The sacrosanct Braj Dham has four guardians namely Bhuteshwar Mahadev in Mathura, Chakleshwar Mahadev in Govardhan, Kameshwar Mahadev in Kaman and Gopeshwar Mahadev in Vrindavan. Gopeshwar Mahadev holds the distinction of being the only temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in his female form built in the ancient times.
According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, on the auspicious occasion of Sharada Purnima in the beautiful forest of Vrindavan, Lord Krishna commences the divine Ras Leela by playing the flute. The revered gopis whose bhakti to Lord Krishna is boundless, incomprehensible and beyond expression sway to the mellifluous venu nada.
The outpouring of love that resonated in every part of the gopis drew the thirty-three crore devathas from the heavenly worlds to witness this rare event. However, the scriptures state that as Lord Krishna created many forms of his to dance with each of his beloved gopis, only women were allowed to participate in this ethereal beauty.
The gods went away disappointed but Lord Shiva who had accompanied them was very keen on seeing as well as being a part of this sacred moment. It has been said that Radha Devi understood his intent and sent her friend to advise Lord Shiva to manifest his female form after taking a dip in the Yamuna River. Lord Shiva did as he was told and took the form of Shakti.
He entered the Ras Leela with the permission of Vrinda Devi, the presiding deity of Vrindavan and danced with such grace that the other gopis could only watch in astonishment. Lord Krishna knew that it was Lord Shiva in the guise of a female but did not say a word. Radha Devi and Parvati Devi watched on with tears of joy as the divine dance culminated in a state of utmost bliss.
Lord Krishna worshipped Lord Shiva dressed as a gopi while Radha Devi addressed him as Gopeshwar and requested him to stay here forever to protect the people of Braj. Lord Shiva consented and took the form of a Linga that has since been known as Gopeshwar Mahadev.
This temple is close to the Yamuna River and was established by Maharaja Vajranabha, the great-grandson of Lord Krishna on the instructions of Shandilya Maharshi. Devotees throng this temple to see the sixteen adornments of Lord Shiva as a gopi on Maha Shivaratri.
Pilgrims first have a dip in the Yamuna River and then have darshan of Gopeshwar Mahadev and do jala abhishek with the water of the Yamuna. It is customary to pray at the large Vat vriksha that is in the premises of this temple and then spend some time in the Maha rasa sthali where the Ras Leela was performed.
A very interesting tradition of this temple is that women come in large numbers on Maha Shivaratri to offer poison! They carry pots of water and first pour it over Lord Shiva and then, in the midst of chanting offer poison. This is done for the long life of their husband and sons (newborn and newly married).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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