Sri Nathji is a beautiful black marble Deity of Lord Krishna, standing with his left hand upraised lifting Govardhan Hill. The Deity appears in a large black stone from which his form emerges in bas-relief. The stone around the Deity bears several marks: two cows, a snake, a lion, two peacocks, a parrot by the Lord’s head, two sages seated on his right side and a third on his left, and below the sages is another snake.
Around the Lord’s neck is a flower garland, resembling a black snake. The same Deity (known then as Gopal) was worshiped by Madhavendra Puri in Vrindavan. Rana Raj Singh of Mewar brought Sri Nathji to Nathdwar in the 17th century.
The temple of Sri Nathji is said to be the second richest temple in India, the first being the Balaji Temple in Tirupati. Architecturally, the temple is simple, but the devotees’ enthusiasm is among the greatest in India. Every day Sri Gopal is offered large quantities of opulent foodstuffs cooked in ghee. The maha-prasada is excellent and can be easily purchased at stalls outside the temple.
Mangala-arati begins at 5 am. Darshan continues after the arati. During darshan the mukhiyajis, as the priests here are called, close and open the curtain in front of the Deity several times. The Lord wears a large diamond beneath his lips, which is said to have been a gift from the Muslim emperor, Akbar.
There is a story that Sri Nathji once tore his garment while rushing back to the temple to be on time for darshan. From that day on, it has been a custom to blow the conch and then wait several minutes before opening the altar doors. The temple priests are all followers of Vallabhacarya, who was born in 1479.
His son Sri Vitthalanathji raised the worship of Sri Nathji to a very high standard. The temple is under the management of the main acharya (spiritual leader) of the Vallabha-sampradaya, called the Tilakayata. He is the head of the temple. Once, when Sri Vallabhacarya defeated a large group of impersonalist scholars at Vidyanagar, King Krishnadeva Raya presented him with a gift of many gold coins. Sri Vallabhacarya gave most of these to the local Brahmins and kept only seven. Those seven coins were then made into an ornament for Sri Nathji. The Deity still wears it today.
The temple owns over 500 cows. One of the cows is called “Sri Nathji’s cow,” and she comes from a lineage that has served the Deity for generations. The milk from this cow is offered only to Sri Nathji to drink. Many people attend each arati. The temple room is extremely crowded and pilgrims have to constantly move on by the force of the crowds. The pushing is unlike other situations in which you are pushed in India. It is actually pleasurable to experience the devotees’ extreme desire to see Sri Nathji.
Non-Hindus are technically not allowed to enter the temple. If you are a foreigner and wish to enter, the guards may ask you to sign a piece of paper at the main entrance, which is written in Hindi. I believe it says that you believe in Hinduism. You are then permitted to enter the temple.
Deity Story Vajranabha, Lord Krishna’s great-grandson, installed this Deity 5,000 years ago. Five hundred years ago Madhavendra Puri found the Deity in some bushes next to Govardhan Hill near Vrindavan. Madhavendra Puri then established the worship of Sri Gopal in a temple on Govardhan Hill. Madhavendra Puri handed the service of the Deity to the son of Vallabhacarya, Vitthala. The town of Nathdwar was built in the seventeenth century for Lord Nathji, after the Deity was brought to Rajasthan to protect him from the destructive reign of the Muslim ruler Aurangzeb, who terrorized the Vrindavan area in 1665. For almost six months, the Deity stayed in Agra. Then he was moved to Mewar. Nathaji was moved to Nathdwar around 1669.