Today is Siva-ratri. Vaishnavas generally do not celebrate Siva-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,” text 23.
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.
We read in the Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam that just as by pouring water on the root of a tree all the limbs and branches and leaves are watered and 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—their bodies—are temporary, the bodies of their worshipers are temporary, their planets are temporary, and the fruits that one obtains from worshiping them are temporary. The demigods have authority only within the material world. They can give only material benefits to their worshipers. Only Vishnu, or Krishna, 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 Arjuna’s chariot driver. 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 worshipers, 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.
So, there is no need to worship demigods, and in fact the 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.” (Bg 9.23)
Therefore, Vaishnavas do not celebrate Siva-ratri.
Yet there is another aspect to Lord Siva, a confidential one that ordinary people with insufficient knowledge of shastra, of Srimad-Bhagavatam, do not know: Lord Siva 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 Siva as a Vaishnava. But otherwise we don’t worship Lord Siva, because if we did, people could misunderstand and conclude, “ISKCON devotees worship Siva, so we will too.” And they will worship Lord Siva for material benefit. Or they may think that Lord Siva is on the same level as Krishna—or supreme.
In India there is a history of debate between Vaishnavas and Saivites over who is supreme. And as Srila Prabhupada said, in such debates the Vaishnavas always win. Still, that sense of competition is there. Saivites say, “Siva is supreme,” and Vaishnavas respond, “No, Vishnu is supreme.” In the 1950s a European gentleman came to India and took sannyasa in the line of Shankaracharya, receiving the name Agehananda Bharati. Later, in 1973, he wrote an article published in the popular Indian magazine The Illustrated Weekly of India, in which he gave his account of a debate he had with our Hridayananda das Goswami.
The editor, Khushwant Singh, apparently wanted to make them both look foolish, and he titled the article “Hare Krishna vs. Shiva Shiva,” as if to say, “How silly. These people are arguing over whether Krishna is supreme or Siva is supreme. God is one; there is no difference. Ultimately, God has no name, no form, no personality”—or “Ultimately, there is no God.” I wrote Srila Prabhupada about how I perceived the situation, and he remarked, “Yes, Giriraj is right. Bharati is a fool, but Singh is a demon.”
When I visited Madras in 1971, I met many intellectuals whose attitude was similar to that of the editor. They thought, “Oh, how silly. You are arguing that Krishna is supreme, and someone else is arguing that Siva 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 loved Krishna, worshipped Krishna, chanted Krishna’s name, and preached Krishna’s supremacy.
In Madras there are many Saivites, and they argue that Siva 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 Siva 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 raised his voice, and the meeting ended quite 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 as well 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 Siva? The argument escalated, but neither of us wanted it to end the same way the previous 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 Siva is supreme, and he argued that Krishna is supreme. So, who is supreme?”
Prabhupada took a different approach. He didn’t enter into the polemics 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. The worshipers of Siva 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 to worship Siva in the mood of bhakti?” Mr. Ramakrishna asked.”
“It is possible, Prabhupada replied,” 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 Prabhupada’s stay in Madras, a wealthy householder invited him 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 Prabhupada’s disciples along with all the dignitaries. So 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 Siva, a siva-linga. And we all were interested to see how Prabhupada would deal with the situation. At the appropriate moment, all the participants threw their flower petals on the deity of Lord Siva—except for 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 his 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 Siva-ratri with participants who are not well versed in sastric conclusions, in Vaishnava siddhanta—if we were to celebrate Siva-ratri to cater to Hindus who want to worship Lord Siva on Siva-ratri but who do not know his actual position as a Vaishnava—they might mistakenly conclude that we accept Lord Siva on the same level as Krishna. Then, even if they chant the holy name of Krishna, as long as they maintain the idea that Siva and Krishna are the same, they will not make much advancement, because they will be committing an offense against the holy name. The second of the ten offenses against the holy name is to consider the names of demigods such as Lord Siva to be equal to or independent of the name of Lord Vishnu.
That is why we don’t observe Siva-ratri. And as Vaishnavas, we have no need to worship Siva, because we are worshiping Krishna directly. Still, we may worship Lord Siva 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 Siva 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,” Prabhupada writes. Serving and worshiping pure devotees is included within uttama-bhakti, pure devotional service to Krishna, and thus devotees of Krishna sometimes worship Lord Siva as a pure devotee.
Many of Lord Siva’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 Siva 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 Siva 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, 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 Siva 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 worshiped 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 Siva thinks, “Okay, they are worshiping me. They want something. Okay, I will give them something.” Thus one of Siva’s names is Asutosa, because he gives benedictions very easily. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Many demons go to bother Lord Siva: ‘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 Siva described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are many pastimes with Lord Siva 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 Siva in Vraja to honor his pastimes there.
One prominent deity of Lord Siva in Vraja is Nandesvara Mahadeva, at Nanda-grama. He is worshiped 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 Siva 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. After his leaving, however, baby Krishna began to cry. Mother Yasoda tried in many ways to pacify Him, but she couldn’t; He was inconsolable. She considered 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 Siva was found in the forest now known as Asesvara-vana, the forest of hope, where he was praying, hoping against hope (aça means “hope”) that he would somehow get the darshan of Nandalal, Krishna. So he was very happy when he was asked to return to Nanda Bhavan. And as soon as Lord Siva arrived, baby Krishna stopped crying. But when Mother Yasoda indicated that it was time for Siva to leave, Krishna again began to cry; he didn’t want him to leave. It was then settled that Siva 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 Siva and always resided near him in Vraja. At Manasi-ganga, Sanatana Gosvami’s bhajana-kutira is next to Caklesvara Mahadeva, and at the Madana-mohana temple, near the Yamuna River in Vrindavan, his bhajana-kutira is not far from Gopisvara Mahadeva.
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 Siva 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 Siva was relieved, because he knew that this was a problem he could easily solve. He requested Sanatana Gosvami, “Please stay one more night, and if the mosquitoes still bother you, you may go.” Then Lord Siva 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. So, from this we can see the intimacy of their relationship.
The most famous and important deity of Lord Siva 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 Siva 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. So 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 Siva. He is a great demigod. Do not take any action against him.” She told Lord Siva, “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.” And she gave him a service: he could guard the arena of the rasa dance. One of Lord Siva’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 worshiped as a regular siva-linga during the day, but every evening at about four the pujaris dress the siva-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 Vrindavan! 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 went to Ambikavana to observe Siva-ratri. 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 Krishna.”
Are there any questions or comments?
Rasaraja dasa: I have a question about Lord Siva and impersonalists. Although many of his statements and songs are in the mood of bhakti, Lord Siva is normally worshiped by impersonalists. How is the impersonal philosophy associated with him?
Giriraj Swami: The first answer is that Lord Siva has a planet that is situated on the border of the material sky and the spiritual sky. And 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 Siva, 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.” Only Lord Siva, the greatest of the Vaishnavas, agreed. It was like when the demigods and demons were churning the ocean and it turned into poison, Lord Siva was the one who came forward and said, “All right, I will drink the ocean of poison.” In this case, he spit out an ocean of poison in the form of Advaitavada, or Mayavada, as Shankaracharya. Shankara is a name for Lord Siva, and so he became Shankaracharya. Because of the connection between Shankaracharya and Shankara, or Siva, Mayavadis often are inclined toward Lord Siva. But whether Mayavadis worship Siva 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 worshiping, 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 Siva, even as Shankaracharya is a devotee, but he has different services. As Lord Siva, 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 Siva 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 Siva-rati, March 7, 2008, Dallas]