Ratha-yātrā Q and A
[June 20, 2023 is the celebration of Ratha-yātrā in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of a question & answer session of devotees with Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on July 6, 2016 about the significance of Ratha-yātrā. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Devotee: With what mood do Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas come for the Ratha-yātrā?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Service is of two types – one is based on nīti or maryādā (rules) and the other is based on prīti or bhāva (affection) [Endnote 1]. Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas come to Jagannātha Purī for Ratha-yātrā to take Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Vraja [“kṛṣṇa laña vraje yāi e-bhāva antara— complete internal absorption in the idea that ‘I am taking Kṛṣṇa to Vraja.’”].
This is the consideration of the bhāva-rājya [the realm governed by various spiritual moods]. [In this context, in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it has been mentioned] Śrī Kṛṣṇa went to Kurukṣetra on the pretext of taking a holy bath in Brahma-sarovara during the solar eclipse. However, this was just an external reason. The internal motive was to meet with the vraja-gopīs. And the vraja-gopīs also went to Kurukṣetra under the same pretext but their real intention was to meet with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. After bathing in Brahma-sarovara, Śrī Kṛṣṇa created an excuse of falling ill; in such a condition, He would not meet with anyone and at that time the vraja-gopīs served Him [while everyone else returned. This is the mood of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas.]
On the other hand, in the maryādā-mārga (the path based on rules and regulations), Lord Jagannātha falls ill after the Snāna-yātrā and He is served by the Dayitas during this time. The paṇḍās don’t serve Lord Jagannātha during this period.
Because of His illness, Jagannātha is not offered anna-bhoga [rice, sabji and so on] during this period. He is daily administered digestive medicines. After this, when He still does not recover, they call a senior doctor [vaidya] who then massages Him and recommends some diet (pathya) consisting of puḍī, paneer and so on. When He recovers slightly, He is offered khicaḍī in the mornings and regular bhoga in the evenings. This procedure is followed in the Jagannātha temple.
WHY THREE SEPARATE CHARIOTS
As per the consideration of the prīti-mārga, the vraja-gopīs are taking Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Vṛndāvana. So there are three separate chariots for Śrī Baladeva, Subhadrā-devī and Jagannātha. Otherwise it will result in rasa viparyāya (contradiction). Do you understand rasa viparyāya?
Devotee 1: Rasābhāsa
Śrīla Mahārāja: Not rasābhāsa, viparyāya
Devotee 2: Viparīta?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Yes. Because the vraja-gopīs will not meet with Kṛṣṇa in the presence of Baladeva, Baladeva travels separately. The same principle applies in the case of Subhadrā-devī as well. Baladeva leads the way and is followed next by Subhadrā-devī. In the raga-mārga [the path of spontaneous love], if they are in the presence of Baladeva and Subhadrā, then it will result in rasa viparyāya. That is why Jagannātha is brought out last.
As per the path of regulative principles (vidhi-mārga), Śrī Baladeva is guru-tattva. Subhadrā-devī 's grace will follow the grace of Śrī Baladeva as she is Bhakti-devī. So by the mercy of guru, bhakti will manifest, and as a result, we can attain Bhagavān.
WHY JAGANNĀTHA ROCKS BOTH WAYS
During the Pāṇḍu-vijaya ceremony [while Jagannātha is being carried onto His chariot just before the Ratha-yātrā], it is observed that Jagannātha rocks from one side to the other, however, this doesn't occur in the case of Lord Balarāma and Subhadrā. This is because Jagannātha wants to meet with all the devotees, so He turns towards everyone. He doesn’t want to displease anyone. Thus He takes longer to reach the chariot. With this mood, He is led to His chariot.
GAUḌĪYA VAIṢṆAVAS DO NOT COME TO THE RATHA-YĀTRĀ TO ESCAPE RE-BIRTH
So, in this mood Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas come, but they do not come with the thought that by taking darśana of Jagannātha on the Ratha we will not have to take re-birth. Does Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura fear another birth? He says – ‘kīṭa-janma hau jathā tuwā dāsa’ [may I take birth as a worm, as long as I remain Your devotee]. If Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is praying to be born as a worm, for what reason will he fear re-birth? So Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas do not come for that. And when the Ratha returns, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas do not participate in that part of the festival because [for them,] Śrī Kṛṣṇa is being taken to Dvārakā [from Vṛndāvana].
OBSERVANCE OF RATHA-YĀTRĀ ONLY UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF SĀDHUS
During Ratha-yātrā, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His many eternal associates would dance in front of Śrī Jagannātha-deva’s chariot. They never thought to themselves “I have to pull the cart,” “I have to touch the rope,” or “I have to shout ‘Jaya Jagannātha,’ just as everyone else is doing.”
These days, those who attend Ratha-yātrā bring with them many emotions and sentiments. They say things like, “I pulled the chariot for a whole minute,” and, “I was able to see Jagannātha very clearly.” In reality, acts such as pulling the Ratha rope will never change the hearts of those who are sincere in their attempts to follow the path of bhakti, even if they could somehow maintain their grip on it for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. Granted, these types of activities may yield some type of sukṛti for common persons, but for serious sādhakas, sentimental activities of this nature yield no practical results. Such empty gestures have been completely rejected by Śrīmān Mahāprabhu and His associates, who observed Śrī Jagannātha-deva’s Ratha-yātrā with only one mood: “kṛṣṇa laña vraje yāi e-bhāva antara—complete internal absorption in the idea that ‘I am taking Kṛṣṇa to Vraja.’ ”
Unless during our observance of Ratha-yātrā we meet with sādhus, hear from them and stay under their guidance, we will derive no benefit by attending this festival; we will be unable to understand its deep meanings and truths.
MAHĀPRABHU ESTABLISHED BOTH THE MOODS – VIDHI AND RĀGA
There are two associates of Mahāprabhu – Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita and Svarūpa Dāmodara. [Mahāprabhu instigated a debate between Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita and Svarūpa Dāmodara to clearly delineate the difference between the two moods of devotional service]. Thus Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, who exhibited the opulent mood (maryādā-bhāva) of worship, glorified the mood of Lakṣmī saying 'See, how opulent is our Lakṣmī-devī. And Svarūpa Dāmodara responded by elucidating the supremacy of the mood of the vraja-gopīs.
Making both Svarūpa Dāmodara and Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita as mediums, He gave the teaching. Svarūpa Dāmodara is a Vraja-vāsī and Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita is a Purī-vāsī.
Svarūpa Dāmodara said to Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita, “You don’t even understand the mood of Vṛndāvana.” Those who identify themselves as Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, and have the abhimāna that they are Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, will not take darśana of the return journey what to speak about pulling/touching the rope. [Because Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas only endeavor to take the Lord to Vṛndāvana as they are attracted to the mood of Vṛndāvana.] It is not possible to understand all this by our own endeavors, only when we go along with the praṇayi bhaktas, under their shelter, we can understand this mood.
WHO IS QUALIFIED TO UNDERSTAND THE REAL MOOD OF RATHA-YĀTRĀ
We have seen such moods in those days when there was no government in-charge of the Ratha-yātrā proceedings. They took charge in 1973. Prior to that during Ratha-yātrā, the festival management [which was from the king’s side] used to arrange a special area in front of the chariots where devotees could perform kīrtana without any disturbance; common people were not permitted to enter there. Once, while the Gauḍīya Maṭha devotees were performing kīrtana in that area under the guidance of my Guru Mahārāja, the servants, or paṇḍās of Lord Jagannātha became so ecstatic by hearing the kīrtana that they lifted Guru Mahārāja on their shoulders and forcibly carried him onto the Lord’s chariot.
Meanwhile, absorbed in the mood experienced by the vraja-gopīs when they meet with Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Kurukṣetra, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was dancing and singing the following song in front of the chariot:
sei tô’ parāṇa-nātha pāinu ĵāhā lāgi’ madana-dahane jhuri’ genu
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya-līlā, 13.113)
Now I have gained the Lord of My life, in the absence of whom I was being burned by Cupid and was withering away.
While Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was fully absorbed in singing this kīrtana, all the devotees around him also became immersed in the same mood of meeting and were feeling jubilant. A pickpocket used this opportunity to steal Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s wallet from his bag. Since most of the devotees were absorbed in the kīrtana, no one noticed except one of my godbrothers, Śrī Nārāyaṇa Brahmacārī (later known as Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja), who rushed forward and caught the pickpocket.
While restraining the thief, Śrī Nārāyaṇa Brahmacārī desperately tried to get the attention of Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, but Śrīla Mahārāja was so absorbed in kīrtana that he didn’t pay any attention to his words. When Śrī Nārāyaṇa Brahmacārī tried more insistently, Śrīla Mahārāja suddenly became very upset and chastised him, “Why are you disturbing me? Let him take the money. Money will come and go, but the mood that we are experiencing at this moment may not come again.”
When Śrīmad Bhakti Pramod Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja read out the pastime of Kśīra-corā-gopīnātha at the temple in Remunā, he became oblivious of everything around him. He experienced the fire of separation due to the mood manifest in his heart. So only those, in whose hearts, the intense fire of separation from the Lord has manifested, will understand the real mood of Ratha-yātrā.
THE RETURN RATHA-YĀTRĀ
Devotee: Shouldn't we participate in the return Ratha-yātrā at all?
Śrīla Mahārāja: I am not saying we should not participate. I am saying that is not our mood. But, if you go to see, we [as a practicing sādhaka] actually don’t possess any mood at all. Do we? We are practicing. When after much practice, we become established in the mood, then we will understand.
Devotee: We have read in the scriptures that Śrīmān Mahāprabhu used to sing kīrtanas during the return Ratha-yātrā as well.
Śrīla Mahārāja: Yes He did. That is because He established both moods –regulative devotional service (vidhi-mārga) and spontaneous devotional service (raga-mārga) [To cater to the various categories of devotees].
vidhi-mārga rata jane svadhinata ratna dane
rāga-mārge karana pravesa
[Kṛṣṇa eventually bestows the jewel of independence unto those persons who are attached to the path of rules and regulations, thereby allowing them entrance into the path of spontaneous loving service.] From the song - Śuno He Rasika Jana by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura
First, one practices the vidhi-mārga and only then he can proceed to the raga-mārga.
Devotee: Mahāprabhu did so [participated in the return Ratha-yātrā] to establish the path of regulative devotional service (maryādā-mārga)?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Yes, He showed, and gave teachings about both the paths. During the return Ratha-yātrā Mahāprabhu attended the procession and sang and danced. [Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu chanted and sang with great pleasure to encourage devotees like Śrīvāsa Paṇḍita who were in the mood of aiśvarya.]
From the article ‘Oḍana-Ṣaṣṭhī’ (https://www.visuddhacaitanyavani.com/single-post/2017/11/24/Odana-Sasthi)
Service is of two types – one is based on nīti (rules) and the other is based on prīti (affection). Once, in our maṭha, we offered winter outfits to Jagannātha, Baladeva and Subhadrā before Oḍana-ṣaṣṭhī. One gentleman inquired, “Why have you offered winter outfits before the actual tithi of Oḍana-ṣaṣṭhī?” I asked, “Why are you wearing a warm coat today? Because the weather is cold, isn’t it? Our service is based on love and your service is based on rules. So if the weather turns cold, we offer winter outfits to our Deities.” Today, I read that in Punjab the temperature has reached 4-5 degrees. How can we not offer the Deities winter outfits there? Such service outlook is called ātma-vat sevā. If I am feeling cold, the Lord too must be feeling cold.
Consider for instance: An employee working at a government wheat storehouse arrives ten minutes before his official duty time [10 am to 5 pm], and despite noticing the rain, he doesn’t protect the wheat from getting soaked in the rain, which is what he is supposedly paid for. His mentality is - ‘It is not 10 am yet. My job for the day hasn’t begun so the authorities can’t blame me.’ Technically speaking, he is right. Nevertheless, in just two minutes, he could have covered the entire stock of wheat to protect it from getting wet but he chooses not to, because his service is based on rules.
On the other hand, an old lady who can barely walk, noticing that it is about to rain, somehow manages to cover the stock of wheat kept by her daughter-in-law for drying in the courtyard of their house. She thinks, ‘There is no one at home. This is our wheat, it will get spoiled if exposed to rain and our money will get wasted.’ But the employee at the government storehouse doesn’t see the government’s loss as his own.
So those who do not consider others’ loss or gain and instead just focus on their own convenience are called ‘nīti-vādī’. While those who act out of love and no matter how much inconvenience they may have to face for the benefit of the object of their affection, invest their entire energy are called ‘prīti-vādī’.