About Deity Worship
From The Hidden Glory of India
by Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja Das)
Vaishnavas basically view the Deity in two ways. Primarily, the image is seen as an embodiment of the divine. The figure is infused with the presence of God. This makes it not simply a statue but the “abode” of the Lord no different from His essential nature.
Secondarily, the image is a focal point for concentration. Ultimately, the image incarnation of the Lord is a divine “descent” by which the Lord entrusts Himself to human caretaking. The Deity is a divine guest and He must be treated as such. Therefore He is offered incense, flowers, lights, hymns, food – all of this is pleasing not only to the devotee’s senses, but also to the Deity’s. Moreover, this interaction establishes a loving exchange between devotee and God.
The Sanskrit texts called Shilpa-shastras give exact prescriptions for the fashioning of Deities. There are specifications for the proper stance of the Deities, their hand gestures, bodily proportions, etc., so that the “image” is not merely a function of the “imagination” of the artist. Trained in scriptural specifications for divine forms, the shilpins (as the artists who create the images are called) enter into moods of deep yogic meditation, thus fashioning images not in accordance with fancy but in accordance with scriptural canon. When the Deity is ready to be worshiped and is placed in the temple, worshipers can come and have darshan (“seeing”) – they see the Deity and the Deity sees them.
It may be said that God’s willingness to incarnate in Deity form constitutes the ultimate expression of His love for humanity.
Deities come to Durban
Sri Sri Radha Radhanath, Sri Giriraj Govardhan and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu are the presiding Deities of ISKCON Durban, Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple.
When the devotees decided to build a temple in Chatsworth, they wanted to dedicate it to the worship of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna and Sri Chaitanya. Sri Caitanya is Krishna Himself manifesting the mood of Radha. Appearing just over five hundred years ago, Sri Caitanya taught the process of spiritual life relevant for this age–the chanting of Krishna’s holy names.
Sri Sri Radha Radhanath and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu arrived in South Africa some time before Their installation (formal confirmation of worship) at the grand opening of our temple in October 1985. Later, devotees desired to worship Govardhan Hill, or Sri Giriraj. Krishna declares that He is Govardhan Hill and in that form is very merciful to all that approach Him. A sacred stone from Govardhan Hill was brought here in March 2006.
Daily Deity Worship
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, following the ancient tradition and art of Deity worship established an unparalleled and elaborate standard of worship of Deities in ISKCON temples across the world.
Since the Deities’ installation here, we have offered the Deities puja, bathing and dressing, and a minimum of six offerings and aratis every day. To date that is approximately 61 320 food offerings, 61 320 aratis, 10 220 bathing ceremonies. Daily worship of the Deities begins at 3.45am and ends at 10.00pm.
Food Offerings and Aratis
Food (bhoga) preparations range from traditional Indian sweets to cakes and cookies, from chapatis and parathas to calzones, from savoury rices to quinoa, from Royal Bengali Subji to Vegetable Au Gratin — Sri Sri Radha Radhanath have daily been offered the finest of cuisines. Using only the finest and freshest ingredients, all preparations are cooked in ghee. Krishna is especially pleased when food that is offered is prepared with ghee, yoghurt, sugar, honey, and the most important ingredient, bhakti, or love.
After each food offering, a pujari (initiated priest) offers an arati ceremony in full view of the devotees who sing in kirtan. The arati ceremony involves offering the Lord different pleasing items of worship and honour such as incense, ghee-wick lamps, water, cloth, scented flowers, chamara (yak-tail) and a peacock fan.
The main puja (formal worship) for the Deities takes place daily behind closed curtains during the auspicious brahma-muhurta period, about 1.5 hours before sunrise.
Every morning the Deities are massaged with pure oils and bathed. They are offered other exotic items, usually imported from India. They are then offered fresh clothes and garlands for the day and are decorated with opulent jewellery and a variety of flowers. They are also offered freshly ground sandalwood pulp mixed with camphor.
In the evening the Deities accept a simple puja of being dressed in comfortable clothes so He can sleep peacefully. He is offered a sweet drink and other items to prepare for the night’s rest, while His bed is set out into which He is invited to take rest for the night.
The outfits we offer the Lord are made from the finest cloths like silk, cotton, and linen, and also satin, lace, velvet, and a variety of other exclusive fabrics. Garments are enhanced by Indian hand embroidery such as zardosi, kalamkari, zari, resham and sequins. Some garments are hand woven and we also use semi-precious stones, crystals, pearls, gold and silver trims. The designs of the outfits are based on the Vedic system by our highly skilled local seamstresses who successfully maintain a fresh and vibrant approach to each outfit. The Deities are offered over ten new outfits each year.
The Deities have accumulated a wonderful collection of accessories—necklaces, bracelets, ankle bells, earrings, rings, arm bands, hair clips, fascinators—over the period of more than two decades. Sri Sri Radha Radhanath are dressed in all types of jewellery — modern, traditional, ethnic, glass, handmade, custom-made, to name a few. Krishna loves to wear peacock feathers. He has several feather pieces decorated with gold thread, beads, and stones. Srimati Radharani has a collection of crowns in every colour. Pujaris source exclusive jewellery from all over the world—Dubai, Thailand, India, Europe, etc.
Flowers form an important part of the daily attire and worship of our Deities. They are often adorned with one or more flower garlands. Scripture describes the Lord as wearing a vaijayanti garland. This means that the garlands have at least five types or five colours of flowers. Large quantities and a variety of first-grade flowers in a rainbow of colours are creatively used to make beautiful flower garlands. Fragrant and exotic flowers are specifically grown for Their Lordships.
Pujaris—The Deities’ Servants
Our pujaris are specifically trained in Deity worship. This process can take several years. These blessed souls personally serve the Deities by cooking, offering arati, dressing, etc. They spend the days following the Deities’ schedule. Apart from receiving first and second initiation, pujaris follow a specific standard of cleanliness, lifestyle, and devotional practice.
Take Care of Krishna for a Day
Since only a select few get to personally worship the Deities, the devotees explored ways for everybody to share in that rare and privileged opportunity. Thus the Take Care of Krishna program was conceived in 2005 and has since grown to be one of the most inspiring contributions that anyone can offer to Sri Sri Radha Radhanath.
What is Take Care of Krishna?
Simply sponsor all the worship—all the morning puja, all the bhoga offerings (excluding the Raj-bhoga) and aratis—on a day of your choice. Be it a birthday, anniversary, promotion, graduation, or to honour a lost loved, this is a wonderful opportunity to extend yourself to please Lord Krishna.
How It Works
Your name or the name of a loved one will be announced prior to each puja, offering, and arati. There will also be a sign with your name next to the altar announcing that you have taken care of Krishna on that day.
Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Shower Their Blessings on You
Krishna declares that if you take one step towards Him, He takes ten towards you. You will receive maha-prasada — prasada directly from the Lord’s plate, jewellery and a garland that the Lord has worn, and some surprise spiritual gifts. But most of all, you will get the eternal spiritual sukriti – benefit, of caring for Sri Sri Radha Radhanath, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Sri Giriraj Govardhan for a day.
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