I think of Giri Govardhana as being similar to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, because Giri Govardhana is Krishna Himself. But although he is Krishna Himself, according to the acharyas, he is in the mood of a devotee. And many devotees worship Giri Govardhana in that mood—that he is a devotee of Krishna and of the devotees of Krishna. There is a famous verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam in which the gopis, specifically Srimati Radharani, praise Govardhana Hill as the best servant of Lord Hari.
hantayam adrir abala hari-dasa-varyo
manam tanoti saha-go-ganayos tayor yat
“Of all the devotees, this Govardhana Hill is the best! O my friends, this hill supplies Krsna and Balarama, along with Their calves, cows and cowherd friends, with all kinds of necessities-water for drinking, very soft grass, caves, fruits, flowers and vegetables. In this way the hill offers respects to the Lord. Being touched by the lotus feet of Krsna and Balarama, Govardhana Hill appears very jubilant.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.21.18) They describe his service to the Lord, and his service includes service to the Lord’s devotees, go-ganayoh, the cows and the people associated with the cows—namely the cowherd men and women, the cowherd boys, and the younger gopis. Srila Prabhupada comments in the Krsna book that Govardhana Hill knew how to please the Lord by pleasing the Lord’s beloved associates. So we also learn from Govardhana Hill how to serve the devotees. And we pray to Govardhana Hill that he may enliven us and enlighten us in the service of the devotees.
So, I think of Govardhana Hill in relation to Lord Chaitanya, because just as Govardhana Hill is Krishna Himself in the mood of a devotee, Lord Chaitanya also is Krishna in the mood of a devotee. Specifically, Lord Chaitanya is in the mood of Srimati Radharani, who is the best, or greatest, devotee. Yet according to Srila Sanatana Gosvami, the verse spoken by the gopis in praise of Govardhana Hill was spoken specifically by Srimati Radharani, although the Bhagavatam simply says that “the gopis” sang the Venu-gita. But Sanatana Gosvami specifically states that Srimati Radharani proclaimed that Govardhana Hill is the best servant of Lord Hari.
We can also understand the mood of devotees by the reciprocation between Srimati Radharani and Govardhana Hill. Srimati Radharani is very humble. She considers that Govardhana Hill is the best servant of Lord Krishna. And Govardhana Hill feels that he is the most humble servant of all of the devotees, who are fit to walk on him with their feet, and not only just the devotees in human forms, but even the devotees in the form of cows and other animals who flock to Govardhana Hill to serve Sri Krishna and His associates in their pastimes.
In Mayapur, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura established a replica of Vrindavan with Syama-kunda, Radha-kunda, and Govardhana Hill. The Govardhana Hill is about the size of this room and is composed of Govardhana silas. In principle, one is not supposed to take Govardhana silas from Vraja, and if one does, one is supposed to leave the equivalent amount of gold. So, only Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura had the potency to bring so many Govardhana silas, and he created a mountain with them. And at that “Govardhana Hill” is a plaque with a verse, perhaps from the Padma Purana. The verse is very nice, and I thought we could recite it responsively. First I shall translate the words, so that you can understand what they mean as you repeat them.
Namaste girirajaya—I offer my obeisance to the king of mountains; govardhana namine—who is named Govardhana; asesa klesa nasaya—he destroys unlimited afflictions; paramananda dayine—and bestow the highest bliss.
namaste girirajaya govardhana namine
asesa klesa nasayaparamananda dayine
[Devotees repeat three times.]
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the king of mountains whose name is Govardhana. He destroys unlimited miseries and bestows the highest bliss.”
We pray to Govardhana Hill, not just for ourselves individually but for all of us, that he will free us from the miseries of material existence and bestow upon us the supreme bliss of Krishna consciousness.
After Lord Krishna performed the Govardhana-puja with the paraphernalia that the cowherd men had gathered for the Indra-puja, Indra, the king of heaven and lord of rains and thunderbolts, became angry because he felt he was being deprived of his sacrifice. So he sent torrents of rain to inundate Vrindavan. He wanted to take revenge. His mood was just the opposite, in one sense, of Govardhana’s. Indra’s mood was to take revenge on Krishna by causing distress to the residents of Vrindavan, whereas Govardhana’s mood was to give pleasure to Krishna by giving service to the residents of Vrindavan. Lord Krishna at first thought, “Well, let Me just kill Indra.” But then He reconsidered and decided, “No, I will just deal with him in such a way that he becomes humble, that he becomes freed from his false prestige in being the king of heaven.” And so Lord Krishna, to smash the false pride of King Indra, lifted Govardhana Hill with the little finger of His left hand and held it as an umbrella over the residents of Vrindavan, thus demonstrating that He could defeat the pride of Indra with the tip of His little finger.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has raised the question, “How could Govardhana Hill, which is just a medium-sized hill, provide shelter to a large cowherd community with thousands of cows, calves, bulls, and other paraphernalia?” And he gives the answer that Govardhana Hill was in so much ecstasy, being touched by the lotus hand of his worshipable lord and beloved master, that he expanded in size (and increased in potency). There are different symptoms of ecstatic love described in the scriptures, and one is elongation of the body. We read, for instance, about the symptoms of Lord Chaitanya’s ecstasy. Sometimes His body would become elongated and expand in size; sometimes it would contract. There are so many different symptoms of ecstasy, and Govardhana Hill manifested many of them. In fact, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says that the grasses on Govardhana Hill are the hairs on his body standing up in ecstasy. And the waterfalls are the tears from his eyes pouring forth in his ecstasy. And the moisture—sometimes moisture oozes out from stones, from between the stones—is his ecstatic perspiration in love of Krishna and Krishna’s devotees. But specifically, it was the ecstatic symptom of elongation of the body that allowed Govardhana Hill to expand in size so that all the residents of Vrindavan could take shelter under him. And he offered his shelter to everyone. (Here, too, he reminds me of Srila Prabhupada, who extended his shelter to everyone.) So even dogs and other animals, and of course the cows and calves and cowherd men and women, all took shelter under Govardhana Hill. And all of the devotees—those in the mood of servants in dasya-rasa, those in the mood of friends in sakhya-rasa, those in the mood of parents in vatsalya-rasa, and even the gopis who were in the mood of madhurya-rasa got to be with Lord Krishna continuously for seven days.
Generally, in the regular cycle of Krishna’s daily activities, Mother Yasoda and Nanda Maharaja would be with Krishna in the morning when He woke up had breakfast, but they would be separated from Him during the day when He would go out with the cowherd boys and calves. And then they would be reunited with Him in the evening when He came back. The cowherd boys would get to be with Krishna during the day, but then they would again be separated from Him in the evening. And they had to bear the separation until the next morning. All the residents of Vrindavan always wanted to be with Krishna all the time, but because of the regular cycle of the days’ activities, they would sometimes be separated from Him.
During the Govardhana lila, however, they all got to be with Krishna continuously day and night for seven days, and they could have their hearts’ desires fulfilled. But the most special opportunity was afforded to the young gopis who were in madhurya-rasa, because they always had to conceal their feelings for Krishna and could only furtively glance at Him from their windows or the rooftops of their houses. (At that time they had not yet begun to sneak out at night; it was only the next year that Krishna inaugurated the rasa dance.) Under the shelter of Govardhana Hill they got to be with Krishna continuously for seven days. And that was a wonderful thing for them. One incident is mentioned in The Nectar of Devotion: While all the gopis were observing Krishna’s wonderful achievement, Krishna was also smiling at the gopis. When Krishna’s eyes happened to glance over the bodies of the gopis, He became so affected that His hand began to tremble. Upon seeing His hand shake, the cowherd men became disturbed. They thought the mountain might fall upon them. There was a tumultuous roar, and they all began to pray to Krishna for safety. Then Lord Balarama began to smile, seeing how the cowherd men had become frightened by the shaking of Govardhana Hill. But Krishna, seeing Balarama smile, imagined that Balarama had understood His mind in observing the bodies of the gopis, and He immediately became bashful.
In any case, Govardhana Hill extended his shelter to everyone, in all forms of life and all moods of service. And so Govardhana Hill also reminds me of Srila Prabhupada.
Devotee: I heard a rumor that Govardhana Hill is shrinking. If so, why is that?
Giriraj Swami: According to one account, Pulatsya Muni was carrying Govardhana to Kasi—on the condition that Govardhana would remain wherever he first put him down. The powerful sage carried Govardhana in his right hand, passing over land, mountains, and oceans, eventually reaching Bharata-varsa and the land of Vrindavan. Govardhana immediately recognized his eternal residence and the home of Lord Krishna. Not willing to go further, he made himself very heavy and, bewildering the mind of the sage, caused him to rest for some time. Pulastya Muni thus placed Govardhana in Vrindavan and attended to the call of nature. Thereafter, the sage was unable to lift the mountain again. Try as he might, he could not budge Govardhana. Angry and indignant, Pulastya said, “Come, O great mountain! Why do you make yourself so heavy and hesitate to continue our journey?”
Govardhana replied, “O sage, there is no fault on my part. I promised to stay where you first put me down; now I will never move from this place.” Abandoning his attempt to move Govardhana, seething with anger, the sage cursed the best of mountains, saying, “O arrogant mountain! You dare thwart my desire! By the measure of a mustard seed your size will decrease every day until you are no more!”
Also. according to our acharyas, Govardhana Hill is shrinking—the size of one mustard seed every day—because of separation from Krishna. One devotee in ISKCON calculated the size of a mustard seed multiplied by 365 days per year for 5,000 years and how much Govardhana Hill would have shrunk, and considering how much of Govardhana Hill is left now, how long it will take for the whole hill to be disappear. (But I don’t really want to think about that.) At the Bhaktivedanta Ashram, when the devotees were trying to dig a well to get water at the front of the land, they very soon came to rock. And then, when they dug at the back of the land, they could dig deeper before they came to the rock, suggesting that the slope of the Hill was under the level of the ground. But we want to celebrate the presence of Govardhana. But that’s what they say—separation.
We will read a poem written by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, and I hope that you will be able to at least join in the last line of each verse, which repeats. One of Govardhana’s names is sarva-abhista-padata, which means “he who fulfills all desires.” And of course, specifically, the best devotees desire only pure devotional service to Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. So implicit in all of the prayers here, all of the verses here, is the desire to serve Sri Sri Radha and Krishna and Their servants. Therefore Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura concludes each stanza with govardhano me disatam abhistam: “May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
This is the Sri Govardhana-astakam, eight verses glorifying Govardhana Hill, by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura:
samrajyam apnoti ca vairino ’pi
sakrasya yah prapa balim sa saksad
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“May Govardhana Hill, which by Krishna’s mercy became the king of all mountains and received the respectful tribute of its arch-enemy Indra, fulfill my desire.”
mahendra-vajrahatim apy ajanam
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“As it was held above the earth it became so filled with happiness by experiencing the softness of its beloved Krishna’s lotus hand it did not even know it was being struck by Indra’s thunderbolt. May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
yatraiva krsno vrsabhanu-putrya
danam grhitum kalaham vitene
sruteh sprha yatra mahaty atah sri-
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“Trying to collect a toll, Krishna quarreled there with King Vrsabhanu’s daughter. The personified Vedas yearn to listen to that quarrel. May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
Here the reference is to the dana-keli-lila, which was performed at Dana-ghati, which is very near to the Bhaktivedanta Ashram. In fact, the general area there is called Dana-ghati. The idea is that Srimati Radharani and her gopi girlfriends wanted to pass to the other side of Govardhana Hill with their yogurt and butter and other dairy products, because there was a sacrifice being performed on the other side of the hill. And there was just one path in the middle of the Govardhana Hill at what is now called Dana-ghati. So when Srimati Radharani, Lalita and Visakha, and the other young girls came with pots of yogurt on their heads, Krishna and His friends blocked the way and demanded that the gopis pay a toll to go through the passage. Lord Krishna went so far as to say that He had been appointed by King Kamsa to collect the toll from all the citizens who wanted to pass. So, many joking words were exchanged between Srimati Radharani and Sri Krishna, with many amorous innuendos and double meanings.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura says that the personified Vedas yearn to hear the quarrel, the jokes between Krishna and the gopis, implying that the exchanges between Krishna and the gopis are more exalted than even the hymns of the Vedas. Srila Rupa Gosvami wrote a drama called Lalita-madhava, which is filled with separation from Krishna, and in particular the separation of Srimati Radharani from Krishna after Krishna left Vrindavan and went to Dvaraka. After Raghunatha dasa Gosvami read the play, he was so afflicted with separation that he cried and cried and cried and cried, and nothing could console him. He was just crying and crying, day after day, and nobody knew what to do. So, then Rupa Gosvami wrote another drama called Dana-keli-kaumudi, about the joking exchanges between Krishna and the gopis at Dana-ghati. And when Raghunatha dasa Gosvami read Dana-keli-kaumudi he felt pacified that Radha and Krishna were together, enjoying pastimes.
snatva sarah svasu samira-hasti
alolayan khetali caru sa sri-
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“Bathing in the nearby lake, the elephant of a pleasant breeze, covered with the pollen of kadamba and other flowers, gracefully plays there. May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
kasturikabhih sayitam kim atrety
uham prabhoh svasya muhur vitanvan
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“How is it that the sweet fragrance of the musk deer and the various natural scents there make the Lord so calm and relaxed? May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
didrksavo yatra harim harinyah
yantyo labhante nahi vismitah sa
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“Searching there for Lord Hari on the path of His flute music, the astonished deer do not find Him. May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
yatraiva gangam anu navi radham
arohya madhye tu nimagna-naukah
krsno hi radhanugalo babhau sa
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“As the divine couple traveled on the Ganges there, the boat began to sink in the middle. Krishna was splendidly handsome as Radha clung to His neck. May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
Here the pastime relates to Manasi-ganga, which is near Dana-ghati. Again, the only way to get to the other side of Govardhana Hill was either by walking through the passage at Dana-ghati or by taking a boat across Manasi-ganga. So, once, Srimati Radharani and Her close friends came to Manasi-ganga and wanted to cross to the other side by boat. Srimati Radharani saw one boatman and said to him, “Boatman, we want you to take us across the lake.” Guess who the boatman was? It was Lord Krishna! And in the guise of a boatman, He agreed to take Srimati Radharani and the others across. But as the boat was moving out into the water, clouds began to gather in the sky and pour down rain, and the boat began to fill with water. Srimati Radharani and the other gopis became very much afraid, but the boatman didn’t do anything about it; much to the horror of the gopis, he just stopped the boat in the middle of the lake and was watching it fill up. The gopis were becoming more and more fearful, and they thought the boat was going to sink at any moment. And because krsna-lila is nara-lila, humanlike pastimes in which the gopis all think that they are ordinary human beings and all have the sentiments of ordinary human beings, the gopis thought that they could drown and die. So they panicked and appealed to the boatman, “Boatman, please help us. Please do something.” But Krishna never does anything for free; He always takes a price. And the price that He wanted for bringing the girls to safety was an embrace from Srimati Radharani. And because She was so desperate that although She was a very chaste girl, She felt that She had no choice. So She threw Her arms around the boatman and asked for His mercy to take them across. Then Krishna very neatly put His toe into the hole that He had unplugged to allow the water to come in, and He rowed the girls to safety on the other side. So, Visvanatha Cakravarti summarizes the whole pastime very beautifully and succinctly: “As the divine couple traveled around the Ganges, the boat began to sink in the middle. Krishna was splendidly handsome as Radha clung to his neck. May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
vina bhavet kim hari-dasa-varya
padasrayam bhaktir atah srayami
yam eva supreme ni jesayoh sri-
govardhano me disatam abhistam
“Without taking shelter of the feet of the hill that is the best of the Lord Hari’s servants and full of love for divine King and Queen, how it is possible to attain pure devotional service? May Govardhana Hill fulfill my desire.”
Then at the end of the astaka, as is common, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura composes a ninth verse that contains a benediction:
etat pathet yo hari-dasa-varya-
dasyam sa vinded acirena saksat
“May the reader of these eight verses glorifying Lord Hari’s greatest servant, his heart melting with pure love, quickly attain direct service to the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha- Madhava.”
Sri Sri Giri Govardhana ki jaya! Sri Govardhanastaka ki jaya! Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!
So, after Lord Krishna held Govardhana Hill for seven days and the hill gave shelter to all of the residents of Vrindavan, Indra came to his senses, realized his mistake, and humbly withdrew the rains. (Ultimately he came to beg forgiveness and offer prayers to Lord Krishna.) When the rains subsided, Lord Krishna placed Govardhana Hill back in its place. Then He walked around the hill to see what damage King Indra’s thunderbolts had caused to His beloved Govardhana.
Indra was very much afraid because of the offenses he had committed to Lord Krishna and the residents of Vrindavan. So he went to Lord Brahma for advice, and Lord Brahma advised, “If you try to approach Krishna directly, He may be very angry with you. But Lord Krishna is very favorably disposed to the cows, so if you approach Surabhi and she approaches Him first, His mood may change, and then you may approach Him and offer your prayers.”
So, King Indra approached Surabhi, the heavenly cow. And Surabhi came to Vraja, followed by King Indra on his elephant. And together they coronated Krishna, Govinda, as the king of the cows, at a place called Govinda-kunda. All these places are marked here on our mountain: Govinda-kunda, Surabhi-kunda. Surabhi-kunda is where Surabhi offered her prayers to Krishna and gave her milk for the abhiseka of Lord Krishna.
So, krsna-lila is nara-lila. The devotees consider themselves to be human beings, and they consider Krishna also to be another human being. But they have intense, spontaneous, pure love for Him—not because He is God, but because they just love Him. But when He held Govardhana Hill over His head for seven days on the tip of the little finger of His left hand, the Vraja-vasis realized that Krishna could not be an ordinary human being. So, after the Govardhana lila, all the cowherd men assembled and addressed Nanda Maharaja. “Your son is not an ordinary child,” they said. “He is not an ordinary human being. He must be some demigod, or maybe the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. You must not chastise Him, you should not frighten Him, you should not punish Him. He is not an ordinary child.” And they gave all the evidence—all of the feats Krishna had performed, especially the latest one of holding Govardhana Hill.
The cowherd men all had parental affection for Krishna, but Nanda Maharaja’s parental affection for Krishna was the strongest of all. So he listened to what they said, but when he started to think of his pastimes with Krishna, his interactions with Krishna, his experience of Krishna, he said, “No. Even ordinary yogis can control the urges of their senses. But my son Krishna has no control at all. If mother Yasoda is feeding Him and she sets Him down for a minute to attend to some other business, He becomes so angry that He starts breaking butter pots and eating butter. Even ordinary yogis are fearless. But as soon as Krishna hears thunder and sees lightning, He becomes afraid. And if we don’ take Him in our arms and pacify Him, He remains fearful.”
In this way Nanda Maharaja remembered all of his parental pastimes with Krishna, and he was merged into the ocean of vatsalya-bhava. He could not consider for a moment that Krishna was anything other than his own beloved son, in need of his nourishment, care, and protection. And all the other cowherd men also merged into the ocean of vatsalya-bhava, and they also again thought of Krishna as just a beautiful little child, the son of Nanda and Yasoda. And thus they remained merged in the ocean of transcendental nectar of pure spontaneous love for Krishna without any consideration of His opulence and without any impediment to their pure love for Him and their intimate mood of service.
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Govardhana-puja, November 17, 2001, Carpinteria, California]