PIONEERING THE WAY
Srila Prabhupada Impacts Mexico (Part 15)
I HAVE NO OBJECTION IF YOU INSTALL THE DEITIES
The enthusiasm that Srila Prabhupada injected into the devotees through his visit and their initiations was reflected by the translation, publication and distribution of Srila Prabhupada's books.
Rama Govinda Das: I had been living in the ashram for only three weeks when Srila Prabhupada visited for the first time; And when I had completed a month I was already an initiated disciple of His Divine Grace. This filled me with enthusiasm. So along with other devotees we would go out into streets of Mexico City and distribute hundreds of books.
Prakashananda das constructed a beautiful altar for our Pancha Tattva painting.
A regular daily program was established with Mangala arati, Tulasi arati and Srimad Bhagavatam class in the morning, and an evening program with Sandhya arati and Bhagavad Gita class which were well attended by the public.
The Sunday feast was an incredible success. Every week two to three hundred guests would attend and enthusiastically participate by singing, dancing, listening to class and then taking prasadam and asking the devotees many questions. Some began to practice Krishna consciousness and vegetarianism with their families at home and others joined the ashram.
When this news reached our neighbours to the north the American devotees began to visit ISKCON Mexico just to witness the great receptivity that the movement enjoyed with the Mexican public. Groups of devotees from Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Hawaii were seen passing through the temple.
Two of these devotees were Turya das and Shaktimati devi dasi. They had joined ISKCON Hawaii at the end of the sixties and were experienced experts in the worship of the Deity. Encouraged by the temple's flourishing atmosphere they decided to stay there and help the devotees with their talent by establishing a firm altar program so essential to the life of a temple.
When they first came to Mexico Chitsukananda and his wife Chandravali devi dasi had brought with them small Deities of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra. Amidst the favourable atmosphere that pervaded their use as the temple Deities was discussed and it was decided that when their service was well established with enough brahmanas to assist Turya das and Shaktimati devi dasi in their worship they would ask Srila Prabhupada for permission to install them.
By performing Hari nama and sankirtan through the streets of the city the devotees had laid a strong foundation and by further installing the Deity of the Lord they were laying down the keystone to Srila Prabhupada's rising spiritual edifice.
On preparing a community for the installation of an archa-vigraha or the transcendental forms of the Lord sculpted in the metal, wood or marble, Srila Prabhupada's custom was to first establish the worship of the Sri Pancha-tattva. All these transcendental forms of the Lord are authorized by the scriptures and great acaryas, and Srila Prabhupada was very pleased when they were properly worshiped in his temples.
Having maintained the worship of Sri Pancha-tattva for some time Turya das and the temple president thought the time was ripe and the devotees were ready to take the responsibility of worshiping the Deities. Turya das wrote to Srila Prabhupada about this and particularly mentioned that the Deities Chandravali devi dasi had taken with her were adequate and could be installed:
"Yes, I shall be very glad to hear that you have installed the Deity of Lord Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balarama, provided you and your wife are going to stick there in Mexico City and you will not go away. I have heard that you are well qualified to worship the Deity at the highest standard and this is very much necessary."
Srila Prabhupada acknowledged Turya das's qualifications in the above part of the letter, but just as importantly he verified his willingness to remain and sustain the program. In the next segment he mentioned the essential qualifications of someone engaged in worshiping the Deity:
"One who is worshiping the Deity must be always attentive and mindful of his occupation at all times. He must never for one moment forget his duty of serving the Deity at every moment and strive always to please the Lord."
After his concise description of the necessary attitude required for worshiping the Deity, Srila Prabhupada again stressed the need for Turya's commitment in leading the program:
"If you are willing to stick there in Mexico City, along with your good wife and do the needful for worshiping Lord Jagannatha and take all responsibility, then I have no objection if you install." (Letter August 16, 1972)
The devotees were motivated by Srila Prabhupada's positive response and immediately began preparations for the installation. Most of the female devotees and their families along with other close friends of the temple took special credit in the event. By sewing and embroidering they created and decorated opulently beautiful dresses for their Lordships under Shaktimati devi dasi's dedicated guidance. For his part, Turya das gathered the necessary elements for the ceremony with the help of Rohini Kumar das and other devotees.
According to Vaishnava scriptures and the system introduced by Srila Prabhupada an auspicious day on the Vaishnava calendar was chosen for the ceremony. Early that day the temple was decorated with fruits and flowers. Palm leaves, mango leaves, banana tree leaves, flower arrangements, and flower garlands could be seen all over the temple decorating the walls and hanging from the ceiling and balcony hand rails. Profusely decorated with a variety of aromatic flowers the altar was vibrantly colorful. Slabs made of marble extracted from a mine near the city, were set up in the altar, adding to its elegance. A receptacle decorated with flowers was placed next to the altar; on it, the Deities would be bathed with milk, yogurt, honey and other substances. Everything that was to be used for the bath was placed within hands reach of the brahmana priests conducting the ceremony. Set up in front of the altar, the ritualistic square arena for the fire sacrifice was marked with bricks and then filled with sand. This arena was underlined with banana leaves and encircled with five types of grains, five types of flower, five types of fruits and five types of vegetables, all graciously arranged for the ceremony.
When everything was ready, Their Lordships, Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Balarama made their appearance transported by the performing brahmana priests. They were then placed on the bathing receptacle and the ceremony began with the three priests alternately pouring yogurt, milk and water on them over and over again. After this welcoming bath they were dried, covered, and taken to the altar where Shaktimati dressed and decorated them. In the meantime Turya das took the officiating seat in front of the fire altar and began the process of purification by dropping three spoonfuls of water on his right hand, sipping it, and then rinsing it off with another one he would chant the purification mantra:
om apavitro pavitro va/ sarvavastam gato pi va/
yah smaret pundarikaksham/ sa vahya avyantara sucih
sri vishnu sri vishnu sri vishnu
He repeated this process three times with the other priests following his cue. As they did this, Rohini Kumar das, the local Sanskrit pundit, rhythmically chanted mantras. During the ceremony Turya das paused to talk about the Deity, its worship, and about the responsibility that the temple was taking on by their installation. He explained how the Lord had agreed to descend on Srila Prabhupada's request; and that he and the other priests were merely representing Srila Prabhupada, who was the only one qualified to ask Lord Jagannatha to descend and reside in the altar in the Deity form. He also explained that being non-different from Lord Krishna; the Deity should not be considered the same as something material, even though superficially it may seem like it. Because our senses are materially contaminated we cannot perceive the spirit; buy by His unlimited power the Lord had agreed to appear in a form that we could see.
Reading from the Nectar of Devotion he talked about the offenses to be avoided when worshiping the Deity. Being the Lord of the temple everything should be done for His pleasure, he explained. The offerings were to be cooked with the best ingredients that could be purchased, and above all he emphasized cleanliness. After his lecture the ceremony continued with the lighting of the sacrificial fire. As the mantras and prayers to the disciplic succession and Lord Sri Krishna were chanted, Turya das offered ghee into the fire while the other priests offered grains. Agni, or the fire, had turned into Lord Vishnu's mouth as the brahmanas threw oblations of mixed barley and sesame seeds into it. The conclusion of the mantras signaled the final oblation into the fire with each of the devotee-priest's offering, and by marking the foreheads of the attendance with this mixture; he gave the final accent to the ceremony's purification.
The altar doors suddenly opened revealing Their Lordships, Sri Jagannatha, Sri Baladeva, and Srimati Subhadra. Dressed in opulent new garments, decorated with jewelry and garlands, and surrounded by arrangements of fresh, aromatic flowers and foliage, they exhibited their never ending smiles. Silver trays laden with heaps of preparations were offered to the Lord as the arati ceremony was performed.
In rapt meditation the pujari offered their Lordships the standard articles of worship. Incense, ghee, camphor lamps, water, a fine handkerchief, and fresh flowers were offered in circles along their transcendental bodies as they granted their darsan for the first time and enjoyed the delightful feast the devotees had lovingly cooked for them. To conclude the arati the pujari loudly sounded the conch shell three times. The rumbling sound of the conch shell combined with the throbbing kirtan could be heard for blocks, blissfully announcing the Supreme Lord's arrival.
By invoking the Supreme Lord in His Deity form the devotees had invoked all-auspiciousness and had transformed the world of ordinary experience by charging it with the ecstatic transcendental relationship between the Lord and His devotees. By Srila Prabhupada's mercy, a place that was a mundane embassy had been turned into an embassy for the spiritual world; where the Lord Himself and His bonafide representatives had arrived to bless the people of the country.
Rama Govinda das
(R.G. Bhakti Prapana Parvata Maharaja)