Shri Govardhana-nathaji, or Shrinathaji
The Deity now known as Shri
Govardhana-nathaji, or Shrinathaji, who now stays in Nathadvara, is the
same Deity once worshipped by Srila Madhavendra
Puri, the parama-guru of Lord Caitanya.
Probably the wealthiest Deity in North India, Shrinathaji has always been enthusiastically pampered with elaborate and aesthetically refined seva, offered with great affection by many devotees. Especially notable are His diverse shringara (dressing and decoration) and bhoga offerings. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura suggests that we can all learn the art of Deity worship from those who worship Shrinathaji. His lotus feet are seen by those who chant Hare Krsna without offense. He is in the pose of holding Govardhana hill aloft with His left hand (cf. Cc., Madhya-lila, 18.38). Like may ancient Deities, there is a pITha (rectangular frame) around His transcendental form, and it is decorated with various auspicious figures and symbols. The Lord's complexion is blackish, like monsoon clouds ready to burst, and he often holds lotus flowers. He appears as a charming, seven year old boy. His eyes are also like lotus petals, or, according to Srila Raghunathadasa Gosvami (Gopala-raja-stora, 3), like the bow of Kamadeva; still others explain His downward gaze as His merciful glance, looking down upon us all (kRpAvalokana).
As described in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Shrinathaji was previously known as Gopala (cf. Cc., Madhya-lila, 4.1). His worship was taken over by devotees in the Vallabha sampradaya shortly after Srila Madhavendra Puri's disappearance. However, this transfer is somewhat controversial, as Vallabhite literature reports that it was a forced takeover: the pujaris' homes were set on fire, and while they went to put out the fires, new pujaris took over the temple. But an edition of the Bhaktiratnakara says the Deity service was given to Vitthalanatha Gosvami (Vallabhacarya's son), by Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. Whatever happened, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami clearly recognized the love Vitthalanatha and his followers had for the Gopala Deity (Gopalaraja-stotra, 13-14), as did Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura a couple centuries later (in his Gopaladevastaka, 7). It seems that many of our acaryas previously had closer association with the Pusti-marga acaryas, and several of them also saw Shrinathaji when He stayed at the home of Vallabha's son near Mathura (cf. Cc., Madhya-lila, 18.47).
Srinathaji, or Gopala, was evidently quite popular with other medieval devotees as well, a there were Gaudiya preachers who founded Shrinathaji temples in present-day Pakistan (Dera Ghazi Khan). Srinathaji was even worshipped as far away as Russia (in the lower Volga region) and other places on the Central Asian trade routes. About three hundred years ago, the Deity moved from Govardhana to Rajasthana, like many other Deities of Vraja. He has been opulently worshipped there (in the town that has built up around Him) ever since. Tradition holds that He will one day return to Govardhana, though only He really knows when.
Several years ago, Back to Godhead magazine did a nice feature article on Shrinathaji. If you're interested, I can suggest some further (though mostly academic) readings about Shrinathaji. Meanwhile, here's a verse from Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura (Gopaladevastaka, 8):
prati-dinam adhunApi prekSyate
praNaya-su-rasa-caryA yasya varyA saparyA |
gaNayati kati bhogAn kaH kRtI tat-prayogAn
sphuratu hRdi sa eva zrIla gopAla-devaH ||
Every single day, even now, transcendental varieties of nectarean, loving service are offered (to Gopala); in this regard, who is the pious person who could count all the offerings? May that very same Lord, Sri Gopala, manifest within your heart.
I hope this is helpful. Hare Krishna!
Your humble servant,
Mukunda Datta dasa
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