme Person Brajendra-nandan Shri Krishna's pastimes. The flirtatious hero of Braj, Shri Krishna, is Akhil-Rasamritamurti, the embodiment of the nectar of all primary and secondary spiritual tastes, or rasas. In this Braj, He performs His eternal pastimes with RadhaRadhika, who is the embodiment of mahabhav (the essence of Shri Krishna's pleasure potency), and His other associates. The most exalted of all nectar-filled pastimes, namely, Shri Krishna's rasa-lila, and His numerous other pastimes, take place here eternally. In this Braj, every glance and gesture is filled with rasa. Here, the original enjoyer, Shri Govind eternally enjoys nectar-filled sports and pastimes with those gopis who have manifested from His own intrinsic form. These pastimes have no beginning and no end. That place where there is nothing but an endless ocean of prem, whose waves of the most elevated, radiant mellow of intimate paramour love are constantly rising up and swelling over, is Braj. That place consisting purely of rasa, that is continuously savoured by those expert in relishing loving mellows, and those who can taste transcendental mellows, is the land of Braj.
Shrimad Bhagavata (10.44.13) gives a deeply moving description of Braj:
"O sakhi, the actual truth is that the land of Braj is supremely pure and blessed, because here the Supreme Person is living, disguised as a human being. That same Lord, whose lotus feet are worshipped by the lord of all lords, Mahadev Shankar, and by Shri Rama Devi, wanders about here with His brother Balram and His cowherd boy friends. Adorned with a garland of multicoloured flowers, He grazes the cows and plays the flute sweetly. Absorbed in many kinds of pastimes, He wanders here and there with delight. By the touch of His lotus feet, this land of Braj has become virtuous and successful."
The Skand Purana also presents a beautiful definition of the word Braj: "Parabrahman, the Supreme Absolute Truth, is beyond the three modes – goodness, passion and ignorance – and because He pervades every single particle of the universe, He is called Braj. His place, the embodiment of eternity, knowledge and bliss, is supremely brilliant and indestructible. Residing here are the supreme connoisseurs of ecstatic transcendental mellows, who are liberated from material existence."
Krishna so tied by bonds of love with his consort Radha and Brajwaasis remains eternally in spirit in Brajbhoomi. This city lying between the twin Mughal capital cities of Agra and Delhi bore the brunt of invaders several times. It was destroyed and patronized alternately. The present day Brajbhoomi was resurrected by the passionate devotion of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Vallabhacharya in the 16th century. The patronizing rule of Akbar helped seers and devotees discover and redecorate the ancient and mythological sites and spots of the Brajbhoomi. This land used to be largely green, redolent with gardens, groves and lakes in which the Lord frolicked. The land exuberantly bursts with folklore and legend. There is certain magnetism and cosmic energy in this land which draws millions of pilgrims from across the globe. Faith draws millions to this reverberating pastoral land of Krishna. Of all the sacred places in India, none enjoys a greater popularity than the capital of Braj, the holy city of Mathura. It is one of the seven sacred salvation cities (Mokshadayini Nagari) of India. Hundreds of pilgrims stay here to have their last breath. For nine months in the year festival follows upon festival in rapid succession, and the ghats and temples are daily thronged with a huge mass of way-worn pilgrims. So great is the sanctity of the spot that its panegyrists do not hesitate to declare that a single day spent at Mathura is more meritorious and rewarding than a lifetime passed at some other religious place. All this celebrity is due to the fact of its being the reputed birthplace of the Lord Krishna.
Hallowed by the aura of Shri Krishna, Brajbhoomi can be divided into two distinct units–the eastern part in the trans-Yamuna tract with places like Baldeo, Mahavan, Gokul, Mansarovar, Mat and Bhandirvan and the western side of Yamuna covering the Mathura region that encompasses Vrindavan, Govardhan, Kusum Sarovar, Kama, Nandgaon, Barsana and Kokilavan. The land of Braj starts from Kotvan near Hodal about 95 km from Delhi and ends, 15 km ahead of Agra at Runkta, a place known specially for its association with the great Brajbhasha poet Surdas, an ardent Krishna devotee.
The Mathura city stretches along the right bank of the Yamuna and the continuous series of Ghats along the river make a splendid spectacle when viewed from the opposite bank. A long line of picturesque Ghats–with their steps leading to the water's edge, arched gateways and temple spires extending along the bank of the river, emphasizes the sacred character of the town. It is at Vishram Ghat that the traditional parikrama (perambulation) of all the important religious and cultural places of the city starts and ends. In all there are 24 Ghats. The Vishram (or Vishrant) Ghat is considered as most sacred and important, because according to legend, Shri Krishna took rest here after killing Kansa. The Ghat is lined with some elegant and important temples. The baithak of the great Vaishnava saint Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is also nearby. The aarti held at the Vishram Ghat each evening is not to be missed, for the little oil or ghee lamps that are floated on the river set the placid water sparkling with myriad flickering lights. A boat ride in moonlight is an awesome experience on the dark waters of Yamuna. By the day it offers a sight of all 24 ghats and places of historic interest. Vallabhacharya, one of the revivers of Braj, first visited Mathura in a boat at age 13. On beholding Vishram Ghat, he spontaneously sang a paean in praise. This song, Yamunashtakam in Sanskrit, is still well preserved in the oral tradition of the land, as are many more songs which have been handed down by great saints such as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Rupa Goswami, Mirabai, Surdas, Raskhan and Jayadeva. Innumerable poets are born daily in Braj, as devotees are stirred to sing praises of the Lord as they experience him in Brajbhoomi.