The Govardhan LilaBy
(Excerpt from Inner Goddess by Shyamdas. Pratham Peeth Publications, 2009)
Shri Krishna revealed His Lordship when He stole the Gopis’ clothes and returned them infused with His Essence. The Glorious Lord revealed His Potency when He accepted food from the Brahmins’ wives. In the following play Shri Krishna turned His people towards His Blessed Self and thereby displayed His Fame. He transformed the minds and hearts of the cowherders, so that they became totally focused on Divinity. He removed the adoration they felt for anything that was less than perfect.
Shri Krishna and the other residents of Braja were dairy people and lived on milk products from their cows. They concluded that their happiness and well-being were entirely dependent upon the rain, which nourished the grass their cows consumed. As a result, over the years the people of Braja developed a tradition of honoring the rain-god, Indra. Every fall they offered Indra a sacrifice, with the limited expectation that the rain-god would supply them with sufficient rainfall.
For six years, Shri Krishna watched the cowherders perform the sacrifice that they had dreamt up in honor of Indra. This sacrifice was not Vedic, nor did it follow any proper enlightened lineage. Dharma can never be contrived, and spiritual practice must always be authentic.
Gopal, the indweller of all hearts, knew that one attains whatever one honors. So when He turned seven years-old, He decided it was time to turn His fellow cowherders’ minds away from Indra and towards His Glorious Self, the single Source of all blessings, the Origin of all divinities, as well as the inner and outer Controller of all things. By doing so, He encouraged them to worship the root of every cause, rather than water each leaf of the tree. In this manner they would experience God’s extensive blessings.
Although the cowlads were basically focused on Shri Krishna, their hearts were not firmly set upon Him. Their partial devotion obstructed them from entering deeply into the state of nirodha, a blessed condition they had just begun to experience. Hari therefore schemed this new lila to remove their inferior dedications.
Shri Krishna wanted to bring His kinsmen to their natural devotional bhakti path. By removing their spiritual misconceptions, He enabled them to proceed more deeply into the mysteries of God’s Playground. Only after the dormant seed of knowledge within the heart is awakened can the nectar of devotion be tasted.
Gopal saw that His father, Nanda Baba, was preparing to dedicate his actions and wealth to Indra again, with the limited expectation of plentiful rainfall. He approached Nanda Baba and asked, “Father, what is the fruit of Indra’s sacrifice that you are so eagerly preparing for? Is this all for some sort of worldly gain?”
By questioning the nature of the sacrifice, its materials and rewards, Shri Krishna inspired an upgrade in that practice and thereby promoted divine awareness. He continued, “Father, know that the actions of a thoughtless man do not produce a true reward. The truly reflective individual is crowned by his actions.”
Nanda Baba replied, “But Krishna, we worship Indra to attain religious virtue, enjoyment, as well as worldly wealth!”
Our actions and spiritual practices can be done with the aim of achieving a specific, visible goal, or they can be performed for the sake of the action itself. The latter practice is selfless, devoid of hankering, and is performed for His pleasure. The reward of such a focused, yet detached undertaking is always subtle, exalted and immaterial.
Young Krishna smiled and continued, “The qualities of rajas, sattva, and tamas are the cause of the appearance, continuation, and dissolution of creation. Impelled by the qualities of rajas, the clouds shower rainwater. What does Indra have to do with it? He is incapable of altering the course of events, for everything arises according to its unique constitution.
“We own no cities, territories, villages or even homes. We live in this forest abode by the side of the Govardhan Hill. Let us honor this area and the items we are blessed with here. Now, take the materials you were going to use for Indra’s sacrifice and employ them in the worship of the Govardhan Hill. Let a variety of foods, made with rice and wheat, be offered and then fed to absolutely everyone and all animals. Then everyone will circumambulate the cows, the Brahmins, as well as the Govardhan Hill. This form of devotional worship is very dear to Me. Now perform this Vaishnava sacrifice.”
In this way Shri Krishna not only directed His people’s minds and hearts towards His Blessed Self, for Govardhan is His very form, but He also managed to incur Indra’s wrath, as was necessary for the lila to unfold. This lila was both for the spiritual development of His associates and to remove Indra’s false pride.
Nanda Baba and the other residents decided to follow Shri Krishna’s advice. Many types of grains were cooked and offered to the Govardhan Hill, and fresh grasses were given to the cows. After the residents of Braja adorned themselves and encircled the Govardhan Hill, Amazing Krishna manifested another form out of His Blessed Being. This time He appeared as the personified, divine form of the Mountain itself! Shri Krishna clearly became the Govardhan Hill. Then Krishna worshipped Krishna, and He partook of the offerings right before their very eyes!
After the sacrifice was completed, the people of Braja returned home, with their minds and hearts full of pure conviction. The puffed-up rain-god Indra, however, was not happy to lose his yearly offerings. Just after Young Krishna completed the sacrifice to the Govardhan Hill, Indra commenced to display his displeasure. He commanded the rain clouds that he reserved for universal destruction, “Go and sink the lands of Braja! While sitting on my elephant Airavata, I will destroy these arrogant people, who have foolishly taken the shelter of that cowlad Krishna. They have all offended me!”
As jealous Indra’s torrential rains and winds began to overwhelm the people of Braja, they all sought Shri Krishna’s shelter. The Blessed One consoled them, “Don’t worry. With my divine powers, I will protect Braja and all of her residents. You are my true family.” Shri Krishna then raised the Govardhan Hill with one hand, like a child would hold a small umbrella, and told His people, “Everyone, come with your cows and take shelter beneath the Mountain! Have no fear, it will not fall from My hand. Your protection from Indra’s torrents is now ensured.”
For seven days, Shri Krishna stood holding the Mountain, like a flower, with one finger of His left hand, while the residents of Braja all looked on with amazement. They felt neither thirst nor hunger during that time. Indra then realized that his destructive program was futile, and he withdrew his clouds. As the skies cleared, Shri Krishna gently returned the Mountain to its original position and told everyone, “Now, fearlessly return home.”
The people of Braja were transported by the play and embraced their Lovely Lord. The Gopis honored their Beloved by showering Him with rice, curds and their blessings, while the heavenly gods showered flowers on them. Then Shri Krishna returned home, surrounded by His cowlads, while the Gopis continued to sing and remember His glories.
The raising of the Govardhan Hill had a two-fold purpose. Primarily, Shri Krishna wanted to enhance the devotion of His blessed followers. For their devotion to blossom, they needed to abandon all inferior shelters. Shri Krishna therefore manifested His Eminence, by appearing as the Govardhan Hill and accepting the food offerings of the bhaktas.
By offering the fruits of their actions to the Govardhan Hill, Shri Krishna’s very form, the bhaktas’ connections to hypocritical practices were all eliminated, and their soulful surrender was assured. Through their devotional sacrifice, His devotees wholeheartedly took the Blessed Shelter. They became Krishna-focused, and the Blessed Path of Devotion became an effortless affair for them. Know that the cowherders attained Shri Krishna’s refuge only after they relinquished contrary understandings and supports.
In this lila, Hari fulfilled His Upanishadic pledge, “Those who choose Me, attain.” As He defended Braja from all forms of obstructions, similarly, Hari pledges to protect those who take His shelter. Whomever Shri Krishna holds will never fall. He assures His followers, “I protect My bhaktas and will never abandon them. My followers will never be destroyed. I make them fearless.”
A practitioner becomes free from conflict when the internal winds, the prans, are brought under control. In this episode, Shri Krishna controlled Indra’s powerful winds and then freed His devotees from adversity. In this way, He established His Blessed Self firmly in their souls. But before He entered their inner beings, Shri Krishna enjoyed their offerings here in this world.
Although Shri Krishna had removed the cowlads’ ignorance and brought them further into the blessed state of nirodha by lifting up the Govardhan Hill, they still wondered how the young Lad performed so many amazing deeds. They questioned, “How did Shri Krishna knock over that huge cart when He was just three months-old? Then, as a mere infant, He killed the demon Trinavarta and brought down two huge Arjuna trees! When Shri Krishna began herding cows, He killed several other demons that assailed Him, in the forms of a heron, a calf and a donkey. He also rid the Yamuna River of that poisonous snake Kaliya. How could such an amazing One be born amongst a group of simple cowherders like us?”
Nanda Baba removed their doubts by relating the following story. “After Krishna’s birth, the sage Garga explained to me that my Son is the Lord Himself. The sage told me that the Blessed One appears in different Yugas, with various names and forms, and has now manifested as my Son, Shri Krishna. He assured me that ‘He will bring happiness to those who love Him.’ Garga also said to me, ‘Your Son, Shri Krishna is like Lord Narayana in splendor, fame and glory.’”
The cowherders were confused, because they did not understand how Shri Krishna could maintain every virtue and still appear as a child. Nanda’s words made them understand that while Shri Krishna is perfectly full of lordship, potency, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation, He also does whatever He wants. That is how, although He is divine and beyond anything material, Shri Krishna can also become a Child. He is the Lord of Lakshmi, as well as the Master of Liberation. All of His manifestations are true and appear for the sake of His devotees. The Blessed One can easily support all forms of contradiction.
Hearing Nanda Baba’s words, all of the cowherders’ doubts were removed, and they honored both Nanda Baba and Shri Krishna. Now they had not only heard about Hari’s glories, but had also witnessed them, gathering the final proof.
A second purpose of Hari’s Govardhan Hill Lila was to remove Indra’s false pride. Although Shri Krishna had established Indra in his rain-god position, Indra forgot this fact and imagined that he was lord of the world. After Gopal balanced the Govardhan Hill on a single finger for seven days, Indra was truly humbled and reflected, “I clearly am not the boss. Shri Krishna is the Lord of all gods. In my great ignorance, I tried to destroy Braja with my winds and torrents.” In this way, Shri Krishna compassionately removed Indra’s conceit without destroying him.
Indra then went to Braja with his divine, wish-fulfilling cow, Surabhi. He came before Shri Krishna, Who was sitting alone near the Govardhan Hill. Humbled and full of shame, Indra placed his head, which was adorned with a crown as bright as the sun, at Shri Krishna’s Lotus Feet. He then praised the Immortal Lord in ten lines, and thereby purified his ten prans, his vital breaths, which he had misappropriated for his own material gain. He finally understood that they should have been used in Hari’s divine service. Indra’s indiscretion had caused his prans to lose their divine connection, and when he became blinded with arrogance, he could no longer see his true Self.
Indra humbly bowed and praised Shri Krishna’s form and virtues, “You are pure Essence, untouched by anything physical. Shri Krishna, You are forever free from all forms of greed. You wield the rod of punishment, but are also the Father, the Guru, as well as the Supreme Ruler of all creations. For the good of the world, You play at will and curb the pride of the arrogant. O Lord, forgive me, immersed as I was in the pride of wealth and power. I was ignorant of Your greatness. Although You are beyond sense perception, You are devoted to the welfare of those who are faithful to Your Lotus Feet. Glories to You, Inner Controller of all! You embody pure consciousness and are the Soul of all living beings. Now that my pride has been sundered, I seek You, Supreme Ruler, as my sole refuge.”
Shri Krishna heard Indra’s prayer, laughed, and replied, “Those who are blinded by pride will never take notice of Me. I stopped your sacrifice to enable you to always remember Me. My grace truly arises when I remove obstructing prosperity. Now return to your abode, and carry on your works according to your qualifications.”
Surabhi, the celestial cow, then extolled Shri Krishna, “O Great Yogi, Soul of creation! We are favored by You, the true Lord. Unlike Indra, You are continually absorbed in a single divine nectar. You are the Supreme Ruler and Protector of the cows and bhaktas. Now, with a celestial bath of milk, we honor You as our King.” From that day, Shri Krishna became known as Govinda, “Lord of the cows.”
Then Indra’s elephant, Airavata brought the Ganges River down from the heavens, and with Indra’s assistance, they honored Shri Krishna with a ceremonial bath. In the celebration that followed, the gods sang while the celestial dancers danced. Flowers showered from the heavens, and the entire world became drenched in Supreme Bliss. The earth overflowed with milk from the cows, and the rivers rushed with nectar. Trees oozed honey, and crops appeared on unplowed lands. Gems rose to the surface of mountains, and enemies became friends.
Shri Krishna always forgives those who take His shelter. The penalties He administers are not for destruction, but to correct His people so that they will turn towards Him. Shri Krishna is the Lord of all regions and fulfills the desires of the devotional heart. His blessings extend to all realms.
Hari protects His bhaktas and subdues the false pride of His followers. But His Lotus Feet cannot be attained until we become humble. The Beloved always responds to the devotee’s humility; it is the most important of all spiritual virtues.
Wherever Shri Krishna resides, there can be no anger. He is the Supreme Wealth. Not only does He reside within all beings, but He also is the single force behind every accomplishment. He inspires every heart, and those who take His shelter become like Him – devoid of material virtues and totally exalted. Shri Krishna is unimpeded and free from disparity. Shri Vallabhacharya praises Him, “Glories to Shri Krishna, the Doer of Wonderful Deeds, Who played the world into existence by dividing form and name” (Shastrarth Nibandha). Creation is His very form and is therefore sacred.
As Vasudeva, He awards liberation, but when He becomes Shri Krishna, He is both the means and the blessed reward – full of truth, consciousness and mostly bliss. He is wisdom personified. Hari plays to bring His bhaktas towards His Blissful Self. By simply playing with His devotees, Hari awarded them an independent, love-based devotion.