• The Theology of Deity Worship
• About the Autor
Krishna Kshetra Das (Kenneth R. Valpey) wrote recently a book where he describes deity worship as practiced over the centuries. He studied Indian Studies or Indology at Oxford University, St. Cross College, (1999 - 2004). From that university he received a Ph.D. degree for his dissertation on Caitanya Vaishnava image worship
. In the summer of 2006, while I was visiting the Nrsimhadeva temple in Jandelsbrunn, he was also there and he showed me during our discussion his D.Phil dissertation. We know each other from the time I was living there and we had always a good and friendly relation. He told me ones, I think it was around the year 1988 or so, by that time he was head pujari for the temple of Prahlad Nrsimhadeva
, how unhappy he was that he was recommendet to the GBC in Mayapur to become an initiating guru. He wrote also a letter to the local GBC, explaining why he didn't feel enough qualified for such a position. He received as an answer that he would show by this just his humility. On the Website of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
one can read about him "Having taught courses in Indian and Asian religions for the year 2006 at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and having taught for the academic year 2007-08 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, he presently continues to teach at CUHK
each Autumn semester as a Visiting Scholar."
Thanks Kamalamalaji for your informations, its good that you are doing nicely care of your Radha-Krishna deities in Russia.
I wish you all a pleasant and happy Gaura Purnima!
On the Internet I found this article written by Krishna Kshetra Das in October 9, 2004 related to Deity worship:
"Some remarks on the procedure for performing arati.
The following remarks are an expression of my own thoughts regarding what seems to be a persistant source of disagreement and confusion in our Society regarding procedures for offering arati in our temples. My hope is that these remarks may serve to clarify, leading if not to a final definitive conclusion, at least to better understanding of the issue. What follows is not to be taken as any sort of final ‘position’ on my part, but is merely my effort to share my own understanding. It may well be mistaken, and I am open to correction by others. I may be repeating what others have said in recent discussions, not all of which I have been able to follow due to time constraints. My apologies if I sound out of touch with the immediate discussion.
1. Whenever we perceive what we think is a contradiction between different statements in shastra, or between what two different acharyas within our tradition say, or between what an acharya and some statement of shastra say, a good hermeneutical (=interpretive) principle is to try to understand how both positions are true, appropriate, fitting, or felicitous. The question becomes not ‘which is right and which is wrong?’ but ‘How – in what ways – are both right?’ This may involve various ‘strategies’, including distinguishing between principles and details, and seeing how one statement may apply in certain circumstances, another statement in other circumstances. It may involve contextualizing of statements (generally to identify what the overall argument or emphasis is, within which a particular statement is embedded. Note that to contextualize is not necessary to relativize in a negative sense).
2. Like so many aspects of Krishna consciousness, the various devotional activities we group under the heading ‘archanam’ are both sublimely simple and sublimely profound (or profoundly simply and simply profound! patram puspam phalam toyam...); there are some aspects of archanam which can be very complex in detail, and there are aspects which can involve considerable subtleties of understanding. The more I study, reflect on, and perform deity worship, the less I feel I have comprehended the depth of it, even as my appreciation of it grows.
3. Archanam is the realm of both formalized worship and hence respectful distance, and of intimacy, or potential intimacy, with the Lord by the rendering of direct services to Him in His archavatara. Because formality is emphasized in temple worship, there is emphasis on indirectness: One worships not directly, but through the spiritual master, who is (from our perspective) directly associated with the Lord (from his perspective, he is similarly connected through his spiritual master, etc.). But both principles – directness and indirectness, intimacy and formality – are at play. The pujari who dresses Krishna is directly dressing Krishna and this direct service is only possible by the blessings of the guru.
1. I find it intriguing that while arati is the central, most frequently performed, public event in archanam within our Vaishnava (and so many other Indian temple) traditions, there is extremely little verbalization within the tradition about its significance. By way of contrast, the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, certainly the most central of Christian rituals, is discussed in literally hundreds of volumes, written over several centuries. We may find that it behooves us, or Vaishnava theologians amongst us, to articulate significance of this rite in view of our Society’s presence in the West, with western expectations of ‘explanations’ for all one does in spiritual practices. And this in turn might help us appreciate and be more reflective about what we are doing when performing or viewing an arati.
2. There are considerable variations, at least in detail, how arati is performed in different temples identifying themselves with the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition. Some of these temples (especially in Vraja) may be sharing aspects of tradition with other sampradayas, and may indeed have adopted practices from other sampradayas. This is not to say they are now ‘deviated’. Rather, it may reflect a positive interaction and association, a persistent principle in the survival and enrichment of any tradition.
3. Shastric references to the performance of arati are, so far I have seen, usually brief, usually a simple injunctive phrase like ‘and now perform nirajana [i.e. waving of lights]’. Such injunction is invariably with reference to one single deity being worshipped at the time. There is no account of a multi-deity ‘altar’ (except with reference to the one deity’s parivaras (associates), who may be placed (generally by ritual/meditation, not physically) around the one deity. There is no account of guru-parampara pictures, or mention of the worship of Gauranga. Shastra (and I’m refering essentially to Haribhaktivilasa, the definitive compendium of archanam topics from which, largely but not entirely, later Gaudiya worship procedures are derived) does however emphasize that before worshipping Krishna (or one of His several forms) one must worship the guru. One worships guru by first sitting down and offering 5, 10, 12, or 16 upacaras, items of worship, including bathing dressing, offering bhoga. Then, with the guru’s blessings, one proceeds to offer different upacaras (usually at least 16) to the main deity one is worshipping (not the same incense, same lamp, same bhoga, etc., which one just offered to the guru; however, and I will get back to this, one may well use the same source of water for bathing guru and Krishna).
4. Srila Prabhupada, by emphasizing within the performance of arati that one offers arati items first to guru, then Gauranga, then Krishna, could be seen as both a way of emphasizing the indirect aspect of worship/dependence on the guru to approach the Lord and a way of combining, or perhaps better, including within the arati procedure the principle of worshipping guru first, then Krishna, which applies to the worship procedure that takes place behind closed curtain. Arati is generally a concluding activity to a process of worship (which is, on the whole, about respect and hospitality). Such condensation of ritual procedures, and its opposite, expansion of procedures (especially in festivals) is bread and butter of Vedic/Agamic/Puranic ritual.
5. As with all ritual, deity worship is full of ‘conventions’ (similar to theatrical conventions, e.g. a given action is understood to represent something else, or more of the same thing, like a loud stage-whisper representing actual whispering). So, for example, in the absence of many flowers we might offer one flower to Krishna (patram puspam phalam…) with the devotional thought that we are offering a large plate full of fragrant flowers. Another sort of ‘convention’ comes into play when there are several deities and gurus being worshipped more or less simultaneously at the same place (the same altar), whereby one may view or consider, for example, the offering of the same flower that one just offered to guru as a different flower as one offers to Gauranga, and again as a different flower when offering to Krishna. (One might understand this as taking from the same source of incense, water, flowers, etc.)
6. An alternative employment of convention as a way perhaps to emphasize that one is not offering the guru’s prasada to Krishna, involves making some gesture of offering respect and receiving blessings from the guru prior to offering each item to the main deity and ‘working one’s way down’ (the gesture might involve ‘offering’ with circles, or by holding up to and glancing at the guru, or a mental prayer, or a combination of these).
7. This second alternative, as far as Gaudiya tradition goes, seems appropriate, even though Srila Prabhupada did not introduce it (in his society). He did give instruction to certain devotees (Narottamananda Prabhu, Jayatirtha Prabhu, to my knowledge) that details of worship could be learned from local temples of Vrindavan/Mathura, of which he specified Radharamana and Keshava-ji Gaudiya Math.
8. When Srila Prabhupada indicated that archanam details could be learned from other temples he also indicated that he himself was not particularly informed of the details of archanam because he had never lived in a temple/math. I hasten to add that I, for one, don’t for a moment believe that I will come to understand even a small fraction of what Srila Prabhupada understands about deity worship in a million years. Srila Prabhupada was seeing Krishna directly when he was seeing the deity. What am I seeing? I mention this only to indicate that Prabhupada himself did not necessarily consider all of his instructions – so far details are concerned – as absolute and final.
9. But from points 6 through 8 I do not therefore conclude or urge that all temples should adopt the arati procedure indicated in #6 above. There is another principle to be considered in archanam, and that is tradition. Some practices – many practices – are performed a certain way because that’s how they have been done, ‘rightly’ or ‘wrongly’. The traditional way is right because Krishna is accepting it and has been accepting it (and, equally importantly, because the founder-acharya of the institution who installed a particular deity has specified it that way). The story that Ramanujacharya, despite his best intentions to ‘correct’ the worship procedures in the Jagannatha temple in Puri, was literally booted out by Jagannath after Jagannath’s pujaris prayed to Him not to let Ramanuja change anything, is a nice illustration of this point.
10. I personally am not convinced that all temples should be expected to settle for one or the other procedure for performing arati. I would suggest that this could be settled on the level of GBC secretaries, that is, that within a given GBC zone it might be decided to keep to the ‘early’ procedure or to the other. But neither am I utterly against uniformity in this matter if devotees feel it is crucial for the unity of our Society. That should perhaps be discussed on the GBC level. Again, these remarks are merely that – remarks aimed to hopefully clarify issues, at least to invite discussion and further clarification and correction."(more