One of the most original features of the religious movement of Shri Vallabhacharya is its divine worship. It is different in all probability from that of all other religious bodies in India including those of the Bhakti-Marga. It is called Seva, Service, and the term Divine Service can be applied to it in a far truer sense than to any other worship, whether in India or outside. This service is sharply contrasted from the worship of other bodies in several features, both outward and inward.
A very notable difference lies in the fact that Vallabha’s Church has no Mandirs or temples proper. The place of these has been taken by what are called Havelis, i.e. houses. Many of these are private houses belonging to the members of the family of Vallabha and are open to the public at certain fixed periods of the day. The Hindu temples on the other hand are open to the worshippers at all times of the day. This has indeed many advantages, for every person has free access to the temple at all times, and anyone can fulfill his or her desire for worship at any moment. This, however, is apt to make the worship individualistic and dependent to some extent on the convenience of the worshippers.
Besides, It is likely to breed much familiarity with the Images, which is sure to detract something from their sanctity. The arrangements made in the Church of Vallabha for the worship of God, on the other hand, make the divine service altogether congregational, which is undoubtedly a great advantage. It saves the Images, besides, from being common and familiar objects.
There is another important difference between the worship called puja in ordinary Hindu temples and the one called seva in the Havelis of Vallabha’s Church. Puja is usually offered with Vedic or sectarian mantras, making it often a mechanical or conventional affair, whereas in the latte all that is demanded of the worshipper is personal love and service.
The fundamental difference between the two kinds of worship lies in the view each takes of the Image. In the temples the Images have a symbolic value and most worshippers are aware of the fact. On the other hand, it is a specialty of the teaching of Vallabha that
the Images in havelis are nothing but God Himself.
This seems to have come to be recognized in Vallabha’s own life-time as a special characteristic of his Church as against not only other Hindu bodies but even such a similar Bhakti movement as that of Sri Chaitanya. It is true Vallabha did not build many temples or havelis, but he initiated the worship of Images in his Church with some of its most important characteristics. He gathered together a number of Images from various sources, and consecrating these he gave them to some of his chief disciples for their private worship. These Images are now housed in several of the chief havelis belonging to his movement.
The very name given to these Images by Vallabha and his followers brings out their special character. They are called Swarupas, which means forms of God. In them the devotee sees Krishna Himself as He was in His childhood or boyhood. The divine service is organized round His life as it was lived while He was in Gokula, Vrandavana etc.
The Seva that is rendered to Sri Krishna in the form of these Swarupas of His, is eightfold. The daily life of Krishna is divided into eight parts, each having a service appropriate to itself. It is only at these times that God is “at home” to His devotees, who are ushered into His presence for the sake of having His darshana, which means seeing Him. Usually this service does not last more than a quarter of an hour, which makes it an act of concentrated devotion on the part of the devotees. This is all the more so because the latter have been longing to have this darshana and waiting for it in the outer court of the house of God. It is a sight to see these people rushing into the inner house as soon as the doors are opened to have a look at their Thakorjee, Lord, with an eagerness and love which are rarely seen in other Hindu temples. There are, besides, always some people who, because of their late arrival run in the streets for this darshana, crying out aloud Jaya, Jaya glory, glory, so that the period of service might be lengthened ever so little on their account. In all this, the idea of separation from God and the longing which it generates in the heart of the devotee, together with union with Him, which play so important a part in the Bhakti movements of India, find their realization and fulfillment.
The separation from God and meeting Him face to face, the two poles round which much of Bhakti at its best moves, are represented here in every act of worship.
The public worship of this kind has another important feature, viz., that it is altogether congregational. It is public in the full sense of the term. God delights to meet all his devotees together in a body, as if He were holding a court or a levee, which desire on His part is fully responded to by them and they delight in losing themselves in Him and in one another.
Here there is no mediator between God and the Bhaktas, no Guru and no priest, and the entire congregation stands in the immediate presence of God as one body. The goal set before them in the darshana is that the senses, the mind, the heart and the spirit of every individual should so sink themselves in God that the devotee should be almost oblivious of his own existence for the time being. This does create in its turn a remarkable feeling of union with God and with one another. Indeed, one wonders if the congregational consciousness realized at the time of the divine service in this Church, is not one of its unique features.
It must not be assumed from this that individual worship or service has no place in this Sampradaya. Such service also is equally binding upon every disciple, who, on receiving initiation or Brahma-sambandh, is enjoined to have private worship of his or her own, and those who are truly religious have each and Image of Krishna for such a purpose.
An image is found in almost every important Vaishnava home, and it is handed down from generation to generation as the most precious possession of the family. If the devotee be not advanced enough in his religious life, he is satisfied with a picture of Krishna a sort of icon, to which he offers his worship daily. He does this at least once during the day, worshipping it with the usual Mantra, Sri Krishna sharnam mama, May Krishna be my refuge, on the beads of a rosary. In addition to this some food specially prepared for the purpose must be offered to the Image, failing which a piece of sugar-candy and if possible some green or dry fruit are invariably offered. This becomes prasad, sanctified food, and is eaten with a genuine feeling of devotion by the devotee and his family. Children look forward to receiving this prasad, with an eagerness which, though profoundly human, is not without a touch of divinity. When the devotee emerging out of the chamber of worship is surrounded by children clamoring for the prasada, he or she might well feel the presence of God Himself in these little ones, and their joy at receiving the holy food might indeed look to the devotee as the joy of God Himself. The God whom the devotees of this faith worship in these Images or Icons, the Divine Child Krishna, Bala Krishna, is present with them in a far truer sense in these children, and serving them becomes a true service or worship of God. The act of private devotion on the part of the devotee is met by a corresponding act of grace on the part of the Deity in the sanctification of the food or whatever is offered to the Image. This is followed by an act of gracious love done to the little ones or other members of the family by the devotee in the distribution of the sanctified food, with the result that God, the worshipper and the members of the family come to be knitted together in a kind of blessed union. Some of the happiest memories of the early boyhood of the present writer are clustered round this act of love and grace on the part of his great grandmother and father. This private devotion takes place invariably in the morning after the ablutions including the bath.
As for the divine service in the havelis, it is performed eight times every day. Each of these services has a special name for itself and has some peculiar features of its own. An element of variety, which helps to relieve the monotony that might otherwise attend the services, is thus introduced. The daily life of Krishna is divided into eight sections representing different functions of his life and work, and He is served in each accordingly.
The first of these darshanas called Mangala, takes place in the morning and is centred round the act of awakening Him. The next darshana, Sringara, shows Krishna as dressed up for the day. The Image is then presented for the third time in the act of going out with the cows for the purpose of grazing them in the meadows. This is known as Gwala meaning Shephered. The fourth darshan takes place at noon, when Krishna is supposed to take his lunch in the forest with his boy-companions. This is known as Rajabhoga. The fifth is that of awakening him from his mid-day nap and is called Utthapana. This is followed by one in which Krishna takes in the afternoon with his friends the food left from their mid-day meal. It is called Bhoga. The seventh darshana of the series represents Krishna in the act of bringing the cows from the meadow, and is called Sandhya, which means twilight. The last shows Him in the act of retiring to bed. It is known as Shayana i.e. going to sleep. Three of these darshanas attract a larger number of people than others chiefly because of the hours of the day when they take place. They are – Srinagara shown at about eight o’clock in the morning: Rajabhoga at noon and Sandhya in the evening. Men, women and even children gather together at these times to have a look at their beloved Lord, and having done this they go away satisfied for the rest of the day. Those who come before the time when the doors of the inner chamber of the Deity open, wait outside in what may be called the ante-chamber of the Lord. They pass this time in some Havelis in hearing the exposition of a Scriptural book, usually one of the Vaishnava Puranas by some learned Brahmin. This kind of public reading is not a common practice, however. The Church of Vallabha would be much better in every way for having regular readings of this kind once or twice a day, especially in the bigger havelis.
Each of the eight presentations of the Deity has a form appropriate to itself, which provides enough variety in the scene to the devotee. Some food, cooked anew in the interval between one darshana and another, is served each time to the Image. The scene, besides, varies from day to day, and season to season. The clothes, food, environment etc. of the Image, are all different in every season, everything being done with the sole view of keeping the Image, which is thought of as living delicate Child, in comfort. On holidays, which are many in number, the scene change altogether and there is a tide of joyful festivity all over the place.
The Bhavaor devotional feeling which finds free scope in these divine services is of the type known as Dasya, service, or as Vatsalya, parental love and fondness. As has been said again and again, the Deity that the Church of Vallabha worships, is Krishna as he was in his childhood and boyhood. He is known as Bal-Krishna, and the members of this Sampradaya lavish upon Him all their love as they do upon their own child. This Vatsalya Bhava, as practiced in this Church, is perhaps unique, and has no parallel in any other religious body whether in India or outside, at least so far as its intensity is concerned. The Bhakti of the Chaitanya Sampradaya is decidedly more intense on the whole, but is of the Madhurya type, the love of the beloved for her lover. The ideal type of Bhakti in the latter is the love of Radha, whereas in Church of Vallabha it is that of Nanda and Yasoda, the foster parents of Krishna, and of the Gopis and Gopas in general. The followers of Vallabha try to assimilate themselves as much as possible to the character of all these persons, especially in its Vatsalya and Dasya aspects. They rarely think of themselves as the Gopis, milk-maids, with whom Krishna is said to have played and danced. In the biographical literature of Vallabha’s Sampradaya, which consists of the character-sketches of eighty-four disciples of his, and of two-hundred fifty two disciples of his son Vitthalanatha, including men and women of various types, we come across few cases of the Sringara or Madhurya type. The religious experience prized as the highest by most of these is the one in which Krishna actually plays with them or eats the food offered to him. Besides, most of the songs sung on the occasion of the various services are put into the mouth of Yasoda, and the atmosphere created is that of the childhood and boyhood of the Deity Incarnate tenderly awaited upon and attended to, fondled, fed and looked after in every conceivable way, by loving parents, friends and companions.
One more thing in connection with this public worship deserves to be noticed. The Images of the Lord are in some places associated with a companion of the other sex. This other person is called Swaminijee, the Lady, corresponding to the term Thakorjee, i.e. the Lord, usually applied to Krishna. This other Image, however, plays a small part in the worship. It is there because of the belief that grew up among the Hindus from early times that God has an eternal co-partner with Him of the other sex in the work of Creation, Preservation and Redemption of the Universe. The conventional character of this Image is confirmed by the fact that it is known by the general name Swaminijee rather than any particular one. The Vaishnavas themselves are not always sure whether it represents Rukhamani, the wedded wife of Krishna, or Radha, or any other, as we have found from our talks with some of them. There are two or three Psalms of Vitthalnatha in which Swaminijee is identified with Radha, but somehow or other ties belief did not grow in this Church. Some Vaishnavas of early days looked upon Yamuna as Swaminijee, and in the book. The Stories of Two Hundred and Fifty-two Vaishnavas, Radha is conspicuously absent. Looking to all this Swaminijee seems to be a collective name for Gopis, the ideal devotees rather than anything else.
We have seen in a preceding chapter that the aim of the Church of Vallabha is to worship God in His Ananda-form, which is His highest and truest Form. This Form is, moreover, full of beauty, and God is spoken of as Beauty or the Fount of Beauty. Accordingly the worship is made as joyful and beautiful as it is possible to do. Most of the arts are pressed into the service of the divine worship with the sole purpose of giving delight to God. We see here aesthetics in some of its highest forms dedicated to the service of God and being sanctified in its turn by such use. In the realm of both aesthetics and art nothing is considered too mean or too precious, for such worship. God is served with food which varies from the most ordinary kind to the richest and choicest of dishes: the same variety is found in the clothes and the jewelry with which the Images are dressed up and adorned: the divine service is accompanied with music of all kinds from the simplest to the most elaborate. This has resulted in a remarkable development of some arts, and an enrichment and refinement of the life of large numbers of people.
Perhaps the most outstanding example among these arts is that of cookery. It may be said without exaggeration that the art of cookery, as it has been practiced in the Church of Vallabha in connection with its public worship, is the best in all India. It must be said here that this applies only to vegetarian food, for meat of all kinds is eschewed altogether in this Church along with all Vaishnava Churches. Foods of all kinds, the number of which runs easily into hundreds if not thousands, and from the simplest to the most complex, are cooked during the course of the year for the pleasure of the Deity. Many of these things have a taste of their own and some of them excel by far similar dishes cooked anywhere else. Everything is made as far as possible of the best materials available without any consideration of the cost thereof. In the Haveli at Sri Nathdwara, the chief house of God in this Church, food in various forms worth more than a thousand Rs. Is offered every day to the Image. Every haveli spends money for this purpose in proportion to its importance and wealth. The Vaishnavas of this Church show in this matter a lavishness and magnificence which are unmatched anywhere else. One need not surmise from this that such a course is bound to end in much waste of food and money. The followers of the faith take good care that not an atom of this sanctified food or prasada, is thrown away. To do this is a kind of sin in their eyes. Usually much of this holy food is consumed by the poor members of the Church. In bigger places like Sri Nathdwara, Bombay etc., a good part of this Prasad is given to the servants in lieu of pay. These sell it in their turn to the public, to whom it comes like a boon from God, for it is as good as any they can get for the price they pay.
Clothing; Music in sewa
Another art highly developed in this body is that of dressing the Image in proper and beautiful clothes. We must remember that the Vaishnavas of this Church believe that the Image is God Himself, and with this in view they do everything to please Him. Because of this there is no half-heartedness in their service of the Image. Accordingly clothes are made of various styles and often of the finest material available. The Thakorje is the Lord and King, and so He should lack nothing. His wardrobe must be as full and rich as that of any Prince. The dresses made for the Image are of all kinds to suit different seasons and even times of the day. Besides, the aim of making the Image look as beautiful as possible is always kept in view. This does not mean much cost, for the Image in most places are very small in size. All that has been said here about clothes is true of jewellery also, of which there is plenty of all kinds especially in big havelis.
The art of decoration also holds a high place in this Church. This has been developed so much as to become a fine art almost. It is seen at its best on all festive occasions when a lavish sue is made of fresh leaves and flowers of all kinds. This is true especially of the Holi festival, which marks the beginning of the spring. Flowers of all sorts are available in plenty at this time, and they are used so freely and with such good taste in decorating the house of God and the Image itself, that the scene presented makes a deep appeal to one’s sense of sight and smell and also to the imagination. Vallabha’s Church does not believe in asceticism; rather otherwise. It believes that God has made the world, that it is good and beautiful, and that it is. His manifestation, limited as it may be. It believes, besides, that god as everything belonging to the material world is, it can be made better and holier by being used in the service of God. This is the sole purpose of God in making all things. It also believes that the best way to sanctify our own life is to use everything after it has been consecrated by God. Accordingly all the products of the earth, and especially those which are beautiful, are used as sacramental sense-foods and a way is found from them to God.
Among the fine arts, music holds a high place in the daily service in some havelis. It has been said elsewhere that this Church had from the beginning of its career several poets who composed religious music of the highest kind. Suradasa being the chief among them. All these together with those who followed them in the next generation wrote a number of exquisite songs depicting the various phases of the life of Krishna as a child and a boy. These contain some of the finest pastoral poetry in the world together with a large number of carols, lullabies and songs of all sorts. These songs set to various tunes are sung in the classical style of music in some havelis.
One of the most important features of Indian Music is the correspondence and harmony between the various tunes and the phenomena of Nature. The different times of the day and seasons of the yea have each tunes appropriate to themselves. This harmony is well observed in the religious music associated with the public worship of Vallabha’s Church. It is worth noting that this is perhaps the only religious body in the northern part of India at any rate, which is meticulously particular in regard to this matter. In a few Havelis at least, songs are sung before the Deity in tunes suitable to the different seasons in a manner worthy of the best classical tradition. For example, the first service begins with songs sung in the tunes called Bhairava, Bibhasa and Ramkeli with the accompaniment of Bina, Sitar etc. At about nine o’clock in the morning which is the time for the second presentation of the Image, Bilavala is sung, and the mid-day lunch of the Image is celebrated with songs sung in Saranga. The Tiffin in the afternoon has its music in the tune called Soratha. The evening service makes use of the tunes known as Gaudi and Purvi. Then come songs in Yamana and in the last service the Image is put to bed with songs sung in Bihaga. The same variety is found in tunes used at different times of the year. During the festivities of the Hindu New Year, which falls on the first day of the month of Kartika, Bilavala holds the field. The spring shows the predominance of Kafi and Saranga, and Malhara is sung from the start of the monsoon. We have given here but the barest outline of this music, which in actual practice is highly elaborate and has all the variety that Indian music can show. The result of the use of this and other arts in the divine service in Vallabha’s Church is the achievement of a remarkable harmony between Nature in all her beautiful aspects, Art in some of its finest phases and Devotion which is as tender as it is deep. In all probability this is the only religious body, not only in India but all over the world, which has succeeded in creating such a harmony in its divine worship.
The development of the divine service described here was brought about by Vitthalnatha, Vallabha’s on and successor. Besides being a devotee of God, he was a poet as well as a musician of a high order. He was a creative artist who devoted his manifold gifts and powers of the service of God, and his noblest work perhaps is the organization of the divine service of his Church. He was called Gita-Sangita-Sagara, the Ocean of Song and Music, a name which he deserved fully. It was due to him that the public worship of this religious body has become unique of its kind in the world. He knew what it is to worship God in beauty and magnificence, and he taught millions to do the same.
In this connection it is worth noting that just at the time when the Mogul dynasty was being established firmly in India under Akbar, God was raising up in the neighborhood of Delhi a religious Church which set up Houses and Courts of God in almost every important place in Rajputana, Malwa and Gujarat. Here God was worshipped eight times a day throughout the year, with a magnificence which few earthly Princes could command, let alone the love and devotion which were as remarkable as any ever known. Here was Hindu Nationalism, or rather the National Faith, manifesting itself in its loveliest and mot attractive form. It is no wonder if a number of the Rajput Princes in India adopted the faith of Vallabha. They were assured in their mind that the God of their fathers, Sri Krishna the Incarnate One, had come to them again in the form of these Images, and that He graciously desired to give them the greatest of blessings, viz., Himself it is no wonder again that they and the people surrendered themselves whole-heartedly to this call of Krishna, and if these Houses of God were invested with much glory.
The question may well be asked in the use of these arts and the presence of many costly objects in the divine service do not end to make it in any way sensuous. The answer is an emphatic no. For one thing, the service is saved from being such owing to the high order of aestheticism attending it. A remarkable sense of proportion and beauty manifest themselves in all things concerning it, with the result that it transcends the senses and makes a deep appeal to the mind and the imagination. This is not all. In the divine service the feeling of the Presence of God in the Images overshadows everything else. The worshippers who are often present in large numbers, have their eyes, heart and spirit set on the Deity before them, and all things in connection with the worship are viewed from that angle. Even on occasions of festivity, especially the Hindu New Year’s Day, when hundreds of dishes of the choicest kinds of food are placed before the Image, the divine service maintains its spiritual character as fully as ever. Rather it becomes more so at such times, for the atmosphere is surcharged with a heightened feeling of devotion worthy of the festival. It is true there is a dramatic touch about the service such as the opening of the doors and the removal of the curtain before the Image, but this in no way detracts from its deeply religious character. This is similar to some of the practices in the Roman Catholic Churches, where the Elevation of the Host is accompanied by certain outward acts. Sometimes the work of the officials, who are members of a particular Brahmin caste, may degenerate into play-acting at the hands of those who lack devotion and do their work as mere professionals. Such things are bound to happen in every church. But, so far as the majority of worshippers are concerned, the presence of God in the Image is real to them, and it generates in them a genuine feeling of devotion. One has only to see them at their darshana in order to understand and appreciate the reality and intensity of their religious feeling.
As regards the various kinds of foods offered to the Image, the clothes, the ornaments and the floral and other decorations which accompany these services, they are saved from being so many tempting objects of the senses by the sacramental idea pervading them all. They are more than sacramental objects, for they are not merely outward and visible signs of inward grace: they are served up as Bhoga, offerings, and become prasad, grace itself, by coming in contact with the Image. They partake of the spiritual reality, of the very body of God, and become thus divine. The present writer has known no instance where the food, offered and sanctified in this way, has ever been thought of or treated in a light-hearted manner. It derives much of its deliciousness from the sanctification which it is believed to have attained.
Another important feature of the service is the spirit of cleanliness that attends everything connected with it. In the eyes of the Vaishnavas of this Church, cleanliness is an integral part of godliness. They have carried their love for this virtue to an extreme and with some it has assumed the proportions of a mania. The early morning bath in all seasons of the year, in summer as well as the coldest part of the winter, is an essential feature of the daily life of most of the Vaishnavas. They are bound to have it before their daily devotions in their own house, and few of them would go to the haveli without it. In this latter place a free and lavish use of water is made for the purpose of bathing and washing, and the personal attendants of the Lord must have a bath almost every time they minister to Him. The same scrupulous cleanliness is observed in cooking the various dishes for the Deity and in preparing the floral and other decorations
It is worth noting that the worshippers in Vallabha’s Church do not present themselves before the Image with any gift-offering, such as money or rice or betel-nut etc., as is done by most Hindus when they go to a temple. A custom of this kind, sacred as it has come to be regarded, necessarily takes away something from the spiritual character of the worship. If any devotee wants to offer something to the Lord, he does it in a delicate and almost secret manner, and the gift is received by the officiate with tender grace. The offering and its acceptance thus become personal matters, and there is a living touch, almost of the hand of God, about them.
A notable feature of this public worship is the presence of both men and women, sometimes in large numbers, at the same time before the Image. This is inevitable owing to the set times at which the divine services take place. Besides, it seems to have been a matter of principle not to segregate the sexes in the presence of the Deity. Vitthalnatha, who organized these services, is said to have been positively averse to it. According to him evidently one who came to worship God was supposed to transcend the consciousness of sex in His presence. His aim in doing this, in all probability, was to recapture the conditions as they prevailed in the time of Krishna Himself when the Gopas and the Gopis surrounded Him. There is thus no room for purdah in the inner court of God, as a result of which there has been a greater mingling of men and women in this Church than in any other of the same social status. Whatsoever little segregation is there in these havelis is in the form of letting men stand on one side of the wooden railing that surrounds the Image and women on the other.
The foregoing are some of the features of the public worship in the Church of Vallabha which have helped much in making it real, beautiful, rich and almost unique.
Strictly speaking this chapter does not belong to this section of the book, for the Seva or Divine Service as described here was a later growth, due especially to Vitthalnatha, the son of Vallabha. Room for it has been made here, however, because this Seva is an essential part of the Sadhana of the Vallabha Sampradaya. It is rather the main part thereof and followers of Vallabha realize the presence of God therein as in few other things. It is this to such an extent that even the word seva is not so much used for it as Darshana, which means the seeing of God. The devotees come to the Havelis not for Seva but for Darshana. As we have said before, the followers of this Church look upon the Image as the very God of God, and seeing Him here constitutes for them the goal of their life, at least for the time being. At their best, they are supposed to pass the rest of their time in a state of Viraha, separation with a longing to meet Him again as early as possible. Again at the time of the darshana they do not repeat any set formulas, nor do they offer any prayers, nor do they contemplate or mediate. They satisfy themselves just with seeing the Image or rather their God in it. Even kneeling or bowing down is not necessary, for that would divert the attention of the devotee from the Image. Just the sight of the Image is enough for them and it is for most of them the means and the end of their Bhakti. This looks to be, nay, is an act of extreme simplicity, but it is just in this that there lies all its charm and value. The more unsophisticated and child-like a person is, the more he is fitted for this kind of worship or devotion. Here in the very presence of God they all stand as equals, the rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, the Brahmin and the Sudra, the men and the women, and the old and the young, and it is the aim of all to forget whatever distinctions they may have. They are supposed to forget even their separate identities for the time being and they do succeed in this to some extent at any rate. The Image draws them all to itself just as a magnet draws particles of iron, and the devotees are held together just as the latter are round about the magnet. The devotees become so many points or arrowheads surcharged with love and deep emotion and are held to the Image and to one another by the force emanating from what they look upon as their God. All this gives the public worship or service of this Church a character of its own, and it makes it almost unique among the worships of different kinds all over the world.
The perfect and the highest form of God is no other then Sri Krishna. He is God in His fullness. He has all the attributes of Brahma in Him and as such, He is the absolute. He is also the Bhagavana, the Perfect God, Who has all the auspicious attributes in Him, and who is related to the world. As such He is the efficient, material and final cause of the world. Among His attributes the most important ones are six in number: viz., aishvarya, glory: virya, power: yasas good repute: Shree, power to attract other to Himself: jnana, knowledge: and vairagya, detachment from the world.
Sri Krishna is also the Akshara, who is no other than Brahman, though there is some difference between the two. Akshara has the all-pervading character of Brahman, but it is less than the latter in its Anand , bliss. It is a derived form of Brahman. It is also called Brihata, the great by Vallabha. It is also spoken of as the Abode of God.
The Pragatya Varta;
The Images in Vallabha's Sampradaya are called Swarupas,which means forms of God Himself, and as such they hold a place in the though and life of this followers which is almost unique.
The Pragatya Varta; The story of the manifestation, of Sri Govardhannathjee, as given in the literature of this Church, is as follows:
This Image represents Sri Krishna as holding the Mt Govardhana in his uprised hand for the purpose of protecting the people of Vraja, when the god Indra let loose upon them the waters of the heavens in abundance in order to destroy them by way of punishment. This was done because they had refused to give him his usual tribute of sacrifice at the instance of Krishna, who was them a mere boy. At first only one arm, the upraised one holding the mountain was seen coming out from a hole in one of the hills of Giriraja in Vraja.
This is said to have taken place on the third day of the dark half of the of Shravana in the year 1966 (A.D. 1310). As this was a kind of miracle, people flocked to see it in large number. They wanted to take out the Image from the hole, but a man called Vruda asked them not to be in a hurry about it. He told the people to let the Image come out in its own time. The people then bathed the arm with milk and worshipped it. This was done first on the day called Naga panchami,
the day dedicated to the worship of snakes. From that time onwards, this place came to be looked upon as a shrine, and every year a fair was held on this day.
Later on the face of the Image appeared an event which is said to have taken place on the day Vallabha was born. From this time this Image was fed every day in a miraculous manner.
In a village close by called Anyora, there lived two brothers of the name Manekchanda and Sadupande. They kept a number of cows, one of which was believed to belong to the breed of the cows of Nandaraijee, the foster father of Sri Krishna. This cow went every day to the Image and poured all her milk into its mouth. The brothers not knowing this suspected that somebody milked the cow surreptitiously, and accordingly one day Sadupande kept a close watch on it in the evening. He then saw how the cow went to the Image and fed it with her milk. Sri Govardhannathjee told him that he bore the names of Indra-damana, Devadamana and Naga-damana, because it was He who has resisted the pride of all these, Indra, gods and snakes and humiliated them. He added that since he had drunk the milk of the cow ever since His manifestation, Sadupande should send him the milk of the same cow twice every day. This was done accordingly for some years.
Later on a Sadhu called Madhavendra Swami, belonging to the Church of Madhva, came on a pilgrimage to Giriraja and worshipped the Image of Govardhannathjee there. Being much please with the Image and its history, he desired to offer it food cooked by himself. He was told by the Image, however, that it would take no food until it was offered by Vallabh. Soon after Vallabh came to the place, and while he took rest near the house of Sadupande, he heard a voice asking Naro, a daughter of Pande who used to take the cow's milk every day, to bring the daily offering. This voice was similar to the one Vallabha had heard before in the forest where Sri Krishna had spoken to him, and hence be recognized it at once. He then went to the Image and worshipped it in a befitting manner. Soon after he got a small temple build on Giriraja and installed the Image therein. A man called Ramadasa Chowdhri was entrusted with task of serving it. This event is said to have taken place on the second day of the bright half of Chaitra of the Samvata year 1556 (1499 AD).
Sometime after this, a man of the name Purnamall, a rich merchant, was asked by Sri Govardhannathjee to build a big temple for him. This work was started accordingly, but it took twenty years to finish it. The Image was then installed in this new temple by Vallabha himself, and he engaged some Bengali Brahmins as priests thereof. He placed two of his disciples at the service of the Image. One of these, Krishnadas, was made the steward of the temple, and the other, Kumbhandas, was entrusted with the work of composing and singing suitable hymns of praise and adoration.
Since Vallabha's time this Image has been removed to Sri Nathadwara, a place near Udaipur, owing to the troubles caused by the Moslems. The Image is now known as Sri Nathjee and holds the highest place in the hearts of the followers of vallabha as the chief of God's Swarupas or forms.
It is also said in the literature of this Church that Swami Madhavananda, mentioned above, was made the head-priest of the new temple. This Swami is said, besides, to have taught Vallabha while he was a boy taking his education in Benares, such Vaishnava Scriptures as the Gita, the Bhagavata and Narada-Pancharatna. If this account of his being a teacher of Vallabha in his boyhood be true, then evidently, he may be said to have exerted the greatest possible influence in the shaping of Vallabha's mind in his earl days. The same Swami is credited, besides, with having exerted a most profound influence on Sri Chaitana indirectly. It was one of his disciples, who was primarily instrumental in converting Sri Chaitanya to Vaishnavism.