The Antiquity of Deity Worship in the Vedic Tradition Part-2
Continued from previous article… In the morning devotees wash the linga with milk and other items, and then later the pujaris dress the linga in bright colored clothes.A few miles from Barsana is Nandagram, another place where Krishna performed many childhoodpastimes described in the Bhagavatam.
On top of the hill is the main temple that has Deities of Krishna, Balarama, Nanda Maharaja (Krishna’s father),Mother Yashoda, Srimati Radharani, and two of Krishna’s friends. There is also a Shiva lingam in a small shrine across from the temple called Nandisvara, said to have been installed by Vajranabha many hundreds of years ago. It is considered that this hill is an incarnation of Lord Shiva.
From the top of the walls that surround the temple we can get good views of the area, and someone who is familiar with it can point out other nearby places connected with Krishna’s pastimes that we may want to visit. In the foothills of the large Girnar Hill in Gujarat is the Radha-Damodara temple with beautiful Deities of Krishna’s four-armed form.
As Lakshmi-Narayana, the Deities are formed of the typical black and brown stone,and are described in the Skanda Purana as being self-manifested over 12,000 years ago. Next to the main temple is another for Lord Balarama and Revati, His consort. The original temple at this site is said to have been built 4500 years ago by Vajranath, Lord Krishna’s grandson. Not far away is a place where lived Vallabha, the 16th century Vaishnava acharya.
Another interesting story is in regard to Guruvayoor in south India, which has the Deity of a four-armed standing Vishnu with a chakra in the right hand, conchshell in the left, and mace and lotus flower in the other two.
Sri Krishna showed this form of His only twice during His appearance on earth: once to Arjuna just before the battle of Kurukshetra while speaking the Bhagavad-gita, and once to His parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, at the time of His birth. This Deity is said to havebeen worshiped by Lord Krishna Himself at Dwaraka thousands of years ago.
The legend is that when Krishna left this world, He gave the Deity to His devotee Uddhava to look after it. He then ordered Brihaspati, the guru or spiritual teacher of the demigods, and Vayu, demigod of the wind, to take care of this Vishnu Deity and to install it somewhere for the benefit of humanity.
When they arrived at Dwaraka to get the Deity, the city of Dwaraka had already sunk into the sea. After searching in the water, they found the Deity and went south. Not knowing whereto go, they sat down by the side of a lake and began to meditate.
Soon,Shiva appeared and after some discussion they decided to start a new temple for the Deity of Vishnu near the Rudratirtha Lake. Since that time 5,000 years ago, the place has been known as Guruvayoor (guru for Brihaspati and vayoor for Vayu). Hundreds of devotees visit the temple everyday for seeing theDeity.
Western devotees, however, are not allowed in without a letter of permission from the Arya Samaj.Other examples could be given of the stories and legends of deities that are found in various temples throughout India, or holy places where temples have been established thousands of years ago, but I have supplied much of that kind of information in my book Seeing Spiritual India. However, there are additional references in the Vedic texts which show the importance of Deity worship from many thousands of years ago.
SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES TO DEITY WORSHIP
For example, even in the Puranas there are stories that include the importance of worshiping Deities. In the Bhagavata Purana (4th Canto, 8th Chapter) there is the popular story of the great sage Narada Muni teaching Dhruva Maharaja the best way to become spiritually realized.
Therein he explains the form of the Lord upon which to meditate and how to worship the Deity or Sri Murti of the Lord. The interesting thing here is that the Bhagavata Purana was composed by Srila Vyasadeva about 5,000 years ago, and the incident of Dhruva Maharaja is known to have taken place thousands of years before that.
So, this gives some indication of how long Deity worship has been going on.Narada Muni describes, “The Lord’s form is always youthful. Every limb and every part of His body is properly formed, free from defect.
His eyes and lips are pinkish like the rising sun. He is always prepared to give shelter to the surrendered souls, and anyone so fortunate as to look upon Him feels satisfaction. The Lord is always worthy to be the master of the surrendered soul, for He is the ocean of mercy. The Lord is further described as having the mark of Shrivatsa, or the sitting place of the goddess of fortune, and His bodily hue is deep bluish.
The Lord is a person, He wears a garland of flowers, and He is eternally manifest with four hands, which hold [beginning from the lower left hand] a conchshell, disc, club, and lotus flower.The entire body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva, is decorated.
He wears a valuable jeweled helmet, necklaces and bracelets. His neck is adorned with the Kaustubha jewel, and He is dressed in yellow silk garments.” (Bhag. 4.8.46-48) This gives a little idea of the descriptions from Narada Muni to Dhruva Maharaja. Yet, he goes on to explain that yogis who meditate on this form very soon are freed from material contamination.
The mantra “Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya” is also worthy of chanting in one’s meditation. But the physical form [Deity] of the Lord should also be installed. Then Narada describes how the Deity should be worshiped and with what procedures and paraphernalia. He also says, “It is possible to worship a form of the Lord made of physical elements such as earth, water, pulp, wood, and metal.
In the forest one can make a form with no more than earth and water and worship Him according to the previous instructions.” (Bhag. 4.8.56) This shows some of the elements of which a Deity can be made.
Contributed by: Stephen Knapp
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