“When the cowherd men of Vrindavana, under instruction of Krishna, stopped offering sacrifice to the heavenly King, Indra, the whole tract of land known as Vraja was threatened with being washed away by constant heavy rains for seven days. Lord Krishna, out of His causeless mercy upon the inhabitants of Vraja, held up the hill known as Govardhana with one hand only, although He was only seven years old. He did this to protect the animals from the onslaught of water.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.32)
As He is the origin of everything that lives, the shelter created through service to the Divine distributes its influence across a host of beings. After all, if two people, living in two different cities, pray to God for something, their calls get directed to the same place. There is not one God for one person and another God for a different person; though such a misunderstanding has been the cause of tension and argument since time immemorial.
The Supreme Shelter does not discriminate. It does not first check the skin color or the occupation by birth of the person seeking help. It does not even make distinctions between the different species. Anyone is eligible to accept the protection, provided they are earnest in seeking it. The occasion of Govardhana Puja is a reminder.
Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was residing in the farm community of Vrindavana, displaying His amazingly attractive childhood rupa. The people who lived there were simple; they were not known to be advanced scholars, celebrated warriors, or successful industrialists.
One tradition was to worship the demigod Indra, who is in charge of rain. To people of today the practice may seem silly, as the rain falls on its own at the appropriate times, but the traditions are there to help man break free from the “personal doer” mentality. It is the three modes of nature which must cooperate for any result to manifest, and the controller of an important aspect of nature is Indra.
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
Bhagavan at that time was known as Krishna, and He was the son of the leader of the community, Nanda Maharaja. The father was prepared for the annual Indra-yajna, but young Krishna convinced him to instead worship the nearby Govardhana Hill. This piece of land was dear to the cows, which were protected and loved in the town.
It is difficult to decline the requests of such a sweet child, so Nanda and everyone else followed the direction. The same cows that loved to move on Govardhana Hill would soon be protected by it. Indra was so upset at being neglected that he sent a devastating rainstorm to the area. That rain threatened to wash the cows away, but Krishna lifted the just worshiped hill. He held it aloft for seven straight days.
The cows are one of the seven mothers designated in Vedic culture. The mother is to be protected. She is a nurturer and a protector. The amazing shelter that was the Govardhana umbrella extended to both mother and child. The calves were also protected, as they were dear to Krishna and His friends of the same age. The boys would go out to the fields daily. It was their responsibility, something like chores given to children today.
There were the mothers and also the young girls. Both known as the gopis, they were so dear to Krishna, since they always thought of Him. They, too, were protected from the flooding caused by Indra. The gopis had a slightly different mentality, though. They were concerned that Krishna’s arm might get tired. They didn’t consider Him to be God. The love was so strong that they were ready to offer help at every moment.
These were Krishna’s male friends. They loved Krishna just as much, but in a different mood. They also worried about their friend, who had saved them from danger many times before. The Supreme Shelter was there, but nobody took it for granted; neither did they insist that someone else do everything for them.
Though he was responsible for the entire calamity, the Govardhana umbrella gave him shelter, too. This is because the incident helped to curb his pride. It taught the king of the demigods the lesson he should have known all along – that to follow God is true dharma. When Krishna is satisfied, the entire world is. It is something like watering the root of the tree instead of going to each branch individually.
The fruit of the horribly sinful act was wiped away through prayers in contrition. Krishna did not hold a grudge. That same shelter is available to everyone, and the Govardhana Puja still celebrated to this day is a wonderful opportunity for every kind of living entity to get a taste of the bhakti-rasa, devotional service.
Resting on pinky finger not to budge,
Shri Krishna not to hold a grudge.
Mercy for Indra-deva the cause,
Who a conditioned soul with flaws.
By Govardhana into air projected,
Cows, friends and ladies protected.
That Supreme Shelter to everyone extending,
From just a little service in bhakti spending.