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Ganga Mata Matha


A parikrama of Puri can be never be complete without visiting the Ganga Mata Matha. The Ganga Mata Matha is located opposite to the Sweta Ganga tank. Sweta Ganga, one of the ‘pancha teerthas’ of Sri Khsetra, never dries up and it is believed that Maa Ganga herself resides there. The eastern side pillared verandah of the central courtyard of Ganga Mata Matha is beautifully painted with Krishna Leela stories, Ramabhisheka, Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sada Bhuja Gouranga (Six armed Chaitanya Mahaprabhu). As our guide Batagopal started taking notes of the artwork, I stood in awe of the Sada Bhuja Gouranga Murti.

While visiting the Jagannath Temple or Srimandira, we would normally enter through the south gate (dakshina dwara). As we pass the gate and take a few steps in, a flight of stairs on the left lead us to Sadabhuja Gouranga. We always entered through this southern gate as an altar of Sadguru Nigamananda Saraswati is placed beside Sada Bhuja Gouranga. We first pay obeisance to our Guru and then circumambulate the temple. This was our practice, every single time we went to Srimandira for darshan. The Sadabhuja Gauranga deity holds one’s attention as it embodies Ramachandra, Sri Krishna and Gouranga, all as one. The form of Sri Ramachandra is symbolized by a bow in one hand and an arrow in another, the form of Lord Sri Krishna by the hands holding the flute, and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is symbolized by a sannyasa-danda and a kamandalu, or water pot.

Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s Sada-Bhuja-Murti was revealed three times, in the following order:

1. To Nityananda Prabhu in Srivasa Thakura’s house in Mayapur. This occurred during the Vyasa-puja celebration (worship of Vyasadeva), the day after Mahaprabhu and Nityananda met for the first time. Nityananda saw a different version of the six-armed form, with hands holding conch, disc, club, lotus, bow, and flute.

2. To Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya in his house in Puri, soon after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu first arrived there.

3. To Maharaja Prataparudra, two years after the Sarvabhauma revelation, when Mahaprabhu returned from His South Indian tour.

When Lord Chaitanya first came to Puri, he fainted in front of Lord Jagannatha and Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya took him to his home. Sarvabhauma, an authority on advaita vedanta spoke to Lord Chaitanya in his house about the impersonal doctrine for days and finally, after listening to his nine different explanation of a single verse, Mahaprabhu explained the same verse in eighteen different ways without touching on the meanings given by Sarvabhauma.

The scholar was astounded and speechless. He slowly began to understand that Mahaprabhu was not an ordinary human being, but the Supreme Lord Himself. He started to regret his arrogance and finally fell down at the Lord’s feet and begged him for forgiveness. The Lord, in his kindness displayed a number of different divine forms to Sarvabhauma, starting with a four-armed Narayan form, then a two-armed Krishna form, holding a flute, and finally a six-armed form. When Sarvabhauma saw the six-armed form of the Lord, as brilliant as a million suns, he fainted at Mahaprabhu’s feet.

In Locana Dasa Thakura’s Chaitanya-Mangala we find the following verses, which give us a deeper understanding of the six-armed form. They depict a scene that occurs just after Sri Chaitanya took sannyasa, the renounced order of life. At that time, the Lord offers a prayer to his danda (renunciant's staff), saying that it is essentially identical to his bow and arrow and flute:

ami se sakala chadi karinu sannyasa tumi na chadile more janme janme vamsha

rama avatare tumi dhanuka haiya rahile amara hathe dushtera lagiya

krishna avatare vamshi hana mora kare mohita karile saba akhila samsare

ibe danda hana mora aila karete kali-yuge pashanda-dalana hetu rupe

("O My danda! Although I have given up everything by becoming a sannyasi, still you have not given me up. You stay by my side, accompanying me life after life. When I was traveling in the forest as Rama, you were always in my hand as my bow and arrow. During my pastimes as Krishna, you were always there in my hand as my flute, captivating the entire world with divine love. And now after I have abandoned everything as a sannyasi, still you remain with me as my danda in order to subdue the ignorant in Kali-yuga.")

This prayer brings to light a little-known dimension of the six-armed form, showing a spiritual connection between the items the Lord holds in his hands, particularly when he descends as Rama, Krishna, and Chaitanya.

The house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was later on donated to Ganga Mata Goswamini and came to be known as Ganga Mata Matha. Sachi Devi, the daughter of Sri Naresh Narayan, the king of Putinya (now in Bangladesh), showed unalloyed devotion to Sri Krishna from early childhood. She refused to marry when she came of age as she wanted to serve only her Lord. She took the responsibility of governing the kingdom after the passing away of the king and queen, but soon renounced it and went on pilgrimage searching for her Guru. Upon coming to Vrindavan Dham, she met the eminent Vaishnav scholar Sri Haridas Pandit who refused to grant her diksha on account of her royal ascendence. But, after observing her fierce determination, renunciation and austerity, Haridas Pandit initiated her in the Gopal Mantra. Later, on her guru's order, Sachi went to Jagannath Puri, where she gave lectures on the Srimad Bhagavatam every day and became very popular, accepting many disciples.

During Gangasagar Mela, Sachi Devi had a strong desire to take bath in the holy waters of Ganga. On the night before the mela, Lord Jagannath spoke to her in a dream, advising her to bathe in the Sweta Ganga tank, assuring her that Maa Ganga herself would come there. Upon entering the pond, a strong current suddenly washed through and mysteriously transported Sachi to a faraway place, where thousands of pilgrims were bathing in the Ganga. A few seconds later, Sachi Devi was swept away by the turbulent waters, directly inside Lord Jagannath's temple. The priests, hearing some disturbance, rushed to the source of the noise and found her standing right in front of Lord Jagannath's altar! Thinking she had snuck in, they humiliated her, calling her a thief and immediately put her in jail. Later that night, Lord Jagannath appeared in both the king and the head priest’s dreams and ordered them to release Sachi Devi and take initiation from her. They both immediately realised their mistake and asked for forgiveness from Sachi Devi and made her their Guru. The king donated Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya's house to Sachi Devi, which she gratefully accepted to fulfil the order of her guru. After this, she was widely revered as Ganga Mata Goswamini and the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya came to be known as Ganga Mata Math, which houses the deity of Sri Shyama Raya and is still being worshipped today.

Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Sada Bhuja Gouranga Murti at Ganga Mata Matha, taken from My Travel Diaries

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