The main drift of this article is to recall to memory the establishing of the Deities of Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava at Māyāpura by His Divine Grace Śrīla Prabhupāda during his manifest līlā, and to draw attention to how the present institution of ISCON has unfortunately gone astray from the proper Gauḍīya conception. But before addressing that, we would first like to present some of the historical and śāstrika evidences concerning Vaiṣṇava Deity worship in general and Gauḍīya sampradāya Deity worship specifically.
Deity worship has long been a part of Vaiṣṇava and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition dating back thousands of years. Possibly the oldest śāstra detailing arcana (Deity worship) in any Vaiṣṇava library is the pañcarātra. Pañcarātra contains the instructions of Nārāyaṇa Ṛṣi to His disciples at Badarīnātha during Satya-yuga. Pañcarātra gives many details on Deity worship and for observing Vaiṣṇava festivals. These instructions mainly concern the worship of Viṣṇu avatāras.
Other more contemporary writings on Deity worship for the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas are such śāstras as Hari-bhakti-vilāsa by Sanātana Gosvāmī, Gaura-govindārcana-paddhati by Gopāla-guru Gosvāmī, Gaura-govindārcana-smaraṇa paddhati by Dhyānacandra Gosvāmī and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s Archana-paddhati, that forms the basis of all contemporary Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Deity worship in the line of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
Concerning the Deities of the Viṣṇu avatāras, many of which date back five millennia and before, there are many, especially in, but not exclusively in, South India such as; Padmanābha, Ādi Keśava and Janardana in Kerala; Raṅganātha in Tamil Nadu; Narasiṁhadeva at Narasiṁhapalli in West Bengal; Uḍupī Kṛṣṇa in Karnataka; Bālājī in Tirupati and Narasiṁha at Siṁhācalam, Maṅgalagiri and Ahobilam in Andhra Pradesh, to name a few.
The Deities of Jagannātha, Subhadrā and Baladeva in Purī, Dvārakādīśa in Dvārakā, Badari-Nārāyaṇa at Badarīnātha and Śālāgrāma in the Gaṇḍakī Valley of upper Nepal are counted amongst the oldest, most original Deities of the Personality of Godhead on this planet. The ancient Deities mentioned above are worshiped by many Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas and also by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas.
However, there are Deities that are worshiped exclusively by Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas – the Deities of Govinda and Gopinātha (now in Jaipur), Madana-mohana (now in Karauli), Śākṣī-Gopāla (now in Orissa) and others are also from a period approximately 5000 years ago, having being established by Vajranābha (the king of Mathurā) and Uttara, the mother of Parikṣit Mahārāja. Also among the ancient deities worshipped in Vraja are Harideva at Govardhana, Keśava at Mathurā, Daujī at Baldeo, Vṛndā-devī at Kāmyavana, Yogamāyā in Vṛndāvana and the four śiva–liṅgams of Vraja – Gopeśvara, Cakleśvara, Bhūteśvara and Kāmeśvara.
However, it was not until the period of the Six Gosvāmīs and their successors that the Deities of Rādhārāṇī and Lalitā-devī manifest and came to be at the side of many of the original Kṛṣṇa Deities in Vraja. From that time on it became the standard of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas not to worship the Deity of Kṛṣṇa alone, but always accompanied by Śrī Rādhā, His internal pleasure potency, the hlādinī-śakti.
Even more exclusively worshiped by contemporary Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas are the Deities of Gaura-Nitāi, first established by Gaurīdāsa Paṇḍita at Kalna; Gaura-Gadādhara, first established by Vaṇīnātha Vipra at Campahaṭṭi; the Pañca-tattva, first established by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura at Śrīvasāṅgana and Yogapīṭha; Dhāmeśvara Mahāprabhu, first established by Viṣṇupriya at Navadvīpa; Mahāprabhu, Viṣṇupriyā and Lakṣmīpriyā, first established by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and Bhaktivinoda at Yogapīṭha; Adhokṣaja Viṣṇu (found during construction at Yogapīṭha); Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma, worshiped in the house of Jagannātha Miśra and Śacī Mātā in Māyāpura, and Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava, first established by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura at Yogapīṭha. This then brings us to the main focus of our article – the worship of Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava and Their ontological importance.
The Deities of Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava are the special contribution of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura to the Gauḍīya sampradāya that represents the highest theological conclusion ever revealed to humanity;
tabe hāsi tāṅre prabhu dekhāila svarūpa
rasa-rāja mahābhāva-dui eka rūpa
“Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the reservoir of all pleasure, and Śrīmati Rādhārāṇī is the personification of ecstatic love of Godhead. These two forms have combined as one in Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. This being the case, Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu revealed His real form to Rāmānanda Rāya. (Cc. Madhya-līlā 8.282)
mahāprabhu śrī caitanya, rādhā-kṛṣṇa nahe anya
rūpānuga janera jīvana
“Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is non-different from Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and is the very life of those Vaiṣṇavas who follow Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī.” (Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, ‘Śrī Guru Paramparā’)
We include here a statement in this regard by Śrīla Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja:
“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 Rādhā 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.’ (CC. Ādi-līlā 1.5)
“Guru Mahārāja 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, transcript: April 23rd, 1982)
A question arises, “How can you overlook the importance and position of the Deities of Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava and still be conscious of the highest theological conception ever revealed to humanity? Overlooking this, how can one be considered a rūpānuga, a follower of Śrīla Rupa Gosvāmī? The answer is, you can’t!
When establishing his centre in Māyāpura, the seat of the Gauḍīya sampradāya, Śrīla Prabhupāda was very attentive to this point and thus he established the Deities of Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava, thus demonstrating that he is a follower of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura in the line of Bhaktivinoda and all rūpānugas. But what has happened since the departure of His Divine Grace is anything but attentive to the Gauḍīya conception of Divinity – rather, the most sacred conceptions of Divinity at his Māyāpura centre have been lost. The Deities of Rādhā-Mādhava and the Aṣṭa-sakhīs now overshadow Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava and They are given little to no importance. Even Prabhupāda’s childhood Deities of Rādhā-Govinda have been stolen from the altar and the original Deity of Śrī Rādhā, who was with Mādhava, de-manifested when dacoits attacked the temple. Such happenings are truly unprecedented in our sampradāya. The infamous Emperor Aurangzeb, with his entire army, could not touch a single Deity in Vraja when he attacked Vṛndāvana – so how is it that a grungy group of Muslim dacoits snatched and mutilated the Deity of Rādhārāṇī from the altar at ISCON Māyāpura? However, it was ‘Māyā-Sītā’ that they snatched, not Śrī Rādhā, thus indicating that She had withdrawn Herself.
The question of what caused Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Rādhā-Govinda Deities to disappear from the altar and Rādhārāṇī to de-manifest has never been addressed by the leaders of ISCON. Such things can only happen due to offenses, apa–rādha – that which is displeasing to Śrī Rādhā. In the early years of Prabhupāda’s preaching and establishing temples in the west, the Deity of Subhadrā, standing between Lord Jagannātha and Baladeva in San Diego, California burned to a pile of ashes. Śrīla Prabhupāda commented at the time that Subhadra had de-manifested due to offenses being committed in the temple. The letter he wrote about this sensitive issue has long since disappeared from the archives/folio.
That offenses can bring about complete devastation is certainly nothing new in the history of Vaiṣṇavism and can be the only acceptable answer to what has caused the numerous catastrophic events that have taken place in ISCON since the departure of His Divine Grace. There is an elephant in the room but no one cares to mention it —business as usual.
What were the offenses that turned the great ISKCON into the dismal institution it has become (ISCON)? Not just apa–rādha, but Vaiṣṇava aparādha. And to which Vaiṣṇavas were these aparādhas committed? First, offenses to Śrīla Prabhupāda by neglecting his instructions, and the ‘Magnificant Eleven’ trying to usurp his legacy. Then, offenses to many disciples and followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda who were abused and ousted from ISCON. Last but not least, offenses to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s godbrothers – and most shamefully, offenses committed against Śrīla Prabhupāda’s dearest friend and godbrother, Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja, whom Śrīla Prabhupāda desired to guide Prabhupāda’s disciples philosophically. These numerous offenses have caused the spiritual decline of ISCON and the fall-down of countless GBCs, gurus, sannyāsīs and devotees.
Now at Māyāpura, ISCON is spending millions of dollars to build the grandest of temples which they insist on calling the Adbhūta Mandira as envisioned by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Śrīla Prabhupāda did indeed wish to build a grand temple which he called the ‘Planetarium’– not the Adbhūta Mandira. The Adbhūta Mandira envisioned by Bhaktivinoda was envisioned at Yogapīṭha and later constructed by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta in 1933.
Furthermore, as concerns the grand temple at Māyāpura, it was to be built under the direction of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: (speaking to Śrīdhara Mahārāja) That Planetarium also will be built under your direction. My idea is to combine the Indian culture and the American money–the lame man and the blind man policy. I tell them also that this will be very beneficial for the world. (Excerpt of 1977 conversation at Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha, transcription by Bhakti Cāru Swami)
Historically speaking, the idea to build such a grand temple at Māyāpura came from Śrīdhara Mahārāja and was adopted by Śrīla Prabhupāda.
“I asked Swami Mahārāja (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda) to construct a temple where the whole Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy will be demonstrated. I had a mind to construct such a temple here, but that was too ambitious and I could not do it. When I was told that he would build a temple there (in Māyāpura), I humbly put forward my desire. I wanted a temple to be built according to the Bṛhat-Bhāgavatāmṛta of Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī. The whole structure of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy will be represented there in that temple.” (Taped discourse, 1981)
Again, Śrīla Prabhupāda confirms this while speaking with Śrīdhara Mahārāja,
Śrīla Prabhupāda: As you have suggested we are doing that temple. Goloka-nāmni nija-dhāmni tale ca tasya devī-maheśa-hari-dhāma. That way I was explaining to them (my disciples) about our temple contemplation, it will be almost a skyscraper building. Skyscraper building in temple shape, with four divisions. Goloka-nāmni nija-dhāmni tale ca tasya devī-maheśa…so Maheśa-dhāma, how it will be depicted? Pārvatī’s Maheśa?
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: It has been already described by Sanātana Gosvāmī in Bṛhat-Bhāgavatāmṛta. (Bengali Conversation between Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, June 6th, 1973)
However, rather than follow Śrīdhara Mahārāja to show the progression of theology and the highest conception of Godhead as the combined form of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in Mahāprabhu, ISCON has chosen, thru their temple in Māyāpura, to prove to the world that the Earth is flat! In doing so, they have completely overlooked the concepts of Divinity in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.
It is debatable that Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted to establish Rādhā-Mādhava with the Aṣṭa-sakhīs at Māyāpura since he supposedly only revealed his desire to one devotee, Bhāvānanda Dāsa. He only ever mentioned it to Bhāvānanda Dāsa once – he never mentioned it in any letter, conversation or instruction of any kind to anyone else. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it was indeed the desire and instruction of His Divine Grace – that still gives no cause to overshadow and neglect the conception of the original Deities of Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava.
In the grand temple at Māyāpura, the central Deities should be Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava and since ISCON is making all their Deities very large, then Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava should also be increased to the appropriate size. Śrī Śrī Guru-Gauranga (Pañca-Tattva) should be on the first altar, Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava on the central altar and Rādhā-Mādhava and the Aṣṭa-sakhīs on the third altar. This would be, for the most part, in keeping with Gauḍīya theology.
Pañca-Tattva manifests the saṅkīrtana movement to uplift and save the fallen conditioned souls of this world. That is the secondary purpose of Mahāprabhu’s decent.
satya ei hetu, kintu eho bahiraṅga
āra eka hetu, śuna, āche antaraṅga
“Although this is true, this is but the external reason for the Lord’s incarnation. Please hear one other reason—the confidential reason—for the Lord’s appearance.”
In the Third Chapter, fourth verse, it has been clearly said that Lord Caitanya appeared in order to distribute love of Kṛṣṇa and the chanting of His transcendental holy name, Hare Kṛṣṇa. That was the secondary purpose of Lord Caitanya’s appearance. The real reason is different, as we shall see in this chapter. (Cc, Ādi-līlā,4.6).
Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava represents the highest conception of Divinity within Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and the real reason for Mahāprabhu’s appearance.
śrī-rādhāyāḥ praṇaya-mahimā kīdṛśo vānayaivā-
svādyo yenādbhuta-madhurimā kīdṛśo vā madīyaḥ
saukhyaṁ cāsyā mad-anubhavataḥ kīdṛśaṁ veti lobhāt
tad-bhāvāḍhyaḥ samajani śacī-garbha-sindhau harīnduḥ
“Desiring to understand the glory of Rādhārāṇī’s love, the wonderful qualities in Him that She alone relishes through Her love, and the happiness She feels when She realises the sweetness of His love, the Supreme Lord Hari, richly endowed with Her emotions, appeared from the womb of Śrīmatī Śacī-devī, as the moon appeared from the ocean.” (Cc. Ādi.1.6)
rādhikāra bhāva-kānti aṅgīkāra vine
sei tina sukha kabhu nahe āsvādane
rādhā-bhāva aṅgīkari’ dhari’ tāra varṇa
tina-sukha āsvādite haba avatīrṇa
“Therefore, assuming Rādhārāṇī’s sentiments and bodily complexion, I shall descend to fulfil these three desires. Unless I accept the luster of the ecstatic love of Śrī Rādhikā, these three desires cannot be fulfilled.” (Cc. Ādi-līlā 4.267 & 268)
This conception and identity of Mahāprabhu should be shown on the centre altar at the grand temple at Māyāpura with Śrī Śrī Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava, and the same should be preached from the pulpit – not preaching that the ‘Earth is flat’. Bṛhat-bhāgavatāmṛta does not concern itself with the dimensions and shape of Planet Earth. This book is exclusively concerned with progressive theological conceptions – not flat Earth, hollow Earth or any other relative nonsense that seems to have preoccupied the minds of ISCON’s leading ‘thinkers’.
Rather than preaching real Gauḍīya conceptions according to śāstra and the previous ācāryas from the vyāsāsana, ISCON’s main concerns are preaching how ISCON is exclusively the bedrock of the Gauḍīya sampradāya, so much so that some leaders state that those Vaiṣṇavas outside ISCON will have to be born again within their institution in order to go back to Godhead. This is simply caste-consciousness in another form.
However, it is a fact that in every case of Gauḍīya siddhānta – from jīva–tattva, to nāma–tattva, to guru–tattva and more – ISCON either has an incomplete understanding or a total misunderstanding. Yet there is little concern about this. Their main focus is proving the flat Earth theory, promoting Kṛṣṇa rock bands, pizzerias in the dhāma, markets at Māyāpura selling Nike shoes, and novelties like ‘Kṛṣṇa West.’ In other words, deviation after deviation. But who’s counting…
Again, assuming that Śrīla Prabhupāda did desire to manifest the Deities of Rādhā-Mādhava with the Aṣṭa-sakhīs, that Deity arrangement should be placed on the third altar. This is not a step towards the highest theological conclusions of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, but rather a grand display of Kṛṣṇa’s opulence to attract the general public, as was the case in Mumbai where Śrīla Prabhupāda established Sītā-Rāma-Lakṣmaṇa-Hanumān on the third altar. One has to remember, people in India really, really like their ‘eye candy’!
In the arena of rāsa–līlā, Kṛṣṇa was there with Śrī Rādhā, the Aṣṭa-sakhīs and millions and millions of other gopīs. However, when Rādhārāṇī left the rasa dance, Kṛṣṇa could no long feel pleasure, even when dancing with the Aṣṭa-sakhīs and a multitude of gopīs. Kṛṣṇa then left the rāsa–līlā in search of Śrī Rādhā. After being reunited, the Divine Couple sat together under a tree on the banks of the Yamuna and there, during Their loving embrace, Rasa-rāja Kṛṣṇa and Mahā-bhāva Rādhārāṇī became one. This place is known as Imlitālā and is described by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as the appearance place of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as follows.
prema-dhāma-devam eva naumi gaura-sundaram
“As the Lord was visiting various places in Vṛndāvana where Lord Kṛṣṇa performed His Pastimes, He visited that famous tamarind tree that existed during the Dvāpara-yuga. Sitting beneath the tamarind tree, the Lord’s memory of His confidential water-sporting Pastimes with the cowherd maidens was aroused when He saw the dancing gestures of the Yamunā’s waves. The Lord’s entire being was captured by tasting the sweetness of Śrī Rādhā within the depths of His heart. Identifying with that self-same sweetness and emotion that possessed His entire self, the Lord’s entire existence was stolen away. This place is indicated to be the place of origin of gaura–tattva, for it was here that Śyāmasundara became greatly absorbed in the divine mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is Himself the origin of all, eternally resides in this place. I offer my obeisances to that beautiful Golden Lord, Gaurāṅga-sundara, the divine form of kṛṣṇa-prema.” (Prema-Dhāma-Deva Stotram, verse 42)
In the present arrangement, when the grand temple is completed, pilgrims will go in and out of the temple by the millions and few, if any, will even notice the Gaura Rādhā-Mādhava Deities standing at the feet, and just to the side of Rādhā-Mādhava and the Aṣṭa-sakhīs. And if They are noticed, most will consider Them simply as utsava–mūrtis to be bathed and occasionally taken out on procession. They will not be recognised as the representation of the highest form of Divinity to have ever manifested to human society. Pilgrims will leave the temple having missed the greatest boon ever offered to humanity – but they will walk with steadiness, having been assured that the Earth is flat and they need not worry about falling off…
If ISCON continues at this point with their current plans for the Planetarium, then they will inadvertently be giving prominence to the wrong Deity arrangement, failing to establish the correct Gauḍīya siddhānta, misleading the public with their flat Earth theory and in summary be building the ‘Temple of Misunderstanding’, not the Planetarium that Śrīla Prabhupāda desired, nor the Adbhūta Mandira envisioned by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
Can ISCON improve? Yes…if they know what they have to improve. But it doesn’t seem to be possible at the moment, especially with the present leadership. For change and improvement to take place, a full renaissance is required.
Why bring all this up? Is it simply out of hatred and envy? We think not! The reason is twofold – firstly, if you don’t know the truth of the past then your present reality is simply a deception. Secondly, you can’t find what you don’t know you’ve lost. Living in the deception that everything is good and being unaware of what has been lost, the devotees will lack the incentive to Search for the Ultimate Goal of Life. This article has been written in the mood of ‘sugar and spice’ with the hope that somehow, they will correct themselves. Praemonitus, praemunitus – “Foretold is forewarned.”
Note from Swami Narasingha:
The last time I visited ISCON Māyāpura was the day before Gaura Pūrṇimā in 1996. I entered the temple room at the commencement of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guru-pūjā. Midway thru the āratika and kīrtana, I was astonished to see what I consider to be the most bizarre display of foolishness ever. Suddenly, Vipramukhya Swami, holding his hands to his head like horns, began to charge around the kīrtana like a bull. Then Trivikrama Swami began to play the part of a matador, using his uttarīya as a matador’s cape. The matador and the charging bull played this ridiculous game for several minutes amidst the raging kīrtana. Their antics seemed to stimulate the assembled devotees. Then Pṛthu Dāsa brought an end to this foolishness by grabbing Trivikrama’s daṇḍa like a matador’s sword and stabbing the bull in the back. Vipramukhya then fell to the floor as dead and the crowd roared with approval.
Had I just witnessed the bull of religiosity slain right in front of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mūrti during guru-pūjā? I had seen a lot of bizarre things in ISCON since the disappearance of His Divine Grace – papal foppery, drug dealing, money laundering, murder, illicit sex, child abuse, endless court cases, the selling of the Manhattan Temple, the splitting of the BBT, changing Prabhupāda’s original books, offenses to numerous Vaiṣṇavas, etc, etc, but this was off the charts! I left, never to return.
Sometimes devotees fault me for having left ISCON, but my reply is, “Knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, I wonder how any sane person with even a little self-respect would ever agree to stay.”