(Editor’s Note: The last segment of this article touches upon a very sensitive issue — the disappearance of the Deity at ISKCON Māyāpura and the position of the ācārya being eagerly taken by unqualified and ambitious disciples. The value of publishing this information in Kṛṣṇa Talk may be controversial and some may not think that this should have been done. The editors have reflected on this deeply and after taking into consideration that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, on many occasions published articles in which offenders of the Vaiṣṇavas and popular sahajiyā groups were taken to task, it was decided that the facts needed to be addressed. Truth is not always palatable, especially for those who want to continue in this world of illusion. Nonetheless the truth must be spoken — it is the duty of a disciple.)
Question: I have heard that sometimes in India the deities of Gaṇeśa physically drink milk when offered to them. Is this true?
Answer: Yes. There were such rumours of Gaṇeśa deities drinking milk; but what spirituality do we find there? None. You can add those rumours to the thousands of stories created by Hindus to excite the masses into reaffirming their faith in Hinduism. When these stories are let loose, then millions of Hindus crowd to the Gaṇeśa temples and every Tom, Dick and Santosh claims that he or she saw the phenomena. Then everyone starts claiming that the photos of Gaṇeśa in their homes are drinking milk. This is good business for the dairy industry but does not reflect any spiritual principle whatsoever. Rumour also has it that Gaṇeśa drank beer, 7-UP and engine oil — so you can see how such rumours get carried away. Then after a few months everything is forgotten and it’s back to Hinduism as usual.
However, it is the opinion of some intelligent people here in India that the Gaṇeśa milk phenomena was contrived to compete with some of the Christian evangelist propaganda. The incident certainly sounds like the claims of Christians showing the signs of stigmata on their hands and feet or like the weeping Madonna, etc. The Gaṇeśa phenomena however would probably have been more convincing if he had eaten lāḍḍus and not simply drank a few drops of milk.
My conclusion is that, as with the stigmata and the weeping Madonna, etc — the Gaṇeśa ‘milk phenomena’ is also a hoax.
Question: During my many travels in India I have visited certain temples where it is claimed that the Deity of Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa was self-manifest. So my second question is, whether it is possible that God self-manifests His Deity form or is it always necessary that an ācārya or representative of God be instrumental in establishing a Deity?
Answer: When traveling in India and visiting holy places and ancient temples a ‘grain of salt’ is sometimes advised before blindly believing everything one hears, but it is a fact that since ancient times until quite recently the Supreme Personality of Godhead has indeed self-manifested His Deity form in many places in India. In every instance these self-manifested Deities can be believed as such when we see that great spiritual personalities such as Rāmānuja, Madhvācārya, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and others worshipped these Deities. What great personalities accept, we take to be a reality. Otherwise simply believing at face value every story a priest, a pāṇḍa or a brāhmaṇa tells can be misleading.
Some of the ancient self-manifested Deities include; Śāligrāma in Gaṇḍakī, Raṅganātha at Śrīraṅgam, Nara-Nārāyaṇa in Badarīnātha, Bālājī in Tirupati, Narasiṁhadeva in Maṅgalagiri, Ahobilam and Nṛsiṅghapalli, Jagannātha in Purī, Viṭṭhala-Kṛṣṇa in Pandharpur and others. In more recent times, self-manifested Deities include: Rādhā-Ramaṇa in Vṛndāvana, Toṭa-Gopīnātha in Purī and Kaśīśvara Paṇḍita’s Mahāprabhu Deity, now in Jaipur.
All these Deities mentioned above have been accepted by previous ācāryas as self-manifest and therefore the same can also be safely accepted today.
An interesting point that I will attempt to make here is that all bona-fide Deities are actually self-manifest. It simply depends on how you define ‘self-manifest’ and under what conditions the ‘self-manifestation’ takes place. That is to say that, the ācāryas and those that are near and dear to Kṛṣṇa and Viṣṇu are non-different from the Lord Himself. Therefore, if a bona-fide ācārya or pure devotee installs the Deity we may also consider that it is self-manifest.
ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyān navamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyāsūyeta sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ
“One should know the ācārya to be as good as Myself. One should never disrespect him. Never envy him or consider him to be a mundane man for he is the sum total of all the demigods.”(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.17.27)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Subjective Reality or even more strongly put, Super-subjective Reality. The Deity (arca-vigraha) is the manifest form of Godhead that appears to accept service from His devotee or devotees. The potency of pure devotion attracts Kṛṣṇa and He manifests Himself to accept His devotees service but the point still remains that ‘He manifested Himself,’ thus ‘self-manifest.’
If one is not a pure devotee or acting under the direct order of a pure devotee, then ones attempt to establish a Deity form of the Lord will amount to establishing a lifeless statue and nothing more. India has thousands of such statues.
Most of the principle Deities worshipped by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas were either established by the direct family members of Lord Kṛṣṇa or manifest by the pure devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Many of the main Deities in Vṛndāvana were established 4,500 years ago by Vajranābha the great grandson of Dvārakā Kṛṣṇa. Vajranābha’s father was Aniruddha, son of Pradyumna, who was Kṛṣṇa’s son. Under the direction of Vajranābha (then king of Mathurā) the first Deities of Kṛṣṇa were manifest in the Vraja such as Madan-mohana, Govindajī, Gopāla the lifter of Govardhana, Gopīnātha, Daujī (Balarāma), Harideva, Garuḍa-Govinda, Keśava, Gopeśvara Mahādeva (Śiva) and so forth.
During the līlā of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the first Deity of Mahāprabhu was established by Viṣṇupriyā Devī after Mahāprabhu had accepted sannyāsa. The first Deities of Gaura-Gadādhara were established at Cāmpāhāṭī by Dvija-Vāṇīnātha, the brother of Gadādhara Paṇḍita and the first Deities of Gaura-Nitāi were established by Gaurīdāsa Paṇḍita. For one who has heard the narration of what transpired at Gaurīdāsa Paṇḍita’s house on the day of the installation it is quite clear that these were ‘self-manifest’ Deities in the truest sense of the word (for details of this event please see Chapter Seven of Bhakti-ratnākara).
During the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura the Deity of Gaura-Viṣṇupriyā was manifest at Yogapīṭha in Māyāpura. Following Bhaktivinoda, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura constructed the Adbhūta Mandira at Yogapīṭha and established Deities of Gaura-Rādhā-Mādhava, Pañca-Tattva, Lakṣmī-Narasiṁha, Gaura-Gadādhara, Jagannātha Miśra, Śacī Mātā and Nimāi. Also the Deity of Kṣetrapāla Mahādeva was established at Yogapīṭha. Sarasvatī Ṭhākura also established Deities of Guru-Gaurāṅga-Gandhārvikā-Giridhari and the four sampradāya-ācāryas at Śrī Caitanya Maṭha in Māyāpura.
Then in various Gauḍīya Maṭha establishments throughout India, Sarasvatī Ṭhākura established Deities such as Śrī Śrī Gaura-Vinoda-Mādhava (in Purī), Śrī Śrī Gaura-Gopī-Gopīnātha (in Alālanātha), Śrī Śrī Gaura-Vinoda-Vilāsa (in Naimiṣāraṇya), Śrī Śrī Gaura-Vinoda-Rāmaṇa (in Cuttack), Śrī Śrī Gaura-Vinoda-Vaibhāvānanda (in Mumbai), Śrī Śrī Gaura-Vinoda-Vinoda (in Benares) and so forth.
Sarasvatī Ṭhākura established Deities to preside over the holy places and to establish in this world the highest conception of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism — nay, the highest conception of theism ever to see the light of day — Śrī Śrī Gaura-Rādhā-Govinda.
mahāprabhu śrī-caitanya, rādhā-kṛṣṇa nahe anya
rūpānuga janera jīvana
“Mahāprabhu Śrī Caitanya is non-different from Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and is the very life of those Vaiṣṇavas who follow Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja explains:
“Our Guru Mahārāja (Bhaktisiddhānta) installed almost everywhere this Mahāprabhu and Rādhā-Govinda, meaning that Mahāprabhu is combined Rādhā-Govinda. Mahāprabhu means Rādhā-Govinda. Svarūpa-Dāmodara has given us a śloka about the ontological nature of Mahāprabhu:
rādhā kṛṣṇa-praṇaya-vikṛtir hlādinī śaktir asmād
ekātmānāv api bhuvi purā deha-bhedaṁ gatau tau
caitanyākhyaṁ prakaṭam adhunā tad-dvayaṁ caikyam āptaṁ
rādhā-bhāva-dyuti-suvalitaṁ naumi kṛṣṇa-svarūpam
‘The loving affairs of Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are transcendental manifestations of the Lord’s internal pleasure-giving potency. Although Radha and Kṛṣṇa are one in Their identity, They separated Themselves eternally. Now, these two transcendental identities have again united in the form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya. I offer my obeisances unto Him, who has manifested Himself with the sentiment and complexion of Śrī Rādhā although He is Kṛṣṇa Himself.’ (Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi-līlā. 1.5)
“Guru Mahārāja (Bhaktisiddhānta) wanted to show in this form of installation of the Deities, that the highest order of worship is here – that Mahāprabhu combined, who is giving the rasa, and the Rādhā-Govinda with Their paraphernalia which They are tasting within Their own circle – that highest order of sweetness is being distributed by Mahāprabhu Himself in His līlā. They are of the same level, layer, and the same dignity, and same highest position. To show, to represent this to the worldly intellect and devotion, Guru Mahārāja has taken this method in the worship, in arcana, as favourable for his preaching about Rādhā-Govinda in Vṛndāvana.” (Śrīdhara Mahārāja, April 23rd, 1982)
To this end Sarasvatī Ṭhākura established many Deities of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu standing by the side of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa — thus giving emphasis to this most high and exalted theistic conception. This above all is the essence of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy.
Since the time of Sarasvati Ṭhākura many of his disciples carried on the disciplic succession and established Deities in the holy dhāma, throughout India and around the world. These Deities included Gaura-Nitāi, Rādhā-Govinda, Pañca-Tattva, Śrī Narasiṁhadeva, Jagannātha, Subhadrā and Baladeva, Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma, Gaura-Gadādhara, and particularly the Deities of Śrī Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅga-Gandhārvikā-Govindasundara, Gaura-Rādhā-Vinodānanda, and Gaura-Rādhā-Vinodavihāri — thus retaining and spreading the Gauḍīya concept of mahāprabhu śrī caitanya rādhā-kṛṣṇa nahe anya. All these Deities and more were established by the bona-fide representatives of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.
Our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedanta Svāmī Mahārāja, in keeping with the highest conception of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, also established Śrī Śrī Gaura-Rādhā-Govinda in Kolkata and Śrī Śrī Gaura-Rādhā-Mādhava at Māyāpura (the centre of his preaching activities), but unfortunately after the disappearance of our Guru Mahārāja, some over-intelligent disciples, not understanding our guru’s intentions and being eager to occupy his position without authority, took the post of ācārya. In so doing they displeased our Guru Mahārāja and eventually lost sight of the proper conception of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. Indeed, so many offences were committed during those dreadful years that the original Deities of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Govinda, worshipped by our Guru Mahārāja since his childhood, disappeared from the altar at Māyāpura and a short time later the Deities of Śrī Śrī Gaura-Rādhā-Mādhava also de-manifested! The details are too painful to recount here, but it is a fact that these things have happened. The saddest part of the story being, that those who are at present in charge of our Guru Mahārāja’s institution have developed amnesia and are not willing to take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.
The point of contention involving the history of the Deities at ISKCON Māyāpura and what should be the proper Deity conception in the futuristic temple being planned at ISKCON Māyāpura (the Planetarium) is indeed a sensitive issue. Since the original Deities at ISKCON Māyāpura disappeared, other much larger Deities have been placed there to right the wrong but the original Deity conception has been over-shadowed and all but forgotten. The fact is that the conception of the highest truth once visible in the original Deity arrangement of Mahāprabhu being the combined form of Radha and Kṛṣṇa has been lost in the confusion.
In private meetings this was brought to the attention of numerous senior ISKCON members, sannyāsīs, gurus and GBCs before last year’s GBC meetings but to little or no avail. None of those approached had any argument or rebuttal to the above statements — most simply had a hazy memory of what had happened and showed apathy towards doing anything to rectify the situation. In fact, one senior sannyāsī commented that ISKCON was having too many land issue problems at Māyāpura and that the leaders would not be willing to give attention to such a minor issue as the Deities.
Unfortunately worrying about land ownership issues and neglecting the Deity is not the way to solve their problems. Try to rectify things at the centre and all other maladjusted issues will automatically fall into place. That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Serve the centre and all else will be adjusted.
The arrangements that Kṛṣṇa manifests Himself and the arrangements that Kṛṣṇa manifests through his pure devotees are non-different. One should give special care and attention to such matters, maintaining them for the benefit of future generations.