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Rukmiṇī-haraṇa līlā

[June 24, 2018 is the day of Rukmiṇī-haraṇa līlā in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the same tithi on June 9, 2014. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]


Bhīṣmaka, the King of Vidarbha, desired to give away his daughter Śrī Rukmiṇī in marriage to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. However his son Rukmī who was indomitable, especially by dint of the company he kept - Narakāsura, Bāṇāsura, Jarāsandha, Kaṁsa and the likes – was bent on getting Śrī Rukmiṇī married to Śiśupāla. [Succumbing to the sway of affection for his son] Bhīṣmaka eventually relented [much to Śrī Rukmiṇī’s dismay].

As a result, she wrote a letter to Śrī Kṛṣṇa and sent it through a trustworthy brāhmaṇa. In the letter, she related the entire background and requested Śrī Kṛṣṇa to abduct her. She wrote – ‘In our dynasty, there is a custom to worship Girijā-devī the day before the marriage ceremony takes place. Accordingly, I will go to the temple to perform the worship. At that time, please come and take me away.’ When the [messenger] brāhmaṇa got delayed in his return, Śrī Rukmiṇī contemplated, “Śrī Kṛṣṇa may have thought of me wrongly since I wrote such a letter.” As she was intensely absorbed in this thought, the brāhmaṇa arrived. Just by observing his countenance, she understood that the mission had been accomplished. Thus she was elated.


[King Bhīṣmaka saw to all the required preparations for the marriage.] The arrangements for the marriage ceremony were grand, with an open invitation to one and all. All the requisite arrangements were made for all the guests by the bride’s side. When the day arrived, Śrī Kṛṣṇa came on Balarāma’s chariot, not His own, so as to not raise any eyebrows.

Having completed her scheduled worship of Girijā-devī, Śrī Rukmiṇī was on her way back. Her eyes were furtively scouting for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and her anxiety grew as she couldn’t spot Him. As a result, she was languidly approaching her chariot. But just as she was about to mount her chariot, Śrī Kṛṣṇa came and swiftly picked her up, onto His chariot. Rukmī, Śiśupāla and company, all revolted. Śrī Kṛṣṇa was alone, so He could either fight or ride the chariot. Therefore Śrī Rukmiṇī took up the reigns while Śrī Kṛṣṇa confronted and captured Rukmī. Just as He was about to slay him, Śrī Rukmiṇī pleaded to spare her brother’s life, and so He shaved Rukmī’s head instead. To have one’s head shaved off is more humiliating than death - this has been quoted in the Mahābhārata. Meanwhile, Śrī Baladeva wondered where Śrī Kṛṣṇa had gone with His chariot, so He took Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s chariot and [eventually] arrived there. By that time, Śrī Kṛṣṇa had captured Śiśupāla as well. Seeing this, Śrī Baladeva made a peace settlement, or else Śrī Kṛṣṇa would have killed Śiśupāla.


In the temple of Jagannātha, as one enters through the South gate, to the right hand side is the marriage hall (vivāha-maṇḍapa). There, brāhmaṇas conduct the marriage ceremony of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Rukmiṇī by chanting Vedic hymns. Bhitarchu Mahāpātra [Endnote 1] represents the bride’s side from Vidarbha.

A brāhmaṇa reads out Śrī Rukmiṇī’s letter to Lord Jagannātha. There is a mention of this letter in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [Endnote 2]. Lord Jagannātha then sends His vijaya-vigraha, Śrī Madana-mohana to the temple of Lakṣmī (Bimalā) which is inside the premises of the temple of Jagannātha itself. There, He performs Śrī Rukmiṇī-haraṇa [abducts Śrī Rukmiṇī]. This is the significance of today’s day in Purī. All these pastimes will be enacted in the temple of Jagannātha today. People turn up in great numbers to witness the enactment of this pastime. At night, there is an exhibition of fireworks, typical of any royal wedding, followed by a grand feast.

Then on the day of Pūrṇimā, mahā-snāna [Snāna-yātrā] takes place. During this mahā-snāna, Lord Jagannātha wears the same outfit that He wore on His marriage ceremony. Only on this occasion, does Jagannātha wear the same outfit twice, never otherwise. This is the reason that despite having thirty-six different kinds of servants, Lord Jagannātha does not have a laundry man. He even has a barber, who will come today and shave Lord Jagannātha, as He is getting ready for His marriage ceremony.


There is one anecdote about how Jagannātha got a barber as one of His servants. King Pratāparudra was very particular about the standards of worship of Lord Jagannātha. Once he brought a special kind of flower to be offered to Lord Jagannātha. [After offering to Jagannātha,] the paṇḍā tucked the [offered] flower behind his own ear. When the king came, the paṇḍā quickly removed the flower, but one strand of his hair got stuck onto the flower. When the king saw that strand of hair, he asked, “Does Jagannātha have any hair? You have faltered in performing your service!” The paṇḍā quipped, “Yes indeed, Jagannātha has hair!” Finding this implausible, the King announced, “Tomorrow I shall return to cross-check this.”

There is a rule that whenever the King is inside the temple, nobody else is allowed. The King enters the temple with the rāja-guru. Only after he comes out, other people can go inside the temple. Till then, even the paṇḍās cannot enter the temple. That paṇḍā, now disconcerted, panicked and fervently began to plead to Jagannātha for help. The next day when the King came to see the Lord, he was stupefied to find hair on the Lord’s head! Incredulous, he thought that the paṇḍā must have attached some artificial hair to elude punishment so he tried to pluck a strand and the Lord started bleeding. Consequently, the King realized that indeed Jagannātha has hair and thereafter, arranged for a barber for His service.


There are three locks in the main temple. One lock is opened by the representative of the pūjārīs, addressed as Bhitarchu Mahāpātra; another lock is opened by the representative of the King; and the third one is opened by the pūjārī, as a representative of the paṇḍās. Once the temple even remained unopened till 8 am because Bhitarchu Mahāpātra had gone to Karagpura, and the return train was delayed. Only when he arrived, took his bath and opened the door, the temple could be opened that day. Otherwise no one else can open the temple. All three Deities have separate pūjārīs. Bhitarchu Mahāpātra first calls out "Sarveśvareśvara Maṇimā", "Rājādhirāja Maṇimā", and "Devādideva Maṇimā" before opening the door. The term maṇimā is only used to address the Lord and the King. Nobody else is addressed by this term in Purī. [Maṇimā means a great personality.] The King is also known as Calanta Jagannātha [Moving Jagannātha]; he is considered as non-different from Jagannātha. When the door is opened, first Lord Śrī Baladeva is seen because Baladeva is guru-tattva. Only by His mercy, Subhadrā-devī is seen. She is the symbol of bhakti who awards us bhakti. Then Lord Jagannātha is seen as we will be able to attain Lord Jagannātha by dint of that bhakti.


Śrī Rukmiṇī's letter:

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.52.37-43 [Source: BBT]

Śrī Rukmiṇī said [in her letter, as read by the brāhmaṇa]: O beauty of the worlds, having heard of Your qualities, which enter the ears of those who hear and remove their bodily distress, and having also heard of Your beauty, which fulfills all the visual desires of those who see, I have fixed my shameless mind upon You, O Kṛṣṇa.

O Mukunda, You are equal only to Yourself in lineage, character, beauty, knowledge, youthfulness, wealth and influence. O lion among men, You delight the minds of all mankind. What aristocratic, sober-minded and marriageable girl of a good family would not choose You as her husband when the proper time has come?

Therefore, my dear Lord, I have chosen You as my husband, and I surrender myself to You. Please come swiftly, O almighty one, and make me Your wife. My dear lotus-eyed Lord, let Śiśupāla never touch the hero’s portion like a jackal stealing the property of a lion.

If I have sufficiently worshiped the Supreme Personality of Godhead by pious works, sacrifices, charity, rituals and vows, and also by worshiping the demigods, brāhmaṇas and gurus, then may Gadāgraja come and take my hand, and not Damaghoṣa’s son or anyone else.

O unconquerable one, tomorrow when my marriage ceremony is about to begin, You should arrive unseen in Vidarbha and surround Yourself with the leaders of Your army. Then crush the forces of Caidya and Magadhendra and marry me in the Rākṣasa style, winning me with Your valor.

Since I will be staying within the inner chambers of the palace, You may wonder, “How can I carry you away without killing some of your relatives?” But I shall tell You a way: On the day before the marriage there is a grand procession to honor the royal family’s deity, and in this procession the new bride goes outside the city to visit Goddess Girijā.

O lotus-eyed one, great souls like Lord Śiva hanker to bathe in the dust of Your lotus feet and thereby destroy their ignorance. If I cannot obtain Your mercy, I shall simply give up my vital force, which will have become weak from the severe penances I will perform. Then, after hundreds of lifetimes of endeavor, I may obtain Your mercy.

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