Abstract: Located at a dramatic bend in the River Yamuna, a hundred miles from the center of Delhi, Vrindavan is the spot where the god Krishna is believed to have spent his childhood and youth. For Hindus it has always stood for youth writ large, enacting a realm of love and beauty that enables one to retreat from the weight and harshness of the world. Now, though, the world is gobbling up Vrindavan. Delhi’s megalopolitan sprawl inches closer day by day—half the town is a vast real-estate development—and the waters of the Yamuna are too polluted to drink or even bathe in. Temples now style themselves as theme parks, and the world’s tallest religious building is under construction in Krishna’s pastoral paradise. What happens when the Anthropocene Age makes everything virtual? Vrindavan throbs with feisty energy, but is it the religious canary in our collective coal mine?
John Stratton Hawley is Claire Tow Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University. He has written or edited some twenty books on Hinduism, India’s bhakti traditions, and the comparative study of religion. His latest book is Krishna’s Playground: Vrindavan in the 21st Century, published by Oxford University Press in 2020. His previous books include A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement (2015), Sur’s Ocean (with Kenneth Bryant, 2015), and a poem-by-poem commentary on the early Sursagar called Into Sur’s Ocean (2016). A Storm of Songs received the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy book prize of the Association for Asian Studies in March 2017. Prof. Hawley has directed Columbia University’s South Asia Institute and has received multiple awards from the NEH, Smithsonian, and AIIS. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2016-17 he was in India as a Fulbright-Nehru Fellow, working on his project on “The New Vrindavan.”