Variety is said to be the spice of life. Imagine a life where you eat the same vegetables daily, wear the same clothes, meet the same people, and visit the same places. So boring, right? This world is full of varieties seasonal changes in the form of summer, winter, autumn, spring; periodic appearance and disappearance of the sun and the moon; cultural differences among people of different nations; the language, the dress, and the eating habits in different parts of the world; the multiple species of life inhabiting the earth. . . the list is endless. Such varieties add color to an otherwise dull life, thus making life interesting and even exciting.
According to the Bhagavad-gita (15.1), this material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. All varieties of this world exist in the spiritual world in its original pure form. If this material world, despite the inherent miseries of repeated birth and death, can appear so attractive to us, we can only imagine how attractive the spiritual world must be, which is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. Therefore, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, regularly appears in this world to attract us and take us back to His blissful kingdom. At scheduled intervals He descends as various incarnations in different parts of the universe. At other times He remains in this world in the form of His Deity (archa-vigraha) whereby He accepts personal loving service from His devotees. In this article, we will see how Krishna in His Deity form appears in so many amazingly different ways on this earth just to show His special love for His devotees.
The Various Deity Forms
The Vedic scriptures tell us that there are 330 million demigods, and many Vedic followers worship some of these demigods, prominent among them being Lord siva, Lord Ganesh, goddess Durga, etc. Each of these demigods appears in a certain form as described in the scriptures, and their followers worship them accordingly. None of these demigods are known to take up multifarious forms in order to reciprocate with their devotees. For example, Lord siva is universally worshiped in his linga form, Durga is worshiped in her eight-handed fierce form, Ganesa is famous as the elephant-headed god, and so on.
Lord Krishna, however, is worshiped in a variety of beautiful forms all over the world. Most of these forms appeared in order to exchange personal loving dealings with His devotees. Let us see some of them.
Lord Badrinarayana – Badrinatha, Uttarakhand
Up in the Himalayan Mountains, Lord Vishnu as Lord Badrinatha is worshiped in His black shalagrama-sila form. It is said that Lord Vishnu was performing austerities under the scorching sun, and to protect Him from the heat, Goddess Lakshmi took the form of a badri (bael) tree. Thus the Lord, who is known as Laksminatha, came to be known as Badrinatha or Badrinarayana.
Srinathaji – Nathdwara, Rajasthan
Nathdwara means “the gateway of Lord srinathaji.” It lies near Udaipur in the hills of Mewar. 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 servitors of Sri Nathaji 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. Sri Nathaji 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.
Udupi Krishna – Udupi, Karnataka
Once, during the time of Lord Krishna’s manifest pastimes on earth, Mother Devaki lamented to the Lord over her misfortune at never having witnessed the Lord’s childhood pastimes in Vrindavana. She entreated the Lord to make her happy and fortunate, like Mother Yashoda, by showing some of His childhood feats and frolics.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, just to give pleasure to His pure devotee, at once assumed the form of a small child and clambered all over Devaki’s lap. Later, when Devaki went to churn butter, Krishna, acting like an ordinary mischievous child, broke the churn, ate the lumps of butter, and even smeared butter all over his transcendental body. He then snatched the churning rod and rope from Devaki’s hands. After sporting like this for some time, the Lord again assumed His usual form of eternal youth. Mother Devaki was thrilled beyond measure to see this childhood pastime of the Lord.
Queen Rukmini-devi, Lord Krishna’s consort, witnessed these pastimes, and the Lord’s mischievous behavior and childhood features enthralled her. To preserve the memory, she had a Deity made of child Krishna holding a churning rod and rope. Queen Rukmini began to worship this Deity regularly. Later, after the Lord returned to the spiritual sky with His retinue, Arjuna deposited the Deity in a place called Rukminivana. In the course of centuries the Deity became completely covered with clay, and it remained in that condition near Dvarakauntil merchant sailors brought it to Madhvacharya at Udupi.
Lord Dvarakadhisha – Dvaraka, Gujarat
Because Lord Krishna lived in Dvarakaas a prince, He is worshiped there in that mood. As a ruler, Dvarakadhisha has only the best of motives. His only objective is to defeat demoniac influences and protect His surrendered, pure devotees. His authority is original and inexhaustible.
The Dvarakadhisa Deity is opulently dressed, and the symbols in His four hands (conch, club, disc, and lotus) are covered in silver.
Ranachora Raya – Dakor, Gujarat
Ranachora (rana-cora) means “one who flees from battle” or, more simply, “deserter,” and raya (from raja) designates a king or a respected person. Krishna gained fame as Ranachora Raya when He fled a battle, apparently out of fear. Actually, He wanted to prevent needless killing and attend to His pastime of kidnapping Rukmini, His first wife. Krishna’s fleeing the battle is especially glorified by devotees in Gujarat because it marked Krishna’s taking up residence in Dvaraka, in Gujarat.
About 300 years ago, there was a devotee named Budhana. Every year he used to go to Dvaraka to see Lord Dvarakadhisha. When he was unable to visit Dvaraka in his old age, Lord Dvarakadhisha instructed him to get a bullock cart. The Lord then boarded the bullock cart and accompanied Budhana all the way to Dakor, where He is still worshiped.
Lord Vitthala – Pandharpur, Maharashtra
Once Srimati Radharani, Lord Krishna’s consort in the village of Vrindavana, visited Dvaraka, where Lord Krishna lived as a king. At that time, Rukmini Devi, Lord Krishna’s queen, noticed that Krishna was dealing more intimately with Radharani than He had ever done with her. Upset, she departed for the forest of dindirvana, near Pandharpur.
Lord Krishna followed Rukmini to apologize, but His apology left her unmoved. So the Lord moved on to Pandharpur to visit one of His devotees, Bhakta Pundarika, now popularly known in Maharashtra as Pundalika.
When the Lord reached Pundarika’s asrama, Pundarika was serving his elderly parents. So Pundarika gave the Lord a seat of brick and asked the Lord to wait. The Lord did as told. He stood, lotus hands on His hips, waiting for Pundarika to return.
While He was waiting, Rukmini, having forgotten her distress, came from dindirvana
and rejoined Him. Both of Them stayed in Pandharpur in Deity form. To this day the Lord stands on the same brick, but now He’s waiting for all His devotees to come see Him.
While waiting, the Lord seems to tell the devotees, “Do not fear. For those who have surrendered unto Me, I have reduced the depth of the ocean of material suffering. See, it is only this deep.”
He indicates the shallowness of the ocean by placing His hands on His hips.
Lord Narsimhadeva – Mangalagiri and Ahobilam, AP
Here Lord Krishna is worshiped in His most ferocious form of half-man-half-lion, Lord Narsimhadeva, who appeared from a pillar in order to protect His dear devotee Prahlada. There are nine Narsimha temples in Ahobilam situated on the mountain tops, and each temple has its own unique story.
A few hours drive from Ahobilam is Mangalagiri where we find another Deity of Narsimhadeva. Devotees here offer jiggery water to the Deity. The interesting feature is that anyone who wishes to offer jaggery water pours the water directly into the Deity’s wide-open mouth. The Lord accepts half the water contained in the vessel; the other half is distributed to everyone as maha-prasada.
After killing Hiranyakashipu, little Prahlada expressed to Lord Narsimhadeva his desire to see the form of the Lord that killed his uncle, Hiranyaksha. At that time, the Lord showed His form as Varaha Narsimha. This form is worshiped in Simhachalam. Two major festivals are celebrated here: Marriage of the Lord with Lakshmidevi in the month of Chaitra (March–April), and Chandana-yatra starting from Akshaya-trtiya in the month of Vaisakha(April–May). Lord Narsimhadeva was extremely angry after killing Hiranyakashipu, so to keep Him cool, He is kept covered with sandalwood throughout the year. Only once in a year, on the day of Akshaya-trtiya, early in the morning, the Deity is divested of His sandalwood covering, and devotees have the opportunity to see His underlying form. The Deity is ceremonially bathed, and in the evening again covered with sandalwood. Pilgrims journey from various parts of India to be present in Simhachalam on this day.
Lord Ranganatha – Sri Rangam, Tamil Nadu
Pleased by the penance of Brahma(the first created being), Lord Vishnu (the Supreme Lord) manifested Himself in the form of Lord Ranganatha for Brahmato worship. Lord Ranganatha appeared with His Deity chamber, or vimana. Brahma worshiped Lord Ranganatha for a long time and eventually handed the worship over to Vivasvan, the sun-god, who handed it over to Svayambhuva Manu, the father of mankind. Manu passed on the worship to his son iksvaku, a great king and the head of the dynasty in which Lord Krishna was later to appear in His incarnation as Lord Ramachandra.
While traveling to Sri Lanka with Sri Ranganatha (along with the Lord’s vimana), Vibhishana stopped near the Kaveri River, at a holy place called Candra Pushkarini, where a Deity of Ananta sesa (the Lord’s serpent-bed) was worshiped. Dharma Varma, a king of that region, had seen Lord Ranganatha in Ayodhya and had been praying for some time to be able to serve Him. Lord Ranganatha blessed the king by promising to stay at Sri Rangam. When Vibhishana tried to continue his journey, Lord Ranganatha would not move.
Lord Ranganatha then blessed Vibhishana by promising to always look toward Vibhishana’s kingdom, Sri Lanka. So although most Deities in India face east, Sri Ranganatha Swami reclines on His right side with His head toward the west as He looks south toward His great devotee Vibhishana.
The Deity in the main temple is Sri Ranganatha Swami, a two-armed form of Lord Vishnu reclining on the divine serpent Ananta sesa.
Lord Venkateshvara – Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh
Sri Venkateshvara, a self-manifested Deity, was discovered on the Tirumala hills near Pushkarini Lake, located west of Tirupati. South of the lake, devotees built a simple temple for the Lord just pillars supporting a roof and began worshiping Him. Over the centuries Sri Venkateshvara attracted the attention and devotion of the area’s rulers, and they gave generously to build a grand, stone-carved temple around Him and to increase the grandeur of His worship.
Sri Venkateshvara is awe-inspiring. Solid black, He stands seven feet tall, His lustrous form dimly lit by ghee lamps. The first sight of Him is of His prominent tilaka, two large, white, vertical, slightly separated blocks adorning most of His forehead and nose and part of His eyes and cheeks.
Lord Guruvayurappan – Guruvayur, Kerala
At the time of Lord Krishna’s disappearance from the mortal world, His devotee Uddhava was overwhelmed with feelings of separation. The Lord then gave Him this Deity and instructed him to entrust Brihaspati, the spiritual master of the demigods, with the task of taking the Deity to a suitable location. Brihaspati with the help of Vayu started searching for an ideal place to install the Deity. Finally they entered Kerala and installed the Lord in Guruvayur. Because the installation was done by Guru and Vayu, the place came to be known as Guruvayr.
Lord Jagannatha – Puri, Orissa
Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the universe, is worshiped along with His brother Lord Balarama and sister Subhadra. Lord Jagannatha accepts fifty-six different types of food, offered eight times daily. And the Lord goes out for a ride every summer in one of India’s biggest religious festivals Ratha-yatra, or The Festival of the Chariots.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu – Mayapur, West Bengal
Lord Caitanya is Lord Krishna appearing in devotional form, that is, as a devotee, and is accompanied by His associates Lord Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara and Srivasa. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu is considered the most magnanimous because He freely bestows love of Godhead. It is said that when Krishna last appeared in His original form on this planet, the separation of His beloved Radharani was felt so intensely that He wanted to come back as His own devotee so He could feel the ecstasy of separation. Therefore Lord Caitanya is considered as an incarnation of Radha and Krishna. He appeared in Bengal, India, five hundred years ago to teach love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra.
Vamsivihari Dasa is the associate editor of Bhagavad-darsana, the Hindi edition of Back to Godhead.