Worship and Rituals in the Gauḍīya Tradition

Question: I have spent a lot of time looking at the traditions of the Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. Their texts are so much more codified than anything I have ever come across from the Gauḍīyas, which seems to be a spider web of references that don’t really lead to anything consistent. Is this just because it is a relatively new line?

Answer:  I do not think it is because Gauḍīya is a new line. It is old enough to have fixed standards. But there are reasons why it has not been codified so rigorously as in the Śrī Sampradāya. Or rather it appears to be so. First it has a historical reason. Vrindavan was the education center for Gauḍīya sampradaya. Mahāprabhu sent Gosvāmīs to Vrindavan and organize and establish the sampradāya by writing literature and building temples. So, for two or three generations it continued. But then there was attack from Mughal emperor and all temples were demolished. The education center was disrupted. After that it never regained its original status. So, at present there is no central authority of the Gauḍīya school. There are hundreds of branches who do not have any dialogue with each other, especially on philosophical or practical aspects. Everybody follows their own standards. In my experience, I haven’t found anyone who follows the deity worship as described in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa tenaciously.

I think there are two reasons for not following Hari-bhakti-vilāsa for these ceremonies:

  1. This scripture doesn’t discuss these ceremonies systematically and gives lots of references, as you have observed. It describes each part individually but does not give the whole procedure of pūjā in one place, as one would expect, and as one finds in some other books. Everything is there but one has to put to together for oneself.
  2. For most Gauḍīyas, deity worship is not the primary limb of bhakti. Nāma-japakīrtanlīlā-smaraṇa are the specialties of Gauḍīyas. Even though the fixed procedure of deity worship was introduced at the time of six Gosvāmīs, it wasn’t propagated down the line due to more emphasis on the primary limbs of bhakti. Moreover, after the Vrindavan temples were destroyed, the procedures got lost. When the temples were re-established, there was no fixed standard available.

The local procedures were also incorporated. For example, in prāṇa-pratiṣṭha mostly Gauḍīyas follow the local tradition, whatever it may be. Also I have learned from the tradition that prāṇa-pratiṣṭha is performed to foster people’s faith in the deity, and not so much to invite the Lord into the deity. He is already there in the deity because of the love of His bhakta who wants to worship Him. Love is more potent than any ceremony done without devotion. But, common people can’t accept the Lord’s presence in the deity if prāṇa-pratiṣṭha is not performed. Therefore, local traditions are followed to invoke the lord in the deity. If you do not follow the local tradition then also people are dissatisfied.

Question: What you have said is what I also concluded about pratiṣṭha procedures. What I understand is that borrowing some local traditions such as a smārta prayoga, which may be tinged with Advaita-vāda, may be antithetical to the practitioner performing the pratiṣṭha rite. 

Answer: I agree with you that we should have some standard. A million dollar question is who should standardize procedures for deity worship? At present, there is no single authority for Gauḍīyas, whereas Sri Chaitanya was the single authority in the times of Gosvāmīs. So I do not know how global standards can be established.

Question: I agree with you that ultimately love is more potent that any ritual performed without devotion. But, won’t it increase the strength of deity worship if both, rituals and devotion, co-exist? For lay practitioners, meditating on the external form of the Lord, who descends to engage with His devotees, would become an important practice.

Answer: Yes of course, when I say love is important it does not mean that we neglect the procedure, but that the procedure is secondary to love. It is out of love that procedure is followed, and may also be adjusted. It is like a mother who loves her baby, and thus learns ways to bring up the baby even if she is ignorant about it. But she may adjust the rules she has learned as per the requirements of her baby. So, Rāgānugā bhakti is like the love of a mother, as opposed to vaidhī bhakti, which follows rules and regulations. So even if some rules are not executed properly, Krsna does not mind because he appreciates love over rituals.

Question: The way I look at it is, temple worship is quite different from personal worship, so in essence, the point of a specific mood, aiśvarya vs. mādhurya, wouldn’t come up in majestic temple worship. But, I am curious to learn what a revered devotee like yourself would think.

Answer: Temple worship should predominantly be majestic but there should be majesty with love. Mere majestic worship is like a body which is well decorated but without life air. Personal worship in one’s home cannot be as detailed and majestic as in the temple. Hari-bhakti-vilāsa also says that many of the rules prescribed cannot be followed in the worship of one’s personal vigraha.

Question: I believe that the presence of familiar or local rituals helps people believe in the process of the deity installation. This is quite like performing wedding ceremonies for Indian families, as each community has its own traditions. If the local rituals are not performed, then people feel uncomfortable and doubtful about whether the priest did the right thing.

Answer: The variety of traditions and rituals spread across the country makes it not only difficult but also uncalled for to standardize deity installation and worship practices. That is why in India so many smṛtis exist and they are different for different parts of the country. Although Hari-bhakti-vilāsa gives standard procedures for vigraha installation, worship etc., it also says that one should follow according to one’s tradition, sampradāya-anusārataḥ

8 thoughts on “Worship and Rituals in the Gauḍīya Tradition”

  1. Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu states:

    śuddhi-nyāsādi-pūrvāṅga-karma-nirvāha-pūrvakam |
    arcanan tūpacārāṇāṁ syān mantreṇopapādanam ||

    Arcana (worship) means offering articles to the Lord by chanting proper mantras after performing (bhūta) śuddhi (purifaction of the body), nyāsa and other formerly mentioned activities. (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.137)

    Why then do we see Gauḍīya sects like Gauḍīya Math and ISKCON preach against these aspects of Arcana, or at the very least minimize some of them (bhūta śuddhi) while out right rejecting other like nyāsas?

    It seems only the external aspects (bahir pūjā) are emphasized in these sects.

    1. Haribol!
      Śrī Viśvanātha’s rejects nyāsa in his commentary on BRS 1.2.296 for rāgānuga-bhaktas:
      “tāni cārcana-bhaktāv ahaṅgrahopāsana-mudrā-nyāsa-dvārakā-dhyāna-rukmiṇy-ādi-pūjanāni āgama-śāstra-vihitāny api naiva kāryāṇi”.
      Followers of Mahāprabhu are rāganuga-bhaktas and thus do not perform nyāsa during sādhana.

  2. Very interesting! Can you please give the literal translation to the commentary you gave?

    I don’t see where it mentions about rāgānuga at all. And also it mentions far more that just nyāsa being rejected (api naiva kāryāṇi), like ahaṅgrahopāsana (perhaps inferring bhūta śuddhi), dvārakā-dhyāna (meditation on Dvāraka), worship of Rukmiṇī etc. and following those things prescribed in āgama śāstras?

    1. Here is my translation of that portion: These are not to be performed even though they are ordained in the agama scriptures for arcana bhakti: ahaṅgrahopāsana, mudrā-nyāsa, meditation on dvārakā, worship of rukmiṇi etc.

      “I don’t see where it mentions about rāgānuga at all”: This commentary is on shlokas that describe the limbs of rāgānuga bhakti: 1.2.294-296.

      The above commentary is specifically on 1.2.296: śravaṇotkīrtanādīni vaidha-bhakty-uditāni tu | yāny aṅgāni ca tāny atra vijñeyāni manīṣibhiḥ

      “Those limbs like śravaṇa, utkīrtana, etc. which were prescribed for vaidha-bhakti should also be understood as limbs of rāgānuga bhakti here by the wise.”

      Sri Rupa Goswami uses the word ‘manīṣibhiḥ’ here, i.e. by the wise or by the discriminating. Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti explains the use of this word – manīṣibhir iti manīṣayā vimṛśyaiva svīya-bhāva-samucitāny eva tāni kāryāṇi – “The word manīṣibhir implies that discriminating with one’s intelligence (manīṣayā vimṛśyaiva), one should perform those limbs [vaidha-bhakti] which are appropriate for one’s own bhāva.”
      This means that there are some limbs of vaidha-bhakti which are appropriate and others which are not appropriate for rāgānuga bhaktas. The one’s that are not appropriate are those that you cited in your question. Those that are appropriate are: śravaṇotkīrtanādīni, which also implies guru-pādāśrayaṇādī (according to Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti).

      As such, Sri Visvanatha is not contradicting Sri Rupa; rather he is helping us understand what Sri Rupa is trying to say.

  3. With all due respect perhaps you can explain how Viśvanātha can reject the definition of arcana given by Rūpa Goswami?

    1. Prabhu, that’s a very interesting question. However, I am definitely not competent enough to do this research.

  4. In the learned opinions of the members here are all Gaudiya Vaisnavas meant to be performing Raganuga sadhana bhakti or aspiring for it? Is so then is it detrimental to all Gaudiya Vaisnavas to adopt these aspects of Agama Sastras mentioned above as being against the mood of Raganuga sadhana?

    For example a book by Sri Lokanandacarya called Sri Sri Bhakti Candrika clearly describes use of nyasa in the worship of Sri Caitanya and mantras for His worship.

    1. I cannot speak for all Gaudiya Vaishnavas as there are several branches today and each branch has its own view on raganuga sadhana. What those who are not part of our parivara should do is up to them.

      Sri Rupa in BRS and Sri Jiva in Bhakti Sandarbha both teach the principle that sadhana should be of the same nature as sadhya. Doing sadhana for Brahma sayujya mukti will not yield the sadhya of prema to Bhagavan (it will bring Brahma sayujya), and serving Rama in sadhana stage will not yield the sadhya of eternal service to Krsna (it will award eternal service to Rama).

      Likewise service to Krsna in Dwaraka (vaidhi bhakti) will not yield the result of bhakti to Krsna in Vrindavana which is the sadhya of raganuga sadhana. Vaidhi sadhana will neither transform into raganuga sadhana on its own nor yield the sadhya of raganuga sadhana. Only raganuga sadhana will yield the sadhya of raganuga sadhana. As such, raganuga sadhana is not an aspiration; it is the means (sadhana) to attain its sadhya. The separate results of vaidhi and raganuga bhakti are specified by Sri Rupa in BRS. These two are separate paths with separate results.

      Our method of worship is fixed by Sri Pandit Goswami, the founder of the Gadadhara parivara, and has been preserved by the guru-shishya parampara from that time. It is not up to us to decide what it should or should not be, and it is not up to us to change it.

      Ity alam.

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