Friday, August 14, 2009

The Pastimes of Saksi Gopala

The deity is an absolutely beautiful tri-bhanga, murali-dhara form, about 6 feet tall

The Appearance of Lord Saksi Gopala

After Lord Krishna’s departure from this world, the Pandavas decided to retire from state affairs and give up all worldly connections to set an example for future generations. Maharaja Yuddhisthira appointed Pariksit, the son of Abhimanyu, to rule Hastinapura, and Vajranabha, the son of Aniruddha, to rule Mathura. Due to their family relation, they grew up as close friends and in all respects honored the glory of the Kuru and Yadu dynasties. It was the desire of Vajranabha to install deities of Lord Krishna, His great-grandfather, in several places around Mathura, but he never had the opportunity to see Him. His friend Pariksit had seen Him only when he was still in the womb of His mother, Uttara. Thus, she was the only person who could accurately give details about the features of the Lord. According to her directions, Vajranabha carved several deities using a special kind of black stone called ‘vajra,’ which is said to be imperishable, strong like diamond. First, he carved three deities and asked Uttara if they resemble the Lord. Upon seeing Govindaji, she said that the face was perfect; upon seeing Gopinatha, she said that the navel was the same; and upon seeing Madana-mohana, she said that His feet were very similar. Afterwards, Vajranabha carved Harideva, Kesavaji, Baladeva, Nathaji, and Gopala, Who later would become well-known as Saksi Gopala. Besides these, he also carved four deities of Lord Siva and four devis: Ganga, Vrnda, Yogamaya and Durga, and then installed all these sixteen deities in different places in Vraja-mandala.

The original Govinda, Gopinatha and Madana-mohana

According to Your Faith

Gopala’s temple became very popular and people from all over India used to visit it. It used to be situated in front of an ancient Hanuman temple in the area where the temple of Govindaji was built in the 16th century. It is difficult to say in which century the following incidents took place, but probably it was before the Christian era, when historical facts were hardly ever registered with specific dates. Once upon a time, a young brahmana and an old brahmana from a village in the Vidyanagara district, a city nowadays situated in Andhra Pradesh, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Vrndavana. Somehow they met on the way and the young brahmana was constantly rendering all kinds of services to the old man. After many days of travelling, they arrived in Vrndavana and went to visit Lord Gopala’s temple. They were both delighted by His beauty and spent the day there. The old man was feeling very much indebted by all the service he was receiving from the boy and decided to reciprocate by offering his daughter in marriage to him. Upon hearing such a proposal, the boy replied that he belonged to a poor and uneducated family, while the old brahmana belonged to an aristocratic and learned family, therefore such marriage should not happen. The old man insisted, and the boy again argued that even if he is so determined to give his daughter, the other relatives will certainly object. The old man kept on insisting and at last, the boy proposed that if he really desires this marriage, then he should promise before Lord Gopala. They both went before the deity and the old brahmana declared that he would definitely marry his daughter to the boy. After visiting all places in Vrndavana, they set back to Vidyanagara.

When the old man arrived home, he told his relatives everything, but they became hysterical after hearing about the marriage settlement. They threatened to commit suicide if he gives the girl to a poor man. Meanwhile, the young brahmana was wondering why it was taking so long for the old man to fulfill his promise. He went to his house and questioned him about the matter. The old man’s son intervened and put him to run. The boy went to the central market and called the attention of the people around and told them all that had happened. The local people then called the old brahmana to settle the issue. Upon being interrogated, the old man just said that he could not remember exactly what he had said. His son came along and said that the boy had actually stolen his father and given intoxicants to him, and now was making stories to get his daughter in marriage. He demanded a witness to corroborate his claims. The boy replied that he did have a witness: Lord Gopala. The old man’s son happened to be an atheist, therefore he boldly declared that if Gopala would go there to bear testimony, they would certainly give the girl’s hand. The boy was a staunch devotee, and having full faith in the Lord, he set back to Vrndavana. He arrived at the temple and reported everything to Gopalaji. The deity then told him that there was no reason to worry and that the boy should just go back and He would appear there to help him. The boy argued that people would not believe unless the deity Himself would come with him. Lord Gopala asked the boy how could a deity possibly walk, and the boy replied that if a deity can speak, then why would He not walk? In this way, Lord Gopala agreed to accompany His devotee under the condition that he should not look backwards. He would walk just behind him and the boy would know it by the sound of His ankle bells. In case he violated this condition, the Lord would not move forward anymore. So they both started to South India.

They travelled for a hundred days, and when they reached the border of the village, the boy could not hear the tinkling of the ankle bells. Being anxious, he turned back and saw the Lord smiling at him. The Lord ordered him to go and tell everyone that He had arrived and was waiting for them. When all the villagers saw the Lord they were astonished. At last, Gopalaji gave testimony and the brahmana couple was duly married.

The main gate of the temple

The structure was meant to be a miniature of the Jagannatha temple

Again Following His Devotee

The king of that region soon heard the whole story, went to visit Lord Gopala, and immediately gave orders to build a temple on the spot. Many centuries passed until Purusottama Deva was born in 1466. He later became the king of Odisha and was known as a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha, having introduced the practice of sweeping the path before the Lord’s chariot during His ratha-yatra. After assuming the throne, he desired to marry the daughter of the king of Vidyanagara, but the king flatly refused and said that he would not marry his daughter to a sweeper. Taking this as a great insult to himself and to Lord Jagannatha, Purusottama Deva promptly gathered his army and attacked Vidyanagara. On that occasion, however, he was defeated and came back to Odisha humiliated. He went before Lord Jagannatha and pleaded His help to save his honor. On that night, Lord Jagannatha appeared in his dream and promised that on the next battle He Himself and His brother Balarama would fight in the king’s camp. Again he set with his army. Meanwhile, a lady was passing on the road with her pots for selling yogurt in the market when she saw two very handsome young men: one had a black complexion and rode a white horse, and the other had a white complexion and rode a black horse. The two young men, dressed in fine silken clothes and expensive ornaments, resembled demigods. They stopped and asked the lady to drink some yogurt. The lady was happy to feed them, but when it was time to pay, the two boys said: “We have no money here. Our brother, the King, is coming on this way very soon. Take this ring and show it to the King and he will pay you.” Soon afterwards, the lady met King Purushottama Deva, who was coming in front of his army and approached him, asking for payment for the yogurt. The King was amazed at the story, but when he saw the ring the boys had given her, he had no more doubts: it was indeed one of the jewels from Jagannatha’s treasure. The King felt this occurrence as a special blessing of Jagannatha, Who wanted to reassure him of victory. In this way, after defeating the opponents, Purusottama Deva returned to Cuttack, the capital of Odisha in those days, carrying with him the princess and the deity of Lord Saksi Gopala.

Saksi Gopala stayed in Cuttack for several years, until the king decided to move to Puri, and thus Gopala went along and was given a place inside Jagannatha mandir. Somehow, He could not adjust to the timings of the offerings there, and in a dream told the king that He wanted to move away from there. The king built a temple about 20 km from Puri, and since then Lord Gopala stays there, in a village called Saksi Gopala.

The Garuda-stambha

Disclaimer: none of the above pictures were taken by me. They were downloaded from the internet.