The Sanskrit word for ‘offense’ (aparadha) is explained etymologically as radhad arthad aradhanad apagatah – ‘to be distanced from worship.’ Offenses committed at the lotus feet of Vaishnavas, the devotees, distance one from devotional service to the Supreme Lord. But in a higher sense, it means to be removed from the service of Sri Radha. All divine service to Krishna is being conducted under her direction. To offend her servitors is to make one unfit for her divine service. The whole aim of Krishna consciousness is radha-dasyam, the divine service of Sri Radha, and offenses at the lotus feet of Vaishnavas make one unfit for such service.
The Lord is overly protective of his devotees (bhakta-vatsala). He cannot tolerate any offenses against them. They have bhakti (devotion), and they can awaken it within us. Bhakti is the sole means to attract Krishna, who is a slave of devotion. The same is true of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Chaitanya-bhagavata states:
A person can attain the shelter of Mahaprabhu only by the grace of a higher Vaishnava. Religious practices and even chanting the Holy Name without devotion is useless.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada writes in his commentary:
Without developing a spirit of service, chanting the Holy Name is in vain. A natural desire to engage in service can only awaken in the heart when one receives the blessings of an unalloyed devotee.
Here, ‘a natural desire to engage in service; is the definition of bhakti. In the following verse, Vrindavana Dasa Thakura goes on to say:
If a person commits an offense at the lotus feet of a Vaishnava, even though he may have received Krishna’s mercy, he will never attain divine love, prema.
Srila Prabhupada writes:
One who commits offenses to a Vaishnava becomes incapable of rendering pure devotion because he is committing offenses to the Holy Name. Although it may appear that such an offender is still being shown favor by the Lord as he continues to make a show of chanting without difficulty, the Lord is in fact very displeased with him because of his antagonism toward devotees. Therefore, in any discussion of namaparadha, it is always stressed that we must first give up sadhu-ninda or finding fault with devotees.
Regarding the phrase krishna-krpa hoile-o (“even though he may have received Krishna’s mercy”) in Vrindavana Dasa’s verse quoted above, it is apparent that Srila Saraswati Thakura considers that an offender to the Vaishnavas is only making a pretense of chanting. Seeing him, people may think the Lord still favors him, but they are wrong. The Lord is not even slightly moved by their sham devotion.”
The author of Chaitanya-bhagavata, Vrindavana Dasa Thakura, says that these statements are not his alone; they are the verdict of the Vedas. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura did not tolerate any disrespect towards genuine Vaishnavas. Similarly, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also emphatically denounced any failure to show Vaishnava devotees the respect that is their due.
To understand the seriousness of Vaishnava aparadha, or offenses to devotees, one must grasp the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional nature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Chaitanya appears in six aspects. He himself is the source of all incarnations in Kali Yuga and the savior of all souls. He is Krishna, the son of Maharaja Nanda, fully enriched with the mood and radiance of Sri Radha. In the same way that Mahaprabhu is Krishna, Nityananda Prabhu is Balarama, Krishna’s prakasha-vigraha. Balarama is the second member of the original catur-vyuha in Dvaraka (Vasudeva, Balarama, Pradyumna and Aniruddha), whose expansion in Vaikuntha is Sankarshana. Sankarshana’s partial expansion is Maha-Vishnu, who lies in the causal ocean for the sake of Krishna. This Mahavishnu appears in Chaitanya lila as Advaita Acharya. What is left of Sri Radhika after Krishna has plundered her emotions and luster is Sri Gadadhara Pandita. Mahaprabhu’s energies are Sri Gadadhara Pandita, Svarupa-damodara, Ramananda Raya and others. His devotees are led by Srivasa Thakura, who is Sri Narada Muni in krishna-lila. The final aspect of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s six-fold manifestation consists of the two kinds of spiritual masters — the one who initiates the disciple in the spiritual path and the one who instructs him.
The slightest disregard to any one of these six aspects of the Lord is equal to disregarding the Supreme Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself. Therefore Srila Krishna Dasa Kaviraja Goswami offers prayers to all of these manifestations in the very first verse of the Chaitanya-charitamrta:
vande gurun isha-bhaktan
tat-prakashams ca tac-chaktih
I offer my obeisances unto both the instructing and initiating spiritual masters, the devotees led by Srivasa, the Lord’s avatars led by Advaita Prabhu, his expansions like Nityananda, his shaktis (energies) led by Gadadhara Pandit, and the primeval lord himself, Sri Krishna Chaitanya. (Cc. Adi 1.1)
In the beginning of the second chapter of the Antya-lila of the Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, Srila Krishna Dasa Kaviraja offers the following invocatory prayers (mangalacarana) to the same six truths, as well as to Krishna along with his beloved Radha and her girlfriends led by Lalita and Visakha. In so doing, he shows special veneration for the Vaishnavas:
vande’ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam
sri-gurun vaisnavamsh ca
sri-rupam sagrajatam saha-gana-raghunathan
vitam tam sa-jivam
sadvaitam savadhutam parijana-sahitam
I offer my obeisances unto the lotus feet of my Guru (both my initiating and teacher on the path of devotion), to all the preceptors in the disciplic succession and to all the Vaishnavas. I offer my obeisances to Sri Rupa Goswami, his elder brother Sanatana, his other associates headed by Sri Raghunatha Dasa, and Sri Jiva. I further offer my obeisances to Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu along with Advaita Acharya, Nityananda Avadhuta and all his other associates. And finally, I offer my obeisances to the lotus feet of Sri Radha and Sri Krishna, along with all the gopis headed by Lalita and Visakha. (Cc. Antya-lila 2.1)
Kaviraj Goswami writes further:
Before beginning the narration of the pastimes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, I invoke the benediction of Sri Guru, the Vaishnavas and the Divinity, simply by meditating on them. Such meditation destroys all detriments on the spiritual path, and helps one to fulfill all their desires. (Cc. Adi 11.10)
We must note very carefully that the Vaishnavas have been included within the full conception of Divinity. Krishna Dasa Kaviraja not only invoked their blessings at the very beginning of his biography of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, but went on to glorify them throughout this master work. He describes the Vaishnavas’ extraordinary qualities and the spiritual benefit resulting from serving them. He also makes several warnings regarding the disastrous effects of Vaishnava aparadha, stating for example:
If a devotee commits Vaishnava aparadha, his offense is like a mad elephant uprooting and trampling his creeper of devotion; afterwards the creeper’s leaves dry up and become lifeless. (Cc. Madhya 19.156)
Krishna Dasa describes three categories of Vaishnavas — kanistha (neophyte), madhyama (intermediate) and uttama (advanced). He further states that to gain shelter of a Vaishnava it is imperative to first receive the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu. In the following passage, he describes the characteristics of the uttama devotees that he personally knew:
All of the Vaishnavas who live in Vrindavan are absorbed in singing the all-auspicious name of Sri Krishna. Sri Mahaprabhu and Nityananda are their life and soul. They know nothing but devotion to Sri Radha and Krishna. My shelter at the Vaishnavas’ lotus feet has been granted only by the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu. (Cc. Adi 5.228-30)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada highlights these characteristics in his Anubhashya:
All the Vaishnavas living in the holy dhama of Sri Vrindavan are completely devoted to the all-auspicious holy name of Krishna and have taken shelter of the path of devotion, primarily by glorifying the Lord. Sriman Mahaprabhu and Nityananda are their life and soul. They accept no illegitimate forms of devotion; all they know is the eternal service of Sri Radha and Sri Krishna.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a nitya-siddha (eternal associate) of the Lord, instructs us to pray to Mahaprabhu in order to get the association of pure devotees. When we find shelter in the shade of a Vaishnava’s lotus feet, we should shed tears of remorse with total humility, submitting to him the plight of our material existence, which is the result of turning away from Krishna. The Vaishnava is an ocean of compassion and feels the pain of others. When he pleads on our behalf to the Lord, Krishna responds and kindly accepts us as the followers of his favorites. Krishna’s mercy descends only through the Vaishnavas.
There is Krishna and there is karsna. Krishna’s mercy is embodied in pure devotees, who are known as karsna. The lotus feet of a Vaishnava guru represent the mercy of the Lord. Krishna is the priceless treasure enthroned in the Sri Guru’s heart. The Lord can easily give this treasure to those who are surrendered to his devotees. There is no other way to receive Krishna’s grace than to serve and take shelter at the lotus feet of a Vaishnava.
Srila Kaviraja Goswami discusses the importance of honoring the Vaishnava’s remnants, using the example of Sri Kali Das, the uncle of Raghunatha Dasa Goswami:
Taking the food remnants of Vaishnavas is so potent it forced Mahaprabhu to give his mercy to Kali Dasa. Don’t hesitate. Eat the Vaishnava’s remnants and you will fulfill your heart’s desire.
Food offered to Krishna is called maha-prasada. After maha-prasada has been taken by a devotee, his remnants are glorified as maha-maha-prasada. The dust of a pure devotee’s feet, the water of his foot-bath and his food remnants are three extremely potent spiritual substances. By honoring these three, one will be filled with ecstatic love for Krishna. All the scriptures declare this again and again. My dear devotees! Please hear me: believe in these three and honor them in a mood of service, and you will achieve the purpose of your existence — ecstatic love of Krishna. This is the greatest mercy of Krishna, and Kali Das is living proof. (Cc. Antya 16.57-63)
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has also written:
When will Mahaprabhu shower his mercy upon me so I may have shelter in the shade of the Vaishnava’s lotus feet? I will humbly stand before him, giving up all pretension. Holding a straw between my teeth and weeping, I will tell him of my miserable existence. I will admit that my life is one never-ending misery and beg him to put an end to all of my suffering. The kind Vaishnava will beg Sri Krishna with all his might. Then Krishna, moved by the Vaishnava’s sincerity, will shower me with his divine grace. (Kalyana-kalpa-taru)
In another song, Srila Bhaktivinoda writes:
O Vaishnava Thakura, you are an ocean of mercy. Please shower your compassion upon me. Give me the shade of your lotus feet and purify my polluted heart. Sri Krishna is yours and you have the power to give him to me! Knowing this, I am following you like a beggar, appealing for your mercy. (Sharanagati)
Narottama Dasa Thakura glorifies the Vaishnavas with great enthusiasm in both his Prarthana and Prema-bhakti-candrika:
I am so sinful; how can I possibly serve the Lord? I have no love for either my guru or the devotees. Constantly deluded by the unlimited illusory energy, I have not developed the least bit of affection for the Vaishnavas. Day and night, I am blinded by my desire for the sense objects. The witch Maya is waiting to hang a noose around my neck. I have no power to resist her on my own. I am helpless without your mercy. I know that you never see the faults of anyone, so I am begging you — please save me. (Prarthana)
Narottama’s songs are filled with wonderful glorification of Vaishnavas. All devotees treasure them as priceless instructions for increasing one’s devotion. From his childhood, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada chose Narottama’s songbook as his constant companion on the path of devotion.
Vrindavana Dasa Thakura considered himself to be the last direct servant of Nityananda Prabhu. He has uninhibitedly glorified the Vaishnavas throughout his masterpiece, Chaitanya-bhagavata. In the invocation to this book, he first glorifies Sri Chaitanya and Nityananda in four Sanskrit verses. Then in the first Bengali couplet, he writes:
I first offer my unlimited obeisances at the feet of Sri Krishna Chaitanya’s dearest associates, the devotees. And then I pray to him, who appeared in Nabadwip and was also known as Visvambhara.
Sri Vrindavana Dasa then explains why he first offers humble obeisances to Mahaprabhu’s devotees before offering them to Mahaprabhu himself. He explains:
The Supreme Lord has boldly declared in all the scriptures that ‘The worship of my devotees is higher than worshipping me.’ By first glorifying the Vaishnavas, I am guaranteed success in writing my book.
Vrindavana Dasa is here referring to a statement made by Krishna to Uddhava in the Srimad Bhagavatam — mat-pujabhyadhika (11.19.21).
Subsequently, Vrindavana Dasa goes on to glorify Nityananda Prabhu, saying that only by his mercy is it possible for one to glorify Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
In the Itihasa-samuccaya, it is said that if one wishes to receive the blessings of the Supreme Lord, he should attempt first to please the devotees. The smiling face of the Lord shines on those who have been successful in satisfying the Vaishnavas.
The following verse, from the Pautrayana-shruti, is quoted in Srila Madhvacharya’s commentary to the Vedanta-sutra (3.3.47):
Worship the devotees, serve them and hear from them; they will protect you.
Similarly, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushana quotes the following verse from the Mundaka-upanishad (3.1.10) in his Govinda-Bhashya commentary on the Vedanta-sutra (3.3.51):
If you want a real treasure (bhuti) you must serve one who knows the Self (atmajnam).
Baladeva explains that ‘one who truly knows the Self’ is a devotee. The ‘real treasure’ spoken of means everything up to and including liberation.
The following important verse in the Srimad Bhagavatam also explains the importance of associating with devotees:
jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva
jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam
sthane sthitah shruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir
ye prayasho’ jita jito’py asi tais tri-lokyam
Brahma prayed to Krishna, “My dear Lord, those who have given up abstract thinking and armchair philosophizing, remain constantly in the association of devotees in order to hear your glories, and begin divine service with their body, mind, and words. Although you are unconquerable and rarely attained, you are conquered by them.” (Bhag. 10.14.3)
In the Padma Purana, Shiva says to his wife Parvati:
O Goddess, higher than the worship of all the gods and goddesses is the worship of the Supreme Lord Vishnu. But higher still is the worship of everyone and everything that is dear to him, including Ganga Devi, Tulasi Devi, the book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata.
Vrindavana Dasa cautions us against seeing Vaishnavas externally. Such superficial vision is condemned:
In order to teach us the absurdity of judging devotees externally according to race, color, family, or other considerations, the Supreme Lord arranged for Haridasa Thakura to take birth in the lowest section of society. All the scriptures emphasize that if a pure devotee appears even in the lowest social circumstances, he is still to be worshipped by everyone.
The person who thinks of a Vaishnava in terms of his bodily designations is most sinful. He will be born repeatedly in the lowest forms of life.
A Vaishnava may appear in any family or section of society, yet he is still the most elevated person by the decree of the scriptures.
God is the protector of all living entities, and he cannot tolerate insults and disrespect shown to his devotees. Extremely mindful of his dear devotees’ well-being, he refuses to accept any worship from those who slight them. The Lord loves his devotees so much that he not only accepts food and gifts from them, but sometimes he even steals their offerings! On the other hand, he is repulsed by offerings from a non-devotee.
In one pastime, Krishna was very eager to eat plain chipped rice cooked by Vidura’s wife and ignored a royal feast set by Duryodhana. Similarly the Lord could not resist eating the few morsels of flat rice offered by Sudama. He told him:
O brahmana! What wonderful things have you brought for me from your home? Even a small offering from a devotee is a grand feast for me, whereas a non-devotee’s feast cannot satisfy me in the least. Anything offered to me with love, I accept with love. (Bhag, 10.81.3-4)
A person may learn all the Vedas, but if he has no devotion, how can he be my devotee? Whereas if a person born into the lowest section of society has devotion, he is very dear to me. All respect must be given to such an elevated soul. His offerings must be accepted by all, for he is as much worthy of worship as I am.
Mahaprabhu himself states this in the Chaitanya-charitamrta, quoting from the Itihasa-samuccaya:
“I have no great love for a brahmana knowledgeable in all the four Vedas who is not my devotee, whereas a devoted untouchable outcaste is very dear to me. You should give such a devotee gifts and should accept the food that he offers you. He is as worshipable as I myself.” (Cc. Madhya 19.50)
Mahaprabhu also quotes Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (3.11-12):
An outcaste who is clean and whose sinful activities have been burnt to ashes by the powerful fire of krishna-bhakti should no longer be considered in terms of his caste. Intelligent people will praise him, while they will deride the Vedic scholar who is an atheist. Anyone devoid of devotion may take birth in a great family or nation, have extensive knowledge of the scriptures, perform austerities, or chant Vedic mantras, but such things are like ornaments on a dead body. Only fools will be impressed.
Once, when Mahaprabhu went to embrace him, Haridasa objected with all humility, saying:
“My dear Lord, please do not touch me. I am most fallen, the lowest of men.”
Mahaprabhu replied: “I want to touch you just to purify myself. You are so pure, it is as if at every moment you are bathing in all the sacred rivers, visiting all the holy places of pilgrimage, and performing every sacrifice, austerity, and charity imaginable. You are more exalted than any brahmana or sannyasi.” (Cc. Madhya 11.188-191)
The Lord then recited this sloka from the Srimad Bhagavatam (3.33.7) to support his statements:
aho bata shvapaco’to gariyan
yaj-jihvagre vartate nama tubhyam
tepus tapas te juhuvuh sasnur arya
brahmanucur nama grnanti ye te
O Lord! Those on whose tongues your name is present are the topmost members of human society, even if they belong to the untouchable classes. Anyone who chants your name must already have performed all austerities and sacrifices, bathed in all the holy rivers and mastered the Vedas. In short, he has all the noble qualities of the Aryan.
In the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, it is declared:
When a person is admitted into Vishnu’s family, he is called a Vaishnava. It has been said that of all the divisions of human society, the Vaishnava is certainly the most exalted.
The Dvaraka-mahatmya states:
A person who is devoted to Janardana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is a saint even if he is born into a low-class family; whereas if a person is born into an aristocratic family of noble lineage and is not a devotee of the Lord, he is equal to the meat-eating outcastes.
It is therefore prohibited to associate with non-Vaishnavas or with so-called brahmanas who have no devotion for the Lord and are inimical to those who do. This is stated in the Padma Purana:
The association of meat-eaters is strictly prohibited because their lifestyle goes against scriptural regulations; in the same manner, contact with a non-Vaishnava brahmana must be avoided. On the other hand, a Vaishnava — one who is initiated and is affectionate to the Lord and his devotees — is capable of purifying all three worlds, even if born into a low-class family. What is the need of stating this repeatedly? One should avoid conversation or physical contact with a non-devotee brahmana, even by error.
Vrindavana Dasa also supports this by saying,
Scriptures forbid us to touch such so-called brahmanas, or to talk to them, or even to offer them respect. If one talks to someone who though born a brahmana is not a Vaishnava, then all the benefits of his good works are lost. (Cb Adi 16.302, 305)
According to the Padma Purana, the characteristics of a Vaishnava are as follows:
“One who has received initiation into a Vishnu mantra and is dedicated to worshipping Vishnu is classified as a Vaishnava by spiritual preceptors; all others are non-Vaishnavas.” (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 1.55)
Those who are simply born into a brahmana family but are non-Vaishnavas, and who are inimical towards Vishnu and Vaishnavas, are condemned. Vrindavana Dasa decries such pretentious brahmanas, citing Shiva’s words in the Varaha Purana:
In Kali Yuga, demons will be born in Smartabrahmana families to harass and torture the righteous devotees of the Lord. The demons choose Kali Yuga to be born in so they can torment those rare persons who adhere to the path enunciated by the Vedas (shruti). They viciously attempt to disrupt the devotees’ service to the Supreme Lord.
These brahmana imposters view Vaishnavas who have a bad background with contempt. They scoff when they see them engage in spiritual practices like hearing and chanting or receiving honor and respect. They vainly try to expose such a Vaishnava’s background and other mundane trivialities in order to tarnish his reputation. The Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad (3.9.10) describes them, saying:
One who leaves the world fully understanding the Absolute Truth is honored as a brahmana, but one who does not has wasted his life.
Krishna Dasa Kaviraja prohibits seeing not only God’s form, but that of his devotees also, as mundane.
There is no greater blasphemy than to think that the body of Vishnu is material.(Cc. Adi 7.155)
And Mahaprabhu says:
“The Vaishnava’s body is never mundane; it is supramundane and supercharged with ecstasy.” (Cc. Antya 4.191)
It may be asked why Mahaprabhu calls the devotee’s body supramundane. In response to this, Kaviraja Goswami says:
At the time of diksha (initiation), the devotee surrenders to Krishna with body and soul. In reciprocation, Krishna accepts him, elevating him, body and soul, to a status equal to his own (atma-sama). The Lord transforms the Vaishnava’s body and makes it a repository of transcendental emotions. (Cc. Antya 8.192-193)
Srila Krishna Dasa Kaviraja explains further why a pure Vaishnava’s body is aprakrta, or supramundane, quoting the Srimad Bhagavatam:
When people reject materialism and surrender to me, conducting their lives under my direction, they attain immortality. They become eligible to be with me and share spiritual emotions (rasa) with me in their spiritual identity. (Bhag. 11.29.34)
But what is meant by surrender? Krishna Dasa Kaviraja writes:
Although one who has completely renounced the world (akincana) and one who is completely sheltered in Krishna (sharanagata) may appear to be the same externally, the devotee who has given up the world has also offered his soul. As soon as one takes shelter and surrenders himself to Krishna, the Lord makes him the same as Himself (atma-sama). (Cc. Madhya 22.96,99)
Srila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura comments on these verses in his Anubhashya commentary:
At the time of initiation, the devotee gives up material conceptions and starts to think in terms of sambandha-jnana or his eternal relationship with Krishna and His family. As soon as he has this supramundane or spiritual knowledge, he becomes eligible to serve the Lord in a similarly spiritual identity. As soon as the surrendered devotee is free from the shelter of Maya, Krishna adopts him and makes him His own. At this stage, the devotee’s delusion as enjoyer of material pleasures dissipates, and his real self merges with his new identity an eternal servant of Krishna. The devotee attains his spiritual body (sac-cid-ananda-svarupa) and his eternal service to Krishna, serving Him in his own transcendental form. The pure devotee’s ecstatic service is an elevated stage of devotion that is often misinterpreted and misunderstood by those unacquainted with the science of devotion. For this kind of aparadha one is deprived of the shelter of a Vaishnava guru. (Anubhashya, Cc. Antya 4.193)
Mahaprabhu taught everyone that a Vaishnava’s transcendental body is unlike that of an ordinary person, or even an extraordinary person. The Lord did not view personalities like Haridasa Thakura, who took birth in a low-class family, or Sanatana Goswami, whose body was diseased, or Vasudeva Vipra, who was suffering from acute leprosy, as social outcasts or disease-ridden beggars. Instead he embraced them, proving that a pure devotee’s body is never impure. Srila Prabhupada explains:
By embracing these devotees, Gaurasundara was trying to show all his followers that a pure devotee’s body is transcendental. Unlike the bodies of the fruitive workers and philosophers who are filled with other desires, the pure devotee’s body is not material, i.e., it is not dedicated to sense enjoyment. When we say the devotee has a spiritual body, we mean that it is fit for Krishna’s service and filled with transcendental feeling and therefore permeated with eternity, knowledge and bliss.” (Anubhashya, Cc. Antya 4.191)
The use of the term atma-sama in the above verses from the Chaitanya-charitamrta does not imply that the devotees are equal to the Supreme Lord in every respect. The Supreme Lord is the only one who possesses transcendental qualities to an infinite degree. The jiva can only possess these qualities to a finite degree. Mahaprabhu says:
The finite and the Infinite can never be considered equal, just as a tiny spark is never equal to a blazing fire.
The following verse from the Sarvajna-sukta is found in the Bhagavata-sandarbha and also in Sridhara Swami’s commentary to the Srimad Bhagavatam (1.7.6):
The Supreme Lord is the embodiment of eternality, knowledge, and bliss. Two of his multifarious spiritual energies are: hladini-shakti, the pleasure-giving potency, and samvit, perfect knowledge of the self and all other things, while the jivas are cocooned in ignorance, and deeply anchored in suffering.
Only by taking complete shelter of Sri Radhika and her serving group, the hladini-shakti, can we realize our innate spiritual identity and render service to the holy lotus feet of Sri Guru, Gauranga and Krishna.
As the Lord himself says:
The foolish person who thinks that the individual soul and the Supreme Lord are the same in every respect is a heretic, punishable by the god of death. (Cc. Madhya 18.113)
This is confirmed by the Vaishnava-tantra:
One who considers gods like Brahma and Rudra to be equal to Narayana is considered to be a heretic.
mad-bhakta-pujyabhyadhika sarva-bhutesu man-matih
The worship of my devotees is the real worship of me. In fact it is higher than worshipping my very self.
My dear devotees, please read and listen carefully to the divine stories and instructions that follow, and pray to the Supreme Lord and his devotees — the Vaishnavas — that we may always worship and adore them and thereby enter The Heart of Krishna.