Question: I have spent a lot of time looking at the traditions of the Śrī Vaiṣṇavas. Their texts are so much more codified than anything I have ever come across from the Gauḍīyas, which seems to be a spider web of references that don’t really lead to anything consistent. Is this just because it is a relatively new line?
Answer: I do not think it is because Gauḍīya is a new line. It is old enough to have fixed standards. But there are reasons why it has not been codified so rigorously as in the Śrī Sampradāya. Or rather it appears to be so. First it has a historical reason. Vrindavan was the education center for Gauḍīya sampradaya. Mahāprabhu sent Gosvāmīs to Vrindavan and organize and establish the sampradāya by writing literature and building temples. So, for two or three generations it continued. But then there was attack from Mughal emperor and all temples were demolished. The education center was disrupted. After that it never regained its original status. So, at present there is no central authority of the Gauḍīya school. There are hundreds of branches who do not have any dialogue with each other, especially on philosophical or practical aspects. Everybody follows their own standards. In my experience, I haven’t found anyone who follows the deity worship as described in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa tenaciously.
I think there are two reasons for not following Hari-bhakti-vilāsa for these ceremonies:
The local procedures were also incorporated. For example, in prāṇa-pratiṣṭha mostly Gauḍīyas follow the local tradition, whatever it may be. Also I have learned from the tradition that prāṇa-pratiṣṭha is performed to foster people’s faith in the deity, and not so much to invite the Lord into the deity. He is already there in the deity because of the love of His bhakta who wants to worship Him. Love is more potent than any ceremony done without devotion. But, common people can’t accept the Lord’s presence in the deity if prāṇa-pratiṣṭha is not performed. Therefore, local traditions are followed to invoke the lord in the deity. If you do not follow the local tradition then also people are dissatisfied.
Question: What you have said is what I also concluded about pratiṣṭha procedures. What I understand is that borrowing some local traditions such as a smārta prayoga, which may be tinged with Advaita-vāda, may be antithetical to the practitioner performing the pratiṣṭha rite.
Answer: I agree with you that we should have some standard. A million dollar question is who should standardize procedures for deity worship? At present, there is no single authority for Gauḍīyas, whereas Sri Chaitanya was the single authority in the times of Gosvāmīs. So I do not know how global standards can be established.
Question: I agree with you that ultimately love is more potent that any ritual performed without devotion. But, won’t it increase the strength of deity worship if both, rituals and devotion, co-exist? For lay practitioners, meditating on the external form of the Lord, who descends to engage with His devotees, would become an important practice.
Answer: Yes of course, when I say love is important it does not mean that we neglect the procedure, but that the procedure is secondary to love. It is out of love that procedure is followed, and may also be adjusted. It is like a mother who loves her baby, and thus learns ways to bring up the baby even if she is ignorant about it. But she may adjust the rules she has learned as per the requirements of her baby. So, Rāgānugā bhakti is like the love of a mother, as opposed to vaidhī bhakti, which follows rules and regulations. So even if some rules are not executed properly, Krsna does not mind because he appreciates love over rituals.
Question: The way I look at it is, temple worship is quite different from personal worship, so in essence, the point of a specific mood, aiśvarya vs. mādhurya, wouldn’t come up in majestic temple worship. But, I am curious to learn what a revered devotee like yourself would think.
Answer: Temple worship should predominantly be majestic but there should be majesty with love. Mere majestic worship is like a body which is well decorated but without life air. Personal worship in one’s home cannot be as detailed and majestic as in the temple. Hari-bhakti-vilāsa also says that many of the rules prescribed cannot be followed in the worship of one’s personal vigraha.
Question: I believe that the presence of familiar or local rituals helps people believe in the process of the deity installation. This is quite like performing wedding ceremonies for Indian families, as each community has its own traditions. If the local rituals are not performed, then people feel uncomfortable and doubtful about whether the priest did the right thing.
Answer: The variety of traditions and rituals spread across the country makes it not only difficult but also uncalled for to standardize deity installation and worship practices. That is why in India so many smṛtis exist and they are different for different parts of the country. Although Hari-bhakti-vilāsa gives standard procedures for vigraha installation, worship etc., it also says that one should follow according to one’s tradition, sampradāya-anusārataḥ.
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