by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
There are many religious scriptures teaching man about his eternal relationship with God, but the oldest among them are the Vedic literatures, which were compiled 5,000 years ago in Sanskrit. The special standard of the Vedic literatures is that while they contain all that is contained in other scriptures, the reader will also find in them information that is not to be found elsewhere. In the cream of these literatures, called the Srimad-Bhagavatam (which has been presented in English by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead), we find the incident of Krsna’s lifting the Govardhana Hill.
Krsna, the Supreme Lord, descended to earth 5,000 years ago and displayed childhood pastimes as the son of Nanda Maharaja and mother Yasoda in the cowherd village of Vrndavana, India. When He was only six years old He one day came upon His father and other elders of the community who were preparing a religious sacrifice in honor of the demigod Indra. Krsna’s whole purpose in descending to this material world was to teach everyone to worship the Personality of Godhead exclusively and thus be saved from all dangers and the reactions to all past sinful activities. Krsna, therefore, intending to stop the sacrifice to the demigod, approached His father very politely and meekly said, “My dear father, what is this arrangement going on for a great sacrifice? What is the result, and for whom is it meant? Do you know what results to expect from this sacrifice?”
At first Nanda Maharaja did not answer his son, thinking that He could not understand the intricacies of sacrifice, but when Krsna persisted in His plea, Nanda replied that they were performing the sacrifice because it was traditional. This shows that Nanda Maharaja was not a whimsical person, for any genuine spiritual practice must have the sanction of previous authorities who have passed down spiritual knowledge. In the case of the Indra sacrifice, however, the object of worship was a demigod, and therefore Krsna suggested that the sacrifice be stopped. He had two reasons for doing so. One was that He wanted to discourage demigod worship because its object is material benefit, which is always temporary. Only a less intelligent person engages himself in religion for material benefit. The other reason is that even if one wants material things, he should approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead directly. Krsna Himself is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He asks for surrender and devotional service unto Him. According to all learned spiritual masters, our rightful position is to serve Him.
Nanda Maharaja offered objections to Krsna’s request, and there then followed a logical debate between Krsna and His pure devotee Nanda Maharaja. Our ISKCON artist has depicted Nanda Maharaja gesturing in this debate while his transcendental son listens and prepares to put forward His own argument. These two principal figures are surrounded by cowherd men, boys and cows, and in the background is Govardhana Hill.
Child Krsna had still another intention in stopping the Indra sacrifice, and that was to punish the demigod Indra, whom Krsna knew was very puffed up with excessive pride. One may superficially think that a discussion about whether to worship a demigod is not relevant to modern times because no one worships or believes in demigods any longer. But this is not a fact. A demigod is a person who has power and influence far greater than that of an ordinary human. Generally, “demigod” refers to one of the inhabitants of higher material planets who have been entrusted by the Supreme Lord to manage the administrative affairs of the universe. For example, Indra is the demigod in charge of rain, Vivasvan is the demigod of the sun, etc. However, in a broader sense, any influential personality may be called a demigod, and the appeasement of such “big guns” to get favors from them is a process that is still going on. One approaches a movie star, a politician or a big industrialist in hopes that he will get his particular desires fulfilled if he pleases such an important personality. During World War II, for instance, there was a man in India who was profiting greatly from sales on the black market, and considering that his success was due to the engineer of the war, Adolf Hitler, he arranged for worship of Hitler in his home. Such worship is in the modes of ignorance and passion. One never makes spiritual progress by approaching a big personality to get material benefits.
The great sage Sukadeva Gosvami, the original speaker to relate the incident of Krsna and Govardhana Hill, cautioned those interested in spiritual life not to approach rich householders to beg for material necessities which can easily be gotten from nature. Sukadeva questions, “Why do you need a pillow if you have your soft arm? And if you need lodging, are the caves in the mountains stopped up? And as for food, are not the charitable trees still giving fruits?” The point is that one need depend only on the Supreme Lord, who is factually supplying all our needs, material and spiritual.
Lord Krsna is the supreme religious teacher. Although His purpose was to teach worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He at first spoke to His father as if He were an atheist. Krsna’s first point in their logical debate was that for prosperity the cowherd men did not have to worship the demigod Indra, but they had only to work diligently in their occupational duty of cow protection in their village of Vrndavana. Nanda Maharaja argued back that simply to work was not enough to guarantee the result desired. For example, in spite of having the best care of a physician, sometimes a patient dies, or in spite of all the care and protection which parents give their child, the child dies or goes bad. In other words, material causes are not independent in themselves to bring about the results of activities; there has to be the sanction of the higher authority of Providence. Ultimately everything operates under the will of Krsna, the Supreme Lord. A drowning man may be sent a rescue boat or thrown a rope, but if it is the desire of the Lord that this man die, no boat or rope can save him. The saying is, “Whomever Krsna kills, no one can save. Whomever Krsna saves, no one can kill.”
Krsna nullified Nanda’s point in debate, however, by describing Indra to be I like the head of a water department of a city government. One does not have to worship such an official privately in order to derive the benefit of water from him, for the head of the water department is duty-bound to give water to every good citizen. Therefore one simply has to tend to his own business occupation to get the facilities he needs; one need not personally worship a demigod. Krsna argued that since the demigods cannot give good benefits to persons who have not executed their duties, the demigods are dependent on the execution of these duties.
Krsna urged His father and the cowherd men to concentrate on the activities in their own local world of Vrndavana, where their duty was primarily to protect the cows. Indra, He said, was simply bound to deliver water; he even pours rain on the ocean, where no one worships him. Krsna therefore requested His father to understand that his real relationship was with Govardhana Hill and Vrndavana Forest and nothing more. “My dear father,” Krsna said, “begin a sacrifice which will satisfy the local brahmanas [the priestly order] and Govardhana Hill, and let us have nothing to do with Indra.”
Influenced by Krsna’s words, Nanda Maharaja offered a compromise. He would agree to do what Krsna asked, but since all the paraphernalia had already been gathered for the worship of Indra, he suggested that they first perform that sacrifice and then afterward the Govardhana worship that Krsna had suggested.
To this Krsna replied, “My dear father, don’t delay.” Krsna does not like wishy-washy compromises which fall short of exclusive devotion unto Him. Readers of the world-famous Bhagavad-gita will recall that Arjuna, Krsna’s disciple on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, also did not want to follow Krsna’s will in the beginning, and he offered compromises and delays, but Krsna would not accept Arjuna”s arguments. If we understand Krsna rightly as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, what is the point of delaying our surrender to Him? Nanda Maharaja had already prepared to make an offering to the demigod for material benefit, but Krsna said, “That doesn’t matter. Take what you have, although it was intended for material gain, and use it in service to Me.” This is also, the philosophy of Krsna consciousness as taught by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada. Whatever talents or capacities one should simply be turned over engaged in the service of Krsna. Everything can be transferred to His account. This is sound philosophy. Because Krsna is the supreme proprietor of all that be, we should rightfully engage everything in His loving service. That process will free us from bondage to suffering in this material world.
In the Krsna Book it is described that all the residents of Vrndavana were absorbed in love of Krsna and simply wanted to please Him. Nanda Maharaja therefore yielded to his son’s request and turned fried over command of the worship to krsna who then began to dictate how He wanted the Govardhana sacrifice performed. This is one’s rightful position, one should let Krsna tell him exactly what to do. Lord Krsna said, “Prepare very nice foodstuffs of all descriptions from the grains and butter collected for the sacrifice. Prepare rice, dahl, then halavah, pakora, puri and all kinds of milk preparations like sweet rice and sweetballs and invite all the learned brahmanas who can chant the Vedic hymns. Give nice grass to the cows. The sacrifice known as Govardhana Puja may immediately begin. This sacrifice will very much satisfy Me.”
Because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna is the only one who can rightfully speak in the imperative tone. If we think that we are God, we become offended to hear Krsna ask for what is rightfully His. But since He is actually the Supreme, He should ask for nothing less than complete surrender and tell us, “Now do this. Now do that.” This is also the position of the spiritual master, who is the servant of Krsna. If one obeys the orders of the spiritual master, he will become free of the false ego which keeps us bound to the cycle of birth and death in the material world.
Krsna is sometimes called Kartamisa, which means “the boss of the cowherd village.” It is said that in the morning in such villages the Kartamisa is asked what he would like to eat, and whatever menu he describes becomes the fare for the whole village. That is the relationship which we should have with the Supreme Kartamisa, Krsna. Whatever He desires should be our desire. If we can satisfy Him, that will make us actually happy. Everyone should do what Krsna wants. If we will accept Krsna’s desire as supreme, we will get far more than we could ever imagine by struggling on our own in the illusion that we are apart from Krsna. We should all work as instruments for His satisfaction.
As far as Indra was concerned, he was suffering from a delusion which is common to such powerful personalities: he thought that he was the supreme controller, forgetting that even the greatest demigod is only part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead from whom everything emanates. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, therefore, with the purpose of chastising Indra, advised the cowherd men to stop the Indra sacrifice and begin the Govardhana worship. The honest and simple cowherd men headed by Nanda Maharaja accepted Krsna’s proposal and executed in detail everything He advised. They performed Govardhana worship and circumambulation of the hill. Lord Krsna then declared that Govardhana worship is just as good as worship of Him. In this way He identified with the land in which He displayed His pastimes. Therefore, ever since the inauguration of Govardhana worship, people in Vrndavana still dress nicely and assemble near Govardhana Hill to offer worship and walk around the hill, leading their cows. In all the temples of Vrndavana and outside of Vrndavana, huge quantities of food are prepared and sumptuously distributed to the general population.
When Indra understood that the sacrifice to be offered by the cowherd men was stopped by Krsna, he became angry, and to express his anger against the inhabitants of Vrndavana he ordered his most terrible cloud, which is usually saved only for the time of annihilation, to go to Vrndavana and inundate the whole area with extensive floods. Indra was deluded, thinking that he was the all-powerful supreme personality, for when demons become very powerful, they defy the supreme controller, Lord Sri Krsna. Indra, although not a demon, was puffed up by his material position and wanted to challenge the Supreme Lord. At least for the time being, he thought himself as powerful as Krsna. Indra said, “Just see the impudence of the inhabitants of Vrndavana! They are simply inhabitants of the forest, but being infatuated with their friend Krsna, who is nothing but an ordinary human being, they have dared to defy the demigods.”
Ordered by King Indra, all the dangerous clouds appeared above Vrndavana and began to pour water incessantly with all their strength and power. There was constant lightning and thunder, blowing of severe wind, and incessant rain, which seemed to fall like piercing sharp arrows. Pouring water as thick as pillars, without cessation, the clouds finally filled all the lands of Vrndavana with water, and there was no visible distinction between higher and lower land. The situation was very dangerous, especially for the animals. Unable to find any other source of deliverance, they all approached Govinda, Krsna, to take shelter at His lotus feet. They all began to pray to Lord Krsna, “Dear Krsna, You are all-powerful, and You are very affectionate to Your devotees. Now please protect us who have been much harassed by angry Indra.”
Krsna understood the deliberate exhibition of anger by Indra. “This demigod who thinks himself supreme has shown his great power,” He thought, “but I shall answer him according to My position, and I shall thus take away his false prestige.” Thinking in this way, Krsna immediately picked up Govardhana Hill with one hand, exactly as a child picks up a mushroom from the ground. Thus He exhibited His transcendental pastime of lifting Govardhana Hill. He then addressed the devotees, “My dear brothers, My dear father, My dear inhabitants of Vrndavana, you can now safely enter under the umbrella of Govardhana Hill, which I have just lifted. Do not be afraid of the hill and think that it will fall from My hand. You have been too much afflicted from the heavy rain and strong wind; therefore I have lifted this hill, which will protect you exactly like a huge umbrella.” Seeing this mystic power of Krsna, Indra was dumbstruck and baffled. He immediately called back the clouds and asked them to stop.
When the sky was completely cleared of all clouds, there was sunrise again, and the strong winds stopped. Krsna, who was now known as the lifter of Govardhana Hill, said, “My dear cowherd men, now you can leave and take your wives, children, cows and valuables, because everything is ended. The flood has gone down, along with the swelling of the river.” Krsna held up Govardhana Hill for seven days. When the flood was over and all the residents and animals had left the shelter of the hill, Krsna placed Govardhana Hill back in its position exactly as it was before. There was a great celebration in the heavens at this pastime of Krsna’s, and many demigods poured showers of flowers from the sky and sounded conchshells. All the people of Vrndavana, who were very affectionate to Krsna, embraced Him and offered Him incessant blessings.
There is a class of unscrupulous men who declare themselves to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even when they hear the Vedic descriptions of Krsna, they attempt to imitate His pastimes such as His dealings of love with the gopis or cowherd girls of Vrndavana. Such foolish pretenders sometimes gain followers who are even more foolish because they actually believe that any upstart can become the Supreme Personality of Godhead simply by declaring himself to be so. Such so-called yogis and svamis who falsely pose as incarnations are challenged by this pastime of Govardhana Hill. A common man may try to imitate the loving pastimes of Krsna and claim to be Krsna Himself, but we can ask such false incarnations to perform something as wonderful as Krsna’s lifting a mountain with the pinky of His left hand. Of course they cannot do this. We should understand that Krsna comes to this earth to impart to us instructions about how to become God conscious. His teachings are meant to be followed, but His activities as the Supreme Personality of Godhead are wonderful pastimes which can never be imitated by a common man. Anyone who declares himself to be God but is unable to enact wonderful pastimes such as lifting Govardhana Hill is the worst of rascals and most preposterous of fools.
Indra, the King of heaven, was conscious of his offense before Krsna. Therefore he stealthily appeared before Him from a secluded place. Conscious of his subordinate position, he appeared before Krsna with folded hands to offer prayers. “My Lord,” Indra said, “I was a victim of false prestige. When I saw You stop the sacrifice, I thought that You were taking my share of the profit, and I forgot my position. There is no question of Your being my rival. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and I am simply Your eternal servant, but due to my false pride I forgot that You are transcendental, beyond the disturbance of the material qualities. Your abode is accessible only for one who is completely freed from the onslaught of material qualities like passion and ignorance.”
Indra appreciated Krsna’s right to chastise him and was grateful that Krsna had tactfully removed his false prestige. Although Indra had vented all his power in the flood, Krsna showed that this power could be thwarted simply by the pinky of His left hand. Indra saw himself as being grossly ignorant, and he thanked Krsna for His kindness and mercy in destroying all his pride. Indra said, “I take shelter of Your lotus feet, my dear Lord. You are not only the supreme controller but the spiritual master of all living entities.” After thus offering his humble obeisances, Indra took leave of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and returned to his heavenly kingdom.
Regarding the wonderful lifting of the hill, it can be stated that Krsna does not need to lift a hill with His hand. He can vanquish the demons by His material energy and therefore does not need to personally appear on the scene. But He lifted Govardhana Hill just to please His devotees. By seeing Krsna perform such a wonderful act, or simply by hearing of such activities, we can appreciate specifically the general truth that “God is great.” By faithfully hearing of His transcendental activities one can develop love of Krsna, which is the perfection of all existence. The most fortunate of all beings are those eternal associates of Krsna such as the cowherd residents of Vrndavana who take part with Him in His activities in the eternal spiritual world. Anyone can aspire to join with Krsna in His eternal, blissful realm, Krsna loka. The only qualification is love of Krsna, and such love of Krsna is our original, constitutional position. We have now simply forgotten our original spiritual relationship, and therefore we have become entangled in temporary material relationships which are likened to the dreams of a sleeping man. For the purpose of awakening humanity’s original love of Krsna, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is presenting the philosophy and activities of Krsna from the Vedic literature. We strongly recommend our readers to turn to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead to relish further the pastimes of the allattractive Lord, the cause of all causes.