ISKCON Deity Worship Minister for North America Jayananda Das, a disciple of Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, has visited twenty-five temples in North America since 2012, and plans to visit sixteen more by the end of this year. This will bring him to about eighty per cent of the total 55 temples in North America.
Trained by global Deity Worship Minister Nrsimha Kavacha Das at the Mayapur Academy in West Bengal, Jayananda realizes that many pujaris (priests) may not be able to travel to India to take the Academy’s four-month course. So he’s bringing the training to them, giving group seminars and one-on-one guidance at temples all over the US and Canada, often upon invite.
“I generally spend three days to one week at each location,” he says. “While I’m there, I go on the altars, observe the worship, review the current standards, and offer suggestions for improvement. I also meet with the pujaris, and develop relationships with them so that I can be a source of reference for them in the future.”
Jayananda reviews morning worship such as bathing and dressing when the curtains close after mangala-arati, and all aratis and food offerings.
“I make sure that they’re only using the best ingredients that are suitable for the Deities,” he says. “Generally we don’t offer store-bought things to the Deities, such as frozen vegetables, pasta or canned tomato paste. Although there are some minor exceptions, the general rule is that Prabhupada wanted the devotees to prepare all items themselves.”
Jayananda also reviews the standards of cleanliness and punctuality, which he says Srila Prabhupada always emphasized over and above all other practices and rituals.
“He wanted everything – the kitchens, the altar, the pujari room -- to always be super clean,” he comments. “Always cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.”
Jayananda also teaches a broader tenet that he says will improve all aspects of pujari service: to understand that the Deity is Krishna Himself. And thus, to put a lot of attention into developing one’s personal relationship with the Deities and treating Them as people.
“That means that whatever service we’re offering, we do it with that consciousness in mind,” he says. “For example, a person wouldn’t appreciate being served a cold puri – similarly, neither would They.”
As he travels around, Jayananda is keen not to be seen like an IRS auditor or a health and safety inspector.
“Generally you hope that people with those kinds of jobs leave you alone,” he says. “But before I visit a temple, I try to help them understand that my mood isn’t like an auditor coming in and trying to ruin their day by telling them they’ve got to do this, that, and the other. Rather, the idea is I want to be able to inspire and educate the devotees so that they want to improve on their own.”
Those that wish to get further education can take the four-month intensive Deity Worship course at Mayapur Academy, which Jayananda assists with as an administrative team member and teacher of the festivals class and Temple Worship unit.
The Academy accepts about forty students each year from around the world and teaches every element of practical and theoretical Deity worship with hands-on experience and guidance from the best teachers in ISKCON, such as veteran Mayapur priest Jananivasa Das.
Those who cannot travel to India will be able to refer to the new major revision of ISKCON’s Deity Worship manual that Jayananda and Nrsimha Kavacha are currently working on and planning for release later this year, entitled “Method of Worship.”
They’ll also be able to avail of the online training videos that the Ministry plans to provide soon after that.
And Jayananda hopes to soon start providing regional training seminars in North America on weekends so that pujaris who work for a living can attend. A pilot course is expected by the end of this year.
“A long-term objective of the Ministry is to formally train and certify head pujaris or deity department managers for each of our ISKCON temples worldwide,” Jayananda says.
Meanwhile, he aims to always be on call, positioning himself as an ongoing resource for pujaris to be able to rely on with any questions or concerns. This connects them not only with him but also with the Deity Worship Ministry and its network of senior devotees such as Bhanu Swami, Jananivasa Das, and Nrsimha Kavacha Das.
“It’s inspiring for me to be able to inspire and educate others in Deity worship, invigorate them in their service, and be the instrument for them to offer better quality worship for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada and the Deities,” he says.[ deities ] [ jayananda ] [ worship ]