On January 8th at the India International Centre in Delhi, Jack Hawley launched his new book Krishna’s Playground: Vrindavan in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press). The celebrated Hindustani vocalist Shubha Mudgal opened the occasion by singing odes to Vrindavan composed in the sixteenth century, when Vrindavan was built. Purushottam Agrawal, Professor of Hindi Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a well-known commentator on current Indian affairs, officiated. Both he and Hawley spoke about the Muslim-Hindu concordat that made possible the building of Vrindavan—the deeply intertwined fortunes and religious interests of the Mughal emperor Akbar and his chief general, Raja Mansingh.
Krishna’s Playground offers a portrait of massive changes that have overtaken Vrindavan since the century began, turning the pastoral retreat hallowed as the place where Krishna grew up into an extension of megalopolitan Delhi. There’s the rush of real estate development, the utter pollution of the River Yamuna, a galloping culture of religious theme parks, and soon the world’s tallest religious building—seventy stories high. Hawley sees Vrindavan as a symbol and portent of Anthropocene disasters worldwide. He proposes it be protected as a World Heritage Site.