(Last Updated on : 12/02/2009)
God Baldev is considered as the god of 'nagas' or snakes. The worship of naga is a very ancient tradition in India and can be traced from the Indus Valley period. The Buddhists and the Jains gave an important place to nagas and Mathura itself was an important centre of the 'Naga puja'.
According to the Gita, the month of 'Margashisha' or 'Agahan' is said to be the best of months for the puja. But the devotees visit the Baldev temple every month of the Hindu year. The anthropomorphic representations of nagas can be found in the Braj area, which belonged to as early as the third century BC.
The ancient symbolic representations of Baladeva were found in the form such as the Lion-Plough pillar capital of Kusana period and the Palm-capital of the Sunga period. Sculpturally, the icon of god Baladev can be traced back to the second century BC. The worship of Baladeva reached its peak during the Kusana period. The reference of the independent Balarama temples was found in the Sangain literature. But at the time of the Gupta period, independent figures diminished in number.
In the rural Braj area, the old naga deity Baladeva or Baldev was never counted as a vyuha of Vasudeva Krishna. During the Kusana period god Balarama or Baldev had four arms but in popular iconography today Baldev is always shown with two hands with his right arm stretched over the hand, palm open, as in the very ancient 'Chargaon' naga image. Baldev is still immensely popular among the rural Brajvasi population under the fond name of Dauji.
Baladeva (Balarama, Sankarsana) is usually interpreted as an agricultural god as he can be seen carrying a plough (hala, langula) in his iconography. As per the Mathura Museum Centenary, Baldev is shown carrying a pestle (musala) and having a very close relationship with earth and water. Some of the early works such as the Arthasastra and the Harivamsa do not associate him with agriculture, but rather with madira (intoxicating drink) and with sita, the furrow made by the plough, according to the Amarakosa of the Gupta period. Again according to another work named 'Rajanirghanta', sita and madira are synonymous.
The god Baldev in a standard image of in the great Baldev temple at Ridha and elsewhere, all over Braj shows the deity holding a flask of madira in his left hand, while his right arm is stretched over his head in front of his naga canopy in the abhayamudra gesture. The 'abhayamudra' with the right hand and the snake canopy on top are always present in the representations of Dauji.
The sectarian Vaishnavas such as the Vallabhites of modern times tend to downgrade the ancient Baldev cult to a secondary place. In the annual Braj yatra, 'Baldev', the name which is standing for both the village and the god of sectarian maps of the 'Braj mandal' purposely exclude the famous Baldev temple. The reason behind this exclusion is obviously linked to the God Baldev's god's reputation as a wrestler and chronic drinker. This nature of the god Baldev keeps him away from the pious Vaishnavas.
God Baldev is said to have the old Shaiva background. This is evident from the account of his relationship is with Rudra-Shiva as Girisa, 'Lord of the hills' and with Martanda Bhairava alias Mallari, 'the enemy of the demon mountain Malla'. Mallari is a name of Krishna Gopal, who got the name by defeating the wrestlers Chanura and Mushtika sent by Kamsa.
The name of the great Baldev temple was neglected from the modern Braj parikrama map printed on the cover of P.D. Mital's book though. But in the same book, the author notes the importance of the great mela which takes place at Baldev temple on the god's feast day. Here, the most important gesture, i.e. the offering of bhang to Baldev was also not mentioned at all.
In the ancient site of Bhuteshvar, now about a mile from Mathura, a small temple was found, which was dedicated to Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra. A small shrine is dedicated to Baldev under the name of Dauji, the elder brother of Krishna can be seen at side of the temple. Baldev as old naga god still retains his popularity with the Braj 'natives', mostly rural people, who have made superficial adjustments with upper caste sectarian Vaishnavism.
The bhang, an intoxicating drug made from the leaves of the Catinabis saliva is known to be favourite drink of god Baldev and to his followers, who are many, especially among the lower castes.