The Lord Who Sat Down For His Devotee
It was a warm, summery day with the sun’s rays brightening up our path as we began our parikrama, strolling through the streets of Puri, trying to have darshan in every single one of the temples that we had listed while taking in the beauty and colours of the lively temple city. Not too long after our little adventure had started, we came to the realisation that the sun’s once warm welcoming beams of light soon were turning into unforgiving streaks of scorching heat.
So, after being graced with the opportunity of receiving darshan in a few beautiful temples, we arrived, sweating and parched with thirst, in front of Madhava’s house. Batagopal and Madhava, two of the most promising Odissi singer and mardala player, had been kind enough to invite us to spend some time in their home. As we made our way up the stairs and into the hall, out came the harmonium and the mardal as Batagopal started rendering temple songs to the accompaniment of Madhava’s mardal. The melody was like nectar to our ears and soon enough, we lost count of time.
After they blessed our ears with such a beautiful rendition of music filled with so much devotion, they learnt that we had missed having darshan of Gopinath. They immediately took out their bikes and told us that if we started then, we could reach just in time for aarti. Giving us a ride to Tota Gopinath, they also showed us the Jameswara Mahadev temple on the way, located to the southwest of Sri Jagannath temple.
According to legend, the Pancha Pandavas stayed for one night in Puri in disguise. As a symbol of their visit, five Shiva temples were built there. They are Lokanatha, Jameswara, Kapalamochana, Markandeswara and Nilakantheswara. Together they are called the Pancha Pandava temples. Jameswara is known as Yudhistira in Puri. Just beside the temple, in a garden (Tota in Odia) called Jameswara Tota, is situated the Gopinath Temple. Because of the garden (Tota), the temple is called Tota Gopinath. After sanyas, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stayed at Jagannatha Puri Dham for 18 years. Most of Mahaprabhu’s associates used to visit Puri once a year during Chaturmasya, the four months of rain. But Gadadhar Pandit, a close associate of Mahaprabhu couldn’t bear being separated from him and so, stayed back at Jameswara Tota, in the peaceful garden full of trees and creepers, and recited Srimad Bhagavatam every afternoon which Mahaprabhu used to listen to, full of ecstasy and emotion.
One day, while listening to Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu experienced unbearable pain from the pangs of separation from Lord Krishna and started frantically digging the earth, in search for His Lord. While digging around, Mahaprabhu uncovered an enchanting deity emerging from the sand. Mahaprabhu named the deity Gopinatha, and because He appeared in this ‘tota’(bower), the devotees called Him, Tota Gopinatha. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gave the responsibility of Sri Tota Gopinatha’s service to his most dear Gadadhara Pandit and awarded him kshetra-sanyasa.
gadadhara-bhavane mohana Gopinatha achena, ye hena nanda-kumara sakṣata
apane Chaitanya tare karitachena kole, ati pasanda o se bigraha dekhe bhule
(In the house of Gadadhar Pandit was worshipped the most enchanting form of Gopinath. He is none other than the son of Nanda Maharaj. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had danced placing this deity of Gopinath on his lap. Even the stone heart of any staunch atheist would melt looking at Gopinath jiu.)
After the departure of Mahaprabhu, Gadadhara Pandit was devastated and could not handle the pain. He became lean and his body was bent from the intense agony of separation. He couldn’t lift up his hands to offer chandan and garlands to Gopinath. He felt miserable since he couldn’t even dress the deity properly. One night, Gopinath appeared in his dreams and gave assurance that He would become shorter. The next morning, when Gadadhar Pandit entered the temple, he gasped in surprise. The most merciful Lord had sat down to receive service from him.
Sri Tota Gopinatha is exquisitely beautiful and is the most unique deity as He is the only Krishna 'sitting down'. The Gaudiya vaishnavas believe that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu ended Neelachal Leela by entering into the knee of the Gopinatha deity. Sri Tota Gopinatha graces the centre altar with Sri Radhika playing the veena on His left and sakhi Lalita playing the flute on His right. Immersed in the mellow of Krishna, Radhika and Sakhi Lalita appear black. Lord Balaram with Revati and Varuni adorn the altar on the left. On right altar are the deities of Gaura-Gadadhara and Sri Sri Radha Madana-Mohana installed by Mamu Thakura, who is the nephew of Sri Nilambara Chakravati, Lord Gauranga’s grandfather, and served Gopinath ji after the disappearance of Gadadhara Pandit.
Sriman rasa-rasarambhi vamsi-vata-tata-sthitah
Karsan venu-svanair gopir gopinathah srivestu nah
May Gopinath ji, who attracts all the gopis with the song of His flute, and who has begun the most melodious rasa dance on the bank of Yamuna in Vamsivata, be merciful upon us.
Tota Gopinath, Puri, taken from My Travel Diaries