“Lord Chaitanya has recommended that since Krishna is worshipable, so His land, Vrindavana and Govardhana Hill, are also worshipable. To confirm this statement, Lord Krishna said that Govardhana Puja is as good as worship of Him. From that day, the Govardhana Puja has been still going on and is known as Annakuta.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)
Every year on the day after Diwali, there is the celebration known as Govardhana Puja. Devotees not residing by the original sacred spot of land in Vrindavana create a mock version of the famous hill and bring various offerings. As the Supreme Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita, He is satisfied with any simple offering made in devotion, but for Govardhana Puja up to fifty-six different preparations can be made.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
Why is an inanimate object worshiped annually? The process was inaugurated by the Supreme Lord Himself, when He descended to earth many years ago in His adorable form of Shri Krishna, the child who roamed the pristine forests of Vraja. Still, the hill wasn’t just chosen randomly. It is declared to be identical to the Lord Himself, and in many ways it is also a physical manifestation of devotion.
It nourishes the cows
Vrindavana during Krishna’s time was a rural community dependent on cow protection. The cows relied on the people for protection and in return provided more milk and milk-related products than anyone would know what to do with. This is a secret known to Vedic culture, that poverty can be solved through something as simple as owning a cow.
The cow is very dear to the Supreme Lord, and so protecting it is one of the most pious things a person can do. Vrindavana was thus the most pious land, a fit place for Bhagavan to descend and perform His lila, or pastimes. Govardhana Hill nourished the cows with its grass. The hill is massive, so the cows would have plenty of area to roam around as well. When they would go astray, Krishna would climb to the top and play His flute to get their attention.
It is adamant, difficult to move
Govardhana Hill stays where it is, year after year. In its devotion to the cows and the people of Vrindavana, it is steady. It is no accident that after the initial puja insisted on by Krishna, the Supreme Lord Himself took the form of the hill and spoke to the people.
“When everything was complete, Krishna assumed a great transcendental form and declared to the inhabitants of Vrindavana that He was Himself Govardhana Hill in order to convince the devotees that Govardhana Hill and Krishna Himself are identical. Then Krishna began to eat all the food offered there.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)
The hill itself gave directions on the worship going forward. That is sufficient proof of its divine identity. The steady devotee makes the most progress in the purification of consciousness. The more steady they are, the more dear they become to God. This is one way to understand the significance of Govardhana.
It is associated with Shri Hanuman
The universe and its diversity of planets and creatures go through cycles of creation and destruction. The events relating to the Divine and His appearances on earth generally follow the same sequence, but everything is not always exactly the same. Therefore we have several stories of how Govardhana Hill first manifested in Vraja Mandala.
One of those stories relates to Shri Hanuman, the dedicated servant of the Supreme Lord in His avatara of Rama. As is famously told in the Ramayana, when Rama was ready to go to Lanka, the island where His wife Sita had been taken against her will, there was an obstacle in the form of a large ocean. Rama had many monkey-like forest-dwellers serving as His army. They started to build a bridge made of rocks that floated.
Hanuman left to get a big rock, finding Govardhana in the process. Before he could bring it to the spot of the bridge-building, he learned that the bridge was complete. No more rocks were necessary. Govardhana was depressed that it wouldn’t be able to serve Rama. After consulting the Supreme Lord afterwards, Hanuman told the hill that in the next yuga, Dvapara, Rama would return as Krishna and Govardhana would be of great service.
The hill is a manifestation of devotion in an inanimate object, and Hanuman is the same manifestation in a moving living entity. Both are steady and unwavering. They are pure devotees, thinking only of how to please the Supreme Lord.
Krishna assumed its very form
As mentioned before, Krishna assumed the form of Govardhana, signaling the successful completion of the initial puja. This assured the residents that their decision was the right one. There was some controversy in the beginning, as is expected with any newly introduced worship. The people were accustomed to worshiping the god of heaven, Indra, annually. Krishna persuaded the king of the town, Nanda, to worship the hill instead. Nanda was also Krishna’s father. The redirection was intentional. Krishna wanted to curb Indra’s pride and also show the greatness of Govardhana.
It once acted as the world’s largest and safest umbrella
The jealous Indra did not take too kindly to the people suddenly ignoring him. He retaliated with a devastating rainstorm. Anger is directly tied to kama, or material desire. This means that the stronger the desire that goes unmet, the more ferocious the resulting anger will be. Indra was ready to kill all the residents, including cows, women and children.
Krishna protected the citizens by uprooting Govardhana Hill and holding it over His head. The steady devotee then became the world’s largest umbrella. It was the sturdiest one as well, not buckling under the pressure of the intense rain. This historical incident is also symbolic of the truth that devotion to God, bhakti, is the only true protection a living entity can get. It stops rebirth and it maintains the Supreme Lord’s association at all times.
Sacred hill of Govardhana the name,
To Krishna and bhakti the same.
In one place, reliable and steady,
Touched by Hanuman, in service ready.
To the cows of Vraja very dear,
Assumed by Krishna so identity clear.
World’s largest umbrella became,
When from jealous Indra devastating rain.