The beloved Krishna deity of Srila Sanatana Goswami appeared in Vrindavan to attract hearts to Him and away from the allure of matter.
By Satyaraja Dasa
Though being worshiped in an iconic temple on a hill in Vrindavan, the deity of Srila Sanatana Goswami decided to go elsewhere.

I was excited about this particular trip to India, though I had visited many times before. My wealthy and kindhearted nephew was financing our journey to various sacred regions of the subcontinent – with the proviso that I fully explain the holy places and their local deities of Krishna to him. He would engage a driver and a translator in taking us to Vrindavan, Mayapur, and Jaipur, and together we would see all the important deities associated with the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. That was our goal.

In the sixteenth century, Sri Chaitanya’s immediate followers the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan established the earliest and most important deities in the Gaudiya tradition: Sri Madana Mohana, Sri Govindaji, and Sri Gopinatha, and Their temples would naturally be our first stops.

Briefly, these deities represent sambandha (relationship), abhidheya (the path), and prayojana (the goal), respectively. The Chaitanya-charitamrita (Adi 1.19) says, “These three Deities of Vrindavana have absorbed the heart and soul of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.” They are the most special of all manifestations of Krishna, and merely seeing Them provides all-auspiciousness.

These deities were long ago moved from Vrindavan (Braja) to the desert hills of Rajasthan. With the Mughal invasions in the seventeenth century, the loving devotees of Braja sought to protect their dear Lords by transferring Them to safer ground, lest They be desecrated by imperialist rulers. Thus the original deities are today located some 125 miles from Vrindavan.

As a practitioner for many years, I had frequently seen the deities of Govindaji and Gopinatha, both as They stand in Their original shrines in Vrindavan – which are now home to duplicate (pratibhu) deities – and in Their original forms as They exist in Jaipur. But I had never seen the original Madana Mohana deity. This is because the journey to Karauli, where He currently receives His worship, is quite a distance from the other two, in Jaipur, one of my normal stops when I travel to India. Jaipur is easy to get to from Vrindavan, my main pilgrimage spot when I visit that part of the world, while Karauli is much more difficult to reach.

As Arun, our travel guide for the trip from Jaipur to Karauli, explained, “Although the distance from Vrindavan to Karauli is less than Vrindavan to Jaipur, the topography is different. Jaipur has long been a famous city, well known since its inception in the eighteenth century, and it is a trader town as well. Because of this, the connectivity for travelers from various cities, including Vrindavan, was always very good. Jaipur also lies on comparatively flat land with no major hills to cross when coming from Vrindavan. The route from Vrindavan to Karauli is just not a simple affair, and the terrain is a bit more difficult.”

This time, however, equipped with a good car (an Audi Q7), a driver, a translator, and a travel guide (Arun), and nothing but time, I decided to take the extra three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaipur to the somewhat sequestered regal dwelling of Sri Sri Radha–Madana-Mohana.

Deity Discovered

The name Madana Mohana is intriguing: Madana derives from the Sanskrit mad, i.e., to exhilarate, intoxicate. Mohana is similar, from muh, to be stupefied or perplexed. Sanskritists sometimes describe the name as an instrumental tatpurusha compound of the noun madana, “love, passion,” and the name mohana, “one who infatuates or enraptures,” so that the full name would essentially mean “one who enraptures through love” or “one who, through His beauty and love, is infatuating, bewildering, and enchanting.”

In traditional circles, Madana has been identified with Cupid,1 an entity so stunningly beautiful that he enchants or mesmerizes absolutely everyone – except God, who is so overwhelmingly attractive that He can attract even Cupid. The implication of the name Madana Mohana, then, is that God attracts even that person who attracts all others. In other words, He is capable of mesmerizing the ultimate mesmerizer.2

Accordingly, the name Madana Mohana is commonly used as a direct reference to the Supreme Being, for only such an incomparable entity is “all-attractive” (a literal translation of the name Krishna). He is therefore sometimes called Kamadeva as well, i.e., “the Lord who instigates unending spiritual desire [kama].” By inspiring desire of this magnitude through His all-attractive visage and nature, He makes all living beings run after Him, seeking a relationship and loving exchanges. In this way Madana Mohana is the sambandha deity, who reestablishes our relationship with God, for we cannot resist this relationship having once been exposed to Him.

This deity was rediscovered by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s intimate associate Sri Advaita Acharya while on pilgrimage to Vrindavan from Bengal. Before returning to his home in Shantipur, he awarded the deity to a brahmana disciple named Damodar Purushottama Chaube, who lived in the Mathura area. The deity was later entrusted to Sanatana Goswami, eldest of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan.

Once, when Sri Sanatana was begging house to house in Mathura, he came upon the home of Damodar Chaube, who invited him inside. Retrieving prasada from the deity plate, before Sanatana’s eyes Chaube began to scold the deity just like his own child: “Why are You not finishing the food I am giving You?” This is the mood of vatsalya, parental love for the Lord.

That night, Madana Mohana appeared to Sri Sanatana and said, “Many years ago I was installed by Vajra, the great-grandson of Krishna. After many centuries, I was given to the care of Chaube. I will inspire him to give Me, in this deity form, to you.”

This happened in short order, and Sanatana brought the deity from Mathura to Vrindavan, where he built a small hut for Him atop a hill called Dwadashaditya Tila, near the Yamuna River.

Because Sanatana was a renunciant, he was only able to make flatbread (roti) to offer Madana Mohana as His meals. After eating this same meal for some time, the deity told Sanatana, “Dear one, I am bored merely eating dry roti again and again. Please at least find some salt to give it some taste.”

Sanatana was not disinclined to this, of course, but he was concerned about what the residents of Braja might say. “Why is a holy man asking us for a luxury like salt? Is he not renounced?”

Understanding this consideration, Madana Mohana decided to use His mystical potency to remedy the situation. The very next day, the residents of Braja found a merchant’s boat stuck in a shallow part of the Yamuna River. By Krishna’s arrangement, it was filled with enough salt to satisfy Madana Mohana’s taste many times over.

There is more to the boat story. The construction of the famous Madana Mohana temple in Vrindavan, visually emblematic of the sacred town itself, can be traced to that same merchant who was forcibly docked in the river Yamuna. His name was Krishnadas Kapoor (or, in some versions, Ramdas Kapoor), and he was fabulously wealthy. The story might be rendered as follows.

One day, while on his way to deliver his goods by boat to a market in Agra, Kapoor’s boat was grounded on a sandbar just opposite Sanatana’s hut on the Yamuna River. Kapoor began to pray for help, and, seeing his despair, Sanatana invited him to his hilltop temple to worship Madana Mohana. While he prayed to the deity, the boat miraculously floated clear of obstruction. Kapoor was grateful and financed the building of Madana Mohana’s temple, an imposing edifice built in the 1580s that is one of Vrindavan’s very first temples.

According to historical records, the earliest days of the temple saw no deity of Radhika at Madana Mohana’s side. But soon after construction, the pious Purushottama Jana, son of King Prataparudra of Orissa, sent two female deities from Puri to be placed alongside Madana Mohana. The two deities vary in size, and the temple authorities deemed the bigger one to be Lalita, Sri Radha’s intimate associate and the foremost of Her attendant gopis, while the smaller one is Radhika Herself.

The Move to Karauli

If the magnificent Madana Mohana temple in Vrindavan is representative of Braja as a whole, its counterpart in Karauli might be deemed the very heartbeat of Rajasthan.

The deity’s journey outside of Braja involves a bit of history. While earlier Moghul emperors such as Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan showed no animosity toward the Vaishnavas in their domain – indeed, they often gave them land endowments as well as financial support – Aurangzeb’s rule was different, setting forth prohibitions, at best, and causing destruction, at worst. And so it was that in 1669 Aurangzeb infamously issued mandates to demolish all Hindu temples, and while there is today some question whether he was the sole tyrant involved in these mandates, many of them clearly occurred under his reign.

The main Vaishnava temples in Vrindavan and Mathura to suffer during this period were Radha–Madana-Mohana, Radha-Govinda, Radha-Gopinatha, Radha-Ballabha, Sri Govardhanatha, and Sri Keshava Deva (this last one in Mathura, at the Lord’s birthplace). All the deities were moved to safer areas. Most were relocated, step by step, to Radha-kunda, Kamyavan, and eventually Jaipur. This occurred in the eighteenth century. After They left one destination for another, substitute deities were placed in the temporary way stations so that worshipers could continue venerating the deities without gaps or unnecessary inconvenience.

The arrival of the Vrindavan deities in Jaipur is documented by royal court records of the period, stating that the deities first passed through the kingdom of Raja Badan Singh, the emperor of Kumher, in the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, and finally arrived in Jaipur on Monday, the full-moon day of the month of Karttika (October/November) in 1742 CE. The king of Jaipur, we are told, viewed the deities in the courtyard of the area’s famous temple of Sri Sri Sita-Rama, and then They were brought to Badal Mahal, where They were ostensibly to be established for all time. But this was not to be.

Jaipur tradition asserts that Krishna Himself appeared to Raja Gopal Singh of Karauli, asking him to bring the deity of Madana Mohana, temporarily stationed in Jaipur, to his own kingdom. The king wanted Madana Mohana to reign over his court. Besides, Gopal Singh’s new bride, the daughter of Jaipur’s king, loved the deity with heart and soul, a love that matched his own.

Accordingly, Gopal Singh traveled to Jaipur and asked the Raja (the son of Jai Singh II), Madho Singh I, to allow him to move Madana Mohana to Karauli, claiming that Krishna Himself had requested it.

Madho Singh responded, “Your words are fine, but how can we know that Madana Mohana truly wants to go there? We will give you a test. If you pass the test, then Madana Mohanaji will travel with you to Karauli.”3

Here was the test: Madho Singh covered Gopal Singh’s eyes with a strip of cloth, took him to the temple, and released him, saying, “Go and hold the deity. We have several forms of Krishna in this room, and if you touch Madana Mohana first, then we will ordain His going with you.”

By this time, a great crowd had gathered in the assembly hall. Everyone was curious to see if the king would be able to recognize Madana Mohana with his eyes covered. The whole family of Jaipur’s king was in attendance.

In the end, Gopal Singh correctly approached Madana Mohana’s alcove and stopped right before the deity. He felt and grasped the feet of his beloved Krishna. All the assembled princes and townspeople praised his love for the Lord. “Jaya Madana Mohana!” The king of Jaipur thus gave his permission for the deity to be taken.

Madana Mohana was moved to Karauli, and He has been there ever since.

One further esoteric reason for His relocation that may serve as a backdrop for the above narrative: Tradition holds that the deities Govinda and Gopinatha came to appreciate the land of Jaipur, where Their worship was enhanced even beyond that of Vrindavan, but Madana Mohana, it is said, was engrossed in memory of Braja-mandala. Those acquainted with sacred geography will note that Karauli is in fact part of the Braja Charausi Kosha, an annual pilgrimage around the whole of Braja.

The pujaris at the Madana Mohana temple hold that King Gopal Singh had a dream in which Madana Mohana expressed His desire to return to Braja. But upon awakening, the king realized that Karauli is technically part of greater Braja-mandala, even though it exists within the borders of Rajasthan. Thus he felt confident and comfortable in worshiping his Lord in that part of India.

My Visit (Reprise)

With this much as historical background, shoot forward to February 2019. We started out at 8:30 a.m. from our hotel, Rambagh Palace, the best in Jaipur. My long-time desire to visit Karauli would finally be fulfilled on this day.

But it was almost not to be. Arun, our guide and a resident of Jaipur, was normally diligent about reading the newspaper, just to make certain that the terrain was safe for travel. That was part of his job description, and my nephew made sure that he was diligent.

On this particular day, however, he somehow missed his opportunity to get the daily paper. And that was lucky for me, for if he had, we might not have visited Karauli at all.

Might Krishna have had a hand in this? Arun remembers the events of that day as follows:

That morning, my kids’ school van did not come and I had to drop them to school at the eleventh hour. So it was. In all that rush, I just had no time to read the day’s newspaper and was thus oblivious of the latest news on the ongoing protests on the road to Karauli. Simple villagers – Gurjar, farmers – were vehemently putting forward special demands for their community, especially in terms of government jobs.

The talks between the state government and the Gurjar protesters had failed the previous day, and it was speculated that they might bring their frustration to the streets, blocking the highway and train routes as they had done a couple of years previously. It can get violent. And that is what happened. They had taken to the streets and were blocking the highway in the districts of Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, and also the Jaipur-Delhi Highway.

But not reading the newspaper that day was a blessing in disguise, because we went forward with our excursion to Karauli – it was as if Madana Mohanaji personally wanted us to come. Surprisingly, there was no trouble on the highway either, at least the parts that we traveled, but the train routes were in fact blocked and violence had indeed erupted, as we learned the next day from the newspapers. That said, we were blessed to have a peaceful visit.

Had we known of the potential trouble on the road, we would have surely canceled the trip. But as Arun eloquently says, “Madana Mohanaji would not have it,” and we proceeded to see Sanatana Goswami’s deity in all His glory.

The distance between Rambagh Palace and Karauli city is some 155 km via a route that is at least partially on a state highway. It took us not quite four hours. After we left our car at Karauli City Parking Centre, we walked for about twenty minutes to City Palace, part of the Karauli complex, and immediately entered the temple.

There He was: Sanatana Goswami’s deity, about whom I had heard and read so much over the years. Indeed, in one of my favorite Goswami books, the Brihad-bhagavatamrita, Sanatana’s deity is among the main characters, though under the name Madana Gopala.4

It was a long time coming, and so I just prayed and meditated, for nearly an hour, gazing at the same form of Krishna that Sri Sanatana Goswami had gazed at, held in his hands, loved. Advaita Acharya’s deity. Chaube’s deity. The deity who had graced Vrindavan’s first temple. The very thought of it somehow enhanced my ability to appreciate Krishna consciousness and increased my desire to achieve it. I felt as if I had been shot by Cupid’s arrow.

The transcendental personalities who are eternally part of Krishna’s divine pastimes, we are told, are never shot by Cupid’s arrows, and even those souls who live in the material world – who know those arrows all too well – can move beyond Cupid by listening for the call of Krishna’s flute, which in this material world is represented by the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Notes

  1. It seems clear that the entity known as Cupid (from the Latin cupido, meaning “desire”) has more concrete historical antecedents in the Vedic literature, especially since Kamadeva, the god usually translated as Cupid, is described as carrying a bow and arrows with tips that invoke desire, just as Cupid is. Sometimes Kamadeva is identified with Krishna (as in Srimad-Bhagavatam 18.15 and in the Kama Gayatri mantra, for instance), who in this form shoots five kinds of desire-instilling flower arrows, too, and these represent taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 21.107) The arrows also represent the five kinds of relationships (rasas) with Him: neutrality (shanta), servitude (dasya), friendship (sakhya), parental affection (vatsalya), and amorous love (madhurya). When one is shot with the appropriate arrow, the respective interaction is thereby nurtured. Another personality sometimes identified as Cupid is Krishna’s alluring son Pradyumna. (See Prabhupada’s book Krishna, Chapter 55.) The overall idea here is that Krishna is so attractive that He easily surpasses even the most beautiful entity, often known as Cupid.
  2. There is one person whose alluring beauty surpasses even Krishna – and that is Srimati Radharani. Although Krishna is so beautiful that He enchants even Cupid, He is completely mesmerized by Radhika, whose name, therefore, is Madana-mohana-mohini. Krishna is the mesmerier of Cupid, and Radharani is the mesmerizer of the mesmerizer. Prabhupada states it directly: “Although Krishna is so beautiful that He can attract millions of Cupids and is therefore called Madana-mohana, ‘the attractor of Cupid,’ Radharani [the female Godhead] can attract even Krishna. She is therefore called Madana-mohana-mohini – ‘the attractor of the attractor of Cupid.’”
  3. Much of this historical information is taken from Asimkumar Ray, Vrindaban theke Jaipur (“From Vrindavan to Jaipur”), Bengali edition, ed., Kiran Candra Rai (Calcutta: Jijnasa, 1985).
  4. He appears in seven verses, all in relation to Gopa-kumara’s worshipful deity, Madana Gopala.