Some Historical aspects of Pushti Marg


Historically, Pushti Marg has developed its artistic and aesthetic sensibilities through imperial / royal contacts.  During the time of Shri Vallabh, it was in touch with the VijayaNagar empire of South India.  Shri Vallabh travelled all over India and incorporated some the best temple rituals and practices in his new sect.  Staying in muslim administered North India, he braved continuous attacks on civil and spiritual rights of the Hindus and fought back in his own way.  Excellent examples can be found in the "vartas" of the sect describing how he defeated the kazi at Mathura and converted muslims in Dehli to prove his point to the Sultan.  Shri Vallabh wasn't interested in accumalating a lot of wealth.  Simple, Hindu style temple on mount Govardhan reflected the early ethos of the marg.  Shri Vallabh's principle residence was at Adel, near Prayag and he later renouced everything and took sanyas.  Shri Vallabh's last days were passed in "Kashi, the eternal city" where he grew up and studied in the early years. 

During Shri Gausaiji’s time, the sect came in contact with the Mughal court at Agra and Sikri.  They also developed lasting contacts with various Hindu kingdoms of North and central India.  Gausaiji and Akbar met on several occasions, resulting in several grants of land, villages (Gokul and Jatipura) and imperial edicts favoring the sect.  Emperor Akbar was given the rare privilege of having darshan of Navnitpriyaji and Shrinathji on several occasions.  One of the Gausaiji’s son was a regular attendee at the imperial court, further developing and cultivation imperial contacts.  As a result, the sect acquired an imperial taste for fine foods, foreign clothes, exquissite & expensive jewelry, especially pearls and gems set in kundan settings.  Imperial gift of an unusally large diamond still graces ShriNathji’s chin from Akbar's time. 

During this time, court protocol was introduced, establishing strict set of discipline temple servants must maintain whilst in the presence of the "Lord".  Everyone had to bow and show respect to 'Thakorji' and Vallabhkul as they move in and out of divine presence.  Chadidars (mace bearers / announcers) were employed to announce the arrival of gosawmis, important visitors and the all important “cows”.  Soft furnishings, silk curtains, khas curtains, fountains etc were introduced to make the inner sanctum resemble a miniature palace.  Very early on, Pushti Marg adopted Drupad and Vrajbhasha as its main medium for devotional hymns. 

During Akbar’s time, Vrajbhasha was the popular medium of poetry at court.  According to our vartas, padas written by the Astachap were often sung in the royal court.  At this time, several Hindu Royal families were in the employ of the Mughals as generals and courtiers.  They came in contact with the sect and became its devotees.  Shri Gusaiji shifted his principle residence from Adel to Gokul.  Here the holy family stayed in regal splender with it sons, daughters and several grandchildren.  As they were within easy commute of the Imperial cities of Agra and Sikri, many Hindu royals visited Gokul and Jatipura on a regular basis.  This is evidenced by several incidences in the 252 Vaishnav’s vartas. 

For example - For a while, Birbal was the governor (Raja) of Mathura area and dealt favorably with Gausaiji on employment issues at Jatipura.  Gausaiji had sacked the Gaudia sevaks from ShriNathji’s haveli and had evicted them from their huts.  Birbal concluded that it was Gusaiji’s privilege to employ who ever he wanted in the temple.  During access dispute with Krushnadas Adhikari, Birbal volunteered to assist, but Gusaiji wanted to deal with it his own way.

Jahangir was a very different ruler from his father.  Though one of his wives, Princess Jodh, also known as Jagat Gusai, was an ardent devotee of Pushti Marg, he wasn’t so inclined.  (Indian film industry has wrongly associated Princess Jodha with Akber)  Influenced by his Persian wife Nur-Jahan and his Persian courtiers, Jahangir distanced himself from all things Hindu.  Shah-Jahan and later Aurangzeb went further and reversed the earlier pro-Hindu policies of the state, forcing most of the goswamis and their families to seek refuge else-where. 

Shri Nathji and his treasures were moved from Jatipura to various cities and towns around north India. 
Agra > Gwalior > Kota > Pushkar > Kishangad > Jodhpur > Bambal > Bishalpur > Chapaseni > Sihad (Siha-nad) near Udaipur
 near Udaipur.  Though the rulers of Jodhpur, Kota, Bundi, Kishangadh (to name a few) were devoted to ShriNathji, they were too insecure of their own political survival to offer security guarantees to ShriNathji.  Mewar (Udaipur) was the only kingdom sufficiently independent of the Mughal court to offer them protection and so ShriNathji settled at Sihad / Sihnad.  Later we have created a tale of how queen Ajab Kuwari requested Shri Nathji to reside in her palace at Sihad and that this entire journey was created to fulfil that promise.

Along with the royals, the rich and wealthy of western India became ardent followers of ShriNathji.  Away from the Mughal court, ShriNathji’s court developed Rajasthani taste in food, clothing, painting and fine jewelry.  Frescoes of elephants, horses, cows and gopies were painted on the walls of the haveli, painted pichoies were introduced in the inner sanctum.  Popular Rajasthani festivals such as Gangor, use of "royal protocol", parda, wearing of tie-dye etc were also introduced at this time.  Widespread use of hindolas and various other royal past times were probably introduced at this time.  New musical instruments, such as sarangee were introduced to complement the traditional instruments already used in the haveli.

Nathdwara was a safe place till the early 1800s when the Maratha army from Indore threatened to loot the haveli for its wealth.  ShriNathji and the Tilkayat’s family moved to Udaipur and later Ghasiyar for safety.  High in the Aravalli range of mountains, it was plagued by insects and snakes.  Several people including members of the Tilkayat's own family died in the six short years they stayed there.  In 1808 AD, they moved back to Nathdwara and renovated the haveli and palace that had been ruined and looted by the Maratha army. 

At the time of Aurangzeb's mis-rule of India, other Nidhi svaroops also moved around Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.  Some settled in staunchly Hindu kingdoms of Rajasthan and two svaroops later moved back to Vraj when the Mughals were no longer in power.  Even as some svaroops returned to Vraj in late 19th Century, Shri Balakrushna-lalji gravitated towards Surat, the heart of Gujarat’s trading world. 

As Gujarati merchants spread out across the sub-continent and beyond, they invited the goswami balaks to settle amongst them in far flung corners of the nation.  Ahemdabad, Surat, Bombay, Madrass and Calcutta became centers of trade, culture and political power.  By the early 20th Century, various balaks gravitated to these new centers, including the tilkayat who now resides in Mumbai.

During the British Raj, even as the royals of India turned to western styles, rajput arts and crafts were cultivated and refined at Nathdwara.  Nathdwara encapsulate the pre-Raj Indian style of painting and stuck to its artistic and cultural ethos.  In late 1850s, the Mughal empire vanished and British Empire arose on Indian soil.  New style of paintings, new fabrics and new setting for jewels entered ShriNathji’s wardrobe.  Satins, chiffons, georgettes were used for Shri Nathji.  New “claw setting” for precious stones became popular in Shri Nathji's use.  Painters now painted ShriNathji in a more "realistic" style and was painted black rather than blue, with his feet pointing forwards.  Goswamis were also painted with realistic features and faces that were as accurate as photographs.

During the early independence movement in the 1850s, the Tilkayat had supported their leaders.  But, as the British prevailed, office of the Tilkayat had to accommodate and modernize.  In late 1862, the entire sect was rocked by a number of embarrassing revelations about the private lives of the goswamis.  Personal sexual fetishes of men who purported to live as gods amongst their followers became headline news and the sect suffered as a result.  Number of followers dwindled as a result of sexual scandals and fortunes of even the bigger havelis suffered severe losses.

After independence, the sect had to face the ire of the new socialist secular government that seemed to be shy about its Hindu roots.  Tilakayat and other goswamis have been fighting to keep the havelis in their own hands and not let them slip to the “Trust” status where by they can be looted by the government.  Some have succeeded, most have not.  Many havelis have become “Trusts” to safeguard what little fortune they can.  However, in the process, the central ethos of the sect has been compromised in parts and often these havelis on “Trust” do not feel like the havelis of old.

Since mid 1900s, some of the Goswamis have visited their followers in Africa, Middle East, Europe, UK, USA, Canada, Australia and many countries in the South East.  Initially this was frowned upon by the Goswami fraternity.  “Crossing the ocean” was still seen as a taboo.  Fame and fortunes of Goswamis who have visited foreign shores soon changed people’s mind and by 2000AD, most Goswamis have become globe trotters with emails, websites and Facebook presence on the net.  Balaks are now educated in various fields of science, economics and arts.  Many have tried their hand at corporate and business world as well.

Since the 1980s, fortunes of Pushti Marg have soared with the fortunes of India as a whole.  A huge new group of followers use modern conveniences of train and air travel to visit ShriNathji on a weekly / fortnightly and monthly basis.  Vast sums of money are expended in staying at the new hotels and "luxury resorts" between Udaipur and Nathdwara. 

Modern vaishnavs are a cosmopolitan lot.  Spread across the globe, they are involved in every sphere of trade, business and services industry.  They represent the modern world and its international citizens.  They are are no longer isolated or insular.  Their tastes in art and architecture have changed too.  They are no longer interested in some of the original styles or understand the complex symbolisms involved.  New Havelis being built across the world are eclectic in their architectural style.  These new Havelis borrow elements of Indian design, but no longer represent the mansions and palaces of India.  Modern Pushti art also represents the style and tastes of the modern vaishnavs with a lot of gold, lot of diamantes and tons of "bling".  Miniatures of the past have given way to much bigger three dimentional paintings on hardboard.

Recently, major changes are under way to alter the layout of Nathdwara and the haveli.  Around the core buildings of the current Haveil will be built new halls, new courtyards, new places for pilgrims to stay.  Regetably, all these change will replace much of the 18th / 19th Century character of the town with 21st Century look and layout.


Over the last five centuries, Pushti Marg has adopted to the its environment whilst retaining its core character. 
Above all, it has evolved to become one of the most aesthetically pleasing sects of Hinduism.
Let us work together to make sure we preserve its core values and gracefulness in the 21st century.


Historical time line of ShriNathji

© Bhagwat
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