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Lord Nrisimhadeva's Appearance Day, and the day before, Celebrating the Life of Jayananda

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Author: 
Karnamrita Das

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Lord Nrisimhadeva’s divine appearance day celebration is certainly one of my favorite occasions, and I am sure I am not alone in this. Our Christian friends are fond of quoting the Bible that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” [John 3.16] and we could also say that God so loved his pure devotee in the world that he personally descended to give him all protection.

To this day devotees feel protected by this form of Krishna and pray to him to slay their “anarthas” or unwanted habits of thinking and acting, just as the Lord slayed Hiryanakashipu, the tormentor of his devotee, Shri Prahlad. While Gaudiya Vaishnavas can agree to having great faith in one’s particular agent of Divinity or conception of God—even thinking their path and face of God is the best—Vedic scriptures point to a more inclusive God that reciprocates according to one’s faith, and doesn’t condone fanaticism or war in the name of faith. There is only one God, though like a gem with many facets, the one God has unlimited expansions. “As they surrender to me, I proportionally reciprocate with them.” [Bhagavad Gita 4.11]

The “one path” to be celebrated would be pure devotion and not merely the externals of worship or which name of God one favors which, unfortunately, religionists fight over. How God reciprocates with those who worship him is expressed in many different forms in the religious world and to different degrees of purity. This is to be celebrated as the mercy of the Lord and the types of devotion that exist.

As is often said in the religious world, “We worship a big God.” However, we would use this statement as a way to celebrate the diversity of worship, even as we favor Krishna and the method of worship given by Shri Krishna Chaitanya in chanting the holy name.
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One can be convinced of one’s path and still be accommodating and not merely condemn other forms of worship by material calculation. Krishna is best known as the lover of his devotee, and is referred to as “bhava-grahi janardana” because He takes only the essence of a devotee's attitude. We greatly especially celebrate this aspect of Krishna on days like this, though we are a recipient of this mercy on a daily basis.

Thus the appearance of the Lord Nrisimhadeva in this “adbhuta” or wonderful form celebrates both the greatness of Krishna’s pure devotee and the Lord’s appreciation and love for them. While in a general sense God loves all his—even wayward—children, that love is magnified and expressed more in relationship to those who have dedicated their lives to awaken their natural serving tendency by engaging in his loving devotional service and sharing that with others. That is not material partiality but is action according to the law of transcendental pure love, which is a kind of spiritual partiality for which the Lord is celebrated.
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If the Lord were merely the moral law enforcer, and not a person who goes out of his way to give mercy to the fallen souls, there would be no hope for us. The Lord came primarily to save his devotee, and only secondarily to kill Hiryanyakashipu. Though we don't glorify Hiranyakashipu, without this father and son, there would not be the Lord's glorious appearance. Of course, Hiranyakashipu was one of the Lord's gatekeepers providing him the opportunity for vira-rasa, or the activity of fighting. All the Lord's pastimes center around his devotees, and thus we next speak about Jayananda Prabhu, who did an empowered service of building and participating in the beginning of the Rathayatra festivals in the West.

Jayananda and I

Many detailed accounts have been published and told about the character of Jayananda, and though my very small remembrances won’t add much to them, they are still my personal experience and reflections about a devotee I knew. I am sharing this very brief account, as his disappearance day was tomorrow.
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I first moved in the temple in Berkeley, CA, in February 1970, when the temple was on Durant St. one block from the UC Berkeley campus. In a period of about 3 years I was sent back and forth between the SF and Berkeley temples, and spent a year at the San Jose temple until it closed. During my ping-ponging between centers, I had frequent dealings with Jayananda. Although I didn’t work closely with him or would have been considered a close friend, we had an affectionate relationship, and served together chanting on the street or in Deity seva. He would say my name very melodiously and with delight.

Jayananda was a large man with broad shoulders and a baby like face and prominent jaw. He emanated great joy, humility, and also strength and conviction. People naturally liked him and his unassuming, honest, happy nature. Never a complainer, he would always have something good to say. He was someone who stood out and wouldn’t be forgotten. He was very personable, human, and accessible, and was the same, whether as the “garbage man” at the Valentia St. Temple in SF, getting bhoga donations at the market, or as the temple president in Berkeley.

A simple person in many ways and not a scholar, his faith and dedication to Prabhupada and Krishna made him deep and influential—though he never wanted to be in the limelight. The rumor was that he got married only to give Prabhupada a large sum of money that came from his wife’s parents.

I especially remember his love and praise for Prasad, and how he looked after those he served with on the Ratha carts, or as an incense salesman for Spiritual Sky. He used to get huge donations of bhoga, but after he left that service, his replacement, without his charm, wasn’t able to move the merchants to share in the same way. They would ask about him at the market for years.

Once, when I was the "never trained, ever experimenting," cook in Berkeley, I heard from a SF devotee, that he had gone to the SF temple, asking for real prasadam, as he didn’t know what I was cooking. Another time he had been working on a devotee farm in Marin county and came to the SF temple on Valentia street, and threw cow dung on everyone. Devotees had no idea what it was—just that it smelled like stool—and were reeling in shock trying to avoid him, but Jayananda was laughing hysterically.

Perhaps in 1972 I experienced Shrila Prabhupada’s great love for him. I don’t remember the details, but when Prabhupada came to the temple, there were almost no devotees there. However, Jayananda was at the front door throwing flower peddles at his feet, and Prabhupada looked at him with such love, and said a few times, “Jayananda, Jayananda.” Hard to express it, but it was a very moving incident. Truly Prabhupada’s smile and was oceanic and full of affection for his sincere devotee.

Thakur Bhaktivinoda's prayer to Lord Nrsimhadeva

Thakura Bhaktivinoda worshiped Narasimhadeva thus in his Navadvipa-bhava-taranga:

Within my sinful heart the six enemies headed by lust perpetually reside, as well as duplicity, the desire for fame, plus sheer cunning. At the lotus feet of Sri Narasimha, I hope that he will mercifully purify my heart and give me the desire to serve Krishna.

Weeping, I will beg at the lotus feet of Narasimhadeva for the benediction of worshipping Radha and Krishna in Navadvipa, perfectly safe and free from all difficulties. When will this Lord Hari, Whose terrible form strikes fear into fear itself, ever become pleased and show me his mercy?

Even though Sri Nrsingha is terrifying toward the sinful souls, he offers great auspiciousness unto the devotees of Krishna, headed by Prahlada Maharaja. When will he be pleased to speak words of compassion unto me, a worthless fool, and thereby make me fearless?

He will say, “Dear child! Sit down freely and live happily here in Sri Gauranga-dhama. May you nicely worship the divine couple, and may you develop loving attachment for their holy names. By the mercy of my devotees, all obstacles are cast far away. With a purified heart, just perform the worship of Radha and Krishna, for such worship overflows with sweet nectar.”

Saying this, will that Lord delightedly place his own divine lotus feet upon my head? I will experience sublime love for the divine couple, Radha-Krishna and undergo the ecstatic transformations called sattvika. Falling on the ground, I will roll about at the door of Sri Narasimha’s temple.