“Being a devotee of Lord Krishna, one is understood to have performed all kinds of Vedic rituals and all kinds of worship to the demigods. Just by performing the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies or worshiping the demigods, one does not develop devotional service for Krishna but one who is engaged fully in the service of the Lord has already finished all Vedic injunctions.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, devotees of the personal God, the Supreme Lord, are under no obligation to worship the devatas or devas. The exact English translation to this word is “god,” but the word “demigod” is often used instead, to distinguish from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the deva of the devas. The occasion of Govardhana Puja celebrates one time where God asserted His dominance over other powerful figures, in plain sight and for all to see.
Imagine a situation where you are working in an office. The company forced everyone back in. Though things were going along fine with everyone at home for a year and a half, those real estate bills could no longer be justified by the higher ups unless the empty seats were filled.
To your dismay, the day finally came when you had to return. It was difficult finding pants that fit, or pants at all, for that matter. That dress shirt is a little tight around the chest. Perhaps you let yourself go a little too much during that time when you had no obligation to look presentable.
Back at the office, while you are happy to see your colleagues again, you are reminded of the many aspects of the experience you dreaded on a daily basis. One of them was the constant sound from the nearby television. As you work for a financial services company, the programming on the television is always set to follow the share markets.
Imagine, if you will, that one day the CEO of the company walks in. He has heard about your stellar job performance. Person after person has dropped your name in conversations relating to big projects and important tasks. Without you, they say, nothing meaningful would get accomplished.
The CEO is here to reward you. They shake your hand. They pat you on the back. They propose something interesting. They are ready to offer you anything you want. Just name it and the CEO will make it happen.
Imagine, if you will, that the first thought which enters your mind is the annoying television. You go ahead and ask the CEO if he could have the television removed. They return a puzzled look, as if confused. That is all you want, they ask. Nothing more?
You answer in the affirmative. Getting rid of the television will make you happy. You are not concerned with who exactly makes it happen. Just bring peace to the office.
This hypothetical scenario helps to put into proper context the timeless practice of demigod worship within the Vedic tradition. The devas are important personalities. To be a deva is to be rewarded for pious behavior, for following dharma.
At the same time, there is someone higher. He is the highest of all, Purushottama. He is ever approachable. He is inside of me already, as Supersoul. There is a tradition of worship dedicated specifically to Him.
If this highest person is the most important of all, of what need is there to please anyone else? The devas may grant wonderful benedictions, such as wealth, stability in peaceful conditions, and good health. But these will not last. Time will destroy everything gained. It is like asking for something small, when that other person can give everything and more.
The inaugural Govardhana Puja took place under this premise. It started at the instigation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna. He convinced the residents of Gokula to worship the nearby Govardhana Hill. This was instead of the annual yajna in favor of Indra, the king of the demigods.
There was not much justification needed. It was a new tradition. It wasn’t like there was years of tradition to fall back on. If anything, protocol dictated choosing in favor of Indra. What exactly was this hill going to do for the people?
The people went along anyway, since Krishna gave the recommendation. They put all their trust in Him. Indra became upset at what he perceived as an insult. He sought to show the people exactly how powerful he was. He wanted them to know the grave mistake they had committed.
Govardhana Puja took place successfully and right afterwards something amazing happened. Indra attacked the area with devastating rain, but Krishna used the just-worshiped hill to protect the people. That hill was able to stop the powerful Indra, and henceforth the annual puja continued, creating a new tradition.
Worship of Govardhana is as good as worship of Krishna, who can grant everything, up to and including liberation. Devotees ask only for His continued association, through dedicated service, in birth after birth, and experience after experience.
Since Krishna kindly to ask,
Ready for transitioning task.
That Govardhana worshiping now,
Items for Indra using how.
That king of heaven vengeful in might,
But hill as umbrella a marvelous sight.
Known that only God’s approval needing,
Since then in tradition proceeding.