Musings on Govardhan

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Happy Govardhan Utsav!

Govardhan Utsav (also called Annakuta) marks the day during the sacred month of Karttika when, at Krishna’s persuasion, the Vrajabasis made an offering to Govardhan Hill in place of their annual Indra-yagna.

I find this story incredibly confusing and wanted to try to unpack it a little. It’s funny; Govardhan and Giriraj figure so prominently within Vaishnav worship, but the actual Govardhan lila is, on the face of it, very very strange. The Vrajabasis, all farmers and cowherds, are going to make an offering to Lord Indra out of gratitude and appreciation for his provision of weather appropriate for their livelihoods. Krishna somehow persuades His father, Nanda, who is the head of the village, to make the offering to Govardhan instead, and the Vrajabasis comply out of love. Krishna is Himself Govardhan, so it is He who is accepting the offerings. It’s recounted as quite an astonishing scene: Gopal Krishna and all the Vrajabasis make massive offerings of food to Govardhan, which is Krishna, while Giriraj, who is also both Govardhan and Krishna, appears to eat them.

Confusing, right? It gets worse when Indra suddenly appears to provide rains – and not just normal rains, but seven days of torrential rain meant to punish the Vrajabasis for their insolence, and six-year-old Krishna stands on a rock and lifts up the entire hill with his pinky finger while the Vrajabasis and all their livestock shelter underneath it for an entire week.

To back up a few steps, Krishna’s actual argument to Nanda is highly suspect. He bases it on karma-mimamsa philosophy, arguing that Indra actually has nothing to do with the rain and that there is no need to make offerings. We as Vaishnavas don’t accept this philosophy, so it’s hard to know His actual reasons for it. (I guess this holds for everything.) I wanted to brainstorm some possible explanations for this lila, and appreciate the contributions of those wiser than I.

– Krishna takes the form of Giriraj to demonstrate that ultimately He accepts anything we offer – whether directly to Him or not.

– Krishna takes the form of Giriraj to show that out of love for His devotees, He will take whatever form will satisfy their deepest desires. (Thinking also of Sri Radha Raman Ji here.)

– Krishna is simply doing all this so that he can have a “showdown” with Indra to quash Indra’s pride.

– Krishna initiates the Govardhan Puja to be able to play with the gopis during the parikrama.

– Krishna initiates the entire episode to fulfill his mission of ending the karma-kanda (ritual-based) practices and teach us that our relationships with each other, the world, and the Supreme are not based on contracts and gifts offered but on love.

– Krishna initiates the entire episode to humble the pride of people like me who think we can understand Divine lila, and to remind us that faith is, well, about faith (and love, and humility, and…) and not intellectual understanding.

I will be performing my worship regardless – I do believe you should worship the Lord even when/especially when you’re not feeling really inspired or motivated – but it would be nice to find a bit of peace with this question, especially since it figures so prominently within Vaishnav practice, and since the Srimad Bhagavatam itself says performing the Govardhan Puja is as important as life itself!

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