Vrindavan’s ancient Shiva temples

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By editor - 21.2 2018

Shivaratri celebrations in Gopeshwar Mahadev temple

This year Maha Shivaratri is being celebrated over two days. The majority of pilgrims who have brought Ganga water to offer to Lord Shiva in Braj are making their offerings today.

Many pilgrims will visit the four ‘dik pal’ Shiva Lings of Braj, which are said to protect the four corners of Braj. It is traditional for pilgrims to offer Ganga water to Gopeshwar in Vrindavan, then visit Bhuteshwar Mahadev in Mathura, followed by Chakaleshwar and Kameshwar Mahadev in Goverdhan. Many will also make the journey to Nandagaon to worship Nandeshwar Mahadev.

Many make the journey on foot, taking weeks to travel hundreds of kilometres in a traditional pilgrimage that requires pilgrims to dedicate several weeks of their life, giving up many creature comforts. Many carry beautifully decorated palanquins with bottles they have filled with Ganga water and can be seen walking along the side of the road in the days leading up to Shivaratri.

Speaking about the tradition of worshiping Mathura’s Bhuteshvara Mahadeva in his Mathura-Mahatmya (texts 234-238), Srila Rupa Gosvami quotes the following verses from the Adi-varaha Purana recounting Krishna’s words:

“O deva! You will be the protector of Mathura. O greatest of the gods! Whoever sees you will attain My abode. By seeing Bhuteshwar Mahadeva, all sins are destroyed. O Vasudha, one who sees him, achieves the land of Mathura. In Mathura is the deity of Lord Bhuteshwar, who grants liberation even to the sinful. This Bhuteshwar deity is very dear to Me. How is it possible for a sinful person who tries to worship Me but will not worship Bhuteswar Shiva, to attain devotion to Me? Those who are bewildered by My Maya, who are the lowest of men, will not meditate on, bow down before, or offer prayers to Lord Bhuteshwar.”

Sanatan Goswami, the founder of Madan Mohan temple, is also associated with two ancient Shiva Lingas. Bankandeshwar Mahadev appeared in Sanatan Goswami‘s bhajan kutir to save him the effort of having to walk to Gopeshwar Mahadev every day and Govardhan’s Chakaleshwar Mahadev is said to be free from mosquitoes even to this day because Lord Shiva removed them so that Sanatan Goswami would stay and worship the linga.

 

Understanding Lord Shiva’s service in Vraja dhama

Gopisvara Mahadeva dressed in a beautiful gopi's attire

Bhuteshvara Mahadeva at Mathura

 

Four ancient deities of Lord Shiva residing at Mathura are known as dik-palas, “protectors of the directions.” They stay in Mathura to protect the dhama. Bhuteshvara Mahadeva protects from the western side.

The tradition amongst the vaishnavas is that when coming to Vraja one must first go to Mathura to take permission from him to enter the dhama. The reasons for this are described by Srila Rupa Gosvami in his Mathura-Mahatmya (texts 234-238), wherein he has quoted the following verses from the Adi-varaha Purana recounting Krishna’s words about Bhuteshvara Mahadeva:

[foto] “O deva! You will be the protector of Mathura. O greatest of the gods! Whoever sees you will attain My abode. By seeing Bhuteshvara Mahadeva, all sins are destroyed. O Vasudha, one who sees him, achieves the land of Mathura. In Mathura is the deity of Lord Bhuteshvara, who grants liberation even to the sinful. This Bhuteshvara deity is very dear to Me.How is it possible for a sinful person who tries to worship Me but will not worship Bhutesvara shiva, to attain devotion to Me? Those who are bewildered by My maya, who are the lowest of men, will not meditate on, bow down before, or offer prayers to Lord Bhuteshvara.”

Also, Sri Caitanya Caritamrta (Madhya 17.191) by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami describes how Lord Caitanya visited Bhuteshvara Mahadeva in the following way:

                                                          स्वयंभू, विश्राम, दीर्घ-विष्णु, भूतेश्वर                                                                                                                                         महाविद्या, गोकर्णादि देखिला विस्तार

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited all the holy places on the banks of the Yamuna, including Svayambhu, Vishrama-ghata, Dirgha Vishnu, Bhuteshvara, Mahadeva and Gokarna.

Gopeshvara Mahadeva at Vrindavana

Gopishvara Mahadeva is one of the most prominent deities in the Gaudiya-sampradaya and is mentioned in many Gaudiya literatures, being a very ancient protector of Sri Vrindavana Dhama. It is said that one cannot enter Vrindavana without his permission. His glories are sung throughout the Gosvami literatures:

श्रीमद–गोपीश्वरम वंदे शंकरम करुणामयम

सर्व–क्लेश–हरम देवम वृंदारण्य–रति–प्रदम

I offer my respectful obeisances to Sri Gopishvara, who is merciful Lord shiva himself. He removes  troubles and grants spiritual love in Vrindavana. (Sri Bhakti Ratnakar 5.3741)

In the song Vraja-dhama-mahimamrta, the following line is sung:

जय जय गोपेश्वर वृन्दावन-माझ

“All glories, all glories to Gopishvara shiva, who resides in the holy dhama of Vrindavana.”

Kameshvara Mahadeva at Kamyavana

Kama means “desire”. It is said that Kameshvara Mahadeva is the fulfiller of one’s desires.

Srila Narahari Cakravarti has described Kameshvara Mahadeva in his Bhakti-ratnakara (5.841): See here the most powerful Shiva as Kameshvara.

Kameshvara Mahadeva resides in Kamyavan in the western part of Vraja-mandala. According to the tradition in Vraja, Vrishabhanu Maharaja worshipped Kameshvara to get a daughter. He already had a son, Sridama but now, he wanted a daughter. Kameshvara granted his desire and he obtained Srimati Radharani as is daughter.

Chakaleshvara Mahadeva at Govardhana Hill

On the northern bank of Manasi Ganga, by Govardhana hill is a group of five Shiva-lingas that are famous by the name Chakaleshvara Mahadeva. These five Shiva-lingas are considered to be Lord Shiva’s five faces. They protect the area of Govardhan. This part of Manasi Ganga is known as Chakra-tirtha and because he stays at this place, this shiva-linga was originally known as Chakareshvara, but now he is known as Chakaleshvara. It is said that this place is called Chakra-tirtha because when Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill, He requested the Sudarshana Chakra to appear above the mountain to dry up all the rain coming down on Govardhana, so that the Vrajavasis standing underneath would not drown. After Indra withdrew the Samvartaka clouds that he had sent to destroy Vraja, and the danger was over, Sudarshana requested Krishna to give him a place to rest. Krishna gave him this place on the northern bank of Manasi Ganga.

The present temple of Chakaleshvara Mahadeva is recent; the original one was destroyed by the Muslims. However, the deities here are very old and are said to have been installed by Krishna’s great-grandson Vajranabha.

Nandeshvara Mahadeva at Nandagaon

The palace of Nanda Maharaja is situated atop Nandeshvara hill in Nandagaon. This hill is a form of Lord Shiva, who performed tapasya for several thousands of years to enter into the Lord Krishna’s pastimes in Vraja. When the Lord was pleased with him Shiva asked for a boon of getting a chance to witness the Vraja pastimes of Lord Krishna by becoming a hill or a stone. Reciprocating with this desire, Lord Krishna granted him this form in Nandagaon.

Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura writes in Vraja-riti-cintamani (1.15):

तत-तच्छिरोभूतम अपार-शोभम नंदीश्वरम साधु-गण वदन्ति

नंदीश्वरम च यदीय-रूपं श्री-नंद-राजालय-राजमानम

The devotees declare that Nandisvara hill, the form of Lord Shiva now shining as Nanda Maharaja’s capital, is an endlessly beautiful crown decorating Vrindavana. Lord Shiva has stayed at Nandagaon in the form of Nandeshvara Mahadeva and even today, the carnamrta and maha-prasada of Lord Krishna is first offered to him.