Know the Deity Worship Ministry

One of the most wonderful features of ISKCON is how our natural tendencies, talents, and qualities can be engaged in the service of Krishna and Srila Prabhupada. We may excel at cooking or cleaning, planning or plumbing, and when done in a mood of loving service to the Supreme Lord, we move further on the path of devotion.

It was a natural attraction for worshiping the Deity that brought Nrsimha Kavaca Dasa from the position of pujari to ISKCON’s Deity Worship Minister. Nrsimha Kavaca, who is originally from Melbourne, Australia, felt an instant attraction to the Deities the first time he visited the temple, and has headed straight to the pujari department at whatever temples he visits. His official start in the Ministry began as assistant under then minister, Krishna Kshetra Prabhu. He became Minister about six years ago.

Deity worship is an essential part of spiritual life, and in the Caitanya-caritamrita, (Madhya 15.108) Srila Prabhupada quotes extensively from Srila Jiva Goswami’s Bhakti-sandarbha about its importance. There Srila Prabhupada mentions that while there are many references in the Srimad-Bhagavatam about the strength we gain from chanting the holy name, those engaged in Deity worship will find their Krishna consciousness quickly awakening and their identification with the material world vanquished. This help is especially significant in Kali-yuga, when “the material conditioning of most candidates for devotional service requires that they engage in [Deity worship].” Srila Prabhupada has encouraged us that the pujaris are the most fortunate persons in the universe because they are able to touch the Lord’s form. The ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry was formed to extend this privilege as widely as possible while maintaining proper standards and training.

Currently, the Ministry is comprised of members from various parts of the world –Nrsimha Kavaca and his wife Asesa Sadhini are from Australia, Jayananda Dasa is from Washington, D.C., Saci Kumara Dasa is from South Africa, and Murali Manohara Dasa from London. This team would eventually like to have at least one member from each continent. The Ministry works to provide education, resources, and guidance to inspire and nourish Deity worship around the movement.

This sums up the purpose of the Deity Worship Ministry: To facilitate and encourage the maintenance and development of Deity worship according to Srila Prabhupada’s example and teachings, and to foster within ISKCON the corresponding Vaisnava brahminical culture. Nrsimha Kavaca is eager to propagate this second point, stressing how “we have to inspire devotees to take up the qualities or values of brahmanas.” Therefore he focuses not only on training devotees in the sastric rules and regulations that surround Deity worship but on brahminical values. Together, sastric rules and brahminical culture become the foundation on which strong Deity worship is built.

The Mayapur Academy has been established to help devotees reach the Ministry’s goals. The Mayapur Academy provides education in the arts of cooking, bathing and dressing the Deities, and brahminical qualities and sends its students back to their home temples as competent and devotional pujaris. Because of the quality of the course’s graduates, temples worldwide are now sending trainees to the Mayapur Academy. Clearly, this is having a wonderful effect on ISKCON’s Deity programs everywhere.

Another of the Ministry’s focuses is to monitor and regulate Deity worship standards globally. To help address the problem of varying standards, the GBC in 2012 passed a resolution stating that all new temples wishing to serve Deities must follow a strict, defined standard before Deities can be installed. Nrsimha Kavaca and his representatives also travel to established temples to ensure they are adhering to Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and in many cases, to train devotees onsite. In the future, the Ministry hopes to establish a worldwide network of monitors

The ISKCON Deity Worship Ministry has managed to create an improvement in Deity worship in many temples. In the coming years, it hopes to have a fully trained graduate of its courses in every ISKCON center, a representative on each continent, GBC members attending the courses, and to see growth in the Mayapur Academy. What does the Ministry need to make this happen? Nrsimha Kavaca answers simply, “More manpower, more funds, and more manpower.”

 

Niti Sheth for ISKCON GBC News