Beginning Govardhan Sila Puja

by Gaura Shakti

I was actually the first person to start worshiping this Govardhana Sila that Radhanath Swami and Mahabuddhi prabhu brought back from India.

At that time, I was the pujari for the 2 Salagram Sila’s that New Vrindaban had. Srila Prabhupada said that we (the devotees in New Vrindaban) should begin Salagram Sila worship. The only other ISKCON temple in the world that was worshiping Salagram Silas was in Mayapur. New Vrindaban was the second temple. I don’t recall the details of Their coming, so I’ll leave that story for another day.

The Govardhana Sila had been in the community for some time before worship began. Although I was the devotee who was supposed to perform the service, I was very reticent to begin; there wasn’t, in my opinion, suitable paraphernalia for His worship- no jewelry, crowns, outfits, bathing paraphernalia sized to fit Him- little things like that.

Daily, Kirtanananda Swami would enter the pujari room during the morning puja; he would pay personal attention to what was going on in the Deity worship, who was serving Whom, and what wasn’t going on.

“Did you begin worshiping the Govardhana Sila today?” he’d ask me.
“No” I would reply. “I need paraphernalia”.
“What do you need?”
“Well, more than the few sets of outfits we have. Some jewelry, crowns. Bathing paraphernalia would be nice too”. Actually, They had only 2 or 3 outfits, plain cloth, simple, with no embroidery. Each week They wore the same outfits at least twice. The other deities in the community each had dozens of richly embroidered outfits, and Everyone’s outfits would be coordinated each day.

Except Govardhana.

And no one seemed to be taking much of an interest, or so it seemed to me. So in protest, I didn’t begin the puja. After all, once the worship began, I reasoned, the struggle to get anything would greatly increase, so better to get what I wanted up front. Life back then had enough struggles. Better to prevent new ones, if at all possible.

We residents of New Vrindaban took to heart the concept Srila Prabhupada writes about in the Srimad Bhagavatam, wherein he describes how Vidura “cheated” Sanjaya, and others, by convincing Dhrtarastra to leave home without telling anyone. “That great souls cheat others may be astonishing to know, but it is a fact that great souls cheat others for a great cause.” (SB 1.13.37 purport). We had great enthusiasm for, at least, part of this principle. We had our favorite quotes that we would, whenever possible, mold our lives around: “It’s not an offense to steal maha-prasadam” Srila Prabhupada had said. Another favorite quote: “If you can’t stay awake for Bhagavatam class, you should move to one of our farm communities”. We took this as a license…

It went on like this, day after day. I really don’t remember how long it was, but not an insignificant period of time.
One morning, while I was engaged in doing the puja (lemme tell you now, doing the Salagram puja the way we did it back then required a few skills: the ability to chant Sanskrit slokas like an auctioneer on speed (it wasn’t require to know what you were saying, just to be able to say it; a skill that is quite commonplace now) the ability of an orchestra conductor with a small ensemble; knowing where all the paraphernalia was without actually seeing it (it ended up quite messy some days); and the ability to stay awake while sitting for an hour at 5:00 in the morning (a skill acquired after much trial and error).

Devotees would often visit the little closet where we did the puja, look in and listen, then wander away in amazement, wondering WHY anyone would want to do puja like that. It wasn’t for everyone…)

Someone came to the puja room and said “Maharaja wants you now”. Irritated at being disturbed (there just wasn’t enough time for the puja, what to speak of interruptions) I went into the temple room.

“Did you start doing the puja yet for Govardhana?”
“No”. Concise, to the point answer.
“Why not?”
“No paraphernalia”. Really, I gotta get back to Salagram…
“Alright, tomorrow” (this was generally an acceptable excuse to delay anything).
“NO, NOW”.

I skulked back to the pujari room, most likely mumbling unkind things, and did some rudimentary worship- what, exactly, I have no idea.

But the devotees liked seeing Him worshiped, and gradually paraphernalia began to appear- more outfits, and nice ones too. Jewelry; crowns; bathing paraphernalia sized for Him (He is big, whereas the other 2 Salagrams we had were quite small, easily fitting into the palm of your hand). Gradually the quality of the worship improved. He has a difficult surface to ‘paint’ a face onto, and have it look like something other than what a child would do
And so the puja began…

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