“My dear father, don’t delay. The sacrifice you propose for Govardhana and the local brahmanas will take much time. Better take the arrangement and paraphernalia you have already made for sacrificing Indra-yajna and immediately engage it to satisfy Govardhana Hill and the local brahmanas.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)
There are vengeful gods. There are heavenly personalities who get angry at those who neglect their worship, especially when the neglecting worshipers think deep down that they are making a mistake. There are divine figures who give rewards to their worshipers but then later punish the same people if they should happen to surpass them in areas of opulence, which include beauty, strength and knowledge. The Lord of Lords, the Supreme Personality, however, is complete in Himself. Therefore when He asks us to surrender unto Him, the recommendation is there to provide pleasure for both sides. The neglect of that worship is itself a punishment, for the worshiper misses out on the association of the most blissful entity. Just to show that no harm can come from fully surrendering to Him, the Supreme Person explicitly protects those who abandon other worshipable figures, the ones that get angry at them for neglecting their worship. The occasion of the first Govardhana Puja very nicely proved this fact.
What would a young boy know about religion? If anything, he will probably look for ways to get out of attending religious functions. “Do I have to go? Why does God make us do these things all the time? Can’t you and Dad just do it and I’ll go do something else?” Forcing the children to participate in spiritual functions is a good way to get them exposed to the sublime life of connecting with God on a regular basis. There must be coercion with children, for that comes with the territory if you want to be a guardian. If children are forced into studying, eating, and sleeping on time, why then should they not be coaxed into attending religious ceremonies?
The common lack of affinity for religious life within young children makes the request that came from Nanda Maharaja’s son seem all the more puzzling. Nanda was the king of a small farm community known as Vrindavana. The residents lived off of the grains produced on the land and the milk products produced by the cows. The cows were equal residents of the community; therefore the land belonged to them as well. From their grazing not only were the calves fed milk, but so were the residents of the community. As the cows were well protected and loved by the children, including Nanda’s own son Lord Krishna, they produced heaps of milk products, so much so that there was enough of a surplus to sell in the neighboring town of Mathura.
As a pious soul following the recommendations of the priestly class of men, the brahmanas, Nanda made sure to observe the annual rituals aimed at pleasing the devas, or gods. We can think of a deva to be like a department head in a government administration. Similar to paying the tax collector, giving homage to the devas in charge of the various elements of material nature ensures that there is enough rainfall and that pains in life are limited. In one particular year, Nanda Maharaja was preparing for the annual Indra-yajna, or sacrifice offered to Lord Indra, the king of the heavenly planets. Providing rain is one of Indra’s duties, which he does after receiving his share of the sacrifices made in his honor. A yajna is a sort of formal religious ritual where offerings are made in a ceremony that has a fire pit at the center. The remnants of the yajna are known as shishta and are considered free of sin.
Aside from the benefit explicitly tied to the specific yajna performed, there is the gradual shift in consciousness that results in the worshipers. The animal community lives off of the same grains that grow from the rain provided by Indra, yet they do not perform any specific worship. This means that the material nature is ready to supply everyone whatever they want and that the human form of life is meant more for advancing in consciousness. As the second grade classroom is important in molding the thinking abilities of the young student to eventually be able to think rationally as an adult, the many yajnas prescribed for the honor of the devas are meant to keep the human being tied to spiritual life, to help him break free of the possessive mentality inherited at the time of birth. We come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing, so what do we really own?
As the Indra-yajna seemed rather benign, Nanda was a little surprised that his young son Krishna started asking questions about it. Typically, you’d expect your children to ask about a yajna so that they could find ways to get out of attending it, but with Krishna the interest was a little different. After hearing about why the sacrifice was taking place, Krishna suggested that the same preparations be used to worship the neighboring Govardhana Hill, which was supplying so much to the community with its grass. The cows were pleased with the hill, and once the cows were pleased the rest of the community thrived as a result. Therefore why shouldn’t there be a celebration for the hill instead?
Charmed by his son’s words, Nanda eventually relented. “Why not please Govardhana Hill? Sounds like a good idea.” Nanda then suggested that since the preparations were already made for Indra-yajna, they should do two sacrifices, one for each. Amazingly, Krishna rejected this idea. What could be wrong with offering Indra his share and then worshiping Govardhana Hill? Through His yoga-maya potency, Krishna had hidden His real divinity, His standing as the Supreme Lord. Yajna is actually another word for Vishnu, who is known as the chief deva, or deva vara. Vishnu is the same Krishna, which means that following the Lord’s insistence in this case would actually favor Nanda Maharaja and the residents of Vrindavana more so than any other kind of worship.
Though Vishnu is Yajna, if the specific sacrifice isn’t directly meant to please Him, the full benefit to the worshiper is not there. What does this mean exactly? Material rewards are as temporary as the body types accepted by the spirit soul. Asking for temporary things like rain and good fortune really have no standing with Vishnu, who is replete with transcendental qualities. The true benefit of worshiping God is gaining His association, being able to bask in His sweet vision. A yajna for a demigod is a sort of indirect worship, where Vishnu is essentially pleased but doesn’t reveal His full association to the devotee who is not even asking to receive it.
The decision was made, at the insistence of Krishna, that Govardhana Hill would be worshiped that year instead of Indra. On the one side you had Indra, the king of heaven, and on the other you had a hill, which was a collection of earthly elements. Was not the choosing of the latter a little strange? Govardhana Hill was Krishna’s proxy on earth, a way to directly accept the offerings of the devoted residents of Vrindavana. The residents would be worshiping Krishna’s hill at the Lord’s insistence. After creating a wide variety of sumptuous preparations and offering them to the hill, Krishna Himself assumed the role of the hill and spoke to the residents, telling them that He was pleased with their offering. Worship of Govardhana Hill was thus totally in the mood of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is not tainted with material motives.
As if to give us a further reminder of why the worship of Govardhana Hill was the right move, Lord Indra became outraged that his sacrifice was neglected on this particular year. Lord Vishnu does not succumb to the temptations of jealousy. If He did, He would be perpetually angry, as practically every spirit soul roaming the material universe has chosen a worshipable figure that is not He. The atheists worship material nature and the senses, the monists the impersonal effulgence known as Brahman, the yogis the process of meditation and the plenary expansion of the Lord residing within the heart, and the spiritually inclined materialist the many devas, or demigods, capable of offering benedictions. If Vishnu were to give way to jealousy, He would have a lot to be jealous about.
Part of being God means that You don’t require anyone’s respect. Rather, the master-servant relationship is already part of the constitutions of both parties. This means that serving God is our ideal position, and should we neglect that worship the punishment will automatically come. If we use a fork to try to eat soup, we will have great difficulty. The spoon, not the fork, is made to be used with soup. Similarly, the soul is made to be tied to Krishna in a mood of loving devotion kept alive with constant service. If the soul’s eternality, bliss and knowledge are used to further other purposes, the results are not pleasant.
Indra released an onslaught of rain upon the residents as revenge for their transgression. It should be noted that Lord Indra is in great favor with Lord Vishnu, as are all the devas in the heavenly planets. If our children should make a mistake, we don’t hold it against them for too long, for our love for them washes away the anger that arises from disappointment. In a similar manner, Krishna’s love for Indra is unbroken, but in this particular incident He decided to teach both Indra and many future generations of listeners a valuable lesson.
That the devas would strike back against people that worshiped them previously was also not out of the ordinary. In his Kavitavali, Goswami Tulsidas remarks that there is no master like Lord Rama, who is the same Vishnu but in a different personal form. Tulsidas notes that other devas grant benedictions for as long as you worship them, but as soon as you rise a little in stature, they get jealous and come after you, trying to take you down from your prestigious position. Shri Rama is not like this, for He appreciates even the most insignificant act of devotion made with sincerity, so much so that he’ll often give His devotees a more exalted position.
Indra’s jealousy was rooted in the fact that his worship was neglected and that the residents of Vrindavana were following this young boy’s advice. The subsequent onslaught of rain instigated by Indra’s samvartaka cloud caused an immediate flooding. It would have been understandable for the residents of the town to get angry at Krishna and Nanda Maharaja. “Not only did we neglect to worship Indra, but he is punishing us as a result. This is what we get for listening to Krishna.”
But this was not their attitude. Rather, the residents had seen Krishna’s ability to save them from danger before. Therefore they instinctively looked to Him to save them again. And rescue them He would. Taking the same Govardhana Hill that was just worshiped, Krishna lifted it up and held it above His head with His tiny finger. Acting as a massive umbrella, the hill provided shelter to the residents, who were thus saved from the massive flooding in Vrindavana. That a young child could lift a massive hill like this and hold it up over His head sounds amazing, but for Krishna it is all part of a day’s work. The story of the lifting of Govardhana Hill hints at mythology, but then so do the changing of seasons and the rising and setting of the sun to the young child. If a massive solar body can continually effuse heat and light for billions of years without requiring an external energy source, why should not Krishna, the creator of the sun, be able to lift up a hill and hold it over His head?
A defeated Indra relented with the rain and then approached Krishna to offer His prayers of contrition. The worship of Govardhana Hill subsequently became an annual tradition, for not only does it please Krishna, it also reminds us of His lifting of the massive hill, which earned Him the name Girivaradhari. There are jealous men and vengeful gods, but Krishna is always in ananda, or bliss. Those who connect with Him by regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and observing His festivals will be granted the same protection that was afforded Nanda and his community.
In Indra-puja, to king of heaven items to offer,
In return rain upon the land does he confer.
Krishna had another idea in mind,
Indra a lesson from episode would find.
The young boy told His father to worship the hill,
The stomachs of the lovely cows with grass did it fill.
Nanda liked the idea but had already prepared,
For Indra-yajna, a most extravagant affair.
Asked Krishna to be able to do both,
Puja for Indra and hill they would hold.
Upon only Govardhana worship did the Lord insist,
Nanda gave in, for on love of son did he subsist.
Though the ceremony was completely religious,
At ignoring his worship did Indra become jealous.
From his anger harboring bad blood,
Vrindavana with rain did he flood.
Fear not for Krishna saved the day by lifting massive hill,
Worshiped as Girivaradhari to this day is He still.
Indra felt sorry for what he did, that he lost his cool,
Forgot Krishna’s position, acted like a fool.
Lord was pleased with Indra and his words,
Not angered by the commotion he stirred.
Rely only on Krishna, who accepts loving devotion,
Depend on no other, for He provides all protection.