This year, Mahashivratri will be celebrated on 13 and 14 February. In Vrindavan, the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva such as Gopeshwar, Gokuleshwar, Govindeshwar, Bankhandeshwar, and Taleshwar draw a huge number of Shiva devotees.
Legend has it that Lord Shiva is the first Vaishnav ever because He is a devotee of Lord Vishnu whose avatar is Lord Krishna. In fact, many believe that Lord Vishnu too is an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva.
Ages back in the Dwapara Yuga, the town of Vrindavan witnessed something that stands testimony to Lord Shiva’s profound love for Krishna. In fact, it was this incident that gave rise to the feminine form of Lord Shiva, the form in which He is worshipped in the Gopeshwar Temple in Vrindavan even today.
This happened on a beautiful full moon night when Krishna along with Radha and His sakhis were performing Raas Leela on the banks of Yamuna. Keen on being a part of the Leela, Lord Shiva and His wife, goddess Parvati, visited Vrindavan. However, while Parvati was allowed into the Raasmandal, Vrinda Devi stopped Lord Shiva from entering the town. She explained that the Raas Leela was a tribute to Radha and was an attempt to please her. This is why sakhibhav was necessary. Being a woman, Parvati inherently had the sakhibhav while Lord Shiva didn’t.
Lord Shiva then waited outside Vrindavan, but so keen was His desire to participate in Krishna’s transcendental dance, that He meditated about Radha. Radharani was pleased by this and sent her closest friend Lalita to bring Shiva. When Lalita met Shiva, she told Him everything about sakhibhav and how the only way for Him to attain it was to take a dip in the holy Yamuna.
Shiva took this dip and emerged as a beautiful damsel. He entered the Raasmandal in this form but Krishna immediately recognised Him and hailed Him as Gopeshwar. Even today, Lord Shiva is worshipped every evening from 5 pm to 9 pm in this feminine form in the Gopeshwar Temple, a temple where the Shiva linga is believed to have been established by the gopis themselves. It is also believed that the gopis prayed to Gopeshwar for the fulfillment of their desire of getting Krishna as their husband.
The next time you visit Vrindavan, spend at least an evening in the Gopeshwar Temple when the Shiva linga is dressed as a gopi and special shringar ceremonies are performed.