When Maya is our Friend
***This is a story adapted from The Hidden Treasure of the Holy Dhama: Navadwip by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Any mistakes or discrepancies found within this post are mine entirely. I pray that you'll forgive any mistakes, and that the readers of these divine stories bless me to forever serve Guru and Gauranga, telling and singing Their glorious pastimes which enliven the hearts of everyone.***
The most peculiar chanting was taking place on Kailash Parvat. Parvati Devi left her chambers to follow the sound of her husband's deep and melodious voice.
"Gaura, Gaura, Gaura Hari! Gaura, Gaura, Gaura Hari!" The sound of his damuru drum accompanied his singing. Lord Shiva danced, swaying back and forth, his eyes closed, deep in a trance. His matted locks, covered with ash, swirled around him looking like a second effulgence. His body trembled with ecstasy, and Parvati watched, stunned for a moment before she glanced around the courtyard with wide, inquisitive eyes. Nandishvara, and the others looked just as confused as their queen.
What was this mantra her lord was chanting? She had never heard anything so beautiful before. What or who was this Gaura? At the mere thought of this word she felt her heart blossom with feelings of love. Goosebumps erupted across her arms, and she closed her eyes in amazement, letting the sound of this divine mantra enter her ears and dance within the courtyard of her own heart. Again and again Lord Mahadeva chanted his mantra "Gaura Hari, Gaura Hari, Gaura Hari." It seemed as though no matter how many times he chanted it, he could never hear enough of this mantra, and he went deeper and deeper into trance.
Finally, unable to cage her curiosity any longer, Parvati Devi ventured closer to the lord, reaching a gentle hand out to him. As she placed her petal soft hand on his outstretched arm, he froze in the middle of his dance. His dark, intense eyes opened and searched the area around them for a moment before settling on Parvati's beautiful face. His features softened with tenderness as he gazed at his wife. A smiled curved onto his lips and he inclined his head toward her.
Parvati's eyes dropped downward, overcome as she was with a shyness that colored her cheeks a delicate pink. But she could not be distracted from her earlier interest in this new mantra. She had to know her husband's secret. Glancing up at him from under her long lashes, she spoke.
"Swami, what is this new mantra you are chanting? Until today I have heard so many mantras and tantras, but nothing like this. My entire heart is melting watching your dancing and hearing this divine mantra. What is this Gaura? Just the recitation of this one word, somehow makes me feel as though I could chant this name for the rest of eternity." And it was true, just as Parvati uttered the mantra that Lord Shiva had been repeating, she felt her heart burst with one million different emotions. She felt as though the life she had been living up to that point had been a dream, and that with this new mantra, her real life had just begun.
Lord Shiva's face lit up with the most majestic, wide smile and he sighed with joy. He closed his eyes briefly, once more entranced, meditating on the golden form that had held his mind and concentration captive for the past hours, or was it moments? He could not tell. Time was lost in trance, but he held tight to the words of his beloved as an anchor to the external world before his world of devotion and dreams pulled him back into its depth. Forcing his eyes open as wide as they would go, Mahadeva led Parvati Devi to her seat at the foreground of the courtyard. With his hands on her shoulders, he guided her gently to her seat before he took his own next to her. When he gazed upon her face again, his smile was full of secrets.
“Because you are the divine energy of the Supreme Lord Himself, and a partial expansion of the Supreme Goddess Sri Radha, I will now explain the crest-jewel of all truths, and the greatest secret I know.” Lord Shiva glanced back and forth, sweeping the courtyard for any he might have deemed unworthy to hear of this incredible secret he was about to divulge to the other half of his soul. Once satisfied, he continued in a voice no more than a whisper. “Accepting the mood of ultimate devotion, the mood of Srimati Radharani, the Supreme Lord will descend in the age of Kali Yuga as the Golden Lord. He will appear as the son of Saci Devi and shining like a bright, golden jewel, intoxicated with His pastimes of chanting the holy name in kirtan, He will distribute the nectar of divine love to the entire universe! I cannot even imagine the terrible fate for one who doesn’t taste a drop of the flood of love of God! His life is completely wasted. Just remembering the promise of my Lord that He will come, I am drowning in an ocean of divine love. I want to give up all patience and run to the city of Navadwip, build a simple hut, and spend the rest of my days worshiping that golden one.”
True to his own word, Lord Shiva was thrumming with excitement. He could no longer stay seated and jumped up from his seat swaying again and crying out the name of Gaura Hari! Parvati watched him, perplexed as his words created a constant mantra within her mind. What was the fate of one who did not catch the tidal wave of that flood of love? Their life was wasted. Parvati’s heart clenched painfully, and taking advantage of her husband’s spontaneous dive into his meditation on Lord Gaura, Parvati immediately ran from their abode in Kailash and travelled as fast as she could to the city of Nine Islands: Navadwip.
Arriving at the second of the nine islands, Parvati Devi decided that it was there that she would stay and meditate upon Lord Gaura until she could see him face to face. Such unwavering and fixed determination had not been seen since the times that she sat in severe penance to gain Mahadeva as her husband. She would do anything in order to see the Lord. She had to, her entire existence was at stake. In a small hut, she sat completely still, her eyes closed to everything around her, uttering the vibration of the Lord’s name that she had heard from Lord Shiva. All was still and quiet around her except for the constant sound of her meditation. “Gaura, Gaura, Gaura, Gaura…” Deeper and deeper she went meditating on Lord Shiva’s brief description of the Supreme Lord with the color and mood of Parvati Devi’s own goddess, Sri Radha. What an exquisite form that must be. Parvati Devi yearned with all her heart to see that most merciful and magnanimous form. She burned within her heart to see the jewel that had never been seen before, giving a gift that had never been given before.
Her heart overflowed with a feeling of mercy and grace. Her face felt warm, and Parvati Devi opened her eyes. Before her stood the most beautiful person she had ever seen. His body was the color of molten gold, with an effulgence which was even brighter. His arms were very long and graceful, reaching nearly to His knees. His curly black hair framed His majestically sweet face. His eyes were wide and reddish like the petals of a lotus, but were filled with unshed tears of the deepest emotions. And through it all, His entire body vibrated and trembled with divine, ecstatic, love. Love like Parvati Devi had never felt before radiated from Him like a second, brighter effulgence, filling the entire space, and nearly overwhelming her. She realized at that moment that she was still murmuring His name. “Gaura, Gaura, Gaura..” her voice was choked with emotion and the name was barely audible, but she couldn’t stop. There was no doubt about who stood before her.
Parvati pressed her forehead to the ground at His feet which felt like the shelter of all the universes, and once she found that shelter, she could no longer hold back her despair. Tears fell unchecked from her eyes, and her body was racked with heart-wrenching sobs. She trembled with the force of her sorrow, but the sound of the Lord’s voice slowly brought her out of that deep, dark place.
“Oh Parvati, why have you come here? What is the cause of these tears and this sorrow?” He extended His long arms out to her, and Parvati Devi felt that with those two strong arms, He could hold the entire universe. He was the support and maintenance of everything, everywhere. Parvati had firm faith that if anyone would be able to help her, the Lord of her heart could, and out of His unimaginable kindness, surely He would.
“Oh Lord of the Universe, although You are merciful to everyone, this mercy is the cause of my distress. You have given me jurisdiction over all living beings who turn away from You. You have given me this material world as my kingdom, and it is You who have given me the task of keeping those living entities entangled in material conditioning. I must keep the living entities bound in the material world. I am illusion personified. But in this work, I have been cheated out of the most priceless gift of divine love that You have now come to inundate the world with. It is said that wherever there is Krishna there is no Maya, no illusion. Because of this promise, I must always remain in the material world, outside of Your spiritual realm. But now You have come to turn the entire material world into Your spiritual abode! How will I ever see Your pastimes? How will I ever receive Your mercy? If I am bereft of this great treasure of divine love, then my entire existence is forfeit. If You cannot offer me a way, then I am completely without hope.”
Having expressed her heart’s deepest desires, Parvati devi again let her head fall at the lotus feet of Lord Gaura. She delicately took the dust from His lotus feet, and placed it in the parting of her hair, which was usually decorated with the bright red vermillion powder which signified her divine marriage to Lord Shiva. It was now decorated with the jewel like dust from the lotus feet of the Lord as He was her ultimate Lord and Master.
The Lord smiled a smile full of compassion and sweetness. That sweetness melted the heart of Parvati Devi and she held her breath as she awaited His next words. His deep voice was as soothing and gentle as the all pervading quiet of snowfall on Mount Kailash.
“Oh supreme goddess, As My energy, you are non-different from Me. My divine energy takes two forms. Within the spiritual world, Sri Radha is the original form of My internal energy. When My divine energy manifests its external feature within this material world, Sri Radha, the supreme feminine, expands Herself and is represented by you. Without you My pastimes could not be accomplished for you are Yogamaya in the spiritual world. Your assistance in necessary to enhance My lila, My pastimes. You are actually never separated from me, but because of your love, you have taken on such service just for My sake. Here in this material world, you are Maha Maya, goddess of illusion, and queen of this realm, but here in Navadwip, I have a special task for you.” the Lord had a gleam in His eye, and at the mention of this special service, Parvati Devi lifted her face to concentrate fully on the beatific face of her supreme master. “Here in Navadwipa, this holy land shall be yours to protect. Please stay here with your dear husband, Lord Shiva and protect My divine realm. All those who are not devotees of Mine at heart, should not be given access to this place. They may be able to enter with their bodies, but their minds and hearts should be restricted from understanding the true nature of this place. In addition, those who are my devotees in their hearts, you should guide them closer to me. You have the great responsibility of protecting My most sacred place.”
Having said this, the Lord then disappeared from her view. Parvati now cried tears of relief and gratitude. She could now understand the importance of Lord Gaura’s words. She was never away from him. Although it was said that wherever there was Krishna there could be no maya, through the blessings of her most merciful Lord, she now understood the full nature of who she was. Once again taking the dust of Lord Gaura’s lotus feet upon her head, she looked at the beautiful place that would become her new home. With immense love blooming in her already full heart, she pressed her palms together and raised them to her head in salutation. There was much to be done. The Lord was coming.
Because Parvati Devi placed the dust of the Lord’s lotus feet on the part in her hair (simanta), she became known as Simantini Devi, and is worshipped on the island known as Simantadwip, which gained its name from this beautiful pastime between Parvati Devi and Lord Caitanya. Because Maya Devi herself has been instructed to protect this spiritual land of Navadwip, some great teachers are of the opinion that this is why the land is called Mayapura, or, the City of Maya Devi. She is the mistress there and is worshiped as Praudha Maya along with her beloved Lord Shiva. They are able to delude those who would blaspheme the Lord and the devotees, but are also able to guide the devotion of those who are serious about their loving relationship with Lord Gauranga.
I was often very apprehensive of Maya Devi growing up. Hearing stories of how she was engaged in keeping all the living entities entangled in their material hang-ups naturally made me want to steer clear of her if I wanted to have any type of lasting relationship with the Lord of my heart. But hearing stories like this, which remind me that she is first and foremost a supremely exalted devotee of my same Lord, and that she is after divine love and is also engaged in a task which is ultimately a service helped me immensely. Not only that, but she has the ability to guide me closer in my devotion, if my heart is true. With lessons like these, I have come to realize that Maya Devi, Parvati Devi, Simantini Devi, can become one of our best friends and well-wishers.
“It is stated in the Bhagavad Gita that the spell of maya (illusion), which covers the knowledge of the living entity is insurmountable. However, one who surrenders unto Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, can conquer this seemingly insurmountable spell of Maya.”
--Srila Prabhupada in Srimad Bhagavatam
I offer my obeisances to Maya Devi, goddess of illusion for those who have forgotten their relationship with the divine, but who is a necessary protector of the divine pastimes for those who are always engaged in loving play with our dearest Lord, and who only acts according to the grace of Krishna.
I pray to cultivate true devotion in my heart, so that Simantini Devi will see fit to guide me closer to her very own Lord Gauranga.