There are two tracks for the worship of the Supreme Lord that has been enjoined in the scriptures – Pancaratrika Vidhi and the Bhagavata Marg.
The Pancaratrika Vidhi is in other words the practice of deity worship. So of the 9 types of devotional services discussed by Prahlad Maharaj – Pada sevanam (worshipping His lotus feet), arcanam (deity worship), vandanam (Praying), dasyam(Executing orders) fall under the category of Pancaratrika Vidhi.
The Bhagavata Marg , on the other hand , is the practice of Hearing , Chanting and constantly remembering the Lord and His activities. So again, of these 9 processes of devotional service – Sravanam(Hearing) , kirtanam(Chanting) and smaranam(Remembering) fall under the category of Bhagavata Vidhi.
The path of Pancaratrika vidhi is the path of following the regulative principles mentioned in scriptures, while the path of Bhagavata is the path of Raga or spontaneous devotion towards the Lord.
“Generally the worship of the Lord begins with the worship of Nārāyaṇa, or Viṣṇu, whereas the worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā is most confidential. Lord Nārāyaṇa is worshipable by the pāñcarātrika-vidhi, or regulative principles, whereas Lord Kṛṣṇa is worshipable by the bhāgavata-vidhi.
No one can worship the Lord in the bhāgavata-vidhi without going through the regulations of the pāñcarātrika-vidhi. Actually, neophyte devotees worship the Lord according to the pāñcarātrika-vidhi, or the regulative principles enjoined in the Nārada-pañcarātra. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa cannot be approached by the neophyte devotees; therefore temple worship according to regulative principles is offered to Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa. Although there may be a Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa vigraha, or form, the worship of the neophyte devotees is acceptable as Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa worship. Worship according to the pāñcarātrika-vidhi is called vidhi-mārga, and worship according to the bhāgavata-vidhi principles is called rāga-mārga. The principles of rāga-mārga are especially meant for devotees who are elevated to the Vṛndāvana platform.” [Srimad Bhagavatam 4.24.45-46 Purport]
Bhagavata Vidhi is sufficient to help one achieve the complete perfection in his/her spiritual life and it is a fact that in this age the Pancaratrika method is not powerful enough as to purify oneself completely. So one might ask – Why not just do chanting and recite Srimad Bhagavatam? Why do any deity worship?
Well, the answer is that “by nature we are impersonalists, in many ways, and we are materialists. So to train us, to get rid of our false egoism, that ‘I am this body’, that ‘I am the owner of everything’, that ‘I am the proprietor’, it is very beneficial for us to bow down before the deity of Krishna, to witness the arati of Krishna, to worship Krishna in a formal way, this helps to train our mind, to have at a particular time everyday a type of deity worship. Because our mind’s nature is to always, gradually, get a little more and more independence and drag us into sense of gratification.”(HH Jayapataka Swami)
Hence Srila Prabhupada writes –“The temple worship will keep us sanctified, and when we shall preach in sanctified, pure heart, the preaching will be immediately effective. So we have to follow the two parallel lines simultaneously for successful execution of devotional service.”
So the neophyte devotee , is advised, to perform his sadhana based upon the rules and regulations laid down in the scriptures, and undertake the paths of both the Bhagavata and Pancaratrika vidhis. In this way, it becomes easy for him to relate and be absorbed in the consciousness of the Supreme Lord,cleanse him of offenses and gradually progress towards spontaneous devotional service.
But it is worthwhile mentioning over here that “if we are already on the level that we have the taste of chanting and hearing the Bhagavatam, and so by simply hearing the Bhagavatam and chanting, our mind is completely absorbed in spiritual Krishna consciousness, that’s enough, then even without the formal worship we can go on. But in the beginning stages, when we don’t have the spontaneous attraction for hearing and chanting to that full extent, so the formal worship is also beneficial.” (HH Jayapataka Swami)
For such an advanced devotee, the path of Bhagavata is sufficient to achieve the complete spiritual perfection.
The readers must also be warned over here that the Raga Marg or the Bhagavata Marg, is for those devotees, who have developed an intense attachment (asakti) towards the service of the Lord and have already been cleansed of the offenses and sinful reactions. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly warned us against the dangers of trying to jump into the higher pastimes of the Lord and imitating advanced devotees without possessing sufficient qualifications.
“Without serving Kṛṣṇa according to the vidhi-mārga regulative principles of the pāñcarātrika-vidhi, unscrupulous persons want to jump immediately to the rāga-mārga principles. Such persons are called sahajiyā. There are also demons who enjoy depicting Kṛṣṇa and his pastimes with the gopīs, taking advantage of Kṛṣṇa by their licentious character. These demons who print books and write lyrics on the rāga-mārga principles are surely on the way to hell. Unfortunately, they lead others down with them. Devotees in Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be very careful to avoid such demons. One should strictly follow the vidhi-mārga regulative principles in the worship of Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa, although the Lord is present in the temple as Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa includes Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa; therefore when one worships the Lord according to the regulative principles, the Lord accepts the service in the role of Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa.
In The Nectar of Devotion, full instructions are given about the vidhi-mārga worship of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, or Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa. Although there are sixty-four kinds of offenses one can commit in vidhi-mārga worship, in rāga-mārga worship there is no consideration of such offenses because the devotees on that platform are very much elevated, and there is no question of offense. But if we do not follow the regulative principles on the vidhi-mārga platform and keep our eyes trained to spot offenses, we will not make progress.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.24.45-46 Purport).
As Jiva Goswami explains : “Although sankirtana is sufficient for the perfection of life, the arcana, or worship of the deity in the temple, must continue in order that the devotees may stay clean and pure.”
It must be clarified over here, that though Vaidhi Bhakti (worshipping the Lord according to Rules and Regulations) is a necessity for one to serve and realize the Supreme Lord in his initial stages, the ultimate goal of spirituality is to awaken the dormant love that we possess for the Lord. This love for the lord (Prayojana) is the ultimate fruit and the perfection of practicing Bhakti Yoga.
Though Srila Prabhupada asked his followers to be careful of petty sentimentalism while practicing Raganuga Bhakti, he never discouraged one to follow the path of spontaneity as evident from the following :
“In the beginning one has to render service strictly according to the regulative principles set forth by the revealed scriptures and spiritual master. By continuously rendering service through the process of vaidhī bhakti, one’s natural inclination is gradually awakened. That is called spontaneous attraction, or rāgānugā bhakti”. (CC Madhya-lila 22.153 purport)
Moreover Srila Prabhupada often emphasized that “Preaching is the Essence” and preaching of Krishna Consciousness is an activity that is performed solely on the Bhagavata Marg (Raga Marg) and hence in a way, Srila Prabhupada led us all towards Raganuga Bhakti. In his instructions on preaching, Srila Prabhupada said many times that the fallen souls of this age will not be attracted through rules and regulations to Krsna’s service. They have to get a taste first. That taste is made available to them via the bhagavata-vidhi, which means three things : 1) direct association with Bhagavan as the holy name, 2) association with the bhagavata (the pure devotee), and 3) hearing Srimad-Bhagavata philosophy. In 1965-66, Srila Prabhupada gathered his first followers in New York through raga (spontaneous attraction) inculcated by the ‘bhagavata-vidhi’ of hearing and chanting. This remains the essence of ISKCON’s preaching success today.
So by now, we have understood clearly that both pancaratrika vidhi(Vidhi marg) and Bhagavata vidhi (Raga marg), complement each other in advancing in our spiritual lives. Vidhi(Rules) and raga(Spontaneous attachment) are in one sense separate while simultaneously inseparable, in that they are complimentary components of the same substance-sadhana-bhakti. The relationship between vidhi and raga in sadhana is like the relationship between medicine and the body. When the body is sick, it needs medicine. When the body is healthy, medicine is needed only for preventive care. In the development of spontaneous love, vidhi is compulsory. In raga-maga there may be some relaxing of the vidhi. Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains in his Sri Chaitanya-Siksamrta that vidhi, regulation that forms the basis of vaidhi-bhakti (Pancaratrika), is not contrary to raga (spontaneity).Pure vidhi is helpful to raga (Bhagavata Marg), and pure raga is a result of vidhi(Rules) that is in harmony with the will of God.
So, What is Raga ?
Srila Rupa Gosvami has defined the word Raga in the following way:
iste svarasiki ragah paramavistata bhavet
tan-mayi ya bhaved bhaktih satra ragatmikodita
Raga is the unquenchable loving thirst (prema-mayi trsna) for the object of one’s affection, which gives rise to spontaneous and intense absorption (svarasiki paramavistata) in that object.
Ragamayi bhakti is the performance of seva(service), such as stringing garlands, with such intense raga.
Raga is the absolute (parama) and undivided (svarasiki) absorption (avistata) in one’s own particular object of worship. When devotion to Krishna comes to the stage of ragamayi, it is called ragatmika-bhakti. In summary, it can be said that intense hankering for Krishna that is saturated with prema (prema-mayi) is called ragatmika-bhakti.
It is auspicious that a person in whose heart such raga has not arisen should strive to cultivate such bhakti by behaving according to vidhi (the rules and regulations of scriptures). The principles at work in vaidhi-bhakti are fear, respect and reverence, whereas the only principle at work in ragatmika-bhakti is lobha, or greed, in relation to Shri Krishna’s lila.
So who is qualified to walk down the Bhagavata marg or practice Raganuga Bhakti?
As regulative faith awards one the qualification to perform Pancaratrika vidhi (Vaidhi Bhakti), so faith mixed with intense greed awards one the qualification to perform raganuga-bhakti. Based on their respective relationships with the Lord, the Vrajavasis (residents of Vrindavana) practice ragatmika-bhakti. One who is greedy to attain the same mood that a particular Vrajavasi has toward Krsna is qualified to practice raganuga-bhakti. (Jaiva Dharma, Chapter 21)
And what are the symptoms of such Greed?
When one hears about the intensely sweet bhavas of the vraja-vasis, one’s intelligence (buddhi-apeksa) begins to consider how one may enter into those dealings. That desire (apeksha) is the symptom that lobha(greed) has awakened.
A person who has the adhikara(qualification) for vaidhi-bhakti tests everything on the platform of intelligence, knowledge of sastra, and reasoning; and when he hears krishna-katha, he only accepts it if these three support it. However, there is no such consideration in raga-marga, for intelligence, knowledge of sastra, and reasoning are not desired on this path. All that is needed is the greed for the sentiments of the vraja-vasis: “What are the sweet bhavas of the vraja-vasis towards Krishna? Is it possible for me to obtain such bhavas? How can this be obtained?” This intense yearning is the symptom of greed, and one who does not have it does not have the adhikara(qualification) for raganuga-bhakti. This you should understand. (Jaiva Dharma ch 21)
What is the process of Raganuga Bhakti?
The sadhaka who has developed greed towards the beautiful service mood (seva) of a particular vrajavasi always remembers and meditates on his seva to that personality. He is absorbed in the mutual pastimes of his beloved Shri Krishna with that vraja-vasi, and he constantly resides in Vraja, either physically or within the mind, having a greed to obtain his or her bhava. He follows that vraja-vasi’s example, and always renders seva in two ways: Externally,he serves as a practicing sadhaka; and internally he renders seva with the bhavas (bhavana-purvaka) of his siddha-deha. This is the process of raganuga-bhakti. (Jaiva Dharma ch 21)
Lord Gauranaga and Raganuga Bhakti
If we study Sri Chaitanya Charitamrta very minutely, we would understand that one of the primary reasons for Lord Chaitanya’s appearance in this world was to propagate bhakti in the Raga marg which shows how it is an essential aspect of Lord Chaitanya’s movement.
prema-rasa-niryāsa karite āsvādana
rāga-mārga bhakti loke karite pracāraṇa
rasika-śekhara kṛṣṇa parama-karuṇa
ei dui hetu haite icchāra udgama
Translation – The Lord’s desire to appear was born from two reasons: the Lord wanted to taste the sweet essence of the mellows of love of God, and He wanted to propagate devotional service in the world on the platform of spontaneous attraction. Thus He is known as supremely jubilant and as the most merciful of all. (Adi Lila 4.15-16)
ei saba rasa-niryāsa kariba āsvāda
ei dvāre kariba saba bhaktere prasāda
Translation – I shall taste the essence of all these rasas, and in this way I shall favor all the devotees. (Adi Lila 4.32)
vrajera nirmala rāga śuni’ bhakta-gaṇa
rāga-mārge bhaje yena chāḍi’ dharma-karma
Translation – Then, by hearing about the pure love of the residents of Vraja, devotees will worship Me on the path of spontaneous love, abandoning all rituals of religiosity and fruitive activity. (Adi Lila 4.33)
To the degree a devotee attains devotional service to Lord Chaitanya’s Lotus feet through the execution of auspicious activities in His sankirtan mission, to that degree he gains entry into the eternal pastimes of Radha and Krishna.
This is confirmed in Sri Caitanya-candramrtam by Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati.
“yatha yatha gaur padaravinde vindeta bhaktim krta-punya-rasih tatha tathotsarpati hrday akasmad radha-padambhoja-sudhambu-rasih “
As one develops devotion to the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu due to heaps of auspicious activities, then according to the degree of that attachment, his heart becomes suddenly inundated with the nectar emanating from the lotus feet of Srimati Radharani.”
This is further confirmed in Srila Narottama dasa Thakura’s song, Gaurangera Dyuti Pada.
gauranga-gunete jhure nitya-lila tare sphure se jana bhakati-adhikara
gaurangera sangi-gane nitya-siddha kori’ mane se jaya brajendra suta-pas
gaura-prema-rasarnave se tarange jeba dube se radha-madhava-antaranga
“That person who feelingly appreciates the movement of Lord Gauranga gets the adhikara (privilege) to enter Radha-Krsna nitya-lila. By accepting Lord Gauranga’s associates as nitya-siddha devotees, one can be immediately promoted to the transcendental abode of Lord Krsna. One who dives deep into the ocean of Lord Gauranga’s movement becomes a confidential devotee of Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava.”
In the 18th chapter of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmya, the exact method by which a devotee attains raga (loving attraction) in the madhurya mood for Sri-Sri Radha-Krsna is described as follows.
“But, on the other hand, whoever possesses the qualities beginning with humility and takes the association of devotees, will first worship Gauranga in dasya-rasa (servitude relationship). The dasya worship of Gauranga gradually becomes perfect. It is in this dasya mood of love that the devotees call Sri Caitanya “Mahaprabhu”.
If the devotee then proceeds to develop his love up to the standard of the Vrndavana mood, the form of Gaura in his worship becomes that of Sri-Sri Radha-Krsna. Radha and Krsna, becoming one, have descended in the form of Gauranga, and therefore the full pastimes of the Divine Couple are present in that form. Thus after the dasya relation reaches maturity in the heart of the living entity, the Vrndavan-lila naturally develops in his heart. This is how a devotee enters into the eternal pastimes of Radha-Krsna in Vrndavana.”
Raganuga cultivation primarily means the cultivation of the mood of a servant of Lord Caitanya through the execution of His sankirtana mission. On the Lord’s order, even the great Nityananda Prabhu (who is Balarama) and Haridasa Thakura (who is Lord Brahma) humbly went from door to door to give fallen souls the holy name. By following Lord Caitanya’s order in the dasya mood, the preacher is awarded with Krsna-prema. This is why Srila Rupa Gosvami glorifies Lord Caitanya as the most munificent incarnation of Krsna.
So this is the essence of it all – the path to Raganuga Bhakti (Bhagavata marg) lies in the cultivation of servitude towards Sri Sri Gauranga. And one can achieve the mercy of Gauranga Mahaprabhu only when one humbly serves and cultivates the loving devotion mood towards His eternal associates and those who serve them. Nitai Gaur Premanande Hari Haribol !
By Dwaipayan De
1. Raganuga-bhakti and ISKCON: An Examination – Suhotra Swami
2. Jaiva Dharma