In wanting to reciprocate with His devotees, the Deity can go to any extent!
Most of the people born in India have the fortune of being raised with a religious and pious background. Worshipping Deities, fasting on festivals like Janmastami, visiting places of pilgrimage like Haridwar, Rishikesh etc. are not uncommon to us. However, when we are not aware of the philosophy and the Correct understanding, these observances become mere rituals.
When I first started attending ISKCON programs, the thing that first captured my attention was the opulence and the grandeur with which Deity worship was being carried out. However, since I had a little atheistic inclinations, it was difficult for me to accept the significance of Deity worship. Somewhere deep in my heart, doubts still lurked. It was not that I was against Deity worship but or was I convinced intellectually. It was at such a time that I read in books by Srila Prabhupada – "If it is really not impossible for the Lord to do any task, why is it tough for Him to appear in a Deity form?" This challenge startled me and I read on. At the end, I was convinced – intellectually.
To be freed from the doubts concerning Deity worship, it is necessary to first understand that it is possible for the Lord to do anything (and that includes really anything!). To impose restrictions on God means that we are not conversant with the very basic definition of the word 'God'. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita(1O.8) – "Aham sarvasya prabhavo …. " – Everything emanates from me. If this is the case then why would it be difficult for Him to manifest Himself through any of these emanations? Why would it be difficult for Him to appear to His devotees in the form of his Deities? He certainly doesn't have any diffiwlty in doing so. He certainly does not appear in concocted forms, though.
Throughout this issue, it has been stressed that Deity is the mercy incarnation of God, that has appeared just to accept the service of His dear devotees, However, these Deities not only accept the service of the Lord, but also reciprocate with such intensity with Their devotees, that the devotees in turn, feel bound to surrender their whole existence to Him, Some such pastimes are presented herein.
Having taken sannyasa and on his way to Jagannatha Puri, Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu reaches Remuna alongwith His followers. There He sees the transcendental form of the Lord and so cannot control His ecstasy. The He starts narrating the pastimes of the Deity.
Once upon a time, Srila Madhavendra Purl (spiritual master of Isvara Puri, who is the spiritual master of Lord Caitanya), while wandering reached Govardhana and sat beneath a tree. A very beautiful cowherd boy suddenly appeared and said, "Oh Madhavendra Puri! You are hungry. No one stays hungry in my village. So, I have brought some milk for you." The beautiful boy then handed over a pot of milk.
Already, Madhavendra Purl was speechless seeing the beauty of the boy. Not only was his thirst and hunger lost but he also experienced an unparalleled joy in his heart. The boy quickly added, "Now I have to go milk the cows. I will be back in the evening to collect my pot."
Srila Madhavendra Puri kept waiting for the boy till late evening and then started chanting Hare Krsna. Early in the morning, he fell asleep. The same boy appeared in his dreams and led him by his hand to a place thickly covered by plants and creepers.
"My name is Gopala", the boy informed. "l have been here for many years now. Take Me out and establish Me on top of Govardhana hill."
Upon waking up, Srila Madhavendra Puri felt remorse that he hadn't recognized the Lord when He had appeared in the morning. He then immediately set out to carry out the orders of the Lord. He took the help of some local villagers and found the Deity and installed it on top of Govardhana hill. He organized big festivals in honour of the Deity.
After almost two years, the boy reappeared in Srila Madhavendra Puri's dreams. "There is heat still in my body." He said. "Go to Puri and get some sandalwood from there and apply its paste Over My body." Srila Madhavendra Puri immediately left for Puri.
On his way to Puri, he reached the place of Remuna in Orissa. At this place was the Deity of Gopinatha. Seeing the beautiful form of the Lord, Sripada Puri became ecstatic, and started dancing and chanting in the most attractive way. Seeing the gorgeous arrangements for the Lord in the temple, he could understand that sumptuous preparations must be offered to the Lord there. He came to know that a very different type of condensed milk called amrtakeli is offered to the Lord in the evening, the taste of which is unknown to the world. "If I can get some of this wonderful preparation,'' he thought, "I can make some for my Gopala."
He immediately felt bad for thinking in this way beca use the bhoga hadn't been offered that day. Thinking like this, he immediately left the place and went away.
At midnight, Lord Gopinatha appeared in the pujari's dream and told him, "0 priest, please get up and open the door of the temple. I have kept one pot of sweet rice for Madhavendra Puri behind My cloth curtain. You did not see it because of My tricks. Deliver it to him."
The pujari (priest) got up in a hurry, bathed and entered the altar. As per the Lord's instructions, he found a pot of kheer behind the Deity. The pujari couldn't contain his happiness and ran out on the streets with the kheer in his hand, calling out to Madhavendra Purl. "Oh Madhavendra Puri, the most fortunate person in the three worlds! Where are you? Please come and accept this pot that Gopinatha has Himself stolen for you!"
Hearing his name being called out loudly, Srila Madhavendra Puri came out quickly and when he heard the story from the pujari, went into a trance. The pujari started offering him repeated prostrated obeisances. With tears in his eyes, Srlla Madhavendra Purl not only thanked the Lord for stealing the pot of kheer for him, but also broke the pot into small pieces and put it into his bag. Every day, he used to eat one small piece considering it as the mercy of the Lord.
Knowing that when the incidence becomes known to many people, they will thr ong to meet him, Srila Madhavendra Puri quickly left for Puri from Remuna. From that day, the Deity of Gopinatha came to be known as "Ksircora Gopinatha" – Gopinatha, the milk-thief. Although committing a theft is an abominable activity in the material world, still the Supreme Lord committed theft for His dear devotee. By this not only was the pure Madhavendra Puri's glories broadcast far and wide but even Gopinatha became famous all over.
DEITY PERFORMS THE SRADDHA CEREMONY
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura writes in his Anubhasya, "There is a place named Danihap, near the Agradvipa rail way station and Patuli in the district of Burdwan, where the Deity of Sri Gopinathaji is still situated. This Deity accepted Govinda Ghosa as His father. Even until today, the Deity performs the sraddha ceremony on the anniversary of the death of Govinda Ghosa. The temple of this Deity is managed by the raja-vamsa family of Krs nanagara, whose members are descendants of Raja Krsnacandra. Every year in the month of Vaisakha, when there is a baradola ceremony, this Gopinatha Deity is taken to Krsnanagara. The ceremony is performed with eleven other Deities, and then Sri Gopinathaji is brought back to the temple in Agradvipa."
SRI RADHA RAMANA
During Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's visit to South India, He very much impressed Sri Vyenkata Bhatta by His ecstatic kirtanas. He even stayed at Vyenkata Bhatta's home for the four months of Caturmasya. Vyenkata Bhatta directed his son, Gopala Bhatta, to render all services to Mahaprabhu during this period, and Gopala Bhatta with great sincerity took care of Sri Mahaprabhu's every need. Being pleased with Gopala Bhatta's devotional affecti on ,Mahaprabhu gave him initiation and ordered him that after the disappearance (death) of his parents he should go to Vrndavana to live there, performing bhajana, devotional service, and writing books.
At the age of thirty, after his parents disappeared, Gopala Bhatta went to Vrndavana. When he reached there, he heard that Mahaprabhu had already visited Vrndavana and had returned to Puri. Hearing this, Gopala Bhatta was disappointed , thinking th at Mahaprabhu had n ever ordered him to visit Him in Puri. Mahaprabhu, however, through Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami, sent Gopala Bhatta His personal asana (seat) and cloth as signs of His blessings.
Later, when Gopala Bhatta heard of the disappearance of Mahaprabhu, he felt great separation from the Lord. But in a dream Mahaprabhu instructed him, "If you want My darsana, make a pilgrimage to Nepal."
In Nepal, Gopala Bhatta visited the Gandaki river and took his bath there. After his bath, he filled his waterpot, but was surprised to see that some salagrama-silas had entered it. He emptied them back into the river and refilled his water pot, but again he saw that some salagrama-silas had entered his waterpot. He emptied his water pot one more time, and upon filling it a third time , he saw that now twelve salagrama-silas were there. Thinking that this must be some mercy of the Lord, he decided to bring all the silas to Vrndavana.
One day a wealthy man came to Vrndavana and offered Gopala Bhatta all kinds of dresses and ornaments for his silagramas. Gopala Bhatta, however, told him to give them to somebody else, since his salagramas were of a round shape and therefore the dresses and ornaments could not be used.
This incident made Gopala Bhatta think deeply. It was Nrsimha Caturdasi, the appearance day of Lord Nrsimhadeva, and Gopala Bhatta remembered how Lord Nrsimha, in His form as half-lion, half-man, had come Out of a pillar. Gopala Bhatta a prayed to the Lord, "0 Lord, You are very merciful. You fulfill all the desires of Your devotees. I wish to serve You in Your full form." He read the pastimes of Lord Nrsimhadeva in the Srimad-bhagavatam, and after chanting in ecstasy he fell unconscious. The next morning he awoke to find that one of the twelve salagramas, the Damodara sila, had manifested as Sri Radha Ramana! This Deity is worshipped today in the famous Sri Radha Ramana temple at Vrndavana.
THE LORD EATS TO PLEASE A CHILD
Once, a brahmana named Sri Ketana, whose service was to offer food to Lord Alarnatha, had to go out to beg provisions for the Lord. He gave his young son Madhu. the responsibility for making offerings in his absence, instructing Madhu to place the Lord's meals before Him and pray to the Lord to accept them.
When the time came to make the first offering, Madhu brought the food to the Lord and prayed, "0 my dear Lord, please accept this offering. I'm just a boy and don't know how to offer it properly."
Madhu then went out to play with his friends. When he returned, he saw that all the food was still on the plate.
"0 my Lord," he said, "why haven't you eaten ? If my father hears of this,
he'll be angry with me. Please eat."
Madhu left , only to return and find the food still on the plate. With tears in his eyes, he again begged the Lord to eat.
When Madhu returned the third time, the Lord's plate was empty.
Madhu happily carried the empty plate to his mother.
"Where is the prasadam?" she asked.
"Lord Alarnatha ate everything!" Madhu replied.
For three days Madhu and his family fasted because whenever Madhu offered the Lord His meal, He ate everything.
When Sri Ketana returned and heard of the situation, he scolded his son.
"What have you done with Lord Alarnatha's prasadam?"
"He ate it, father. I offered it just like you taught me."
"He can't eat," Sri Ketana replied. "He's just a stone Deity.
" Sri Ketana decided to see what was going on, so he hid behind a pillar while his son made an offering to the Lord. After Madhu had left, Sri Ketana saw the Lord reach down and pick up a bowl of sweettrice. Sri Ketana jumped from behind the pillar and caught hold of the Lord's arm, spilling hot sweetrice on the Lord's body.
"Stop!" Sri Ketana yelled. "What are You doing? Who ever heard of a Deity eating? If You eat everything, how will we live?"
Lord Alarnatha replied, "0 materialist in the guise of a brahmana, I never accept offerings from a faithless person like you, devoid of devotion. I accepted the offerings of Madhu because he offered them with simplicity and love.
"Today, the priests of Lord Alarnatha point out several scars on the Lord's body where He was scalded by the sweetrice.