What is the significance of deity worship and the various celebrations such as Shravan month, Navratri, Ganesh Chaturthi and so on, between Devpodhi Ekadashi* and Devuthi Ekadashi?**
*Devpodhi Ekadashi is the eleventh lunar day (Ekadashi) of the bright fortnight (Shukla paksha) of the Hindu month of Ashadha (June – July).
**11th lunar day (ekadashi) in the bright fortnight (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu month of Kartik.
The answer to this question I provide is based on devotion. In the path of devotion, what is formless and attributeless (nirguṇa nirākār) is with form and attributes (saguṇa sākār). In addition, the formless and attributeless can bear form and attributes. Goswami Tulsidasji says, “Aguna Saguna dui Brahma Swarupā“, The Supreme Almighty is both without and with attributes.
According to Vedas, ‘Purukh e vedam sarvam’, meaning, whatever exists is the form of the Supreme Almighty, whether it is without form or with form. This world is also a form of that Supreme Almighty. In Śrimad Bhāgavat, when Kuntāmātā praises the Lord, she says:
atha viśveśa viśvātman, viśvamūrte svakeṣu me | snnehapāśamimam chindha dṛdhaṁ pānduṣu vṛṣṇiṣu
Viśvamūrte means, this world is God. When we talk about worshipping God with attributes, it is not only about mūrti puja (deity worship). It is very important that we always use the word mūrti. Idol is not the correct word as God is not just a mere statue for us. Using the word deity may be better. Once the figure is properly sculpted by an artisan followed by rituals such as jalādhivās, annādhivās, vastrādhivās as per the scriptures by learned Brahmins, and all the rituals of Prāṇ Pratiṣṭhā are done, then we worship with the faith that God is in front of us. It is not merely an idol but God Himself.
This is why, we are filled with the sentiments that in the summer, if we are warm, God is warm. Thus, we must put the fan on for Him. Similarly, in the winter, we light a fire for Him and put warm clothes on Him. In the Pushti Paramparā (sect) Shri Mahaprabhuji and Shri Gosaiji have taught the practice of performing sevā very well. After working for sixteen out of twenty-four hours, we feel tired and need to rest for eight hours. Similarly, on the path of devotion, we are filled with the sentiment that God also gets tired. Although He is the most powerful and nothing is difficult for him because there is no action for the Supreme Being, but when we perceive it with faith and devotion, God gets tired and hungry, just like we do. Before we eat, we first offer the food to God for about twenty to twenty-five minutes, close the curtains of the temple and feed Him. This is the devotion one has.
This process of taking care of God is known as svarūp sevā. Sevā is greater than pujā due to the devotion connected to it.
Let me tell you one story connected with this to understand the emotions. I read this in a book of Pushti Parampara and it is so beautiful.
A widow lived alone and had God’s sevā in her home. Her feelings were so real that baby Krishna was with her and playing with her. Sometimes, He used to come and sit in her lap, sometimes start crying, sometimes hug her and this way the lady looked after God as her own real child. Once, God was playing and the lady was cleaning the grains. Whilst playing, baby Krishna would smile at her and the lady would be filled with joy.
At that time, two cats came outside the house whilst fighting with each other. You must have seen two cats fighting, they scream so much and hit each other. Seeing this, baby Krishna got scared, crawled to His mother, and hugged her. At first, that lady tried to keep the cats away but fighting cats don’t calm down easily. She hard but the cats did not go away. Baby Krishna became scared and restless. He clinged to His mother in fear so hard that she fell. This led to the mother becoming angry.
She thought I am old enough, do not have much strength left in me and still, he is jumping on me to save himself. She said to baby Krishna, “Where was your fear when Putanā came? You are the one holding the eternal universe within yourself, then why are you afraid today?” On saying this, that tiny svarūp of God returned to His place in the temple.
Thus, on this path, one does not even possess the true knowledge that this is the Supreme Being.
On this path, we should always take care of His happiness because His happiness is our happiness. Tatsukhe sukhittvam. We perform sevā of God as per His convenience.
Hence, if we take rest for one-third of the day, then God also takes rest for one-third of the year which equates to four months. God sleeps on Devshayani or Devpodhi Ekadashi. On Devuthi Ekadashi, which arrives after four months, God wakes up.
But when we request God to sleep as he must be tired, I have heard this from great saints, that God asks, “If I sleep then who will do all this work?”
At that time the devotee replies, “Dear God you please take rest, we will do it.”
“Ok so you will stay awake and look after everything?”
“Yes, we will.”
God trusts us and goes to sleep. Now, we are also used to getting sleep after working hard. We therefore need the shelter of an awakened saint who does not sleep nor let us sleep. The saint remains awake and continues to awaken us. One who is awake and alert is a Yogi.
This is why, Guru Purnima arrives immediately after Devshayani Ekadashi. We request the enlightened Sadguru, “My Lord, I have promised God, so please help me stay awake.” Our sages, saints and ascetics fast for four months during this time. They also stay in one place for four months. This way, through satsang, discourses and regular spiritual routines, they keep us awake, so that we can keep the promise we have given to God. This is also the reason why we have occasions such as Śrāvan in which we fast, Bhādarva month in which we celebrate Lord Krishna’s manifestation, Śrāddh where we remember our ancestors and Śāradiya Navrātri during which we worship Maa Amba, etc, during this time.
Even when God is asleep, He has made all the arrangements. The cycle of day and night continues, rain falls, nature serves Him etc. It is as though He has put everything on auto mode.
After that, when on Devuthi Ekadashi God wakes up, deities celebrate Diwali and the wedding ceremony of Tulsiji takes place.
So, always remember, God in a temple is not merely an idol or a statue. We can use the word mūrti until the Prāṇ Pratiṣṭhā has not been performed. But once the Prāṇ Pratiṣṭhā has been performed, they have a very nice word in Pushti Parampara called svarūp. It is God Himself sitting in front of us, this is the faith.