Deity Stories: A New Temple For Radha Vrindaban Candra (Part One)

by Hrishikesh

On July 4, 1983 , a “temporary” temple for Shri Shri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra was dedicated which dwarfed many United States ISKCON temples in beauty, size and craftsmanship. The building was constructed in less than ten months; the temple room, which covered 5,000 square feet of floor space, was constructed in less than three months, including the art and decorations. In addition to the presiding deities of New Vrindaban, Shri Shri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra, three brand-new deities were installed: Lord Chaitanya, Lord Nityananda, and Shri Gopal Nathji (the boy Krishna lifting Govardhan Hill: a deity especially popular in Rajusthan and Gujarat, India).

The festival began on Friday, July 3 with gurupuja, the worship of the guru. After gurupuja Bhaktipada named five priests who would assist in the subsequent ceremonies. Bhu-varaha puja was the highpoint of that night, with ten torches lighting the way. The head priest, Gaura Keshava, began a fire sacrifice and offered oblations, bananas, coconuts and incense. Under the newly-built yajña-shala (place of sacrifice), four different fire pits were built with clay bricks and the puja began. The final event that night was the “mirror ceremony.” Before deities are installed, they are usually submerged under water for one night. But if that is not possible, the deities are placed in front of large tubs of water, and their reflections are placed under water.

On Saturday, July 4, Shri Shri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra stood upon a teakwood cart, and processed 3 ½ miles, from Bahulaban, where they had resided in the old farmhouse since 1972, to their new temple which was built ¼ mile behind the Palace, near the Guest Lodge. The teakwood ratha cart, complete with thirteen carved domes, fenders, columns, arches, and a large peacock, had been carved in India and shipped to New Vrindaban where it was assembled. The cart, decorated with bright yellow and orange marigold garlands, processed slowly up Palace Road, pulled by dozens of devotees tugging on thick orange ropes.

The Brijabasi Spirit reported, “Cows and chanting devotees covered the road as far as one could see. Shrila Bhaktipada and Shrila Gurupada [Satsvarupa Das Goswami] led the procession through the hills. Sitting on large pillows in the back of a transcendental blazer, they occasionally threw handfuls of flowers to the devotees, or when the devotees felt fatigued under the hot sun, sprayed them with scented water from fire extinguishers. As the effulgent sight of the Deities passed one of our neighbor’s houses, an old lady suddenly ran down her driveway and jumped up and down. ‘Just see, she’s dancing for the deities,’ said Shrila Bhaktipada, ‘after all these years.'” (89)

When the procession reached the Palace, the saffron-dressed murti of Shrila Prabhupada was brought out of the Palace on a palanquin, and met the deities on the road. An aroti was performed and Prabhupada and the deities exchanged flower garlands.

When the procession reached the new temple, the deities were bathed in an abhishek ceremony. Vastu puja followed, in which ghosts are removed from a new building. A six-foot tall straw man, dressed in a yellow dhoti and woolen chadar, was placed before the altar, and fifteen watermelons painted with hideous faces were lined up. Gaura Keshava, dressed in a black dhoti and chadar, explained, “This puja is performed to invoke any ghosts that might be around. Ghosts are subtle creatures that live in a very abominable condition of life due to sinful activities. Sometimes they give trouble by trying to take over other bodies. By mantras, we invite the ghost to enter into the straw body, and when he’s feeling comfortable in that condition, we light him up. Any smaller ghosts that are around will be attracted to the watermelons. These watermelons are also bodies, and since ghosts are eager to live in any body besides their own, they’ll jump into the watermelons. In India, people often hang pumpkins around so the ghosts will enter them instead of human bodies. After they enter watermelons, we’ll smash them. This won’t kill them; they are also spirit souls. But they’ll want to leave.” (90)

The Brijabasi Spirit reported: (91)

“After performing a fire sacrifice, Gaura Keshava lit several pieces of camphor on the straw man’s chest. The straw man was aflame! A kirtan started. “Kirtan,” explained Gaura Keshava, “is the most essential ingredient in this puja—to purify the atmosphere.”

“Suddenly, Gaura Keshava grabbed the rope attached to the straw man and began running. Like a flash he was at the back of the temple, dragging the straw man, swinging him back and forth. Gaura ran his second lap within seconds. Then he ran a third lap at even a faster pace, and exhibited a full burst of speed, ran out the front door with the devotees shouting, “Haribol! Haribol! Hare Krishna!”

“The temple was then cleaned inside, and then the final ceremony before the installation of the deities began: the installation of the sacred chakra. ‘To protect the devotees, the chakra is placed on top of all temples of Krishna. To install the chakra, Gaura Keshava performed a fire sacrifice in which the chakra was attached to one of the fires with a copper wire. He then placed the chakra on his head, circumambulated the temple once, and climbed a ladder up to the third floor roof. Climbing another ladder, he lifted the chakra to the top of the main dome, and installed it.’ ” (92)

(to be continued)

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