Deity Lore Part 3

by mrupa

I’m afraid I do not remember too much about the coming of Saligram Sila to New Vrindavana. I do recall when Srila Prabhupad was deciding to begin the introduction of worshiping Saligram Sila in ISKCON, He first entrusted this highly delicate and demanding service to two long proven and highly devoted pujaris: Jananivas in Mayapur and Radhanath in New Vrindavana.

I do not remember who brought our two Saligram Silas here to begin Their service, or who named Them Hiranyagarbha (because He had an egg shaped form like a universe) and Nrsngha (because of the markings on His form). I do remember it meant the end of women on the altar or in the pujari room at Bahulavan, and that that crushed a lot of resigned-to-the-needful hearts.

The other word I associate with Saligram Sila is—dysentery. It was community-wide waves of debilitating dysentery that seemed to follow known or unknown mishaps during the worship of Sri Saligram Sila. These included but were far from limited to a pujari’s chaddar becoming snagged on the hand chased throne of Hiranyagarbha and flipping Him over the altar stairs and on to the floor. Or the highly gasped at faux paux of mixing up the Lord’s bathing substances; and instead of bathing Their Lordships with ghee as was recommended, mustard seed oil was used one morning.

Then in the very early ‘90s as the attempt at Interfaith in New Vrindavana was winding down, one morning the head pujari went on the altar to wake the Deities and Saligram and one of Their chief pujaris were discovered to be missing. It turned out they were all heading for Malaysia, the pujari feeling the Saligrams were not being treated properly enough.

Sri Govardhana Sila however, came separately and some time after the appearance of Sri Hiryanyagarbha, and Sri Nrsngha, as He was to accompany Sri Nathaji and His installation in the present temple.

Sankirtana has a wonderful play about the finding and carrying of Sri Govardhana to New Vrindavana by Radhanath Swami and Mahabhuddi Prabhu.

Sankirtana’s play is based on the account given him by Radhanath Swami after their return to New Vrindavana. It describes how Radhanath Swami and Mahabuddhi Prabhu went to Vrindavana and got in touch with one of Maharaj’s Vrajabasi friends and told him of their mission to find a Govardhana Sila in order to establish the worship of Sri Nathaji in New Vrindavana.

The devotee instructed them how to go about searching of Sri Govardhana, and how important it was to not just grab a stone and go, but how the Sila had to be presented to them by a Vrajabasi and with the devotee’s blessing before they could remove Him from Vrindvana, and how they would also have to bathe the Sila before taking Him away with them.

The search took some time before both Mahabuddhi and Maharaj found a Sila they both agreed would be the perfect One and the austerities they performed while seeking Him and getting permission to take Him.

Then when they were bathing Sri Govardhana it was during a major festival time in Vrindavana and many residents were at the bathing area. Accidentally, it was let slip that they would be taking Govardhana out of Vrindavana all the way to the United States.

A near riot ensued at this news as most of the Vrajabasis didn’t at all like to idea of Govardhana being removed. Radhanath Swami and Mahabuddhi barely escaped and hid in Maharaj’s friend’s home.

Eventually, after Maharaj’s friend formally presented Sri Govardhan to them, and a suitable traveling case was arranged to Him, Mahabuddhi and Maharaj began the trip back to the US (and New Vrindavana) by plane. But their trials weren’t over yet.
At the New York customs desk they were greeted with deep suspicion concerning what the customs agent saw as a big rock possibly concealing attempted drug smuggling. There were even threats about breaking open the ‘rock’ to see if anything was hidden inside it.

Finally, one agent in a mood of intense seriousness questioned Radhanath Maharaj about just what this was. With all the solemnity and force of genuine faith he possesses, Maharaj in all seriousness told her, “This is God!” Taken aback by such an answer in such a manner, the agent relented and they were finally allowed to pass through intact.

I did not have a great deal of service on the altar for Radha Vrindavana Chandra at Bahulavan personally even after we moved down from Vrindavana Farm. But the standard and ‘mood’ of service for Their Lordships pervaded the atmosphere and deeply influenced the service offered throughout the community whatever the department, or necessity.

There used to be a runner. The idea was that Krsna’s pujari should keep his or her attention wholly focused on attending to the Lord. After gathering everything for the worship and getting set up in front of Their Lordships, the pujari was not supposed to leave Krsna alone again until everything was completed. It was considered bad form to walk off and leave Krsna ‘dripping’ or ‘naked’ or wrapped but undressed while you fiddled with other things like bath water etc. So, there was a regular runner who took away bath water and towels and outfits as they were used, and who brought on anything the pujari might yet need to finish the dressing offering for that particular Deity.

Being the runner was a coveted service. It was seen as a particularly keen way of being the servant of the servant. And devotees who practiced it treated it as an art form, cultivating an almost uncanny capacity to anticipate what pujaris would need and when they would need it. So there was really very little talking necessary.

That’s the other main thing I can remember. That except for the tape and the occasional very soft whisper between a pujari and the runner there was no talking at all on the altar during the bathing and dressing offerings. Attentive focus was highly prized as the foundation of the assistant of the personal service for Their Lordships. Krsna was dressing Himself and the pujari was there to help. And the runner was there to help the pujari. What was going on on the altar and how it was going gave the anticipation of the Greeting of the Deities an extra special sort of charge and exchange between the Lord and His devotees.

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Reader Comments

i remember bathing the small gour-nitai dieties around that time and feeling the love for radha-vrindavan chandra and varsana