“According to the instruction of Lord Krishna, Nanda Maharaja and the cowherd men called in learned brahmanas and began to worship Govardhana Hill by chanting Vedic hymns and offering prasadam. The inhabitants of Vrindavana assembled together, decorated their cows and gave them grass. Keeping the cows in front, they began to circumambulate Govardhana Hill.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)
According to the Vedic seers, those who spent much time in samadhi [divine trance], this material world can trace its origin to the desire of the individual souls to imitate their Supreme Master. Similar to how a child desires to imitate the adult activities of its parents, the autonomous spirit souls, who are full of free will and independence, choose to challenge the Supreme Lord in the areas of creation, maintenance, and destruction. To facilitate this desire, God, the original Divine Being, creates a temporary and perishable world wherein the imitators are allowed to roam free. Gaining release from this flawed mindset is quite difficult, so it takes many lives on earth to achieve perfection in a spiritual sense. There are different gradations of transcendentalists, some of whom are further along in the purification process than others. Yet even for those who are on a higher level, the personal assistants of God, breaking free of the challenging spirit is not easy. These elevated personalities often fall victim to their puffed up ego borne of unlimited passions and perceived abilities. To grant His mercy to His closest associates, and also those who depend on the Lord for everything, Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, enacts wonderful pastimes on this earth, one of which involves the lifting of a giant hill. This pastime and its associated religious rituals are so famous that they are honored every year on the occasion of Govardhana Puja.
God can most certainly come to earth. As the origin of life, He is free to act as He wishes. The CEO is the boss of the company; no one can tell them what to do. Since God is the original boss, no one can force Him to live by any rules that are created for others. For instance, a human being requires a womb and a mother to take birth. Similarly, death is also a requirement for life. For the definition of a life to be valid, there must be both birth and death. For the Supreme Lord, such restrictions are not applicable. He can appear out of any object or person, and He can remain forever in a particular body if He chooses. In His original form, the Lord possesses a transcendental body, something not conceivable to the human brain. When we think of a body, we conjure up a form which is created, remains for some time, and then ultimately decays. Moreover, the functions of this body are limited. Hands can only do certain things; legs can only help one walk and run, the brain can only think, etc. With the Supreme Lord, such body parts are transcendental and thus capable of performing any function. The Supreme Lord, in the body of a young child, can lift an enormous mountain and hold it up without any effort for seven consecutive days. This is precisely what He did during one famous incident; a pastime which reminded everyone, including the demigods in the spiritual sky, of the Lord’s supreme power and benevolent nature.
Around five thousand years ago, Krishna descended to earth in His original, transcendental form. Usually when God comes to earth, He does so as an avatara. An avatara means one who descends; hence it refers to the Supreme Lord and His innumerable appearances on earth. Though Krishna is often listed as an avatara of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Godhead possessing four hands and an opulent appearance, the Lord actually exists eternally on the spiritual planet of Krishnaloka. When Krishna came to earth, He spent His childhood years in the farm community of Vrindavana. Since the time period was so long ago, it shouldn’t surprise us that agriculture was a mainstay of society. Even as recently as one hundred years ago, almost forty percent of the workforce in America was involved in agriculture.
“Farming, cattle raising and business are the qualities of work for the vaishyas, and for the shudras there is labor and service to others.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.44)
In the Vedic tradition, the farmers are part of the division of society known as the vaishyas. Not to be confused with a simple caste based off birthright, vaishyas have specific duties entrusted to them, one of which is cow protection. The cow represents the best kept secret of the economics field. By simply owning and properly taking care of a cow, one can take great strides towards eliminating poverty. The protected animals belonging to the farming community in ancient times proved to be the original “cash cows”, with one’s wealth even being determined by how many cows they owned. This may seem silly, as a cow is simply an animal, but if one owned a small plot of land with a few cows, there would be no chance of famine or poverty. The greatest fear for any family is to lose their source of income and thus have no way to put food on the table. The cow solves this problem by freely supplying milk, which can then be transformed into varieties of dishes.
Lord Krishna, growing up under the care of His foster parents Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda, would regularly go out to the pasturing grounds and tend to the cows. In India, the rainy season is especially important, as all the nutrition needed for the grains, the source of life, is provided during a few months of the year. One time after the rainy season, Krishna noticed His father preparing for a grand sacrifice, or religious ritual. Inquiring into the matter, Krishna was informed by Nanda Maharaja as to the purpose of the sacrifice. “Lord Indra, the king of heaven, supplies us all of our necessities in the form of rain, which comes from the cloud. Were it not for Indra’s mercy, we would not be able to sustain our livelihoods. Therefore we are preparing to worship Indra through a grand sacrifice”.
Hearing these words from His father, Krishna decided there was an opportunity to play with Indra’s pride. As mentioned before, this pride, which is known as false ego, is the single root cause behind the existence of the material world. The demigods, or celestials, can be thought of as saints or angels. They have bodies which possess extraordinary powers, but since they too must suffer through birth and death, they are deemed conditioned. A liberated soul is one who remains in a spiritual body at all times in the company of the Supreme Lord. In order to come to the material world, a pure soul must become conditioned by the modes of nature. The demigods, though living mostly in goodness, can still fall victim to false ego from time to time. Lord Krishna wanted to play a little trick on His dear friend Indra, while at the same time purifying him of his false ego.
In response to Nanda’s words, Krishna said that the hills and mountains were the real sources of sustenance. As agriculturists, the residents of Vrindavana were supported by the cows more than anything else. The cows would graze on the nearby mountains, so if anyone was deserving of worship, it was the neighboring hills, Govardhana Hill in particular. Delighted by the cogent words of his beautiful son, Nanda Maharaja did not raise any opposition. He instructed all the residents to instead direct their preparations and offerings to Govardhana Hill. A wonderful ceremony was performed, with charity and food given to the brahmanas, the priestly class of men. At the end of the ceremony, Shri Krishna, assuming the person of Govardhana Hill, kindly spoke to the residents and informed them of His satisfaction. Lord Krishna, in His original childhood form, at this time also offered obeisances to Himself in the form of Govardhana Hill.
“Just see how Govardhana Hill has assumed this huge form and is favoring us by accepting all the offerings. One who neglects the worship of Govardhana Puja, as I am personally conducting it, will not be happy.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)
Lord Indra, watching the festivities from his perch in heaven, was not happy at all at this turn of events. Seeing that his sacrifice was neglected, he decided to exact revenge on the residents. He called for his trusted aide, a personified cloud named Samvartaka, to deluge the town with water. Indra gave his assurance that he would aid in the process by creating a giant storm. Following through on the plans, Indra sent forth a torrential downpour on the residents who had just worshiped Govardhana Hill. The winds were howling, and the water levels started to rise rapidly. The cows were especially affected. Mothers tried to protect their calves to the best of their abilities, but they saw many of their babies floating away in the high waters. Having no other recourse, the cows and residents of the town took complete shelter of Krishna. They prayed to Him to protect them.
It should be noted here that the residents did not pray to Indra to forgive them, nor did they feel remorse over having neglected his worship. They were in the direct presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was the jewel of Vrindavana, the supreme object of pleasure to all the residents, young and old. Krishna had performed many wonderful feats previously, so the residents knew that only He was capable of saving everyone from this most troubling weather event.
As the deluge was wreaking havoc, Lord Krishna stepped in and picked up the giant Govardhana Hill. Taking it as an umbrella, the Lord placed the hill above His head and held it up with one finger. Krishna informed the residents and cows to come under the shelter of the hill and to not worry about its massive weight. Krishna assured them that the hill would not fall as long He was there. Following the Lord’s directive, the residents were rescued by remaining underneath the giant umbrella-like hill for seven consecutive days. When the rain finally stopped, the residents returned to the town, and Krishna replaced the giant hill where it was before.
Indra, feeling remorse over his actions, kindly appeared before Krishna and offered his obeisances. In his prayers, Indra stated that Krishna had now solidified himself as the protector of the cows. He was completely worthy of the names of Gopala and Govinda, which mean one who gives pleasure and protection to the cows and the senses. Lord Krishna, the most merciful and kind-hearted of souls, was satisfied with Indra’s prayers. While it is easy to criticize Indra for his transgression, we should remember the the king of heaven is the dearmost friend of the Lord. Krishna, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, derives great enjoyment from associating with His friends. Therefore the pastimes of the lifting of Govardhana Hill and the quelling of Indra’s pride are both sources of pleasure to Krishna and His devotees.
After pacifying Krishna in this way, Indra asked for one more favor. He informed the Lord that a son of his was roaming the earth at the time. This son was none other than Arjuna, the brave warrior of the Pandava family and cousin to Krishna. Indra asked that Krishna kindly protect Arjuna at all times. Krishna replied that He most certainly knew who Arjuna was and that it was His plan to rid the earth of the burden felt by the sinful elements of society. Krishna gave Indra the benediction that Arjuna would never meet with defeat while the Lord remained on the earth. He promised Indra that Arjuna and his four brothers would emerge victorious from a future war that would see the death of millions. Thus satisfied, Indra returned to heaven, and Krishna continued His wonderful childhood pastimes in Vrindavana.
Govardhana Puja has been celebrated annually ever since the festival was inaugurated by Krishna. Just as Krishna is worshipable, so is His land. The Lord confirmed through His own actions that Govardhana Hill was a direct manifestation of Himself, and since this hill still exists in Vrindavana, devotees view it as the most sacred of pilgrimage sites. Around the world, devotees celebrate the Govardhana Puja each year by erecting mock hills made of halva and other nice food preparations. After the ceremony, the wonderful prasadam represented by pieces of the hill is enjoyed by all. By regularly remembering Krishna, His transcendental form, and His wonderful pastimes aimed at pleasing His devotees, we will be able to shift our disposition from challenger of God, to that of lover of God. If this loving attitude remains with us up until the time of death, our liberation from the cycle of birth and death will be assured.