by Yasomatinandana Dasa
Sri Nathdwara means "the gateway of Lord Srinathaji." The town was built in the seventeenth century for the Deity of Lord Srinathaji, after He was brought to Rajasthan from the town of Jatipur, at the foot of Govardhana Hill in Vrindavana. Devotees from Jatipur had fled to Rajasthan with the Deity to protect Him from the destructive reign of the Muslim ruler Aurangzeb. Of course, the Lord doesn?t have to flee from anywhere, but simply to give His devotees a chance to serve Him He engages in the pastime of fleeing from one place to another.
Nathdwara lies near Udaipur in the hills of Mewar, a brave and chivalrous area of Rajasthan. For centuries the armies of Mewar succeeded in resisting aggression by many Mogul kings and preserved the Vedic culture intact.
The great Mewar king Bappa Rawal thwarted assaults by the first Mogul attacker, Mohammad Bin Kasim. Later, Maharana Kumbh, Maharana Sanga, and other kings fought valiant battles against the Moguls, stopping them from taking over Mewar. Even the powerful emperor Akbar faced a great battle in Mewar, and only for a few years could he subjugate Mewar, until Maharana Pratap Singh chased the Moguls away.
The Founding Of Sri Nathdwara
At the time of King Akbar, several members of the royal family of Mewar were ardent devotees of Lord Srinathaji, or, as He was known at Govardhana, Lord Gopala. Initiated by Vitthalanathaji, the son of the revered teacher Vallabhacharya, they were anxious to have Srinathaji in their kingdom, and they prayed to the Lord that He come there. But in the reign of King Akbar religious tolerance prevailed, so there was no need for the Deity to move. But fifty-three years after Akbar came the fanatical king Aurangzeb, who desecrated and destroyed Hindu temples, especially in the area of Vrindavana. And the forces of Aurangzeb also threatened Govardhana.
When the devotees saw the Mogul army advancing on Govardhana, they somehow showed the attackers the various titles and gifts given to the temple by the Mogul kings. Thus the devotees persuaded the leaders of the army that the temple had always been looked upon gracefully by the emperor of Delhi. So the army commander said, ?We will not attack you. But move the Deity from here as soon as possible.? Thus Srinathaji was allowed to move from Govardhana.
For almost six months the Deity stayed in Agra, where His devotees observed the Lord?s festivals in secret. Then He set out for Mewar. In the places along the way, devotees were enthusiastic to welcome Srinathaji, and they would oblige Him to stay with them, sometimes for as much as one or two months. Thus the journey from Govardhana to Mewar took some thirty-two months to complete.
In Mewar the Lord?s chariot gradually reached the town called Sinhad, where a princess had resided who was a great devotee of the Lord. She had strongly desired that Lord Srinathaji make this His home, and the Lord had promised her in a dream that He would do so. Now the princess had passed away, but the Lord inspired His devotees to build a beautiful temple there, next to the Aravalli hills. This abode of the Lord, established around the year 1675, came to be known as Sri Nathdwara.
The atmosphere of Mewar calls to mind Vrindavana. Mewar has pleasant hills that resemble Govardhana, and the river Banas reminds one of the Yamuna.
The temple of Srinathaji differs in design from most of the temples of India. Most temples have large decorative domes called shikharas, conspicuous from a long distance. But the temple of Srinathaji, and other places of worship for the followers of Vallabhacharya, are more like houses. Called havelis (Persian for ?home?), they are made to suggest the Vrindavana house of Krishna?s father, Nanda Maharaja. The temple, therefore, is also known as Nanda Bhavan or Nandalaya, ?the house of Nanda Maharaja.?
Decorating the top of the Srinathaji temple is a spire, or kalasha, as well as the disc of Lord Vishnu and seven flags. A guard stands by the flags twenty-four hours a day, protecting them from the discourtesies of the birds.
The History of the Deity
According to the Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, the Deity of Srinathaji is none other than the Gopala Deity who appeared in a dream to Madhavendra Puri, the great spiritual forefather of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Deity had been lost, so in the dream the Deity told Madhavendra Puri to find Him on Govardhana Hill, extricate Him from the thickets, and establish Him in a temple. ?Please pull Me out of this forest, make a beautiful temple for Me, and hold a great festival.?
Commanded by the Lord, Madhavendra Puri inspired the local villagers to rediscover the Deity and perform the festival to install Him atop the hill. So the followers of Lord Chaitanya and those of Sri Vallabhacharya are united in adoring this Deity of Srinathaji as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The Beautiful Form of Srinathaji
Srinathaji is Lord Sri Krishna in His pastime of lifting Govardhana Hill. Thus the Lord?s left hand is upraised. His right hand, closed in a fist, rests on His waist. It is also said that the Lord waves His devotees towards Him with His left hand and keeps the nectar of devotion in His right. His eyes look downward, guiding us to devote ourselves to His feet.
The Deity appears in a large black stone, from which His form emerges in bas-relief. The stone itself, surrounding the Deity, bears several marks: a parrot by the Lord?s head, two sages seated on His right side and a third on His left, and below the sages a snake, two cows, another snake, a lion, and two peacocks. On the Lord?s neck appears a flower garland, resembling a black snake.
Here is how the devotees understand these markings. The parrot symbolizes the sage Sukadeva Gosvami or the great poet Lilashuka. The snake is the divine serpent Ananta Sesha, the sages are the devotees of the Lord, and the two cows stand for religion and the earth. The lion protects the Deity from being seen except through devotional service, and the peacocks symbolize pure love for the Lord and detachment from material things. The stone slabs represent Govardhana Hill and the groves of Vrindavana.
Once when Sri Vallabhacharya defeated a large group of impersonalist scholars at Vidyanagar, King Krishnadeva Raya gave him a gift of many gold coins. Sri Vallabhacharya gave most of these to the local brahmanas and kept only seven. Those seven coins were then made into an ornament for Srinathaji. It is still used to adorn the Lord today.
The servitors of Srinathaji say that the Deity is the original form of Sri Krishna, known as Nikunja Nayaka, ?the Lord of the Celestial Bower.? Since this form of Lord Krishna includes all others, His devotees see Him both as Sri Radhanatha (the Lord of Radha) and as child Krishna. The Deity, therefore, is sometimes entertained with childish toys like spinning tops and silver animals and sometimes offered a herding stick meant for a cowherd boy. Srinathaji is most renowned for His amorous pastimes with the gopis, the dairymaids of Vrindavana. Although much of the poetry sung before Him tells of His childhood pastimes, most of it depicts these exchanges with the gopis.
The temple is under the management of the main acharya (spiritual leader) of the Vallabha Sampradaya. He is called the Tilakayata and is the head of the temple. He is assisted by a committee of prominent devotees who help him run the temple and make major decisions. He is the chairman of the committee. They approve most of the expenses.
The monthly expenses of the temple come to some 500,000 rupees, but the income is more. At least ten million rupees are kept as a savings fund.
In recent times the government of Rajasthan has taken charge of the temple, but the Tilakayata is still the authority on all the details of worship.
The holdings of the temple include 829 shops and buildings and six thousand acres of land, with many farms and cow pastures. The temple has a dairy with five hundred cows, one of which, called ?Srinathaji?s cow,? comes from a lineage that has served the Deity for generation after generation. The milk from this cow goes only for Srinathaji to drink. Milk from other cows makes various sweets for the Deity.
The way of devotional service taught by Vallabhacharya is known as pushti-marga, ?the path of nourishment.? In Sri Nathdwara the devotees nourish the Lord, and, even more, the Lord nourishes the love of His devotees.
We can scarcely think of the holy town of Nathdwara without Sri Vallabhacharya, the great religious reformer and teacher. His pushti-marga has brought millions of people in western India to Krishna consciousness.
Sri Vallabhacharya was born in 1479 in the forest of Champaranya, near the present city of Raipur, in central India, while his parents were returning from pilgrimage. His father, Lakshmana Bhatta, a renowned scholar from a brahmana family of South India, died while Vallabha was still a child. His mother therefore stayed at the home of her parents, and Vallabha soon went to study at Varanashi, where he became a great scholar. He studied under the saint Madhavendra Puri.
Vallabha realized that since the world comes from Brahman, the Supreme Absolute Truth?Lord Sri Krishna?the world cannot be false. As the ornaments fashioned from gold must be golden, the world created by Brahman, the supreme reality, must be real.
After studying in Varanashi, Sri Vallabhacharya began traveling all over India, speaking about the Srimad- Bhagavatam and teaching sublime devotion to Lord Krishna. The eighty-four ?seats,? or places where he taught, are held in great esteem by his followers. These baithaks, as the seats are known, are marked by shrines where he is offered daily homage. As part of the worship, Srimad-Bhagavatam is placed upon the seat, for it is felt that Sri Vallabhacharya stays there to this day, revealing from the Bhagavatam the glories of Lord Sri Krishna.
Sri Vallabhacharya once visited the great city Vidyanagara, on the bank of the River Tungabhadra. There he enlightened Krishnadeva Raya, the great South Indian king, and defeated the impersonal Sankarite philosophy. This victory moved the other scholars to glorify him with a grand procession.
At the time of Sri Vallabhacharya, India?s religious life had been torn by the Mogul invasion. Spiritual practices had worn down, and the schools of Buddha and Sankara had brought confusion. Sri Vallabhacharya spread the true spirit of the Vedas through dialogues and debates at many of the eighty-four seats.
He taught, ?The one scripture is Bhagavad- gita, the Supreme Godhead is Sri Krishna, the supreme mantra is Sri Krishna?s name, and the best work is His service.?
The strong personal devotion taught by Sri Vallabhacharya closely resembles the spirit of the followers of Lord Chaitanya. Lord Chaitanya?s followers point more toward public congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord, while the tradition of Vallabhacharya centers more on private chanting, worshiping the Deity of Lord Krishna within the home, and singing devotional songs for the Deity?s pleasure.
Sri Vallabhacharya urged his followers toward humility and told them to rely on Lord Krishna?s grace. If there is a means to get the Lord?s grace, he taught, it is humility.
Vallabhacharya?s book known as Shodasha- grantha, his Anubhashya commentary on Vedanta- sutra, and his Subodhini commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam are among the most famous of the many books he wrote.
One of Sri Vallabhacharya’s two sons was Sri Vitthalanathaji. He brought a wealth of devotional art, music, and culture into the pushti-marga and raised the worship of Srinathaji to a very high standard. He arranged for the Deity to be adorned every day according to the seasons and festive occasions.
With the changing of the seasons and the time of day, the Lord wears different fabrics and colors, and different types of ragas and poems are used to praise Him. The foods chosen for the Lord also vary, following the Ayurvedic scriptures. In the hot season, for example, cool foods like mung sprouts are offered, and in the cold season the Lord enjoys a spicy milk sweet called svadhsont.
Vitthalanathaji was also famous for attracting many kings to the service of the Lord. He converted the king of Mewar, Udai Singh, and since that time the royal family of Mewar have been pushti-marga devotees. Even the great Mogul emperor Akbar was drawn to Vitthalanathaji and gave large tracts of land for the service of the Deity.
The Lord’s “Eight Friends”
During the time of Vallabhacharya and Sri Vitthalanathaji, the ashta capa poets (literally, the Lord’s “eight friends”) were selected to sing the praises of Srinathaji at each of His eight daily darshanas. These famous poets left a wealth of verses glorifying the Lord. These are still sung daily before the Deity. Sura Dasa, perhaps the most famous among the poets, is said to have written more than 100,000 verses. In one well-known poem, another of the ashta capa poets, Caturbhuja Dasa, sings of Srinathaji’s splendor:
Today He is something.
Tomorrow He is something more.
Every day Srinathaji is totally fresh and new!
Helping Srila Prabhupada
We disciples of Srila Prabhupada are grateful to the pushti-marga devotees because they aided Srila Prabhupada early in his mission. Srimati Sumati Morarji, a lifelong follower of Sri Vallabhacharya, was a main trustee of the Srinathaji temple. She helped Srila Prabhupada print his books and served as a patron for him in Bombay. As the head of a shipping company, she arranged for his original passage to New York on one of her ships, the Jaladuta. And since that time, faithful followers of Sri Vallabhacharya have helped Srila Prabhupada’s efforts to spread Sri Krishna’s glories through-out India and the rest of the world.
Darshanas and Festivals
Starting from early in the morning, eight offerings and six aratis are performed for the Lord each day. The Lord has His last darshana in the evening and then takes rest. When He lifted Govardhana He was just a young boy, so He rests early.
There is a well-known story that Srinathaji once tore His garment while rushing back to the temple to be on time for darshana. From that day on, it has been a custom to blow the conch and then wait several minutes before opening the altar doors. That way, Srinathaji may return leisurely to His temple from wherever He may be sporting in the land of Vrindavana.
Practically every day there is a festival in the temple. There are swing festivals, processions, flower festivals, boat festivals, and festivals in which thousands of mangos are offered.
In April, roses are abundant, so there is a rose festival. The Deity is sprinkled with rose water and rose scent, and beautiful flower decorations are arranged.
In May the appearance day of Vallabhacharya is observed with great pomp.
In the hot summer season, a courtyard in the temple is filled with water. Pilgrims can stand on a ledge at the back and see the Deity without getting wet, but most devotees enjoy coming forward and standing in water up to their knees. Lord Srinathaji is sprayed with scented water, smeared with sandalwood, and adorned with many garlands. Music plays, and because of the water everything is cool, and the people are happy.
Toward the end of the hot season comes the Ratha-yatra. The Lord is taken around in a silver chariot, and 100,000 mangos are offered.
In the afternoon in the rainy season (June-July), the Lord is swung on a big swing. There are many swings for the Lord—a golden swing, a silver swing, a swing of glass, one of flowers, and a swing made of leaves such as sandalwood.
On Janmashtami, the appearance day of the Lord, which comes in August or September, the Lord is bathed in five kinds of nectar and honored by a 21-gun salute. The next day, known as Nandotsava, is also celebrated with great joy.
The Annakuta Festival
One of the largest festivals in Nathdwara is known as Annakuta. It celebrates the pastime in which the people of Vrindavana worshiped Lord Krishna by worshiping Govardhana Hill. The Annakuta festival of Srinathaji draws people from all over India. Many come in special trains, and all the guesthouses are full. Even the aborigines from the surrounding hills come to take part with great enthusiasm, wearing only a loincloth or a garment down to their knees. Groups of people wander about in the town, chanting and dancing in praise of the Lord.
In the late afternoon, in a special courtyard called the Govardhana Puja Chowk, a replica of Govardhana Hill is made of cow dung, and beautiful ceremonies are arranged. Many cowherds bring cows and feed them, cows are worshiped, and two cows are led to walk over the hill. People throng the roadsides, windows, and terraces to see the unique scene.
As part of the celebrations, a hill of rice is offered to the Lord—2,500 kilos. Then the temple gates are closed.
In the evening the gates are opened for the darshana of Srinathaji, and as soon as they open the people start looting the rice prasadam from the Govardhana Hill. While the aborigine women stand at the door, their men grab rice from the hill, fill up their shoulder bags, pass the rice on to the women, and then go back for more. All this adds to the festive scene.—YD
“Always Remember Krishna”
These four well-known verses by Sri Vallabhacharya present the essence of his teachings.
svasyayam eva dharmo hi
nanyah kvapi kadacana
evam sada sma kartavyam
svayam eva karishyati
prabhu sarva-samartho hi
tato nishcintatam vrajet
dhritah sarvatmana hridi
tatah kim aparam bruhi
laukikair vedikair api
atah sarvatmana shashvad
smaranam bhajanam capi
na tyajyam iti me matih
“Always worship Lord Krishna, the Lord of Vraja, with all your feelings. This is the true dharma. There is no other at any time or place.
“Always remember this, and Krishna will accomplish the rest. He is all-powerful, so have no anxiety.
“If Lord Krishna, the Lord of Gokula, resides within your heart, enabling you to experience Him everywhere, what else is there to attain from the world or the scriptures?
“Therefore, always have full devotion for Lord Krishna’s lotus feet. It is my view that you should never leave His remembrance or His worship.”