23 04 2021

Suddenly, a woman from Orissa, unable to see Lord Jagannātha because of the crowd, climbed the column of Garuḍa, placing her foot on Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s shoulder. When he saw this, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s personal servant, Govinda, hastily got her down from her position. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, chastised him for this. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said to Govinda, “O ādi-vasyā [uncivilized man], do not forbid this woman to climb the Garuḍa-stambha. Let her see Lord Jagannātha to her satisfaction.” When the woman came to her senses, however, she quickly climbed back down to the ground and, seeing Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, immediately begged at His lotus feet for forgiveness. Seeing the woman’s eagerness, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “Lord Jagannātha has not bestowed so much eagerness upon Me. “She has fully absorbed her body, mind and life in Lord Jagannātha. Therefore she was unaware that she was putting her foot on My shoulder. “Alas! How fortunate this woman is! I pray at her feet that she favor Me with her great eagerness to see Lord Jagannātha.” (CC Antya 14: 24-30)

As I have stated previously, I try to break down complex concepts into the simplest terms that I can understand. In that regard, I once stated to a devotee that the mood of the gopis is akin to the mood of screaming enthusiastic girls at pop or rock concerts back in the day. They think day and night about Krishna, their whole life is about getting a glimpse of Krishna, being in His presence, and finally being with Him by themselves in secret. Even during the rasa-lila, the height of all existence and the dance around which all else dances, each gopi felt like she was dancing with Krishna as if she was the only one there when in actuality He had multiplied Himself numerous times to be with each one. That’s like the young woman (and young man nowadays, perhaps) who thinks that the pop star is singing directly to her in a stadium full of other screaming fans.

The point of that analogy is that the love of the gopis, the ones absorbed most in Krishna, is far from sober and far from sane. It seems downright unedifying to the serious religionist of most confessions. Even the sadness of the gopis, the utter despair of Krishna having left their sight, is most appropriate for a teenager who is seriously moping or having a nervous breakdown. The forlorn gopis pout, they playact as if Krishna were there, they cry… Srimati Radharani starts talking to a bumble bee. Here with this woman described above, the question is: Is she desperate to see Lord Jagannath out of some sort of overwhelming sense of piety, or is it more akin to someone climbing a fence to get a good look at a movie star? It might be that, except instead of climbing a fence she was climbing onto the shoulder of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and then onto a column sacred to a great Vaishnava devotee. Srila Prabhupada gives the following purport to one of the verses:

The woman was so eager to see Lord Jagannātha that she forgot she was offending the feet of a Vaiṣṇava by climbing the column of Garuḍa. She also neglected to consider that by putting her foot on the shoulder of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, she offended the Supreme Personality of Godhead. These are both grievous offenses that displease the Supreme Lord and Vaiṣṇavas. She was so eager to see Lord Jagannātha, however, that she committed all these offenses obliviously. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu praised her eagerness; He regretted that Lord Jagannātha had not bestowed such great eagerness upon Him. (CC Antya 12.28 purport)

Enthusiasm has long been a specter in Western religious experience, and a “gendered” one at that, to use the hip academic term. From the ancient philosophers onward, sobriety or ἀπάθεια has been greatly valued as an intellectual and religious virtue. According to Msgr. Ronald Knox who wrote a book titled Enthusiasm, many Christian heresies such as Montanism and Jansenism were either started by out-of-control women or were exacerbated by them. The issue is that the blind heel of enthusiasm might trample under foot the dignity and respect due to the Divine Mysteries. In the case of the Orissan woman, she disregarded all religious propriety out of eagerness to see Lord Jagannath. She trampled under foot the Supreme Lord to see the Supreme Lord.

One might read too much into this incident, and it can get confusing if we think too much about it. Perhaps this is a case of Krishna loving His devotees more than He loves Himself [I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. (Luke 7:9)] Perhaps this is all very pious and on the “up-and-up”. Still, there is something whimsical in thinking that a higher love of God is to be like some starstruck fan desecrating a sacred monument just to catch a glimpse of their favorite singer or movie star. That’s relatable (to others, not to me, I’m a middle aged phlegmatic curmudgeon), and makes more sense considering you only have one heart with which to love God. You don’t love Him with another.


Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)



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