The Yamuna is the largest tributary of Ganga and is an important river in and of Herself. Stretching from the high reaches of Her place of origin at Yamunotri, Yamuna flows through Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Yamuna provides water for nearly fifty-seven million people who live in Her floodplain and rely on Her waters for everything, as well as binds millions more together through spirituality and culture.
“I joyfully bow down to Shri Yamunaji, the giver of all divine powers. Her expansive sands shine brightly like the lotus feet of Lord Krishna. Flowers from fresh forests on Her banks mingle with Yamunaji and make Her waters fragrant. Both humble and assertive Gopis worship Shri Yamunaji well. She contains the beauty of Krishna.” – Verse 1, Yamunashtakam
The Yamuna River is revered in Hindu culture not just as a river, but as a divine Goddess. Flowing down from the heavens, She flows on earth providing life to all with Her waters and thus is considered a Mother of infinite compassion and love to all. Yamunaji is born of the sun god Surya and is the younger sister of Yama, the god of death, and therefore sipping or bathing in Her waters is said to grant one freedom from the fear and agony of death itself.
The Yamuna is mentioned in the most ancient Hindu texts including the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda as well as many Brahmanas and Puranas. In the Mahabharata, it is along Her banks that the Pandavas establish their great city of Indraprastha. Yamuna is deeply connected to Shri Krishna, and it is the Yamuna River that serves as the backdrop for many of the stories associated with His life. On the night Shri Krishna was born, it was across the Yamuna River that His father Vasudeva carried the child. It was in the waters of Yamuna that Shri Krishna subdued the serpent Kaliya, who was dwelling in the river and torturing all of the local cowherds (gopas) with its poison. It was along the banks of Yamuna that Shri Krishna played with the gopas and gopis and attended His cows.
According to the sage Shri Vallabhacharya, who composed the devotional poem Yamunashtakam in praise of Yamunaji, it is through the grace of Yamuna that one may meet Shri Krishna, as Yamuna purifies devotees and removes any obstructions that keep the devotee from experiencing God, increasing the love for the Divine in the hearts of all and completely transforming their being.
The Yamuna is central to Hindu spirituality, and each year millions of pilgrims from both India and abroad flock to Her banks to have Her darshan and bathe in Her waters.
Yamuna is not only important spiritually for Hindus, but is also a symbol of an entire common culture that has developed in Northern India, which is referred to as the “Ganga-Jamuni (Yamuna) tehzeeb.” Yamuna has truly served as a backdrop over the centuries for the creation of this culture, formed between all backgrounds and religions in Northern India, particularly between Hindu and Islamic cultures and traditions. As Yamuna provides for all with no discrimination, the river has bound together all the different communities in a sense of communal harmony and respect, and all have coexisted along Her banks for centuries together.