Why does ISKCON translate bhagavan as 'Supreme Personality of Godhead' instead of just 'O fortunate one' or 'O glorious one' or 'one with opulences'. Only when Krishna or Vishnu or Rama or other incarnations are involved, it is translated that way, other times i.e when bhagavan is used for other deities , it is translated differently like 'your greatness','powerful lord' etc..

Eg. For Vishnu related: Rama: https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/9/11/1/ Mohini: https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/8/9/9/ Vishnu: https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/10/1/20/

For Others: Shukracharya: https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/8/20/2/ Shiva: https://vedabase.io/en/library/sb/12/10/3/

Why other deities are translated as demigod? Is it justifiable according to Chaitanya Vaishnavism?

  • Because they are Vaishnavas and they believe Vishnu is the supreme Brahman.
    – Ikshvaku
    Mar 1, 2019 at 14:53
  • 1
    @Partha Oh you reminded me, they think Krishna is the supreme Brahman, whereas Vishnu is an incarnation of Krishna.
    – Ikshvaku
    Mar 1, 2019 at 15:29
  • 4
    @Partha you are mistaken, they use Supreme Personality of Godhead for Vishnu, Rama also and other incarnations. They use demigod only for those other than Krishna and his incarnations. They don't think Vishnu is demigod.
    – user2612
    Mar 1, 2019 at 15:52
  • @Ikshvaku they accept Vishnu also as Brahman. But Vishnu as Krishna's incarnation.
    – user2612
    Mar 1, 2019 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Ikshvaku, what exactly does incarnation mean according to them ? Like I am sitting in my room. if i go to school wearing a uniform and cap, does that make 'school-ram' an incarnation ? if so, there is no difference between me and incarnation, it's the same person wearing different clothes
    – ram
    Mar 2, 2019 at 2:28

3 Answers 3


ISKCON is a part of Chaitanya Vaishnavism whose theology is mainly based on Bhagavata purana.

We will consider works of Jiva Goswami mainly(contemporary of Chaitanya) & at times Baladeva Vidyabhusana as they are the Vedanta acharyas of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. And then see if the usage of ISKCON is justified.

How they go about in search of Absolute Truth is discussed in Tattva Sandarbha. In brief:

  • The search for Absolute Truth is to be done through Vedas. (Here Purva Mimamsa, Vedanata, and other darshanas are brought in and analysed)

  • But, Vedas are very difficult to grasp and people have interpreted differently.

  • Puranas and Itihasas are established as the 5th Veda.

    Then he says:

    Since the words of the Vedas are now difficult to access and difficult to understand, and since sages who explain the texts mutually disagree on the meaning, the words of Itihāsas and Purāṇas, which explain the meaning of the Vedas and which are another form of the Vedas, should be discussed. Those statements in the Vedas which cannot be understood can be understood by seeing the Purāṇas and Itihāsas. That fact establishes these scriptures as proof in Kali-yuga.

    itihāsa-purāṇābhyāṁ vedaṁ samupabṛṁhayet

    One should clarify the meaning of the Vedas by the Itihāsas and Purāṇas. Mahābhārata 1.1.267

  • Special significance of Puranas:

    vedārthād adhikaṁ manye purāṇārthaṁ varānane |
    vedāḥ pratiṣṭhitāḥ sarve purāṇe nātra saṁśayaḥ ||

    purāṇam anyathā kṛtvā tiryag-yonim avāpnuyāt |
    sudānto’pi suśānto’pi na gatiṁ kvacid āpnuyāt ||

    O beautiful faced woman! I consider the meaning of the Purāṇas greater than the meaning of the Vedas. The Vedas are established in all the Purāṇas without doubt. If one disrespects the Purāṇas one attains an animal birth. Though controlling the senses and mind, one never attains the spiritual goal. Naradīya Purāṇa

    vedavan niścalaṁ manye purāṇārthaṁ dvijottamāḥ | vedāḥ pratiṣṭhitāḥ sarve purāṇe nātra saṁśayaḥ ||

    bibhety alpa-śrutād vedo mām ayaṁ cālayiṣyati |
    itihāsa-purāṇais tu niścalo’yaṁ kṛtaḥ purā ||

    yan na dṛṣṭaṁ hi vedeṣu tad dṛṣṭaṁ smṛtiṣu dvijāḥ | ubhayor yan na dṛṣṭaṁ hi tat purāṇaiḥ pragīyate ||

    yo veda caturo vedān sāṅgopaniṣado dvijāḥ |
    purāṇaṁ naiva jānāti na ca sa syād vicakṣaṇaḥ ||

    O best of the brāhmaṇas! I consider the meaning of the Purāṇas to be fixed like the Vedas. The Vedas are established in all the Purāṇas without doubt. The Vedas were afraid of people with little knowledge, thinking they would distort the meaning. The Vedas have been established by the Itihāsas and Purāṇas in ancient times. What is not seen in the Vedas is seen in the smṛtis. What is not seen in the smṛtis is described in the Purāṇas. The clever person who knows the Vedas and Upaniṣads but does not know the Purāṇas is not knowledgeable. Skanda Purāṇa, Prabhāsa-khaṇda 2.90-93

  • Next, he says:

    Though the Purāṇas are established as authority because they do not leave the meaning unsettled, those who are less intelligent still find the meaning of the Purāṇas difficult to grasp, since the Purāṇas are unavailable in complete form and since they instill faith in worshipping various devatās.

Then he uses Matsya purana classification and says Sattvita puranas(that glorify hari) are to be focussed.

Even accepting the superiority of sattvika Purāṇas, how can one solve conflicting ideas concerning the ultimate spiritual goal made by logicians using various devices?[the highest goal is defined as having qualities, having no qualities, composed of knowledge only and completely unconscious by various types of crooked logic] It is said that, since the Lord in the form of Vyāsa wrote the Brahma-sūtras for explaining the meaning of all the Vedas and Purāṇas, by consulting it one can discern the meaning of all scriptures. But it is not understood by followers of various other sages who wrote other sūtras. Some will explain opposite meaning in the sūtras which are sparse in syllables and extremely deep in meaning. What is the solution?

He says:

The problem will be solved if there is one apauruṣeya, well-accepted, complete scripture manifest on earth, which explains Brahma-sūtras and which contains the essential meaning of all the Vedas, Itihāsas and Purāṇas.

Yes, you have brought us to mind 'Srimad Bhagavatam'..

Some may think that the Purāṇas’ authority depends on the Vedas. That possibility is rejected for Bhāgavatam, and is stated in Bhāgavatam itself: it is the highest śruti.

kathaṁ vā pāṇḍaveyasya rājarṣer muninā saha |
saṁvādaḥ samabhūt tāta yatraiṣā sātvatī śrutiḥ ||

How did the conversation of Parīkṣit with Śukadeva arise, through which this Vaiṣṇava śruti appeared? SB 1.4.7

Thus, he says we focus our attention on Bhagavatam in our search for Absolute Truth and other apparently contradictory statement in other scriptures meaning will be discerned with the help of Bhagavatam.

And in Bhagavata purana the word bhagavan has great significance than just conventional usage in Sanskrit language.

The key to the Gaudiya understanding of Bhagavan lies in a verse found in the second chapter of the first book of the BhAgavata:

vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattva| yaj jñAnam advayam brahmeti paramAtmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate

Knowers of reality declare that reality to be nondual consciousness, called “Brahman,” “Paramatma,” and “Bhagavan.” (1.2.11)

Here Bhagavan is referring to the Absolute Truth. It has greater meaning than a normal usage.

These two answers also provide about significance of Bhagavan,

Definition of Bhagavan as per Vishnu Purana Which scripture describes six kalyana gunas (auspicious attributes) of Vishnu?

This text is so often cited and explained in Gaudiya literature that some authors credit the entire Caitanya Vaisnava theory of the threefold Godhead to this verse alone. Although the theory, and especially the concept of Bhagavan, are in fact based on a much broader understanding of the BhAgavata PurAWa,(This is evident from the Bhagavat-sandarbha, wherein Jiva assembles and explains a wide variety of verses from the BhAgavata to establish the concept of the threefold Godhead and the supremacy of Bhagavan. A similar attempt is made in section 105 of ParamAtma-sandarbha, wherein the six indicators of meaning (tAtparya-lingas) are delineated using verses from various parts of the BhAgavata) the verse nevertheless occupies a crucial place in Gaudiya theology for several reasons.

First, if Jiva is to establish the concept of Bhagavan in the technical, Caitanyite sense of the term, he must first of all introduce a distinction between Bhagavan and other commonplace conceptions of Godhead, such as the inner controller (antaryAmC) and supersoul (paramAtmA). By juxtaposing three different names for God in a single line (Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan), the Bhagavata verse allows exegetical space for such a distinction to be made. After all why would the PurAna mention these three names and claim that they are “nondual” if there were no reason to think them separate in the first place?

Thus, by introducing multiplicity in the Divine, the “vadanti” verse allows Gaudiya theologians to develop and lay claim to the concept of Bhagavan. The verse is equally important, however, for just the opposite reason: Once the threefold scheme has been developed, the verse protects Gaudiya commentators from accusations of dividing the Absolute, since it clearly states that the three are in fact one nondual reality. The first line of the verse is as useful to Gaudiya Vaisnava writers as the second, for by identifying the nondual reality with Krisha, they can claim Krishna to be the ultimate referent of all three names: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. This allows them to direct even monistically inclined Upanisadic passages toward Bhagavan.

In his instructions to Sanatana Gosvami at Kasi, Caitanya explains the implications of the “vadanti” verse:

The word “Brahman” refers to Svayam Bhagavan, who is one consciousness without a second, and without whom there is nothing else. “Knowers of reality declare that reality to be nondual consciousness, called ‘Brahman,’ ‘Paramatma,’ and ‘Bhagavan.’” That nondual reality is Krsna, Bhagavan himself. He exists in all three phases of time (past, present, and future). This is evident from the scriptures. . . . The word “AtmA” refers to Krsna. His nature is greatness [b[hattva]. He is all pervading, the witness of everything, and the supreme form . . . Although the words “Brahman” and “AtmA” refer to Krishna, by conventional usage they refer to the Undifferentiated [nirvisesa] and the Inner Controller [antaryAmi], respectively.

The title “svayam bhagavan,” (“Bhagavan himself,” or “directly Bhagavan”) is used exclusively to designate Krishna. It is drawn from the famous statement of the Bhagavata:

“ete camsa-kalah pumsas krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. “All these (avatAras) are portions or portions of portions of the Lord, but Krishna is Bhagavan himself” (1.3.28). This half-verse appears at the end of the list of twenty-two prominent incarnations (avatAras), and is on par with the “vadanti” verse as a pace-setting text in Chaitanya Vaisnava theology. It forms the basis for the complex classification of Krishna’s forms and manifestations found in the Laghu-bhAgavatAmrta of Rupa Gosvami, CaitanyacaritAmrita, and Krisha-sandarbha.

Thus, we can see that absolute truth is referred by word bhagavan.

The absolute truth is described in first verse of bhagavata as well.

O my Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. I meditate upon Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa because He is the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of all causes of the creation, sustenance and destruction of the manifested universes. He is directly and indirectly conscious of all manifestations, and He is independent because there is no other cause beyond Him. It is He only who first imparted the Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahmājī, the original living being. By Him even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion, as one is bewildered by the illusory representations of water seen in fire, or land seen on water. Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the reactions of the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal. I therefore meditate upon Him, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is eternally existent in the transcendental abode, which is forever free from the illusory representations of the material world. I meditate upon Him, for He is the Absolute Truth.

Thus considering overall context of Bhagavata and various definitions found in Vishnu Purana, the special usage of word bhagavan is explained in Bhagavat Sandarbha.

tad eva sac-cid-anandaika-repas svarepa-bhetacintya-vicitrananta-uakti-yukto dharmatva eva dharmitva nirbhedatva eva nana-bhedavattvam arepitva eva repitva vyapakatva eva madhyamatva satyam evety adi-paraspara-viruddhanantaguwa- nidhis sthela-sek1ma-vilak1awa-sva-prakauakhawra-sva-svarepa-bheta-urcvigrahas tatha-bheta-bhagavad-akhya-mukhyaika-vigraha-vyañjita-tad[uananta -vigrahas tad[ua-svanurepa-uaktyavirbhava-lak1awa-lak1mc-rañjita-vam-a\uas svaprabha- viue1akara-paricchada-parikara-nija-dhamasu virajamana-karas svarepauakti- vilasa-lak1awa-adbhuta-guwa-lcladi-camatkaritatmaramadi-gawo nija-samanya-prakauakara-brahma-tattvo nijauayaika-jcvana-jcvakhya-tavasthauaktir ananta-prapañca-vyañjita-svabhasa-uakti-guwo bhagavan iti. (Bhagavat-sandarbha 100)

He who is the very form of existence, consciousness, and bliss; who possesses inconceivable, multifarious, and unlimited energies that are of his own nature; who is the ocean of unlimited, mutually contradictory qualities, such that in him both the attribute and the possessor of attributes, the lack of differences and varieties of differences, formlessness and form, pervasiveness and centrality [madhyamatva]—all are true; whose beautiful form is distinct from both gross and subtle entities, self-luminous, and consisting entirely of his own nature; who has unlimited such forms that are manifested by his chief form called Bhagavan; whose left side is beautified by Lak1mc—the manifestation of his personal energy, suitable to his own form; who resides in his own abode, along with his associates, who are furnished with a form that is a special manifestation of his own splendor; who astonishes the hosts of AtmArAmas (those who take pleasure in the self ) by his wonderful qualities, pastimes, etc., which are characterized by the play of his personal energy; whose own generic brilliance is manifested in the form of the reality of Brahman; who is the sole shelter and life of his marginal energy, called the living entities [ jivas]; whose mere reflected energy are the modes of nature [guNas], visible in the unlimited phenomenal world— he is Bhagavan.

But, one may say that Bhagavan is used for Shukracharya, Shiva also in Bhagavatam and he is glorified as supreme.

Yes, but they are very weaker statements as shown by the below sutra.

Where there is contradiction of one scriptural statement with another, one must consider which is stronger. Strength is based on the scriptural source and the source of the statement

śruti-liṅga-vākya-prakaraṇa-sthāna-samākhyānāṁ samavāye pāra-daurbalyam artha-viprakarṣāt

Where there is a combination of literal meaning, interpretive meaning, altering the syntax, referring to other texts, philosophical stances, and etymological meaning, the later statements are considered progressively weaker in authority, because of the possibility of their producing contrary meaning. Jaimini-sūtra 3.3.14

Śruti means direct meaning, liṅga means suggested meaning, vākya means interpretation through taking the phrases as a whole, prakriyā or prakaraṇa means intentionally taking a word out of context. Sthānam means interpretation according to a philosophical stance and samākhyā means etymology.

The statements where Shiva is glorified as para brahman in 7th chapter of 8th Canto or identified as Bhagavan in 12th Canto by Markandeya.

na te giri-trākhila-loka-pālaviriñca-
jyotiḥ paraṁ yatra rajas tamaś ca
sattvaṁ na yad brahma nirasta-bhedam

O protector of mountains (Śiva)! Your supreme light known as Brahman which is devoid of rajas, tamas and sattva and devoid of distinctions is not known by the devatās, Viṣṇu or Indra. SB 8.7.31

But Śiva is not supreme. The contrary statements follow this verse. Such statements are made according to the Vedic reasoning that “the devatās should increase in strength by praising them with greatness.” This praise is given so that Śiva will destroy the kālakūtā poison. prīte harau bhagavati prīye 'haṁ sacarācaraḥ: when the Lord is pleased, I (Śiva) am also pleased, along with all other living creatures. (SB 8.7.40)

Therefore, direct words of Suta/Suka are higher in importance, and other statements should follow that to give proper meaning.

Understanding this distinction, identifying Śiva or any other God with this form is criticized:

athāpi yat-pāda-nakhāvasṛṣṭaṁ jagad viriñcopahṛtārhaṇāmbhaḥ |
seśaṁ punāty anyatamo mukundāt ko nāma loke bhagavat-padārthaḥ ||

Who can be called by the name Bhagavān except Mukunda whose toe-nail water purifies the universe along with Śiva and becomes arghya for Brahmā? SB 1.18.21

Suta speaks the verse..

Another place where it is clearly distinguished is in 89th chapter of 10th Canto :

Text 1: Śukadeva Gosvāmī said: Once, O King, as a group of sages were performing a Vedic sacrifice on the banks of the Sarasvatī River, a controversy arose among them as to which of the three chief deities is supreme.

Texts 14-17: Amazed upon hearing Bhṛgu’s account, the sages were freed from all doubts and became convinced that Viṣṇu is the greatest Lord. From Him come peace; fearlessness; the essential principles of religion; detachment with knowledge; the eightfold powers of mystic yoga; and His glorification, which cleanses the mind of all impurities. He is known as the supreme destination for those who are peaceful and equipoised — the selfless, wise saints who have given up all violence. His most dear form is that of pure goodness, and the brāhmaṇas are His worshipable deities. Persons of keen intellect who have attained spiritual peace worship Him without selfish motives.

Text 18: The Lord expands into three kinds of manifest beings — the Rākṣasas, the demons and the devatas— all of whom are created by the Lord’s material energy and conditioned by her modes. But among these three modes, it is the mode of goodness which is the means of attaining life’s final success.

Text 19: Śukadeva Gosvāmī said: The learned brāhmaṇas living along the river Sarasvatī came to this conclusion in order to dispel the doubts of all people. Thereafter they rendered devotional service to the Supreme Lord’s lotus feet and attained His abode.

This and the following story is narrated at the end of 10th Canto just to state the position of Vishnu and then Krishna's svayam bhagavan position.

And there are many other direct statements supporting the same.

How they deal with other statements from Vedas, Upanishads that may have seemingly contradictory meanings?

Of course, in line with Bhagavatam.

How they deal with Vedic statements glorifying others is not much focussed in Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

However, we get pointers...

In Vedanta Syamantaka of Baladeva Vidyabhusana...

enter image description here

Then someone may again protest: In Drona Parva, Vyasa glorified Lord Siva with a hundred prayers. He said Lord Siva is the cause of all causes.

To this I reply: His prayers were in truth addressed to Lord Visnu, the Supersoul in Lord Siva's heart. This must be so, for there cannot be two ParaBrahmans, and no one can be equal to the Para Brahman.

In this way the supreme position of Lord Visnu is proved. One should not be bewildered by reading in some Puranas some statements that Brahma or other devatas have the highest supremacy. Those statements are Puranas in the modes of passion or ignorance, and therefore those statements should be rejected.

In Govinda Bhasya of Baladeva Vidyabhusana.. enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Visaya: Someone may object: “Many passages in the scriptures do not support your conclusion at all.” This adhikarana is written to dispel this doubt.

The Svetasvatara Upanisad explains:

ksaram pradhanam amrtaksarah harah

“Material nature is in constant flux and the Supreme, Lord Hara is eternal and unchanging.” [110]

eko rudro na dvitiyaya tasthuh

“Lord Rudra is the Supreme. He has no rival.” [3.2]

yo devanam prabhavas codbhavas ca visvadhiko rudrah sivo maharsih

“Lord Siva, who is known as Rudra, is the omniscient ruler of the universe. He is he father of all the demigods. He gives the demigods all their powers and opulences.” [3.4]

yada tamas tan na diva na ratrir na san na casac chiva eva kevalah “When the final darkness comes and there is no longer day or night, when there is no longer being and non-being, then only Lord Siva exists.” [4.18] The scriptures also explain: pradhanad idam utpannam pradhanam adhigacchati pradhane layam abhyeti na hy anyat karanam matam “From pradhana this material world was born. This world knows only pradhana. This world merges into pradhana at the time of annihilation. Nothing else is the cause of this world.” jivad bhavanti bhutani jive tisthanty acancalah jive ca layam icchanti na jivat karanam param “From the jiva all the elements of this world have come. In the jiva they rest without moving, and they finally merge into the jiva. Nothing else is the cause of this world.”

Samsaya: Should Hara and the other names given in these quotes be understood in their ordinary senses, as names of Lord Siva, pradhana, and jiva, or should they all be understood to be names of the Supreme Brahman?

Purvapaksa: The names should all be understood in their ordinary senses, as names of Lord Siva, pradhana, and jiva.

Siddhanta: The conclusion follows.

Sutra 1.4.28

etena sarve vyakhyata vyakhyatah

etena - in this way; sarve - all; vyakhyatah - explained; vyakhyatah - explained.

All [words in the scriptures] should be interpreted to agree with the explanation [that the Supreme Brahman is the original cause].

In this sutra the word etena means “according to the explanations already given,” sarve means “Hara and the other names,” and vyakhyatah means “should be understood to be names of the Supreme Brahman because all names are originally names of the Supreme Brahman.”

The Bhālvaveya-śruti explains:

nāmāni viśvāni na santi loke
yad āvirāsīt puruṣasya sarvam
nāmāni sarvāṇi yam āviśanti
taṁ vai viṣṇuṁ paramam udāharanti

“The names of this world are not different from Him. All names in this world are names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. All names refer to Him, Lord Viṣṇu, whom the wise declare is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

This is the rule that should be followed: When the ordinary sense of these names does not contradict the essential teaching of the Vedas, the ordinary meaning should be accepted. When the ordinary sense of these names does contradict the teaching of the Vedas, these names should be understood to be names of Lord Visnu.

Similarly there is Vedanta Sutra starting from 1.1.28 that deals with Indra being identified as Supreme Brahman in Kausitaki upanishad

Jiva Goswami also says in Bhakti Sandarbha:

rujaṁ drāvayate yasmād rudras tasmāj janārdanaḥ | īśanād eva ceśāno mahā-devo mahattvataḥ ||

pibanti ye narā nākaṁ muktāḥ saṁsāra-sāgarāt |
tad-ādhāro yato viṣṇuḥ pinākīti tataḥ smṛtaḥ ||

śivaḥ sukhātmakatvena sarva-sarodhanād dharaḥ |
kṛtyātmakam imaṁ dehaṁ yato vaste pravartayan ||

kṛttivāsās tato devo viriñciś ca virecanāt |
bṛṁhaṇād brahma-nāmāsau aiśvaryād indra ucyate ||

evaṁ nānā-vidhaiḥ śabdair eka eva trivikramaḥ |
vedeṣu ca purāṇeṣu gīyate puruṣottamaḥ ||

Because he drives away pain Viṣṇu is called Rudra. Because he is the controller he is called Īśāna. Because he is the greatest he is called Mahādeva. He is called Pinākī because he is the support of persons who, liberated from the ocean of saṁsāra, enjoy (pi) the spiritual sky (nāka). He is called Śiva because he is the embodiment of happiness. He is called Hara because he destroys everything. He is called Kṛttivāsa because he lives in and operates the body which produces action (kṛtya). He is called Viriñci because he extends beyond. He is called Brahmā because he is expands. He is called Indra because he has power. Thus the one supreme Lord is glorified by various types of names in the Vedas and Purāṇas.

So, it is either name referring to Krishna or the actual glory is to the supersoul and thus Bhagavan Krishna depending on the context.

As Krishna says in Bhagavatam,

kiṁ vidhatte kim ācaṣṭe kim anūdya vikalpayet ity asyā hṛdayaṁ loke nānyo mad veda kaścana

What do the Vedas instruct as action? What is the final meaning of the Vedas? What alternatives do the Vedas raise? No one except me or my dear devotee knows the intended meaning of the Vedas.

māṁ vidhatte ’bhidhatte māṁ vikalpyāpohyate tv aham
etāvān sarva-vedārthaḥ śabda āsthāya māṁ bhidām

The Vedas indicate bhakti as the action and indicate me as the meaning. I am the meaning of all the Vedas. I, as karma and jñāna, am proposed and rejected as alternatives. SB 11.21.42-43

As he also says in Gita,

I am situated in everyone’s heart. From Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. And I am also known by all the Vedas. I am the maker of the Vedanta since I alone know the Vedas. BG 15.15

Baladeva Vidyabhusna comments:

Having shown how He alone enables the jivas to enjoy in the material world, the Lord now shows how He alone enables the jivas to get liberation. I alone, the Lord of all, holder of all powers, Krsna, am to be known by all the Vedas. The sruti says yo’sau sarvair vedair giyate: It is He who is praised by all the Vedas. (Gopala Tapani Upanisad) I am to be known indirectly through karma kanda portion of the Vedas and directly through the jnana kanda portion of the Vedas. “How is this to be understood?”

“I have produced the final conclusion (anta) of the Vedas, Vedanta Sutras, by taking the form of Badarayana. Thus the author of the vedanta says ta tu samanvayat: Visnu is the subject of the Vedas because that is the meaning of all Vedic texts. (Vedanta Sutras 1.1.4)”

"But others will explain the meaning of the Vedas in a different way.”

“I alone am the knower of the Vedas (veda vit). The meaning which I have determined by becoming Badarayana is the meaning of the Vedas. Any other meaning is filled with error. Thus I alone (as Badarayana) am the producer of liberation, since even by studying the Vedas there is misunderstanding about the identity of the Supreme Lord who bestows liberation.”

Therefore when bhagavan is used for any other sage or deva in Bhagavatam, it will not have the same meaning as used in Chaitanya Vaishnavite sense, it just means 'O glorious one' or something like that.

This may be the reason why ISKCON uses 'Supreme Personality of Godhead' when Krishna/Vishnu is referred as bhagavan, but normal sense of word when another deva/sage is referred as bhagavan. 'Supreme Personality of Godhead' gives the feeling of Supreme and Person with many charactersitics at the same time.

Thus, in Chaitanya Vaishavite sense, to make a distinction between Krishna/Vishnu and other devas, they may be using word 'demigod'. Probably translating as 'god' may give polytheistic conception in mind which they wanted to avoid. One of the meanings of demigod is a minor deity. It may not have that connotation in general. But this site allows use of mythology though it has negative connotation. All other devas are considered minor deities in Chaitanya Vaishnavism or Vaishnavism in general. Therefore, the usage properly conveys the Chaitanya Vaishnavite concepts and is in line with Vedanta teachings skipping technical discussions.

I referred ISKCON's translations in Hindi, they translate demigod as deva not as upadeva/apadeva. So users can give up their demiwordphobia :)

Ref 1: Chaitanya Vaishnava Vedanta, ROUTLEDGE HINDU STUDIES SERIES Edited by: Gavin Flood University of Stirling, Ravi M Gupta, Assistant Professor of Religion at Centre College, Kentucky, USA and Associate Lecturer for the University of Wales Lampeter, Part I Chapter II CAITANYA VAISNAVA HERMENEUTICS.

Ref 2: Sat Sandarbhas of Jiva Goswami.

Ref 3: Govinda Bhasya of Baladeva Vidyabhusana

Ref 4: Vedanta Syamantaka of Baladeva Vidyabhusana.

Ref 5: Gita Bhusana of Baladeva Vidyabhusana

  • Sorry I could not get.For the distinction implied you, God and Godhead would be fine.No need of 'Demi' i think.And for a common make like me, the message of the Upanishads and Mahaprabhu are easier to comprehend than that of the disciples of His disciples.
    – user17294
    Mar 5, 2019 at 7:39
  • 2
    ISKCON and Gaudiyas do not think so and use the term to differentiate between god and supreme personality and others and this answer gives their view why they do it. The usage of such terms and interpretation is for those people who also follow the same philosophy as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and not for those who follow non duality or a philosophy which says all faiths and gods are equal. So, there is nothing wrong in using that term. It is their choice to use the term and IMO, it is clear whom they are referring to. Well researched answer. It will look better if properly formatted. Mar 5, 2019 at 7:53
  • 1
    @Sarvabhouma pl do not bring Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in these.He never used and allowed such terms.
    – user17294
    Mar 5, 2019 at 8:42
  • I very much appreciate your effort.But these prove the superiority of Vishnu as is expected from the Vaishnavas.But these do not seem to justify the use of the 2 words 'personality' and 'demi-god' as asked in the question.
    – user17294
    Mar 5, 2019 at 15:56
  • The person who coined such terms could not foresee that protest from all sections would ultimately force his followers to drop the word 'demi' in hindi translations of his writings --but alls well that ends well:)
    – user17294
    Mar 18, 2019 at 12:46

That's because the philosophical ideas of ISKCON is highly influenced by that of Madhva lineage & Abrahamic religions.

In Madhva circles, there is a common proverb; 'Hari Sarvotttama, Vayu Jivottama' which means 'Hari is superior to everyone, Vayu(who is believed to have incarnated as Madhvacharya by his disciples) is superior to all Jivas'. This shortly explains the Madhva philosophical standpoint which states that only Bhagavâna Vishnu is the Paramâtmâ & all other bodily entities are Jivas who are eternally dependent on Him. Repeated use of the phrase 'Supreme Personality of Godhead' implies that Madhva viewpoint.

ISKCON looks down upon those who don't worship Sri Krishna accompanied by Srimati Râdhâ as heretics who are damned in hell for all eternity. This concept is borrowed from the Abrahamic religions(Christianity, Islam & Judaism), each of which states that those who don't worship God as per their dictated rules are actually worshipping false gods & are sinners who are doomed in hell. By using the word 'demigod', ISKCONites imply that all deities other than Bhagavâna Krishna are 'false gods'.

Traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavas are too busy in contemplating the divine lîlâs of Sri Krishna to devote time for abusing other deities, which ISKCON does. Besides they aren't as dogmatic as ISKCON regarding worship of other deities.


The image of Srî Shyamasundara consecrated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's right-hand man Nityânanda at his residence in Khardah; North 24 Parganas; West Bengal, dressed as Dakshinâkâlî on Diwali

The icon of Srî Shyamasundara consecrated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's associate Shyamânanda Pandita in Vrindâvana dressed as Dakshinâkâlî on Diwali

Neither the Madhva Vaishnavas are as rigid as ISKCON regarding this matter.

The image of Krishna dressed as Durgâ in a Madhva matha of Udupi on the occasion of Navarâtrî

  • 2
    Part of your answer is not backed up by sources, this part specifically: "ISKCON looks down upon those who don't worship Sri Krishna accompanied by Srimati Râdhâ as heretics who are damned in hell for all eternity. This concept is borrowed from the Abrahamic religions(Christianity, Islam & Judaism)" Please add authentic source for this claim.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Mar 13, 2021 at 17:37
  • The part you mentioned comes from my personal experience.
    – অনু
    Mar 14, 2021 at 4:34
  • 1
    Understood. Thing is it is difficult to verify personal experience virtually. That's why we have a strict rule of adding sources for whatever we claim in our answer.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Mar 14, 2021 at 5:21
  • Also since you're new to this site, you may want to explore main chatroom for general discussion on Hinduism. And if you need any help related to this site, you can ping me there.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Mar 14, 2021 at 5:23
  • @Vivikta As a Bengali Hindu, I do know a little about Gaudiya Vaishnavism (due to the fact that Gaudiya Vaishnavism played a very important role in shaping Bengali Hindu identity in general). And traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavas don't regard Jesus Christ & Muhammad as avataras of Vishnu (vide vaniquotes.org/wiki/Mohammed_was_a_saktyavesa_avatara)
    – অনু
    Feb 9, 2022 at 15:25

To understand why Krishna is the supreme personality of Godhead, one has to understand that God is not limited to just one personality. God, comes in various forms. Lord Śiva is a god. Lord Viṣṇu is a god. Lord Rāma is a god. All of them are eternal personalities of Godhead or the original divinity.

However, looking into philosophy and seeing that

'God is that being than which nothing greater can be conceived'.

This is an Anselm argument for God and all theistic schools agree to this point. Now, taking a step further, taking our own limits into consideration,

'The greatest idea of God, is the most true'.

This too would be another argument, because if an idea of God says that God can never be more than the size of the thumb is certainly flawed compared to the idea that God can be more than the size of the whole universe.

Coming back to Kṛṣṇa, Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Krishna to be the source of all creation and even personalities, as mentioned by Bhāgvatam - Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam.

After making the list of different incarnation, it is summarized that ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam: (SB 1.3.28) "All these incarnations mentioned," rāmādi-mūrtiṣu kalā-niyamena tiṣṭhan (Bs. 5.39), "they are partial expansion and expansion of the expansion or expansion of His power, śaktyāveśa-avatāra."

Now this is just one theologian point, however, looking at Krishna, you can see that people worship Krishna in different moods.

Krishna is the being that can reciprocate as a parent, as a master, as a lover, as a brother, as a baby, as a mother, as a friend and even more if your bhāva allows.

This is not the case with other personalities of Godhead. The personality of Lord Viṣṅu is that of the master, same with Lord Rāma or Śiva or Kāli. These personalities are limited in the way they reciprocate with their bhaktās, not because they themselves are limited but because their personality attracts a specific type of bhāva and bhakta.

That is why Kṛṣna is described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Not only is his personality the greatest idea of God (that can reciprocate in so many ways) but also declared to be the Supreme by Bhāgavat Purāṇa.

PS: I have answered this question using the words and teachings of Hridayananda Gosvami and Edwin Bryant. H.D. Gosvami is a member of the BBT and has been responsible for the translations of Srimad Bhagvatam and many more books, and Edwin Bryant is also in a similar position.
  • One cannot form a female relation like that of a mother with male Gods like Krishna or vice versa.That can only be developed with Devis. All devotees of male Gods such as Vishnu, Krishna or Shiva always worship them with male relations only such as that of father, friend, son, husband etc. Also to note, Your Framework rejects the Idea that God can be Female. vaniquotes.org/wiki/God_is_not_female. So the position that he can reciprocate with all bhavas is untenable.What if a devotee wants God as a mother, A wife, A sister or daughter? Krishna cannot reciprocate in those cases, Only Devi(s) can.
    – user34279
    Apr 8 at 11:47
  • It's only a Gaudiya vaishnava belief that Krishna alone can be worshipped by multiple bhāvas. There are plenty of Srivaishnavas who worship Vishnu and Rāma in the bhāva of a husband as well. Same with Shiva as there are plenty of Shaiva Sādhikās such as Akka mahadevi who attained Shiva by worshipping him as a husband. So the claim that Vishnu or Shiva can reciprocate only with the bhaava of a master isn't true at all.
    – user34279
    Apr 8 at 13:42
  • To Further add Up, Even scriptures mention stories of Rama reciprocating devotees through madhurya bhava (Bhusundi Ramayana & Ramanandiya Agamas) and Shiva reciprocating madhurya bhava in the form of Bhikshatana (Present in Kurma, Shiva and many other puranas) . But no scripture shows us Krishna being worshipped or reciprocating specifically in the bhava of a mother.
    – user34279
    Apr 8 at 13:46
  • Krishna himself calls himself 'mother' in Bhagavad Gita 9.17.
    – MaySha
    Apr 9 at 2:17
  • Besides, if you're really going to put up a theological argument that Krishna cannot form vātsalya bhāva with you, then it would be quite wrong. He would reciprocate in the exact manner you want, he makes it very clear in Bhagavad Gita.
    – MaySha
    Apr 9 at 2:20

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