Today is Shiva-ratri. Vaishnavas generally do not celebrate Shiva-ratri, and to begin, I will explain why, with reference to the Bhagavad-gita. We read from Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Chapter 7: “Knowledge of the Absolute”:
antavat tu phalam tesam
tad bhavaty alpa-medhasam
devan deva-yajo yanti
mad-bhakta yanti mam api
Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
Some commentators on the Bhagavad-gita say that one who worships a demigod can reach the Supreme Lord, but here it is clearly stated that the worshipers of demigods go to the different planetary systems where various demigods are situated, just as a worshiper of the sun achieves the sun or a worshiper of the demigod of the moon achieves the moon. Similarly, if anyone wants to worship a demigod like Indra, he can attain that particular god’s planet. It is not that everyone, regardless of whatever demigod is worshiped, will reach the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is denied here, for it is clearly stated that the worshipers of demigods go to different planets in the material world but the devotee of the Supreme Lord goes directly to the supreme planet of the Personality of Godhead.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
This is logical. As Srila Prabhupada remarked, if you buy a ticket to Calcutta, you cannot expect to reach Bombay. If you worship a demigod, you go to the planet of the demigod. If you worship Krishna, you reach the supreme abode of Krishna.
Here the point may be raised that if the demigods are different parts of the body of the Supreme Lord, then the same end should be achieved by worshiping them. However, worshipers of the demigods are less intelligent because they don’t know to what part of the body food must be supplied. Some of them are so foolish that they claim that there are many parts and many ways to supply food. This isn’t very sanguine. Can anyone supply food to the body through the ears or eyes? They do not know that these demigods are different parts of the universal body of the Supreme Lord, and in their ignorance they believe that each and every demigod is a separate God and a competitor of the Supreme Lord.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
There is a verse in the Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam that says that just as by pouring water on the root of a tree all the limbs and branches and leaves are watered and that just as by supplying food to the stomach all the different limbs of the body are nourished, similarly, by offering worship or rendering service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, all of the demigods and all living entities are served and satisfied.
yatha taror mula-nisecanena
pranopaharac ca yathendriyanam
tathaiva sarvarhanam acyutejya
“By giving water to the root of a tree one satisfies its branches, twigs, and leaves, and by supplying food to the stomach one satisfies all the senses of the body. Similarly, by engaging in the transcendental service of the Supreme Lord one automatically satisfies all the demigods and all other living entities.” (SB 4.31.14)
The results achieved by the demigods’ benedictions are perishable because within this material world the planets, the demigods, and their worshipers are all perishable. Therefore it is clearly stated in this verse that all results achieved by worshiping demigods are perishable, and therefore such worship is performed by the less intelligent living entity. Because the pure devotee engaged in Krsna consciousness in devotional service of the Supreme Lord achieves eternal blissful existence that is full of knowledge, his achievements and those of the common worshiper of the demigods are different. The Supreme Lord is unlimited; His favor is unlimited; His mercy is unlimited. Therefore the mercy of the Supreme Lord upon His pure devotees is unlimited.
Everything material is temporary. The demigods themselves—the bodies of the demigods—are temporary. The bodies of their worshippers are temporary. The planets of the demigods are temporary, and the fruits that one obtains from worshipping them are temporary. The demigods have authority only within the material world. They can give only material benefits to their worshippers. It is only Vishnu, or Krishna, who can award liberation from material bondage. No demigod can grant liberation. And beyond liberation, the devotees of Krishna also achieve krsna-bhakti, or krsna-prema—the ultimate goal of life.
Srila Prabhupada said that the impersonalists want to become one with God but that the devotees actually become greater than God, because God comes under their control. We see in the Bhagavad-gita that Krishna is acting as the chariot driver of Arjuna. Arjuna is commanding Krishna, senayor ubhayor madhye ratham sthapaya me ’cyuta: “Please draw my chariot between the two armies so I can see who has assembled on the battlefield to fight.” The Lord likes to be controlled by His devotees, and He comes under the control of their pure love. Of course, the Lord is supreme—no one is equal to Him or greater than Him (na tat-samas cabhyadikas ca drsyate)—but out of love He becomes subordinate to His devotee. The idea of becoming one with the Lord is repugnant to a devotee, because in that impersonal oneness there is no service, no exchange of love.
The demigod worshippers, as described in this verse, are alpa-medhasah, “less intelligent.” The opposite of alpa-medhasah is su-medhasah, or “very intelligent.” Those who worship Krishna, especially through the sankirtana movement in the present age, are described as su-medhasah.
yajanti hi su-medhasah
“In the age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krsna.” (SB 11.5.32, Cc Adi 3.52)
Further, the demigods are not able to give even material benedictions without the sanction of the Supreme Lord. Isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese ’rjuna tisthati— the Lord is in the heart of everyone, including the demigods, so unless He gives His sanction, the demigods themselves cannot give even limited temporary benefits. So, from every point of view, one should worship Krishna. And devotees of Krishna need not worship any demigod. Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is like the king, and the various demigods are like ministers in the cabinet of the king or department heads in the government. As Srila Prabhupada said, if you pay taxes to the central treasury you need not bribe the ministers or officers in charge of different departments. When you pay your taxes into the central treasury, you have met your obligation and are entitled to all the benefits of a citizen.
In fact, worship of demigods is discouraged in the Bhagavad-gita. The Supreme Lord Krishna says,
ye ’py anya-devata-bhakta
te ’pi mam eva kaunteya
“Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only Me, O son of Kunti, but they do so in a wrong way.” (Gita 9.23)
Therefore, Vaishnavas do not celebrate Shiva-ratri.
Yet there is another, confidential aspect to Lord Shiva that ordinary people with insufficient knowledge of shastra, of Srimad-Bhagavatam, do not know: Lord Shiva himself is the greatest Vaishnava (vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh), and the worship of Vaishnavas, the service of Vaishnavas, and the glorification of Vaishnavas is included in Krishna consciousness. In fact, it is most highly recommended. So, in an assembly of learned devotees we can appreciate Shiva as a Vaishnava. But otherwise we don’t worship Lord Shiva, because if we did, people could misunderstand and conclude, “ISKCON devotees worship Shiva, so we will too.” And they will worship Lord Shiva for material benefit. Or they may think that Lord Shiva is on the same level as Krishna—or supreme.
In India there is a history of debate between Vaishnavas and Shaivites over who is supreme. And as Srila Prabhupada said, in such debates the Vaishnavas always win. Still, that sense of competition is there. Shaivites say, “Shiva is supreme,” and Vaishnavas respond, “No, Vishnu is supreme.”
The Illustrated Weekly of India once carried an article by Agehananda Bharati, an Austrian-born Indologist and Advaitan sannyasi, under the title “Hare Krishna vs Shiva Shiva.” In the article, Bharati gave his version of a series of exchanges and debates he had had with “Swami Hridayananda” of ISKCON. I shared my impression with Srila Prabhupada that the Weekly’s editor, Khushwant Singh, had run the piece, along with that title, to make us all—believers in general—look silly, bickering over deities and evidence. Prabhupada agreed with my assessment. “Yes,” Prabhupada said. “Bharati is a fool, but Singh is a demon.”
Srila Prabhupada wanted us to respond to articles. Once, later, a devotee informed him of a newspaper report that the Balaji temple at Tirupati, which has immense wealth from donations to the Deity, was going to loan money to encourage local industries. Srila Prabhupada became concerned and said that we should write a letter to the editor stating that the money belonged to Balaji and should have been used for Balaji’s purpose. And what is Balaji’s purpose? Srila Prabhupada quoted, paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam/ dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge. Balaji comes to establish the principles of religion. Balaji’s money should be used for Balaji’s purpose—to establish the principles of religion. And what is the principle of religion for the present age? The yuga-dharma in Kali-yuga is hari-nama-sankirtana. The money should be used to promote hari-nama-sankirtana.
When I visited Madras in 1971, I met many intellectuals whose attitude was similar to the editor’s. They thought, “Oh, how silly. You are arguing that Krishna is supreme, and someone else is arguing that Shiva is supreme.” These impersonalists considered themselves to be more intelligent than the naive sentimentalists who worship particular deities, and they counted us as naive sentimentalists because we love Krishna, worship Krishna, chant Krishna’s name, and preach Krishna’s supremacy. There are many Shaivites in Madras, and they argue that Shiva is supreme.
As the first ISKCON devotee to visit Madras, I became quite a sensation—an American Vaishnava. Most people there had never seen a Western sadhu, and they wanted to help. Several suggested that I meet a Mr. Ramakrishna, who they said was pious and religious and would be happy to hear of our activities. So, I met him, and he turned out to be one of those people who thought that Shiva was supreme. Very quickly we came to blows—verbal blows. He had a volatile nature, and he became angry. He became red in the face, and he raised his voice, and the meeting ended abruptly. But I kept preaching and meeting people who suggested, “You have to meet Mr. Ramakrishna. He is a very pious man. He is a very religious man.” And I imagine that he was meeting people, saying, “Oh, you should meet the Hare Krishna devotees. They are very good people. They are doing excellent work.”
After a few weeks, I thought, “Maybe I should give it another try. This time I will be more careful.” So I phoned him, and he immediately agreed to meet me. That made me think that people were also speaking favorably about us to him and that it was embarrassing for him that we had disagreed so vehemently. We met, and I tried to restrain myself, and he tried to restrain himself, but eventually we came to the same point: Who is supreme—Krishna (Vishnu) or Shiva? The argument escalated, but neither of us wanted it to end the same way as the last one had. Then I got an inspiration and suggested, “In two weeks my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is coming to Madras. So instead of us discussing, why don’t I invite you to meet him when he comes, and you can discuss with him directly.” He liked the idea. It was a way out for both of us. And ultimately, what could be better than to meet a pure devotee of Krishna?
After Srila Prabhupada arrived, Mr. Ramakrishna came to meet him. “I met your disciple Giriraj,” Mr. Ramakrishna said, “and I argued that Shiva is supreme, and he argued that Krishna is supreme. So, who is supreme?” Srila Prabhupada took a completely different approach. He didn’t enter into the argument about who was supreme. Rather, he said, “There are two words in Sanskrit—puja and bhakti. In puja one worships the deity to get some material benefit, and in bhakti one worships only to give pleasure to the deity, without expectation of personal return.” Then Srila Prabhupada said, “Generally the worshippers of Shiva engage in puja—they worship to get some material benefit—whereas in bhakti we worship Krishna for the sake of Krishna’s pleasure, just to please Him.”
“Is it not possible,” Mr. Ramakrishna asked, “to worship Shiva in the mood of bhakti?” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “It is possible, but it would be exceptional. For example, generally people go to a liquor shop to buy liquor. Now, one could go for another purpose, but that would be an exception. Generally people go to buy liquor.” Mr. Ramakrishna was satisfied with the answer. Srila Prabhupada did not enter into the controversy over which deity was supreme; rather, he explained different moods in the worship of different deities.
Later, toward the end of Srila Prabhupada’s stay in Madras, a wealthy householder invited Prabhupada to his home for the consecration of his temple. The host had invited many dignitaries, and although the temple was a good size for a home, it wasn’t large enough to accommodate Srila Prabhupada’s disciples along with all the dignitaries. So Srila Prabhupada and the others went inside the temple, and we disciples looked in from outside. As part of the ceremony, the host distributed flower petals to the guests to offer to the deity of Lord Shiva, a siva-linga. And we all were interested to see how Srila Prabhupada would deal with the situation. At the appropriate moment, all the participants threw their flower petals on the deity of Lord Shiva—except for Srila Prabhupada. He threw his in the corner. We thought, “He is the acharya. We have to learn from him.” So, after the ceremony, when the other invitees came out, we went into the temple and looked in the corner. And there we saw a small Deity of Krishna. Prabhupada had offered his flowers to Krishna.
As Srila Prabhupada’s representatives, ISKCON and its members are meant to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and precedents. And we must be careful not to encourage people’s misconceptions—even if what we do is otherwise all right. If we were to observe Shiva-ratri with participants who are not well versed in sastric conclusions, in Vaishnava siddhanta—if we were to celebrate Shiva-ratri to cater to Hindus who want to worship Lord Shiva on Shiva-ratri but who do not know his actual position as a Vaishnava—they might mistakenly conclude that we accept Lord Shiva on the same level as Krishna. Then, even if they chant the holy name of Krishna, as long as they maintain the idea that Shiva and Krishna are the same, they will not make much advancement, because they will be committing an offense against the holy name (namaparadha). The second of the ten offenses against the holy name is to consider the names of demigods such as Lord Shiva to be equal to or independent of the name of Lord Vishnu.
That is why we don’t observe Shiva-ratri. And as Vaishnavas, we have no need to worship Shiva, because we are worshipping Krishna directly. Still, we may worship Lord Shiva as a Vaishnava, a devotee of Krishna, because the worship of Krishna’s devotees pleases Lord Krishna.
The basic definition of bhakti is given by Srila Rupa Gosvami in Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.1.11):
silanam bhaktir uttama
“One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krsna favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.” In pure devotional service, one should have no desire other than to serve and please Krishna (anyabhilasita-sunyam). And jnana-karmady-anavrtam—one’s service should not be covered by jnana, speculative knowledge that leads to a conclusion of impersonal monism, or by karma, fruitive work, as in ordinary puja, which one performs for personal gain. In ordinary affairs, for example, one may invite someone to a restaurant and give him food and drink in the hope of getting some benefit from him. In a similar way, one may offer bael leaves and ganga-jala to Lord Shiva in order to get some personal return. That fruitive mentality has no place in pure devotion, and certainly the speculative idea of merging and becoming one with God has no place. Anything that covers the true nature of bhakti has no place (jnana-karmady-anavrtam). Pure devotional service must be rendered favorably to Krishna (anukulyena krsnanusilanam).
Acharyas who have commented on this verse from the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, such as Srila Jiva Gosvami, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, and Srila Prabhupada, have explained that “Krishna” does not mean Krishna alone. Srila Prabhupada’s Introduction to The Nectar of Devotion discusses this verse in detail and includes much of the commentaries of Jiva and Visvanatha. And all agree that in this verse “Krishna” does not mean Krishna alone but includes His personal expansions, such as Lord Ramachandra, Lord Nrsimha, Lord Varaha, and other visnu-tattvas, as well as His name, form, qualities, pastimes, paraphernalia, and pure devotees. “Krsna includes all such expansions, as well as His pure devotees,” Srila Prabhupada writes. Serving and worshipping pure devotees is included within uttama-bhakti, pure devotional service to Krishna, and thus devotees of Krishna sometimes worship Lord Shiva as a pure devotee.
Many of Lord Shiva’s pastimes are described in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srimad- Bhagavatam is the perfectly pure, spotless Purana (srimad-bhagavatam puranam amalam) and is called the Paramahamsa-samhita because it is meant for the highest class of transcendentalists, who are completely free from envy. It is the topmost scripture and discusses no subject other than Krishna and pure devotional service. These pastimes with Lord Shiva show his true nature, or internal mood, as a Vaishnava, a pure devotee of Krishna. In one pastime the hundred sons of King Barhisat, known as the Pracetas, were engaged in austerities to realize Vishnu, or Krishna. Lord Shiva met them and, appreciating their austerities, acted as their guru to guide them. He gave them a series of prayers to sing to please Lord Vishnu and become pure devotees. Upon first meeting the Pracetas, he made the following statement, which I shall read from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Four, Chapter Twenty-four: “Chanting the Song Sung by Lord Siva”:
atha bhagavata yuyam
priyah stha bhagavan yatha
na mad bhagavatanam ca
preyan anyo’sti karhicit
You are all devotees of the Lord, and as such I appreciate that you are as respectable as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. I know in this way that the devotees also respect me and that I am dear to them. Thus no one can be as dear to the devotees as I am.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
It is said, vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh: Lord Siva is the best of all devotees. Therefore all devotees of Lord Krsna are also devotees of Lord Siva. In Vrndavana there is Lord Siva’s temple called Gopisvara. The gopis used to worship not only Lord Siva but Katyayani, or Durga, as well, but their aim was to attain the favor of Lord Krsna. A devotee of Lord Krsna does not disrespect Lord Siva but worships Lord Siva as the most exalted devotee of Lord Krsna. Consequently, whenever a devotee worships Lord Siva, he prays to Lord Siva to achieve the favor of Krsna, and he does not request material profit. In Bhagavad-gita (7.20) it is said that generally people worship demigods for some material profit. Kamais tais tair hrta jnanah. Driven by material lust, they worship demigods, but a devotee never does so, for he is never driven by material lust. That is the difference between a devotee’s respect for Lord Siva and an asura’s respect for him. The asura worships Lord Siva, takes some benediction from him, misuses the benediction, and ultimately is killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who awards him liberation.
Because Lord Siva is a great devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he loves all the devotees of the Supreme Lord.
This is a symptom of a devotee. One who is actually a devotee of the Supreme Lord will love all other devotees of the Supreme Lord. Lord Shiva truly loved the Pracetas. He went out of his way to help them, and further, he respected them as representatives of the Supreme Lord.
Lord Siva told the Pracetas that because they were devotees of the Lord, he loved them very much. Lord Siva was not kind and merciful only to the Pracetas; anyone who is a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very dear to Lord Siva. Not only are the devotees dear to Lord Siva, but he respects them as much as he respects the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Similarly, devotees of the Supreme Lord also worship Lord Siva as the most dear devotee of Lord Krsna. They do not worship him as a separate Personality of Godhead. It is stated in the list of namaparadhas that it is an offense to think that the chanting of the name of Hari and the chanting of Hara, or Siva, are the same. The devotees must always know that Lord Visnu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that Lord Siva is His devotee. A devotee should be offered respect on the level of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and sometimes even more respect. Indeed, Lord Rama, the Personality of Godhead Himself, sometimes worshiped Lord Siva. If a devotee is worshiped by the Lord, why should a devotee not be worshiped by other devotees on the same level with the Lord?
In other words, if a devotee is worshipable by the Lord Himself, why should other devotees not worship a devotee on the same level as the Lord? Saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair: the spiritual master is worshipped on the same level as the Supreme Lord. But kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya—although one honors the spiritual master as much as the Lord, one knows that he is not identical with the Lord but is a most confidential servitor of the Lord.
If a devotee is worshiped by the Lord, why should a devotee not be worshiped by other devotees on the same level with the Lord? This is the conclusion. From this verse it appears that Lord Siva blesses the asuras simply for the sake of formality.
In relation to the demons (asuras), Lord Shiva thinks, “Okay, they are worshipping me. They want something. Okay, I will give them something.” Thus, one of Shiva’s names is Asutosa, because he gives benedictions very easily. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Many demons go to bother Lord Shiva: ‘Give me this. Give me that.’ And his name is Asutosa. He gives immediately: ‘All right, take it. Go away. Don’t bother me.’ ” He blesses then simply for the sake of formality, to get rid of them.
From this verse it appears that Lord Siva blesses the asuras simply for the sake of formality. Actually he loves one who is devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In addition to the pastimes of Lord Shiva described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are many pastimes with Lord Shiva in Vrindavan that show his great love for Lord Krishna and his eagerness to serve Him. And Lord Krishna’s great-grandson, Vajranabha, who established many of the main temples in Vrindavan, installed several deities of Lord Shiva in Vraja to honor his pastimes there.
One prominent deity of Lord Shiva in Vraja is Nandesvara Mahadeva, at Nanda-grama. He is worshipped in a small temple situated within the courtyard of the main temple there, and every day, the pujaris offer him the remnants of food that has been offered to Lord Krishna in the main temple. This tradition goes back to the time when Krishna and Balarama lived in Nanda-grama with Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yasoda. As the local history goes, when Lord Shiva came to Nanda Bhavan to see his beloved Lord Krishna, he arrived in his usual attire—with matted hair, ashes all over his body, and a snake wrapped around his neck—playing his damaru drum. When Mother Yasoda came to the door, she could not bring herself to let this wild-looking ascetic in to see her darling little child. And so she gave him alms and sent him on his way. As he was leaving, however, baby Krishna began to cry. Mother Yasoda tried in many ways to pacify Him, but she couldn’t; He was inconsolable. She began to think that she might have committed an offense against the ascetic and that he had put a spell on her baby, so she sent for him. In the end, Lord Shiva was found in the forest now known as Asesvara-vana, the forest of hope, where he was praying, hoping against hope (asa means “hope”), that he would somehow get the darshan of Nandalal, Krishna. Lord Shiva was very happy when he was asked to return to Nanda Bhavan, and as soon as he arrived, baby Krishna stopped crying. But when Mother Yasoda indicated that it was time for him to leave, Krishna again began to cry. He didn’t want Lord Shiva to leave. It was then settled that Lord Shiva would remain permanently in Nanda Bhavan and get the caranamrta and food remnants of Nandalal every day. And to this day it has been so.
Another important deity is Kamesvara Mahadeva, who resides at Kamyavana. He fulfills all desires, and so devotees pray to him to give them pure devotional service to Krishna.
Caklesvara Mahadeva resides at Cakra-tirtha, by Manasi-ganga at Govardhana Hill. It is said that Sanatana Gosvami was good friends with Lord Shiva and always resided near him in Vraja. At Manasi-ganga, Sanatana Gosvami’s bhajana-kutira is near Caklesvara Mahadeva, and at the Madana-mohana temple, near the Yamuna River in Vrindavan, his bhajana-kutira is near Gopisvara Mahadeva.
To illustrate the intimate relationship between Sanatana Gosvami and Lord Shiva, I shall relate one story. Once, at Cakra-tirtha, Sanatana Gosvami was being disturbed by mosquitoes and couldn’t do his bhajana or write his books. So he decided to leave. When Lord Shiva saw that his dear friend was about to leave, he came in the guise of a brahman and inquired, “Why are you leaving?” Sanatana Gosvami replied, “I am too disturbed by the mosquitoes and cannot do my seva.” Lord Shiva was relieved, because he knew that this was a problem he could solve. He requested Sanatana Gosvami, “Please stay one more night, and if the mosquitoes still bother you, you may go.” Then Lord Shiva summoned the demigod in charge of insect life and told him, “I don’t want any mosquitoes disturbing this great devotee here. So tell your boys to lay off.” The mosquitoes stopped coming there, and Sanatana Gosvami stayed.
The most famous and important deity of Lord Shiva for us is Gopisvara Mahadeva, established by Vajranabha near the site of the rasa dance, near Vamsivata, where Gopinatha played upon His flute to call the gopis. Gopisvara Mahadeva wanted to participate in the rasa dance, the highest and best of all of Lord Krishna’s pastimes. According to one version, Lord Shiva approached Paurnamasi, an elderly brahmani and siksa-guru of the Vrajavasis, who was the mother of Sandipani Muni, Lord Krishna’s guru. She advised Mahadeva to perform some austerities and then take bath in the Yamuna; thus he would get the form of a gopi. According to other sources, Paurnamasi directed him to Vrndadevi and Vrndadevi advised him to take bath in Mana-sarovara, a little further south across the Yamuna River from Kesi-ghata. Be it as it may, he took bath and came out in the form of a gopi.
When Krishna was about to enjoy His rasa-lila with the gopis, this new gopi appeared. The other gopis took note—“Oh, a new gopi has come”—and gathered around her. They asked, “What village are you from?” She didn’t know what to say. “What is your husband’s name?” “How many cows does he have?” “Who are your children?” She had no answers. Then the other gopis thought, “This is not a gopi. She is not one of us. This is an imposter.” They were ready to beat this imitation gopi when Mother Paurnamasi appeared and said, “This is Mahadeva Shiva. He is a great demigod. Do not take any action against him.” Then she told Lord Shiva, “No one can participate in the rasa dance without being a gopi. You can observe it from a distance, but you cannot actually enter it.” Then she gave him a service: he could guard the arena of the rasa dance. One of Lord Shiva’s regular services is to be ksetra-pala, protector of the dhama, and he serves as such in Vrindavan, Navadvipa, Jagannatha Puri, and other holy places. Paurnamasi gave Mahadeva the authority to restrain the unqualified and to admit the qualified. But beyond that, he would have the power to give someone the qualification to enter. So, devotees, Vaishnavas, in Vrindavan pray to Gopisvara Mahadeva to enable them to enter the pastimes of Krishna with the gopis.
The deity of Gopisvara Mahadeva is worshipped as a regular Shiva-linga during the day, but every evening at about four the pujaris dress the Shiva-linga like a gopi. They cover the linga with a sari and ornaments and decorate it to resemble a gopi, with a crown on it or a shawl draped over its top. And devotees come and worship Gopisvara Mahadeva to attain the favor of Radha and Krishna.
In his Sankalpa-kalpadruma (103) Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura prays:
vrndavanavani-pate jaya soma soma-
prema prayaccha nirupadhi namo namaste
“O gatekeeper of Vrndavana! O Soma, all glories to you! O you whose forehead is decorated with the moon (soma), and who is worshiped by the sages headed by Sanandana, Sanatana, and Narada! O Gopisvara! Desiring that you bestow upon me limitless love for the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava, who perform joyous pastimes in Vraja-dhama, I offer my obeisances unto you again and again.”
Sri Gopisvara Mahadeva ki jaya!
Once, as described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Nanda Maharaja and the cowherd men wanted to go to Ambikavana to observe Shiva-ratri, which they did. The Bhagavatam uses the word ekada, “once.” Srila Prabhupada explains, “Between the Dola-yatra ceremony [Holi] and the rasa-lila ceremony there is an important ceremony called Siva-ratri, which is especially observed by the Saivites, or devotees of Lord Siva. Sometimes the Vaisnavas also observe this ceremony because they accept Lord Siva as the foremost Vaisnava. But the function of Siva-ratri is not observed very regularly by the bhaktas, or devotees of Krsna. Under the circumstances, Srimad-Bhagavatam states that Nanda Maharaja and the other cowherd men ‘once upon a time desired.’ This means that they were not regularly observing the Siva-ratri function but that once upon a time they wanted to go to Ambikavana.” (Krsna, Chapter 34) And what was the result? “They had come to worship Lord Siva and Ambika, but the result was that they became more and more attached to Krsna.”
Are there any questions or comments?
Rasaraja dasa: I have a question about Lord Shiva and impersonalists. Although many of his statements and songs are in the mood of bhakti, Lord Shiva is normally worshipped by impersonalists. How is the impersonal philosophy associated with him?
Giriraj Swami: The first answer is that Lord Shiva has a planet that is situated on the border of the material sky and the spiritual sky. In fact, it is said that the impersonalists who want to merge end up there. It is the borderline between matter and spirit.
Another answer is that Lord Shiva, for a very specific purpose, appeared as Shankaracharya, the great proponent of Mayavada philosophy. Earlier, because the so-called followers of the Vedas had been misusing the Vedas to support animal slaughter, Lord Krishna incarnated as Buddha, out of compassion for the innocent animals and to save these so-called Vedic followers from the sin of killing them. Buddha preached the philosophy of ahimsa, non-violence. He said, “Don’t follow the Vedas. If the Vedas say that you can kill animals, then don’t follow the Vedas. Just follow ahimsa.” Thus the Lord’s purpose was served: people stopped killing animals in the name of Vedic sacrifice. But then the Lord wanted to reestablish the authority of the Vedas, and because the Buddhist philosophy was nontheistic, followers would not immediately accept the correct, theistic understanding of the Vedas. So He wanted someone to reestablish the authority of the Vedas with a nontheistic interpretation—Advaitavada—which admits no difference between the individual soul and the supreme soul. In other words, it advocates impersonal monism. But when Lord Narayana approached His assembly of servants, no one was willing. They said, “Advaitavada? No, no—not Advaitavada. Ask anything but that. We don’t want to touch Advaitavada.” Then Lord Shiva, the greatest of the Vaishnavas, agreed. It was like when the demigods and demons were churning the ocean and it turned into poison, Lord Shiva was the one who came forward and said, “All right, I will drink the ocean of poison.” In this case, as Shankaracharya, he spit out an ocean of poison in the form of Advaitavada, or Mayavada. Shankara is a name for Lord Shiva, and so he became Shankaracharya. Because of the connection between Shankaracharya and Shankara, or Shiva, Mayavadis often are inclined toward Lord Shiva. But whether Mayavadis worship Shiva or Krishna, their goal is to merge and become one with Brahman.
Even Shankaracharya on occasion revealed his inner mood as a devotee. The most famous expression of his devotion was his parting words before he left this world: bhaja govindam bhaja govindam bhaja govindam mudha-mate. He advised his followers,
bhaja govindam bhaja govindam bhaja govindam mudha-mate
samprapte sannihite kale na hi na hi raksati dukrn-karane
“You fools and rascals, all your grammatical word jugglery of suffixes, prefixes, and philosophical speculation will not save you at the time of death. Just worship Govinda! Worship Govinda! Worship Govinda!”
There are other expressions as well. When Shankaracharya saw the Deity of Krishna, Vitthala Thakura, in Pandarapura, he recited many wonderful prayers to the Lord, which are inscribed in marble in the temple, the most famous and popular in Maharashtra. Similarly, Shankaracharya visited the temple of Guruvayurappan in Guruvayur, the most famous temple in Kerala. It is said that with his mystic powers he was flying over the temple and saw the devotees worshipping, and he thought, “What is this? What are these people doing? What is going on here?” As soon as that thought entered his mind, his power to fly was withdrawn and he came crashing down to the ground right in front of the Deity. Then he saw, “Oh, it is Lord Narayana, Lord Vishnu.” He recited many beautiful prayers, which are inscribed in the temple there. And in his Gita-bhasya commentary on Srimad Bhagavad-gita, he admitted, narayana paro ’vyaktat: “Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is beyond the material creation.”
Lord Shiva, even as Shankaracharya, is a devotee, but he has different services. As Lord Shiva, he is the demigod in charge of destruction. He is in charge of the mode of ignorance, and he gives shelter to people in ignorance—to ghosts and hobgoblins. He is merciful even to them. But his true feature, his inner mood, is as a devotee of Krishna.
On this occasion we pray to Lord Shiva that out of his immense compassion and love he may be merciful to us and help us to attentively chant the holy names, respect and honor all devotees, and serve his Lord and master, the Lord of the gopis, Sri Krishna.
Sri Gopisvara Mahadeva ki jaya!
Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Shiva-ratri, March 7, 2008, Dallas]