Shrinathji

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Sri Nathji of Nathdwara

Shrinathji is a form of Hindu god Krishna, manifest as a seven-year-old child (Balak).[1] The principal shrine of Shrinathji is situated at the temple town of Nathdwara, located 48 Kilometers North-east of Udaipur city in Rajasthan. Shrinathji is the central presiding deity of the Vaishnava sect known as the Pushti Marg (The way of grace) or the Vallabh Sampradaya or Shuddhadvaita, established by Shri Vallabhacharya. Shrinathji is worshipped mainly by the followers of Bhakti Yoga and the Vaishnava in Gujarat and Rajasthan[2] among others. Vitthal Nathji,[3] son of Vallabhacharya institutionalised the worship of Shrinathji at Nathdwara.[4] On account of the popularity of Shrinathji, Nathdwara town itself is referred to as ‘Shrinathji’.[5] People also call it bava's (shreenath ji bava) nagri. Initially, the child Krishna deity was referred to as Devdaman (The conqueror of Gods – Referring to over-powering of Indra by Krishna in the lifting of Govardhan hill).[6] Shri Vallabhacharya named him as Gopala and the place of his worship as ‘Gopalpur’. Later, Vitthal Nathji named the deity as Shrinathji.

History[edit]

Early References[edit]

Reference of Shrinathji can be found in ancient texts and literature. Shrinathji specifically refers to the narrative in the Bhagavata Purana wherein Krishna lifts Govardhan hill to protect the inhabitants of Vrindavan from a downpour of rain sent by Indra, the King of Devas. The most ancient description of Shrinathji appears in the Giriraja-khanda of the Garga Samhita, wherein the deity has been referred to as Devadaman Shrinath.

Legend[edit]

Vallabhacharya discovers Sri Nathji, at Mount Govardhan

The followers of Pushtimarg assert that the deity's arm and face first emerged from the Govardhan hill, and thereafter, the local inhabitants (Vrajavasis) under the spiritual leadership of Madhavendra Puri started the worship of the Gopal (Krishna) deity.[7] This Gopala deity was later termed as Shrinathji. Thus, Madhavendra Puri is attributed to discovery of the deity of Gopal near Govardhana, which was later adapted and worshiped by Vallabhacharya [8] as Shrinathji. Initially, Madhavendra Puri, carried out the worship of the deity's upraised arm and later, the face. Shrinathji was originally worshipped in a humble shrine at Jatipura village near Govardhan and subsequently, moved to a larger temple on top of the hill. According to Pushtimarg literature, Shrinathji appeared to Shri Vallabhacharya,[9] in the Hindu Vikram Samvat year 1549 and directed the Vallabhacharya to proceed to the Govardhan Hill to begin worship.

Vallabhacharya made arrangements for the worship of this deity, and this tradition was carried forward by his son, Vitthalnathji.

Historical Account[edit]

According to the legend, the Srinathji deity self-manifested from stone and emerged from the Govardhan Hills. Historically, the idol of Shrinathji was first worshipped at Govardhan hill, near Mathura.[10] The image was initially shifted from Mathura in 1672 A.D. along river Yamuna and was retained at Agra for almost six months, in order to safeguard it from anti-Hindu iconoclastic Islamic policies of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.[11] Subsequently, the idol was transferred further south on a chariot to a safer place to protect it from barbarian destruction unleashed by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.[12] When the icon reached the spot at village Sihad or Sinhad in Mewar, the wheels of chariot in which the icon was being transported sank into mud and could not be moved any farther. The accompanying priests realised that the place was the Lord Shrinathji's chosen spot and accordingly, the icon was installed in a temple there under the rule and protection of the then Maharana Raj Singh of Mewar. As per Lieut.-Col. Tod,[13] Rana Raj Singh "offered the heads of one hundred thousand Rajputs for his (Shrinathji’s) service," and the God was conducted by the route of Kotah and Rampura to Mewar.” In the anarchical environment of late 18th and early 19th Century, the temple of Shrinathi was attacked by the Holkars of Indore, the Medas and the Pindaris. Accordingly, the icon was shifted again and was protected at Udaipur and Ghasiyar under the patronage of Maharana Bheem Singh of Mewar.

Nathdwara Temple or Haveli[edit]

Main article: Shrinathji Temple
Gate of the Shrinathji Temple

Shrinathji was brought to Mewar region of Rajasthan through Agra and Gwalior, during the oppressive reign of Aurangazeb, for protection from widespread destruction of Hindu temples. The chariot carrying the image is believed to have stuck in mud at Sihad village of Mewar while traveling, and hence the idol was established in a temple built with the permission of the then Rana of Mewar. As per the religious myths, the shrine at Nathdwara was built in the 17th century at the spot as ordained by Shrinathji himself.[14] The temple is also popularly called Shrinathji ki Haveli (House of Shrinathji) because like a regular household it has a chariot for movement (In fact the original chariot in which Shrinathji was brought to Singhar), a store room for milk (Doodhghar), a store room for betel (Paanghar), a store room for sugar and sweetmeats (Mishrighar and Pedaghar), a store room for flowers (Phoolghar), a functional kitchen (Rasoighar), a jewellery chamber (Gahnaghar), a treasury (Kharcha bhandaar), a stable for horses of chariot (Ashvashala), a drawing room (Baithak), a gold and silver grinding wheel (Chakki). There are several prominent temples around the world that play homage to Shrinathji. The "Nathdwara" of the western hemisphere is known as Vraj. It is located in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania. Over 100,000 Hindus visit Vraj in a year. The priests and servants within the temple are not paid any cash salaries, receiving simply prasad as a reward for their duties. Often this prasad is given or sold to guests who visit the temple for darshan.

Icon at Nathdwara[edit]

Nathdwara Srinathji at representing the autumn Annakuta Festival. late 18th century.

The icon of Shrinathji is specific as the deity symbolizes that form of Krishna, when he lifted the Govardhan hill. In the image, the lord is revealed with his left hand raised and the right hand made into a fist resting at the waist, with a large diamond placed beneath the lips which is known as chibuk

The idol is carved in Bas-relief out of a monolithic black marble stone,[15] with images of two cows, one lion, one snake, two peacocks and one parrot engraved on it and three sages placed near it. The idol of Shrinathji wears exquisitely worked jewels, some dating back to pre-Mughal period.[16] Shinathji is adorned with intricately woven shaneels and silk clothe having original zari and embroidery works. The Nathdwara temple is referred to as the Haveli, term used for the temple because it was situated in a fortified mansion, or Haveli, once a royal palace of the Sesodia Rajput rulers of Mewar. Accordingly, Shrinathji is referred to with the honorific Thakurji in local area and customarily the name Shrinathji is not uttered as a matter of respect and reverence. The religious tradition holds that Shrinathji would return to Govardhan some day.

Festivals and Rituals at the Temple[edit]

The Shrinathji temple at Nathdwara celebrates, on an average, three festivals in a week.[16] As regards to daily routine, the inner sanctum is opened 8 times a day for the devotees undertake sacred darshan of the deity. Very elaborate and complex rituals have emerged around the worship of Shrinathji due to confluence and inter-mixing of cult of Krishna as well as that of Pushti Margi Shri Vallabhacharya.[17] The main attractions of Shrinathji are the Aartis and the Shringar, i.e. the dressing and beautifying of the idol of Shrinathji, treating it as a living child, adorning it with the appropriate dresses commensurate to the time of day or night. The formal prayers are offered with diya, flowers, fruit and other offerings, with local instruments and devotional songs of the Shrinathji, according to the demand of the time and occasion. The view of the idol after the parda (curtain) is removed is called jhakhi.

The priests in the Havelis of Shrinathji are believed to be from the kul (descendants) of Vallabhacharya, the founder of this deity's idol at Govardhan hill, near Mathura. Presently, Shrinathji is worshiped by priests from this kul (genealogical descendants) of Vallabh Acharya, and in all Havelis around the world, which have also been established exclusively by them. In the rest of the world a Brahmin of a special sect who has initiation and agya (permission) perform the worship of shrinathji. Devotees throng to the shrine in large numbers during occasions of Janmashtami and other festivals, like Holi and Diwali. The deity is treated like a living image, and is attended with daily normal functions, like bathing, dressing, meals called "Prasad" and the resting times in regular intervals. Since, the deity is believed to be a child form of Krishna, special care is taken and attention is given to the deity, the same way a mother would to her child.

Daily ritual of 8 darshans[edit]

Legend[edit]

The gopies of Vraj used to love the Lord so much, they would be at Yashoda’s door at all hours, finding any excuse to see their beloved Nanda Gopal. Mother Yashoda was very protective of her darling child. Concerned that with all these adoring gopis, hanging around her house at all hours of the day, her darling child will never get any time to rest or play properly with his friends. So she decided that all those who wish to visit her beloved Bala Gopal, could do so after he had finished a snack or a meal, and was resting before going out again.

Ritual[edit]

Taking a legend as his cue, Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya decided to open the haveli, his own version of the Nandalay (House / Palace of Nanda, foster father of Lord Krshna), at specific times of the day only. Acharya set aside eight times of the day when the doors of the inner sanctum would be left open for the people to catch a glimpse ("jakhi") of the Lord. Rest of the time, the Lord was allowed to go out and play with his friends—gopas and gopies of Vraj.

The sequence of eight darshans are set out below.

  1. Mangala: First darshan of the day. Lord, having woken up, has just had his breakfast and greets his devotees with the most "auspicious" darshan of the day. This darshan usually occurs at dawn.
  2. Shringar: Having bathed and dressed her little darling, Mother Yashoda allows everyone to adore her baby. After this darshan, the Lord goes out to play with his friends.
  3. Gval: Having had his mid-morning snack, the Lord is about to go out to heard the cows of Nandaji. Lord is worshipped by reciting His thousand names and the sacred tulsi (basil) leaves are offered with each name.
  4. Rajbhog: After his mid-day meal, the Lord is resting in the comfort of Nanadalay. Lord is often most regal and resplendent for this darshan. Fresh garlands and lotuses are offered to the Lord. The arti, Lord plays chopat, an ancient board game or version of chess to while away the hot afternoon.
  5. Utthanpan: Lord has just woken up from his afternoon siesta.
  6. Bhog: Having had his afternoon snack, the Lord is about to go out to play again.
  7. Sandhya: As the sun dips over the western horizon, the Lord returns with the herds of Nandaji and the gopies come to see their beloved. Mother Yashoda wards off any evil that may have befalled her darling in the woods of Vraj, by doing an arti and the Lord bathes for the evening meal.
  8. Shayan: Having had his dinner, the Lord is about to go off to his bed chamber. This is the last public darshan of the day.

The outline of darshans given above is a general layout. Over the centuries, different Goswamies have interpreted the "bhavas" and "lilas" differently, resulting in a mixture of oral and ritual traditions followed by the various havelies of Pushti Marg. For example, the Shrinathji, having left his beloved Vraj, misses it so dearly, that for six months of the year, he runs back to Vraj for the shayan darshan. So, from Mangala to Sandhya arti, the Lord is reckoned to be in Nathadwara. After the arti, he rushes over, in his spiritual form, to play with the gopis of Vraj. Hence, Shayan arti takes place at Mount Govardhan for the warm half of the year. During the cold months, running over to Vraj is not such a practical option, and hence the shayan darshan takes place at Nathadwara. Here the bhava of gopijan’s viraha and Raasa-Rasika’s unique lila are of paramount importance.[18]

In art and culture[edit]

Shrinathji followers have significant influence on Hindu art in the form of the Pichhwais, which are intricate and colourful paintings on cloth, paper, walls and temple hangings which portray Shrinathji. These are devotional textiles that centre on the image of Shrinathji. Nathdwara is the hub of the pichhwai art, Nathdwara Paintings.

Worship at other places[edit]

Preachers have founded Shrinathji temples in present-day Pakistan (Dera Ghazi Khan), earlier a part of undivided India and not far from Nathdwara. This was done by Shri Lalji Maharaj who was sent to Sindh by Shri Vithalnathji to spread Pushti Marg. Shrinathji is also worshiped at Russia (in the lower Volga region) and other places on the Central Asian trade routes. In the United States, there are eight Shrinathji temples; New Haven, Connecticut, Parlin, New Jersey, Phoenix, Arizona, one in the midwest, Florida and California, and Lowell, Massachusetts. Vrajdham Haveli located in Margao, Goa was inaugurated in 2013 for the benefit of all the Vaishnavs residing in Goa. [19] [20] [21] [22]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Ambalal, Amit: Krishna as Shrinathji: Rajasthan Paintings from Nathdwara, Mapin, Ahmedabad (1987)
  • Gaston, Anne-Marie: Krishna’s Musicians: Musicians and Music making in the Temples of Nathdvara, Rajasthan, Manohar, New Delhi (1997)
  • Jindel, Rajendra: Culture of a sacred town : a sociological study of Nathdwara, Popular Prakashan, Bombay (1976).
  • Jones, Constance & James D. Ryan: Encyclopedia of Hinduism [1]
  • Lyons, Tryna: The artists of Nathadwara: The practice of painting in Rajasthan, Indiana University Press (2004)

External links[edit]