Devotee: There has been some discussion on the use of the honorific title ‘Deva’ as in the name of Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja to the extent that some parties say that it is appropriate while others say that it is not. Could you please say something that would shed some light on this topic?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: According to the tradition of the Gauḍīya sampradāya we cannot find fault with the honorific title Deva, as used to address an extremely advanced and revered Vaiṣṇava such as Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
The name Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja was printed on the cover of and in many books of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, such as Bhagavad-gītā, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Śrī Kīrtana-mañjuṣa, Prema-dhāma-deva Stotram, Śrī Guru and His Grace, Search for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Reality the Beautiful, The Golden Volcano of Divine Love, Loving Search for the Lost Servant, Sermons from the Guardian of Devotion, and more. Furthermore, the name Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī was engraved in the nātha-mandira of Śrī Caitanya Sarasvāta Maṭha in 1976. All this was done in the lifetime of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and was approved by him. So to say, as some persons have said, that the suffix deva is an insult to a great ācārya, such as Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, has no real basis and is obviously false.
The root of the word deva is diva, meaning lustrous or shining brightly. Another meaning is to play or to sport. The suffix deva in fact is quite common in the Gauḍīya sampradāya and is used in such names of the Supreme Lord and His devotees as Govindadeva, Baladeva, Gaurāṅgadeva, Puruṣottamadeva, Śukadeva, and Gurudeva, etc.
As a prefix, deva has also been in use among the brāhmaṇa community in India for many centuries to designate a person with divine characteristics —in the case of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja— divine characteristics and especially, divine intelligence. So either as a prefix or a suffix, the use of the title deva may be considered appropriate.
Another example of the use of the word ‘deva’ is found in the guru-praṇāma prayer to our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda. There it is written, ‘namaste sārasvate deve.’ Here the words ‘sarasvatī’ and ‘deva’ are joined together under the Sanskrit rule of grammar known as samāsa. Thus ‘deva’ becomes ‘deve,’ ‘sarasvatī’ becomes ‘sārasvate’ and the first ‘a’ in ‘sārasvate’ becomes long. Thus the meaning of ‘namaste sārasvate deve’ means, ‘I offer my respects unto he who belongs to, or is a servant of ‘Sarasvatī-deva.’
The praṇāma prayer, ‘namaste sārasvate deve’ was written personally by our Guru Mahārāja for his disciples to chant. So at least for those who profess to be followers of Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, the use of the word ‘deva’ in glorifying one’s guru may be deemed appropriate.
Both the Gauḍīya tradition and the Sanskrit rules of grammar harmonize and support the use of the word deva as an honorific title for great Vaiṣṇavas and saintly persons. Indeed, even the Supreme Lord Himself is known as deva, so how can it be a demeaning title?
Some will say that deva refers to the demigods, but to such persons we say, Kṛṣṇa is the deva of such devas —‘deva-deva jagatpate’— Kṛṣṇa is the God of Gods.
In the Kāma-gāyatrī we find, ‘kāma-devāya vidmahe.’ In the Dāmodara-gāyatrī we find, ‘tanno devaḥ pracodayāt’ and in the Gadādhara–gāyatrī we also find ‘tanno devaḥ pracodayāt’. In each of these instances deva indicates the Supreme Lord or His Internal Energy (as in the case of Gadādhara Paṇḍita).
In Caitanya–līlā Gadādhara Paṇḍita represents the guru-tattva for those devotees following in the mādhurya-rasa. This is another bona-fide reason why Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja may be addressed as Deva because he has revealed the hidden treasure of mādhurya-bhāva (parakīya-rasa) in Bhagavad-gītā (Chapter 10, Verses 9 & 10) and also he has revealed Rādhā-dāsyam (the service of Śrī Rādhā) in the heart of Gāyatrī-mantra (Gāyatrī Nigūḍhārtha).
In the Brahma-gāyatrī we find the words, ‘bhargo devasya dhīmahi.’ Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has given the meaning, “Bhargo represents Mahābhāva (Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī) the predominated Moiety, and Deva, Kṛṣṇa, is Rasarāja, the predominating Moiety. Deva means ‘who is beautiful and playful,’ that is, Kṛṣṇa Reality the Beautiful. He is not a non-differentiated substance, but is full of līlā, pastimes. Deva means pastimes and beauty combined, and this means Kṛṣṇa.”
So we may understand the word deva to mean one who reveals wonderful pastimes of love, Kṛṣṇa. Since Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja is that divine personality who has disclosed the hidden wealth of the Brahma-gāyatrī, revealing that ultimately Gāyatrī worships Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, he is therefore highly qualified to be honored with the title Deva. This is most appropriate.
One who is expert in revealing the inner-most plane of the domain of the Lords confidential pastimes, as is condensed in Gāyatrī, is certainly worthy of such a title as Deva. Not only is his purport of Gāyatrī taking us to Kṛṣṇa’s līlā but Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has also concisely manifest Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s divine līlā in his Sanskrit composition, Prema-dhama-deva Stotram.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has begun Prema-dhāma-deva Stotram with the words, ‘deva-siddha-mukta-yukta-bhakta-vṛnda-vanditaṁ’ and he has sung in each of the seventy verses, ‘prema-dhāma-devam-eva-naumi gaura-sundaram.’ Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja is therefore recognized as Deva because he has expertly sung the glories of the Supreme Lord, the Golden avatāra, Śrī Caitanyadeva.
These are a few of the reasons why the title Deva is appropriate in the case of Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, but still some persons may not be satisfied with the above. Therefore, we requested one of our sannyāsīs to go to Navadvīpa-dhāma to speak with Śrīpāda Govinda Mahārāja, the successor of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and to ask him about the use of Deva in Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s name. Śrīpāda Govinda Mahārāja commented that in the last years of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s life that he used to sign letters and other papers as Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī.
So, either from the ontological point of view or from the practical point of view, it seems that Deva is an appropriate title for Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, used and approved by him personally.