Śrī Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī
[June 20, 2021 is the appearance day of Śrī Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on June 8, 2014. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Today is a very special day; it is the appearance day of Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī and the disappearance day of Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa. It is essential to remember Vaiṣṇavas on their appearance and disappearance days; this act of remembrance is a limb of bhakti and failing to remember them on their tithis is considered an offence.
Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī was formerly a princess by the name Śacī-devī. Her father was the King of Puṭiyā, in the Rājaśāhī district of present day Bangladesh.
At a very young age, she came to Vṛndāvana along with her aunt Mādhavī-devī. When she met Śrī Haridāsa Paṇḍita Gosvāmī, she desired to accept initiation from him. However he was not disposed to accept her as a disciple assuming that, given her status as a princess and her youthful beauty, she would not be able to reside in Vṛndāvana and sustain on mādhukarī by begging alms door to door. And so he denied her request. [Crestfallen] She stayed on in Vṛndāvana, performing spiritual practices with great renunciation. Pleased to see her renunciation, Śrī Haridāsa Gosvāmī, changed his mind and blessed her with harināma and dīkṣā mantras.
KṢETRA-SANNYĀSA IN JAGANNĀTHA PURĪ
Śrīmatī Śacī-devī was quite scholarly. Being very conversant with the scriptures, she would give excellent discourses on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As a result, she became a renowned Bhāgavata speaker. [Later] Haridāsa Gosvāmī sent her to Jagannātha Purī, to the śrīpāṭa of Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya and instructed her to daily recite the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there and instruct [others] in hari-bhakti. He also awarded her kṣetra-sannyāsa - in other words, she took a vow never to leave Jagannātha Purī-dhāma. Following the order of her spiritual master, she went to Jagannātha Purī. Her discourses on the Bhāgavata attracted many. The King of Orissa, upon hearing from her, became inspired to give her a large donation of wealth, but she refused it as she did not wish to accumulate worldly possessions.
RASIKA-RĀYA COMES TO GAṄGĀMĀTĀ GOSVĀMINĪ
The Deity of Rasika-rāya was previously worshipped by a brāhmaṇa from Jaipur. In time, he was gripped by anxiety over the continuation of service to Rasika-rāya after him, as he had no descendants. As a result, in a dream, Rasika-rāya instructed him to hand over His service to Gaṅgāmātā in Jagannātha Purī. When the brāhmaṇa arrived with Rasika-rāya and related the background to Gaṅgāmātā, she refused to accept the service of the Deity. However, as per Rasika-rāya’s direction, the brāhmaṇa placed Him under a tulasī plant in the garden of Gaṅgāmātā and went away. The next morning when Gaṅgāmātā went for tulasī parikramā, she discovered the Deity there.
How could she let the Deity remain without any worship? So she brought Him in and made arrangements for His service. The King [Mukunda Deva] took charge of making all arrangements and sent the daily needs like rice, grains, ghee and so on from his own temple for Rasika-rāya’s service. This beautiful stone temple belonging to the King is located on the main road from where the Ratha of Jagannātha passes every year. The King’s father and grandfather also used to serve in that temple.
HOW SHE GOT THE NAME GAṄGĀMĀTĀ GOSVĀMINĪ
In the month of Caitra, some followers of Gaṅgāmātā who were going for a holy dip at Varuṇī-gaṅgā, requested her to join them for the pilgrimage. Although she had a deep desire to go, she could not, due to her vow of kṣetra-sannyāsa. To fulfill her desire, Gaṅgā-devī appeared to her in a dream and said, “You need not go there to take bath in my waters. I will personally come to Śveta-sarovara.” Śveta-sarovara is a pond built by King Śveta Vahana, just as King Indradyumna had built the Narendra-sarovara. At midnight on that particular tithi [Caitra-kṛṣṇa-trayodaśī], when Gaṅgāmātā took a dip in Śveta-sarovara as per the instructions she received in her dream, a strong current of the waters of the Ganges carried her inside the inner sanctum of the temple of Lord Jagannātha.
Daily the main door of the temple is locked with three different locks at night, and sealed with wax and opened just before maṅgala-ārati in the presence of three [designated] persons - One lock is opened by the representative of the pūjārīs, addressed as Bhitarchu Mahāpātra; then 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. Bhitarchu Mahāpātra enters first and addresses Lord Jagannātha thrice saying, “Sarveśvareśvara Maṇimā! Rājādirāja Maṇimā! Devādideva Maṇimā!' and then opens the door. At that time, three pūjārīs simultaneously enter the sanctum to offer ārati to the three Deities. Then the maṅgala-ārati begins. This is the daily mandate.
That day, when the pūjārīs entered, they were astonished to see Śacī-devī inside the temple. Alleging that she had hidden inside the temple with the intention to steal the valuables from the Deities’ treasury, they detained her in a hajāt (a place for detention) within the temple itself.
Later that same day, when it was time for the bhoga offering to Jagannātha, He did not come to accept it. How does one ascertain this? When the pūjārīs take ācamana before offering the bhoga, they see [a reflection of] the Deities of Jagannātha, Baladeva and Subhadrā respectively [in the purificatory water] in their palms. But they did not see this that day. So, assuming that some offence had been committed, as a result of which Jagannātha was upset, all the preparations were given samādhi. Then a fire sacrifice was performed, after which the bhoga was cooked again. But even when the bhoga was offered the second time, Jagannātha did not accept it. When this was repeated the third time, the King was alerted. Immediately the King came before Jagannātha and resolved to fast till Jagannātha accepted the bhoga. Then, through an aerial voice, Jagannātha declared, “Because the pūjārīs accused My dear devotee of theft, I will not accept any worship from their hands.”
Hearing of this, the priests prayed, “We have committed an offence at Your lotus feet, but You are our only shelter.
bhūmau skhalita-pādānāṁ bhūmir evāvalambanam tvayi jātāparādhānāṁ tvam eva śaraṇaṁ prabho
["Just as the ground is the only support for those whose feet have slipped, so also You alone are the only shelter, even for those who have committed an offence to You."]
When a person falls down onto the ground with whose support will he stand up again? He will stand with the support of the ground itself.
These are Your own words.”
Then the Lord said, “Only if all the paṇḍās, [along with the King] become her disciples, I will accept their service.” Thereafter, when the paṇḍās approached Śrīmatī Śacī-devī for initiation, she was taken aback. She said, “By virtue of being the servitors of Jagannātha, you all are my tīrtha-gurus, so how can you become my disciples?” However, the paṇḍās persisted, “If you do not accept us as disciples, Jagannātha will not accept our service!” [Lord Jagannātha also instructed Śacī-devī in a dream to initiate them.] Thus, she finally conceded. And so the King, being the principal servitor of Jagannātha became her disciple, along with all the paṇḍās. After that, Jagannātha accepted their service again.
Thereafter, Śveta-sarovara came to be known as Śveta-gaṅgā [and Śrīmatī Śacī-devī came to be known as Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī.]