We tend to hear about Krishna’s rural life, but His city life reveals other attractive aspects of His multifaceted personality.
By Satyaraja Dasa
During His pastimes on earth, Lord Krishna revealed both His supreme opulence and His supreme sweetness.
“The Lord is king, and He rules the nations.” (Psalms 22:27–28)
India’s ancient wisdom texts reveal that Sri Krishna – the playful flute-wielding cowherd boy who enjoys loving exchange with His associates in the free-spirited, rustic atmosphere of Vrindavan – is the Supreme Lord Himself. He is God in His original, highest feature, paramount among innumerable manifestations of the one Supreme Godhead.
Krishna is God as He appears in His own element, simple and unpretentious, comparable to a great stately personality in His intimate, home environment. This down-home and uncomplicated image of God is counterbalanced by His awe-inspiring manifestation as four-armed Vishnu, the opulent source of all beings, lying in the Causal Ocean while uncountable universes emanate from His pores.
Vishnu is an expansion of Krishna. That which is great and awesome is subservient to the basic and unadorned, for we cherish simplicity over complexity, love over might. Still, both are genuine aspects of the Supreme. The Vishnu feature resides in the Vaikuntha planets, the kingdom of God, and in the material cosmos as its oversoul. Vishnu is comparable to God at work, as opposed to God at home.
In other words, Krishna is the more intimate Supreme Being, without any formal affectations, whereas Vishnu is how He appears in His role as the supreme controller of all that is.
Krishna in Dvaraka lies somewhere in between, embodying a portion of the intimacy and sweetness of His original Vrindavan form – with two arms, like the original Personality of Godhead – but also displaying the royalty, grandeur, and majestic bearing of four-armed Vishnu.
The regions known as Vrindavan, Mathura, and Dvaraka – the sacred stages upon which Krishna plays – exist in the spiritual sky even as they manifest as regions of India in the material world. These are the highest portions of Vaikuntha, where Vishnu is displaced by Krishna, where power (aishvarya) is eclipsed by sweetness (madhurya). Of course, on the spiritual platform all forms of God are equal, as are His abodes, and in that sense Vishnu and Krishna are merely various faces of the same one Lord, with nuances of difference that mainly exist to facilitate relationship, as suggested above.
In His earthly pastimes, when, for example, Krishna leaves Vrindavan to go to Mathura and, later, to Dwarka, He expands into subsidiary versions of Himself. When He does this, He mystically remains in Vrindavan in His original form, in an unmanifest state, and His appearances in both Mathura and Dwarka are facilitated by plenary portions. With these “portions,” He exhibits transcendental pastimes infused with formality and opulence – a mood that is alien to Vrindavan, but very much in line with the lordship of Vaikuntha. In Mathura and Dwarka, Krishna is in His work clothes, so to speak, and while these secondary manifestations are fully transcendental, they do not fully reflect His original personality of intimacy and love.
Indeed, Krishna prefers that His devotees worship Him in His original form: “Knowing My opulences, the whole world looks upon Me with awe and veneration,” Krishna says. “But devotion made feeble by such reverence does not attract Me.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 3.16) This is because awe and reverence tend to dilute intimacy, as we see even in this world. For this reason Krishna wants us to know Him as He is, penetrating His identity beyond His “vocation” as Supreme Lord. Thus worship of any of Krishna’s forms should be accompanied by a sense of who He really is in terms of His original, intimate personality, for this leads to the unfolding of eternal relationships.
These relationships (rasa) manifest either as servant (dasya), friend (sakhya), parent (vatsalya), or lover (madhurya), and self-realization involves finding our place in this varied interpersonal schema. Those blissfully ensconced in such relationships are oblivious of Krishna’s Godhood – by design – for awareness of His divinity would result in formal and reverential exchanges, which, again, are contrary to the loving affairs cultivated in the supreme paradise.
Those lesser, more ceremonious moods, exalted though they are, exist only in the other Vaikuntha planets and are usually categorized as neutrality (shanta-rasa), servitude (dasya–rasa), and lower-echelon friendship (sakhya-rasa), wherein one has a personal relationship with God but largely in a formal capacity. That is to say, in Vaikuntha, awareness of Vishnu’s supreme position is paramount, disallowing more intimate exchanges of love. There are of course certain exceptions. The queens of Dvaraka, for example, experience the conjugal mood as part of their service to Krishna. Even there, however, their love is tinged by awe and reverence, not quite approximating the gopis of Vrindavana. Nonetheless, because of these varieties of loving exchanges, the full spectrum of relationship can be found in the kingdom of God, from formal (in Vaikuntha) to intimate (in Goloka Vrindavana), and they all have a place in pleasing Krishna.
Again, Krishna in Dvaraka is more akin to Vishnu in Vaikuntha, while also incorporating aspects of the more intimate loving moods of Vrindavana as well. Sometimes, in fact, Krishna in Dvaraka is indistinguishable from His primary form in Vrindavana, as we shall soon see.
The Kingdom of Dwarka
When Krishna leaves Vrindavan in India to become ruler in the great kingdom of Dwarka, as He did some five thousand years ago, He is still Krishna, even if He manifests in a so-called secondary form. For Krishna, who is absolute, there is in reality no first or second. Krishna is always Krishna, “one without a second,” as Prabhupada often said. But He manifests in particular ways for a specific purpose, especially to please His devotees.
To understand Dwarka-Krishna, we must look at Dwarka itself, popularly considered one of India’s four most important holy places: Puri (east), Rameswaram (south), Badrinath (north), and Dwarka (west).
The word dvaraka is derived from the root dvaravati, “gated [city],” perhaps a reference to the countless gates that encircled its many awe-inspiring buildings and gardens. Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.69.1-12) describes Dwarka as a countrified city filled with the sounds of birds and bees, chirping and buzzing as they fly through numerous parks and pleasure gardens. Dwarka’s many lakes were filled with a variety of blooming lotuses, the sweet, melodious songs of peacocks, swans, and cranes complementing the sounds of the birds and bees.
Yet it was also a highly developed urban environment of some 900,000 royal palaces, constructed of crystal, silver, and huge emeralds, with wide roads and sophisticated grid street planning.
Architecturally, Dwarka challenges the common notion of what man was capable of at the time, so elaborate were its buildings and engineering accomplishments, including progressive waste disposal and sewage systems. All of this was lost due to the vicissitudes of time and because Dwarka was submerged in much the same way that one might imagine Atlantis was.
Today, the Underwater Archaeology Wing (UAW) of the Archaeological Survey of India conducts research off the west coast of India, near what is said to be the site of Krishna’s ancient dwelling, now marked by a small town known as Devabhumi Dwarka, in Gujarat. The UAW is excavating underwater sites and ruins and finding many artifacts that appear to be remnants of a world that transcends time.
Vaishnava sages pass down additional information as well: In the original city of Dwarka there was a private enclave, distinct in its beauty, worshiped by rulers from numerous planetary systems who would periodically visit to make loving offerings. This was the residential area of Lord Krishna Himself, an ornately decorated collection of 16,000 palaces where the Lord expanded into an equivalent number of forms to live at peace with His queens. These queens, of course, were not ordinary souls, but rather expansions of His internal, spiritual energy (shakti), much as He was an expansion of the original Krishna in Vrindavan. Their love is thus wholly transcendental.
Why did Krishna go to Dwarka? There is an esoteric reason articulated only in the Gaudiya tradition. Having battled with demonic forces in Mathura, Krishna led his troops to Dwarka to protect His clan, the Yadavas, from Jarasandha, one of His arch enemies, who had attacked Mathura while Krishna was there.
Dwarka was a perfect choice, for it was surrounded by the sea, making it an impenetrable fortress. Krishna had other concerns in Dwarka, too, such as an ongoing relationship with the Pandava princes, and the soon-to-be marriage of Subhadra (His sister) and Arjuna.
But Dwarka was perfect for another reason as well, one still more esoteric, a reason that highlights Krishna’s innate love for Vrindavan. Had He gone back to that bucolic paradise after the battle at Mathura as He desired, Jarasandha’s troops would have followed Him there, destroying Vrindavan’s beautiful rural atmosphere, quite possibly harming His family, friends, and the district of Mathura, which were all so dear to Him.
Thus, out of love for Vrindavan and its neighboring city, the place of His birth, He led his Yadava army to far-away Dwarka, which became His kingdom for the rest of His pastimes in this world. He would now spend almost ninety-seven years in Dwarka. As time went on, Balarama married a princess named Revati, and Krishna married numerous queens, as mentioned above. The foremost among them was the extraordinary Queen Rukmini, who was an expansion of Candravali, one of His prominent cowherd girlfriends in Vrindavan. His other primary queen was Satyabhama, a manifestation of His unsurpassed lover, Sri Radha. Through these latter marriages He sought to bring the essence of Vrindavan to His new home in Dwarka. This is explained by Srila Rupa Goswami in his Lalita Madhava, Acts Five (Texts 18 & 51) and Six (Text 32).
In Dwarka, Krishna is known as Dvarakadhisha, “the Lord of Dwarka,” for it was here that He manifested His princely side, wearing royal garb and attended by a vast retinue of reverential servants.
To commemorate the Lord’s sovereign pastimes in this highly ornate kingdom, His great-grandson Vajranabha built a temple where His main palace once stood. Today, the modern structure in its place dates back to the sixteenth century and is considered the original site of Lord Krishna’s Dwarka home.
The deity of this temple is dressed with all the opulence of the original Dvarakadhisha Himself. The symbols in the deity’s four hands (conch, club, disc, and lotus), indicating a mood of sovereignty (aishvarya) appropriate for Lord Vishnu, are covered in glittering silver.
Numerous subsidiary shrines are in the same compound, including those dedicated to Lakshmi, Shiva, Balarama, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Jambavati, Satyabhama, and Vishnu. The entire temple complex is thus a tribute to aishvarya-bhava, or the mood of worshiping Krishna in awe and reverence.
There are a few exceptions, such as an altar for Srimati Radharani, and, opposite Dvarakadhisha’s main altar, a shrine to Devaki, Krishna’s mother, who lovingly gazes upon her divine child from across the way. These exceptions show that, even in Dwarka, the other standard devotional relationships exist as well, indicating that Krishna is the reservoir of all loving exchange (rasa), even if awe and reverence are the focus of this particular temple.
The temple is an imposing structure that stands five stories high, its main sanctum surrounded by seventy-two regal pillars. Functioning under the auspices of the Pushti-marga tradition, the temple conducts its elaborate deity worship according to the Vallabha lineage, popular in this region of India.
Nearly twenty miles from Dwarka is a quaint coastal village named Okha, from which pilgrims take a twenty-minute boat ride to nearby Bet (“island”) Dwarka. Here they see the remains of another ancient Dvarakadhisha temple. Locals refer to this area as the real Dwarka, and it certainly puts visitors in a Dwarka mood.
Halfway to Bet Dwarka, just off the main road, is Gopi Tallav, said to be the lake where Krishna once reunited with the gopis of Vrindavan. Here one finds gopi-chandana, the yellowish clay that devotees use as tilaka, marking their bodies as temples of God. As one approaches Bet Dwarka proper, one comes upon a temple dedicated to Rukmini, Krishna’s primary queen, a structure said to date back to the twelfth century.
ISKCON, too, has a temple in Dwarka, owing to a large property that was donated by a prominent well-wisher, Pritish Bharatia, in 1996. The temple is only a three-minute walk from the central Dvarakadhisha temple, and the deities of Sri Sri Radha-Syamasundara happily greet Their devotees, again combining the awe and reverence of aishvarya-bhava with the madhurya aspect of worship favored by Gaudiya Vaishnavas. His Holiness Mahavishnu Goswami oversaw the project until his passing several years ago. Today, ISKCON has plans for expansion that will make its Dwarka temple the premier facility and tourist attraction in the region.
Isvarabhai Pujari, one of the priests for the Dvarakadhisha temple and an architect by profession, is designing a new ISKCON temple, with plans for elaborate outdoor dioramas depicting Lord Krishna’s pastimes from Srimad-Bhagavatam. Aside from the main temple, ISKCON Dwarka includes a six-acre goshala (cow sanctuary) some eight miles from town, with plans for future expansion.
The Road to New Dwaraka*
But the real story of ISKCON Dwarka is not to be found in India. Rather, it emerges in Los Angeles at the height of the hippie era as the result of Srila Prabhupada’s early efforts in America, along with those of his early disciples.
After establishing themselves in New York in 1966, and then expanding to San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Montreal, Prabhupada’s disciples opened a temple in Boston and, soon after, in Los Angeles. These centers were all born in 1967, toward the end of the year.
Once in LA, the devotees began what was to become their long history in the city by renting a storefront building at 2364 Pico Boulevard in mid-city, an area bordered by Beverlywood and Koreatown. The new “temple,” humble though it was, afforded them a makeshift altar, which was essentially two wooden crates covered by a patterned madras. At the very top was a vibrant and colorful poster of a smiling Krishna with His loving arms wrapped around a cow.
Dayananda Dasa and his wife, Nandarani Dasi, were in charge of the fledgling temple, as they and the resident devotees awaited Srila Prabhupada, who was scheduled to arrive in short order. Dayananda had rented him a separate apartment on Saturn Street, one block away, just so he would be comfortable while in Los Angeles.
Prabhupada visited as scheduled and held popular programs. People joined, the temple grew, and the full-time devotees, although few, would often go out chanting in the neighboring areas, attracting attention. Soon they installed deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra, and their devotional standards blossomed.
They quickly grew out of their little center and moved to busy Hollywood Blvd., one block from Grauman’s famous Chinese Theater.
Being in such a popular area facilitated their rich and enthusiastic public chanting, which became the center of their lives, and they would often stay out until 1:00 in the morning. They would chant with similar enthusiasm at the temple, bringing the party home with them, so to speak, much to the dismay of the neighbors. As a result, they were quickly evicted.
“Out on the sidewalk we went,” remembers Dayananda, “with pots, pans, and bedding, and the deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra in our arms. Luckily, a stranger passing us on the street offered the use of her nearby garage. That was in the Watts district of southern LA.”
Although the devotees were comfortable there, Prabhupada wanted them to have better facility. His concern was outreach, not personal comfort. He graciously lectured and joined them in kirtana and feasts, but made clear that they should look for a more appropriate temple. Soon after, they found a church for sale with three large adjacent rooms. This was at 1975 La Cienega Blvd., situated on a major north-south arterial road, centrally located. The devotees moved in and quickly thrived, and no one was happier than Srila Prabhupada.
In fact, he often wrote to his disciples in other centers to describe it, proud of it as a groundbreaking “world headquarters” from which he would guide his followers to open many more. It was at this point that his LA disciples heard that he had taught the New York devotees how to worship Radha-Krishna deities. Realizing its importance, the LA devotees wanted to learn this art and science as well. But where would they get deities of Radha and Krishna in America? At that time, They were only available in India. Still, because Prabhupada and the LA devotees desired it, small but alluring Radha-Krishna deities – eleven inches and made of brass – mysteriously arrived at their doorstep, delivered by a widow from Vrindavan.
On July 16, 1969, Srila Prabhupada installed the deities in the temple, allowing the devotees to begin a full schedule of decoration, arati, and food offerings, replicating the methods used in New York. Prabhupada’s disciple Silavati Dasi learned from him directly and gradually taught others. In ISKCON’s early days, she became something of an authority on deity worship.
To accommodate the newly inaugurated temple program of worshiping the deities, Srila Prabhupada stopped the late-night sankirtana programs, requesting all disciples to attend the daily mangala-arati ceremony at 4:30 a.m., which would necessitate retiring early for the night. He established other mandatory programs to be performed later in the morning and in the evening too. These have become standard in all ISKCON temples.
After one year at the La Cienega address, however, the devotees had outgrown their temple. Their Spiritual Sky Incense business was expanding, Back to Godhead distribution increased, and the Sunday Love Feast was attended by numerous seekers from both LA and the newly established outreach temples in Laguna Beach and San Diego. Under the general leadership of Tamal Krishna Dasa (soon to be Goswami), the temple thrived. But he relocated to London, where newer services were calling out his name.
Thus, in 1970, when Gargamuni and Dayananda, both senior devotees in charge of the new temple, found a large and magnificent church – yet again – with an elaborate service building and minister’s quarters, Srila Prabhupada negotiated the price with the minister. The elegant edifice would eventually become the movement’s most impressive property at the time, the true “Western world headquarters” of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
In the weeks that followed, Gargamuni was put in charge of arranging the finances.
“Prabhupada,” says Dayananda, “was very pleased with him for arranging the purchase and later buying the three wonderful silver altars that would adorn the new temple. Prabhupada also worked with Gargamuni on the actual purchase and finances.”
This would become the majestic temple at 3764 Watseka Avenue, which continues to serve as the LA temple today. The earliest days at the new facility are remembered by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami in Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita:
On the auspicious occasion of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s appearance day anniversary, the Los Angeles devotees received permission to enter their new temple on Watseka Avenue. The rooms had not even been cleaned, and the large hall was bare; but the devotees brought in Prabhupada’s vyasasana from the old temple on La Cienega, and Prabhupada had them place on it a large picture of his spiritual master. Standing before his spiritual master, Prabhupada offered arati while some fifty disciples gathered around him, chanting Hare Krishna and dancing in the otherwise empty hall. . . . This large new temple, Prabhupada said, had been provided by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati as a gift for the devotees to use in Krishna’s service. They should not become attached to the opulence, Prabhupada said, but they should use this wonderful place for preaching. As he spoke, he wept.
April 1, 1970. Working day and night for the move to the new building, the devotees were finally ready to take their deities and assorted devotional paraphernalia on a long cavalcade to the new location at Watseka Avenue. The deities were placed on a magnificent palanquin beautifully painted with scenes from Vrindavan, and along with numerous chanting devotees and awe-struck guests, the deities trekked through the streets of LA.
When the chanting party arrived at what would soon be the new temple room, they noticed an old Spanish-mission–style pulpit with large arches over it. Seizing the opportunity, they hung large oil paintings of Lord Chaitanya and the disciplic succession there, preparing it for the deities, who were put in place.
In what was still very much a churchlike atmosphere in terms of decor, Srila Prabhupada lectured from the podium while disciples sat in the pews. He expressed his appreciation of this arrangement for guests. But the pews were eventually removed, and the large chanting room began to look like other ISKCON temples, if a tad more opulent.
“As the movement grew,” writes frequent BTG author Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi, “more and more devotees made their home in what Srila Prabhupada eventually named ‘New Dwaraka.’ They were sculptors, architects, carpenters, designers, musicians, businessmen, managers, accountants, technicians, writers, editors, artists, teachers, seamstresses, jewelers, photographers, film producers, speakers, and actors, and their skills blossomed due to their love for Srila Prabhupada. Much of his legacy was born from the culture of krishna-bhakti he inspired in LA, including translated and published Vedic scriptures, krishna-lila oil paintings, musical recordings, lectures, museum dioramas, festivals, dramatic performances, films, and the standard-setting worship of Sri Sri Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha.”
With the opening of Govinda’s Buffet in 1982, declared by major cuisine critics as being among the best vegetarian restaurants in all of California, or even the world, and, later, Govinda’s Gift Shop, providing devotional items for worship, books, posters, and more, for both devotees and visitors, the New Dwaraka community was complete – a tribute to Srila Prabhupada’s herculean if loving work in the modern world.
What’s in a Name?
When the Watseka temple was purchased, due to its opulence Srila Prabhupada named it “New Dwarka” (adding to its magnificence was an entire city block of private devotee apartments, all centered on the temple). When the large marble Radha-Krishna deities were installed in 1971, They were named Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha in pursuance of His Divine Grace’s vision for an opulent temple community. At that time, too, the smaller deities – then known simply as Radha-Krishna – were renamed Rukmini-Dvarakanatha.
Senior disciple Tushta Krishna Dasa, onetime personal servant of Srila Prabhupada, tells the story:
Prabhupada was giving specific names for deities in nearly every temple he opened at that time. There was Sri Sri Radha-Vrindavana-chandra, for instance, of New Vrindaban, or Radha Partha-sarathi in Delhi. With this temple being on the west coast just as the Dwarka of India is on India’s west coast, it became obvious. The disciples requested Prabhupada in a letter that the deities be named Sri Sri Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha. Srila Prabhupada gave his permission for this. In subsequent letters of instruction to the Los Angeles pujaris, Srila Prabhupada always referred to the deities as Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha.
Still, the difference between Krishna in Vrindavan and Krishna in Dwarka should, again, be understood. In Vrindavan, Krishna plays His flute to entice the gopis into higher states of uncompromising love (mahabhava). This is not the case in pastimes with Rukmini and the queens of Dwarka. In fact, Krishna leaves His flute in Vrindavan when he enters Mathura. And this is even more the case in Dwarka. Dvarakadhisha is never depicted as playing His flute. So one might wonder: Why is the Krishna deity in Los Angeles holding a flute when the person next to Him is Rukmini? This seems to contradict both scripture and the truth (tattva) of krishna-lila. In Dwarka, Krishna acts like a kshatriya in the royal order, and flute playing is not a kshatriya activity. Thus it can be argued that Krishna standing in His threefold bending form, holding a flute, is incompatible with the presence of Rukmini and even with the name, Dvarakadhisha.
Srila Prabhupada explains this as follows:
When the gopis sometimes saw Krishna in the form of Narayana, they were not very much attracted to Him. The gopis never addressed Krishna as Rukmini-ramana. Krishna’s devotees in Vrindavana address Him as Radharamana, Nandanandana and Yashodanandana, but not as Vasudeva-nandana or Devaki-nandana. Although according to the material conception Narayana, Rukmini-ramana and Krishna are one and the same, in the spiritual world one cannot use the name Rukmini-ramana or Narayana in place of the name Krishna. If one does so out of a poor fund of knowledge, his mellow [rasa] with the Lord becomes spiritually faulty and is called rasabhasa, an overlapping of transcendental mellows. The advanced devotee who has actually realized the transcendental features of the Lord will not commit the mistake of creating a rasabhasa situation by using one name for another. Because of the influence of Kali-yuga, there is much rasabhasa in the name of extravagance and liberal-mindedness. Such fanaticism is not very much appreciated by pure devotees. (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 8.91)
In short, Radharani and Her associates are not attracted to Dvarakadhisha-Krishna, nor should they be. They are attracted only to Vrajendra-nandana Krishna, the Krishna of Vrindavan, and Gaudiya Vaishnavas seek to follow in their footsteps. Although Krishna, Dvarakadhisha, and even Narayana are one and the same in terms of ontological reality (tattva), they are different by virtue of individualized relationship and taste (rasa), and this is the main point.
Nonetheless, in the excerpts below, Srila Prabhupada shows his full acceptance of the names and the divine personalities behind them, directly referring to the deities as Sri Sri Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha, without hesitation, criticism, or misgivings. Prabhupada would have clearly spoken out if he disapproved in any way. He saw training and correcting disciples as a large part of his mission, and he would not have hesitated to speak up if he detected something inappropriate.
Thank you very much for the pictures of Rukmini Dvarakadhisa. They are very nice. (Letter, Nov. 24, 1976)
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your card dated October 25, 1975, along with the beautiful photographs of Sri Sri Rukmini-Dvarakadhisa of New Dvaraka. (Letter, Nov. 10, 1975)
It is very encouraging to hear the arrangement you are making for worship of Their Lordships Sri Dvarakadhisa and Rukmini. Please do it very nicely and I shall be glad to see the completed result. (Letter, June 29, 1973)
The following exchange is excerpted from a room conversation recorded in Vrindavan on June 17, 1977. Here Srila Prabhupada recalls communicating with the deity Dvarakadhisha in Los Angeles. He describes how he left Vrindavan in 1965 and went to the West, and then how Krishna sent him back to India to establish temples in Mayapur and Vrindavan, but how he then returned, soon thereafter to complete his mission.
Tamal Krishna Goswami: Actually, when you intended to go to America, everyone was advising, “Better not go. It is too dangerous for someone of your age. Do not go.” Someone even said that you may not come back.
Srila Prabhupada: I thought all this. I went to USA not to come back. I left here hopeless. I did not want to come back. I went with determination that, “If I do this job, I will survive.” So Krishna helped me. . . . I made my headquarters in Los Angeles.
TKG: Well . . . by your coming here it was wonderful.
Srila Prabhupada: That means Krishna desired. Otherwise I had no plan to come back here.
TKG: Your business was in the West. Still it is, you said. Still, whatever we’re doing here . . .
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore I took this permanent residency.
TKG: Not intention but . . . Do you regret having come back to India?
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is well. My plan was like that, but Krishna’s plan was different. When I was coming back, I was speaking to Dvarakadhisha, “I do not know. I came here to live. Why You are driving me away?” While leaving Los Angeles I was not happy.
TKG: Oh, I remember.
Srila Prabhupada: But He had this plan.
TKG: Pretty nice plan.
Srila Prabhupada: Krishna wanted that, “You left Vrindavan. I’ll give you better place in Vrindavan. [Chuckles.] You were retired in Vrindavan. I obliged you to leave. Now you come back. I’ll give you better place.” So He has given a temple [Krishna-Balarama Mandir] hundred times better than Los Angeles. Is it not?
TKG: There’s nothing comparable in the three worlds.
Srila Prabhupada: Hmm. So it is always by His desire.
“Regarding the arrangement of the deities on the altar,” wrote Srila Prabhupada, “the arrangement here in the Los Angeles temple is: Guru-Gauranga, Radha-Krsna, Jagannatha. Gargamuni has taken some pictures of the temple room and I shall send a copy to you when they are printed. So make the altar very gorgeous according to your facilities there. That will be nice.” (Letter, June 22, 1970)
Given his stated affirmation of the deities as Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha, it is clear that Prabhupada saw no distinction between Radha-Krishna and Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha.
But can ordinary devotees see like that? Should one merely imitate a pure devotee of the Lord? After all, he was a fully enlightened Vaishnava, with the highest possible realization, and he was thus naturally able to see the supreme form of Krishna everywhere.
In point of fact, this is precisely what he was teaching his followers to do as well. While not neglecting the nuance of difference in the various forms of Krishna, he wanted his followers to understand how Vrindavan-Krishna is present everywhere, not least in all of His direct forms, whether Vishnu, Dvarakadhisha, or otherwise.
Moreover, he taught that deity worship, especially for those who are immature on the devotional path, must begin with awe and reverence – not just when worshiping Rukmini-Dvarakadhisha, but even when worshiping deities that are ostensibly Radha-Krishna directly. All deity worship begins like this, and as one advances, one learns to see Vrindavan-Krishna in one’s worshipful Lord. As Prabhupada says,
Regarding your question about why we dress the deities in very opulent fashion and not as simple cowherds boy and girl, this is an intelligent question and the answer is that according to the regulative principles we cannot worship Radha-Krsna now. Radha-Krsna worship is meant for persons who have already developed spontaneous love of God. In the training period we are only worshiping Laksmi-Narayana. We worship Radha-Krsna because Laksmi-Narayana is there also, but actually we are not worshiping Radha-Krsna with our present deity ceremonies; we are worshiping Laksmi-Narayana. Narayana is there when Krsna is there, but actually we do not worship Radha-Krsna in Their original form. This is why we should worship Radha-Krsna in Their Laksmi-Narayana feature with all respect and reverence. If we deviate from this standard then we shall be prakrta-sahajiya, or a person who takes things very cheap. We worship Laksmi-Narayana and because Radha-Krsna includes Laksmi-Narayana there is no necessity of installing a Laksmi-Narayana deity. It is just like a king who is engaged in administering justice. Actually that business belongs to the justice department. But what is the justice department? It is all part of the king’s energy, and the king also has the power to execute this function. (Letter, January 24, 1969)
“Radha-Krishna,” he further writes, “cannot be approached by the neophyte devotees; therefore temple worship according to regulative principles is offered to Lakshmi-Narayana. Although there may be a Radha-Krishna vigraha, or form, the worship of the neophyte devotees is acceptable as Lakshmi-Narayana worship.” (Bhagavatam 4.24.45–46, Purport)
Responding to His Devotee’s Desire
“Krishna is known as Bhakta-vatsala,” writes Karuna Dharini. “That is, He enjoys taking the supporting role, if it pleases His devotees. Krishna enjoys responding to the desire of His worshipers. The New Dwaraka disciples of Srila Prabhupada felt inspired to worship the deities as their transcendental king and queen, and Krishna helped them to do so. They designed the present temple room to look like a beautiful Dwaraka palace. They installed a nice marble floor and pillars, arched altar and front entry doors with brass plating of mandalas and cows, velvet canopies, and elegant dioramas of various demigods looking down into the room. Beautiful golden-framed oil paintings of the Krishna book pastimes were placed everywhere.”
In conclusion, and when contemplated in the present context, the words of both Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita resound with deep meaning:
“You are so merciful to Your devotees that You manifest Yourself in the particular eternal form of transcendence in which they always think of You.” (Srimad-bhagavatam 3.9.11)
yei yei rupe jane, sei taha kahe
sakala sambhave krishne, kichu mithya nahe
“In whatever form one knows the Lord, one speaks of Him in that way. In this there is no falsity, since everything is possible in Krishna.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 5.132) As Prabhupada writes in his purport: “If someone calls Lord Ramachandra by the vibration Hare Rama, understanding it to mean ‘O Lord Ramachandra!’ he is quite right. Similarly, if one says that Hare Rama means ‘O Sri Balarama!’ he is also right. Those who are aware of the vishnu-tattva do not fight over all these details.”
Krishna’s Simplicity and Grandeur
Wherever Krishna goes, He brings Vrindavan with Him. Thus, Sanatana Goswami’s Brihad-bhagavatamrita (1.7.7–8), for example, tells us that in Dwarka, there is a “Nava (New) Vrindavan,” where Krishna can assuage His intense separation from Vrindavan. The same Nava Vrindavan is mentioned in Rupa Goswami’s play Lalita Madhava (Act 6, Scene 1, texts 41–42). Essentially, Nava Vrindavan is a haven, complete with facsimiles of Krishna’s family, friends, and favorite areas as found in the original Vrindavan. Vishvakarma, the architect of the demigods, is said to have created it to lessen Krishna’s intense pining for His village home. Similarly, New Dwaraka in Los Angeles, although opulent, has many of the same accoutrements as any other Krishna temple, with inescapable elements of the Vrindavan mood, like Krishna holding His flute. This is because it is an ISKCON temple and consequently partakes of Gaudiya Vaishnava standards and predilections.
When Krishna engages His Yogamaya potency to recreate Vrindavan, even in an opulent environment like Dwarka it takes on many of the characteristics of the original Vrindavan. Dwarka is thus nondifferent from Vrindavan even while retaining its kingly splendor. Also, while we know Vrindavan as a simple rural village, it is not lacking in grandeur. For example, Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura describes Krishna’s home, Nanda Maharaja’s palace, in his Vraja-riti-chintamani (16–18): “His palace is made of glistening sapphires, with coral pillars, gold and lapis lazuli roofs, crystal windows, and large gates made of rubies. His entire capitol is enclosed by a great wall built of sapphires.” In other words, one sees transcendence according to the bhava, or primary spiritual mood, in which one is absorbed.
Thus, opulence can be found in the simple village of Vrindavan, and simplicity can be found in the stately environment of Dwarka – each according to Krishna’s desire and the mood of His loving devotee. Vishvanatha Chakravarti’s disciple Baladeva Vidyabhushana further develops these ideas in Aishvarya-kadambini. In the end, Vrindavan is inseparable from Krishna, and whether He manifests in His original form as a simple cowherd or as the king of Dwarka, Krishna is always Krishna, exhibiting both simple and opulent dimensions according to His transcendental, inexplicable, and sweet will.
*Much of this history is derived from Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi, “The Fiftieth Anniversary of New Dwaraka Dhama,” in Back to Godhead, July/August 2019, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 16–31.