On February, 23 the celebration of Maha Shivaratri was observed at the ancient Temple of Gopishwara Mahadeva in Vrindavan. Vaishnava’s honor the various Devas, seeing them as exemplar devotees of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. So in Vrindavan, the holy town of Krishna bhakti, Krishna devotees, following the edict of Srimad-bhagavatam, Vaishnavanam yatha shambhu,1 worship Lord Shiva as a Krishna devotee in his form of a gopi (Gopishwara Mahadeva).
It is said that, desiring to witness Krishna’s dance with the gopis (the Rasa-lila), Lord Shiva approached Vrindavan, but was barred entrance by the gopi Vrinda devi. She explained that Lord Krishna was the only male allowed to enter the arena of the dance. But, seeing Shiva’s intensely heartfelt desire, he was instructed to bath in the Yamuna River. He emerged from the Yamuna in a female form, that of a gopi, and was given the service of guardian of the dance. Since then, Gopishwara Mahadeva has been seen as the gatekeeper of Vrindavan. Those who seek to enter Vrindavan, not merely physically, but in spirit, approach him for blessings. In this mood, the Vaishnava saint Vishvanth Chakravarti Thakur prayed in his book Sankalpa Kalpadruma (text 103):
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 Gopishwara, the worshipable deity of the gopis! Desiring that you bestow upon me love for the divine couple, Sri Sri Radha Madhava, (Radha and Krishna) who perform joyous pastimes in Vraja, I offer my obeisances unto you again and again.”
During the day, Gopishwara Mahadeva appears as a large Shiva lingam, and in the evening he is dressed as a gopi, with a colorful sari and ornaments. On Maha Shivarati many thousands gather to bath Lord Shiva with milk and water, and make offerings of bael leaves and flowers. I was fortunate to attend this year and take part in the devotional, and somewhat wild, festivities. Here are some photos I managed to take.
- Shambhu (Lord Shiva) is the greatest of Vaishnavas ↩