How Vaishnavas worship Lord Shiva
Reposted Feburary 16, 2004
February 16th, 2004 is Shivaratri. Vaishnavas and Vrajavasis celebrate by seeking Lord Shiva's blessings and worship him in his form as a gopi at the ancient temple of Gopishwara in Vrindavan.
"It is said, vaishnavanam yatha sambhu: Lord Shiva is the best of devotees of Lord Krishna. In Vrindavan there is Lord Shiva's temple called Gopishwara. The gopis used to worship not only Lord Shiva but Katyayani (Durga) as well, but their aim was to attain the favour of Lord Krishna. A devotee of Lord Krishna does not disrespect Lord Shiva, but worships Lord Shiva as the most exalted devotee of Lord Krishna. Consequently, whenever a devotee worships Lord Shiva he prays to Lord Shiva to achieve the favour of Krishna and he does not request material profit." (Purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4. 24.30.)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur offered these prayers wriiten for Gopishwara Mahadev when he visited the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneshwar on June 22nd, 1922:
Vrindavanvani-pate jaya soma soma
prema prayaccha nirupadhi namo namas te
"O Shiva, O gatekeeper of Vrindavan! O you who are accompanied by Uma (Parvati)! O you who carry the moon in your hair! O lord worshiped by Sananda-kumar, Sanat-Kumar and Narada Muni! O Gopishwar, the worshipable deity of the gopis! Desiring that you bestow upon me love for the divine couple, Sri Sri Radha Madhava, who perform joyous pastimes in Vraja, I offer my obeisances unto you again and again." (Srila Vishwanatha Chakravarti's Sri Sankalpa-kalpadrum, cited in vol. 7 of Sri Krishna Kathamritam)
It is related that Lord Shiva desiring to witness the Rasa Lila is stopped from crossing the Yamuna by goddess Vrinda. Shiva protests this refusal of entry, saying he is a great devotee of Krishna and should be allowed to participate in His most wonderful pastime with the Gopis.
Vrinda devi's rejoinder is firm: "Krishna is the only male in the rasa-lila."
Lord Shiva, not to be outdone, submerges himself in Yamunadevi, non-different from love of Krishna, and emerges as a gopi. Now qualified as feminine, he gains an exclusive inside view into the Rasa play of Krishna and the gopis. The other Gods, including Brahma, may only witness and shower flowers from outside the realm of Vamsivata on Yamuna shore.
The Deity of Gopishwar Mahadev, worshipped in a small temple near Vamsivata, is a lingam -- one of four important Shiva-linga shrines in Vraja. Each night the lingam is transformed as he assumes the semblance of a gopi's face, replete with nose ring and other feminine ornaments in a most colourful attire The ensemble is different every day of the year. Lord Shiva resides forever in Vrindavan as Gopishwara Mahadeva, the dearest devotee of Krishna, and thus participates in all the Lord's unending Lila.
[Photos courtesy of Robyn Beech from the book on Sri Sri Radha Ramanji and Vrindavan Dham: Celebrating Krishna (Copyright Sri Chaitanya Prema Samasthana, Gambhira, Sri Radha-ramana. Vrindavan)]