“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who stopped His relatives from performing the famous sacrifice, who then took away Indra’s pride, and who in sport lifted Govardhana Hill to protect against the weapon of Indra.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 3)
līlayā jayati kuñja-vihārī
Never mind if there is a position of prominence, there is still tribute paid to some higher authority. Even when operating under the mistaken notion that you are the sole determining factor of your destiny, you will have to offer service to someone else in order to get what you want. From a famous incident a long time ago, we get a lesson on who the highest authority is and why pleasing Him is unlike any other type of tribute. The worship itself is the reward, and in this way it is a gift that can continuously arrive.
Let’s say that you’re running a business. You decide which product or service to produce and at what cost to sell it to the public. Nothing is guaranteed in this venture. Price point, marketing, location, capital costs, labor costs and so many other variables need to be balanced just right in order to turn a profit. There is no guarantee that the public will want your product or service, and just because you have a good first year of sales doesn’t mean that the next year will be the same.
Though you are the boss, are you in full control? Do you not have to bow down to anyone? Actually, the list of dependencies is quite large. First, there is the buying public. You must give in to their demands because they hold the commodity you are after: money. If they are not happy, you will go out of business. Then there are the employees. Though they work for you, they must be pleased with the salary you offer them as well as the working conditions. Otherwise they can jump ship to another job. Then, of course, there is the strong arm of government. This is the one entity you will likely have to offer tribute to the most. You pay taxes, sure, but you must also abide by their many rules and regulations. And since politics is a dirty game, you don’t want to get on anyone’s bad side. The government can make your life miserable overnight, so you have to bite your tongue in instances where you want to tell them what you really think.
The business is just one example of where tribute is offered in order to receive a reward. The practice exists in religious life as well. If you get a new home, you can hold a puja, or worship ceremony, in order to bring auspiciousness. In the Vedic tradition such pujas are quite common. You want to bring auspiciousness at the time of a new birth, a marriage, or the arrival of good fortune. Similar practices are followed in other traditions, and the sentiments are properly rooted. The business owner can see the different authority figures that are responsible for his success, but in the grander scheme the rulers aren’t so easily spotted. The religious traditions look to their scriptures to learn of who should be offered tribute, when, and for what purpose.
Some five thousand years ago the residents of a farm community were set to offer tribute to Lord Indra, the king of heaven. The Vedic tradition reveals to us the names of many demigods, divine figures who are in charge of various aspects of the material creation. The residents of Vrindavana were accustomed to worshiping Indra annually so that he would continue to provide enough rainfall to sustain their crops. With a healthy harvest, everyone could continue to survive without a problem. Even if one is skeptical of the belief in a figure in charge of the rain, at least there is no harm in the sentiment, in knowing that a higher being is responsible for things that we can’t explain. Scientists can study the sun, the moon and the rain, but they cannot create any of these things, let alone manage them.
The leader of this farm community was Nanda Maharaja, and one year his young son Krishna protested to the puja in honor of Indra. Krishna was able to convince Nanda and the rest of the townspeople to worship the neighboring Govardhana Hill instead. This hill was special to the cows, who were the livelihood of the community. The cows provided enough milk products for food and also a surplus to be sold for profit. Since Govardhana pleased the cows, it also pleased the residents. Though they were a little hesitant at first, the people decided to follow Krishna and take their offerings to the hill instead, starting the first annual Govardhana Puja.
Revisiting the business scenario, if the owner should take their money reserved for tax payments and use it to lower the prices of their products, what would happen? The customers sustain the business after all, so shouldn’t they deserve the highest tribute, which in this case would mean lower prices? Of course we know that the result of this shift would not be good. The government is the higher authority, as they yield more control. With the simple stroke of a pen they can shut down the business. If you neglect to pay them their taxes, they will exact revenge. In this way we see that the initial tribute isn’t necessarily offered out of the goodness of the business owner’s heart. There is a reciprocal benefit to paying taxes.
In the case of Nanda Maharaja, the higher authority neglected was in charge of the rain. Therefore he could make life very hellish for the people. This is in fact what he did as a response, instigating a torrential downpour on the citizens. Just think, Indra had been worshiped for so many consecutive years by people who weren’t very powerful. Now they skipped his sacrifice for just one year, and as a result he was ready to destroy them all.
But the descriptions and accounts of this incident are famous today for a reason. They have been passed down to us to teach so many lessons, the foremost among them being that Krishna is the highest authority. This means that anyone who relies on Him is never a loser. He is the detail to the abstract conception of a God. He is the personality behind the impersonal energy known as Brahman. He is the source of the light of this universe, and He is the original beauty to the attractiveness we see.
Krishna would lift up the massive Govardhana Hill as mere child’s play and protect the citizens from Indra’s wrath. Their reliance on Krishna was not for a specific personal benefit; they followed His advice because they loved Him. What could the young child give them anyway? He was under Nanda’s protection, and yet He protected them when they surrendered to His desires. In the same way, know that through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, all tribute slated for other authority figures is automatically accounted for, and if any trouble should arise, Krishna will save the day. In bhakti-yoga, the benefit is in the worship itself, as no reward beats the association of the all-attractive Supreme Lord.
So that government will stay out of my way,
Tribute in kindness and taxes I will pay.
The demands of the consumer I must hear,
Otherwise to competitors their money to steer.
In this way know that no one independent,
On higher authorities all are dependent.
When hill on His finger Krishna held,
Defeat for vengeful Indra it spelled.
When offering in love to the Lord is made,
Know that tribute to all others paid.