“O sober Vidura, King Indra, his honor having been insulted, poured water incessantly on Vrindavana, and thus the inhabitants of Vraja, the land of cows, were greatly distressed. But the compassionate Lord Krishna saved them from danger with His pastime umbrella, the Govardhana Hill.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.33)
वर्षतीन्द्रे व्रज: कोपाद्भग्नमानेऽतिविह्वल: ।
गोत्रलीलातपत्रेण त्रातो भद्रानुगृह्णता ॥
varṣatīndre vrajaḥ kopād
It may be controversial for someone like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to proclaim that worship of the devas, the demigods residing in the heavenly region, is for the less intelligent, that we should instead direct all of our efforts to Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The truth is that historical evidence supports the claim, in the form of the inaugural Govardhana Puja. In addition, applying some logic and common sense will lead to the same conclusion.
The foundation of the recommendation lies in the nature of the benefactor. In this case, the discussion focuses on devas, who are empowered beings. We can think of it like a reward for living in the mode of goodness, for following righteousness, for aligning with dharma in a steady manner, instead of succumbing to illusion, selfishness, greed, anger, wrath, and the like.
यदा सत्त्वे प्रवृद्धे तु प्रलयं याति देहभृत् ।
तदोत्तमविदां लोकानमलान्प्रतिपद्यते ॥
yadā sattve pravṛddhe tu
pralayaṁ yāti deha-bhṛt
“When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.14)
We can apply the same analysis to any benefactor. Suppose it is the manager at work. The spouse in the home. A respected elder within the family. Maybe the local automobile dealership. In any case, the benefactor has some ability to influence in a specific direction. This is why people are known to approach them.
Imagine that you have been a loyal patron. You have shown unwavering allegiance for a significant period of time. Everyone knows you for this link; if you went anywhere else they might be alarmed. Imagine, on the other side, that the benefactor reciprocates the attention. Both parties within this business-style transaction are satisfied.
Then, one day, you decide to choose another benefactor. There is no ill-intent. You have nothing but good things to say about your old friend. For some reason or another, you are going a different route this time. Imagine that the old benefactor then gets angered to the point of wanting to inflict physical harm. They feel so insulted that they can barely put their wrath into words.
What does that say about the relationship? Were they really a benefactor? Were they ever a true well-wisher? Or were they only in it for the attention and honor? Were things only in a peaceful state for as long as the allegiance remained?
The same defect applies across the entire scale of influence. The benefactor at the micro level is just as flawed as the benefactor at the macro level. Who can wield more influence than the person controlling the rain? This is the role of Indra, the king of heaven. He is like the head of the devas. Throughout Vedic literature you will find references to Indra, especially when comparing strength, influence, military might, and levels of enjoyment.
The other choice is to approach the Supreme Lord. Work for His interest. Establish a relationship. Offer the same level of allegiance. There are two distinctions with this relationship. The business-style transaction does not apply. Krishna is never obligated to provide anything. He is not bound as a fiduciary, a silent partner, or a person with vested interest. He never has anything to do.
समो ऽहं सर्व-भूतेषु
न मे द्वेष्यो ऽस्ति न प्रियः
ये भजन्ति तु मां भक्त्या
मयि ते तेषु चाप्य् अहम्
samo ‘haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu
na me dveṣyo ‘sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā
mayi te teṣu cāpy aham
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)
Upon reading the fine print, upon learning this distinction, a person might contemplate going in a different direction. If the benefactor does not have to deliver in the manner of my stated intention, why approach them at all? The second distinction is what makes the difference. There is never any vulnerability to wrath, anger, offense, and the like. Moreover, no one can hold more influence than Shri Krishna.
The first Govardhana Puja reinforces these truths. Indra felt insulted that the people of Vraja skipped his puja in favor of worshiping a nearby hill. Indra retaliated. He did not merely withhold support. He felt the need to attack in the manner of an envious enemy.
The people of Vraja were worshiping Govardhana Hill because Krishna had suggested it. That is the only reason for the change in plans. The same Krishna was there to protect the people. This was not part of the agreement. They did not worship Govardhana with an implicit promise of protection from outside attack.
The protection accompanies the relationship. The person who is more powerful than the king of heaven, who can thwart devastating rain using one hand, expending minimal effort in the process, protects the souls surrendered to Him. He maintains their devotion into the future, which is the greatest gift any benefactor could ever offer.
Previously friendly where,
But loyalty no longer there.
Despite Indra’s wrath against,
Who rain of devastation sent.
People by Krishna protected,
A feat of wonder not expected.
Govardhana as umbrella sustaining,
Their devotional strength maintaining.