Kusum Sarovar (also known as Sumana Sarovar) is located on the holy Govardhan Hill, around 25 km from both Mathura and Vrindavan, and 150 km from Delhi in Uttar Pradesh. It was a spontaneous decision to visit this location having spent a few hours at Deeg Palace just across the border in Rajasthan, but I’m so glad I made this diversion on my way back to Agra.
Although the whole site is known today as Kusum Sarovar, it is in fact the name of the tank and flower garden; Kusum means ‘flowers’ and Sarovar means ‘lake’. It is said that Radha, who lived nearby (now known as Radha Kund because of a large tank), frequented this garden in order to gather flowers for worship.
The tank is both beautiful and spotlessly clean, I’m not sure I have encountered many more tranquil settings than this anywhere in India. The scene is of course greatly enhanced by the exotic backdrop of chhatris on the far side of the tank, built as memorials for Maharaja Suraj Mal, his wife Kishori Rani, and other family members in 1764 by his son Maharaja Jawahar Singh.
Maharaja Suraj Mal was a Jat ruler who famously defeated the Mughal forces of Ahmad Shah Bahadur in Delhi and occupied the Red Fort in 1754. He also overran a Mughal garrison stationed in Agra and plundered the city, most famously removing and later melting the great silver doors of the entrance to the Taj Mahal in 1763. It was probably during this period that Akbar’s Tomb was also desecrated. In same year on 25th December, Maharaja Suraj Mal was killed after a Mughal ambush in Delhi.
Folklore also attributes the vedic sage Ashtavakra to Kusum Sarovar. His name means ‘eight bends’, reflecting the eight physical handicaps he was born with. He is said to have performed penance here on the banks of the tank when it was formerly a pond.
Kusum Sarovar is also one of the sites of the Krishna forest pilgrimage, the entire area is famous for many legends associated with Lord Krishna.
Whilst architecturally the structures at Kusum Sarovar are simply wonderful, there was a further hidden surprise in store for me during my exploration here. Perhaps the greatest attraction for anyone visiting are the murals painted on the interiors of the chattri domes and the pavilions. These fascinating murals narrate interesting anecdotes from the lives of Krishna and Maharaja Suraj Mal.
I first visited the memorials to Maharaja Suraj Mal’s wife, Kishori Rani, and other family members. These are situated either side of Maharaja Suraj Mal’s larger chhatri that sits at the center of a raised platform immediately west of the tank.
Stylistically, these murals are similar to Rajasthani miniature paintings. The anatomical details, coiffeurs, costumes, jewellery and above all, the vibrant colours, completely draw you in.
I have to confess I’m a little addicted to this style of art, and as a result my camera started working overtime. There were so many interesting scenes, I felt utterly compelled and captivated by them.
This style of art also reminded me of other locations I have previously visited in India, and I’m sure they are quite widespread throughout the north. If you’re interested in seeing more of the same I can highly recommend the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Orchha, for which I can draw the closest parallel.
The area on top of the platform where the chhatris reside has some surprisingly green spaces, with small manicured grassed areas that were spotlessly clean. This whole site is incredibly well maintained, and that makes a visit all the more enjoyable.
The imposing chhatri of Maharaja Suraj Mal was initially locked, but an attendant suddenly materialised as if from nowhere and offered to unlock the doors. The interior is a wonderful, peaceful and atmospheric space.
The ceiling showcases beautiful paintings of life of Lord Krishna and Maharaja Suraj Mal’s court, with the lotus feet of Krishna engraved on the floor.
The attendant was keen to tell me that all these paintings were 500 years old. I have no idea why he felt the need to embellish their antiquity to such an extent, the age of them is relatively unimportant, but their splendour cannot be questioned.
A contemporary historian during the reign of Maharaja Suraj Mal described him as “the Plato of the Jat people”, on account of his clear vision, deep perception and intellect. This would seem to be a fitting memorial for someone who was clearly so revered by his people.
A very short distance south of the Kusum Sarovar complex is a small chhatri with some lovely crisp paintings. At first I thought they had been heavily restored, but subsequent research (although not conclusive) leads me to think these are in fact relatively modern.
I believe this to be the chattris of Maharaja Kishan Singh of Bharatpur, a direct descendant of Maharaja Suraj Mal, who reigned from 1918 to 1929 and died at the young age of 29. I’m not totally sure of this claim, if anyone out there can give me more concrete information I would very much appreciate it !
Kusum Sarovar will remain long in my memory, a site that I decided to visit on the spur of the moment, and one what gave me so much joy. On reflection and now knowing what there is here, I wish I could have spent much more time exploring the structures and marvelling at the paintings. I guess this might be a very good excuse to return here one day.
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