The hill in Vraja called Govardhana is famed as Radha and Krishna’s most cherished pastime place. Hence its great important to Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
The name ‘Govardhana’ has two primary translations. In the literal meaning, ‘Go’ translates to ‘cows’, and ‘vardhana’ translates to ‘nourishment’. Another meaning of ‘Go’ is ‘the senses’ and ‘vardhana’ can also mean ‘to increase’ – thus the name is also translated by worshippers of Krishna as ‘that which increases the senses’ in their attraction to Krishna. In this connection, it is believed that the personality of Govardhana blesses the worshipper by increasing his devotion (bhakti). Thus, by residing in the foothills of Govardhan Hill, all the senses and the respective duties of a soul attain divinity and are more inclined to perform service to Krishna.
The Appearance of Govardhana in Vraja
Sri Krishna’s father, Nanda Maharaja, once inquired from his brother Upananda how Govardhana Hill had appeared in the sacred land of Vraja. Upananda replied that King Pandu, father of the Pandavas, had asked this very question to Grandfather Bhisma, who had narrated the following story from the Garga Samhita:
One day in Goloka Vrindavana, Sri Krishna informed Srimati Radharani that she should now appear on Earth as it was time for them to perform their transcendental pastimes within the material world. Radharani replied that unless Vraja Dhama, the Yamuna and Govardhana Hill were present there, she would not be very happy. Krishna then told Radharani that she need not worry, as Vraja Dhama, along with the Yamuna and Govardhana Hill had already appeared on Earth.
Many years before this incident, in the land of Salmali Dvipa, the wife of the great mountain Dronacal gave birth to a son named Govardhana. At the time of Govardhana’s birth, all the demigods appeared in the sky and showered flowers upon him. The great mountains, led by the Himalayas and Sumeru, came there to offer their respects. They then performed parikrama of Govardhana and accepted him as their king. They offered very nice prayers praising Govardhana for having descended from Goloka Vrindavana, describing him as the “crown jewel of Vraja.”
Some years later, at the beginning of Satya-yuga, the great sage Pulastya Muni paid a visit to Salmali Dvipa. Upon seeing the beautiful Govardhana Hill covered with many lovely creepers, flowers, rivers, caves and chirping birds, the sage felt that this hill was capable of giving liberation. He then went to meet Dronacal, who immediately offered his respects and inquired from the sage what service he could render.
Pulastya Muni informed Dronacal that he was from Kasi (Benares) and was on pilgrimage to all the holy places. Pulastya Muni said that even though the sacred river Ganges flowed through Kasi, there was no beautiful hill. He then asked Dronacal to give Govardhana to him so that he could perform his austerities sitting on top of the hill.
On hearing the sage’s request, Dronacal, who was not willing to part with his son, started to shed tears in thought of separation from his beloved Govardhana. Not wanting to see Pulastya Muni become angry and curse his father, Govardhana asked the sage how he would carry him all the way to Kasi. The sage replied that he would carry him in his right hand. Govardhana then agreed to go with the sage on one condition — that if the sage put him down anywhere during the course of the journey, he would not be able to lift him again. Pulastya Muni agreed. Carrying Govardhana in his right hand he left for Kasi.
By the will of providence, Pulastya Muni passed through Vraja on his way to Kasi. Filled with joy on arriving in Vraja, Govardhana decided he should remain there in the holy Dhama. By his mystic power, he was able to influence Pulastya Muni to attend to the call of nature. Unmindful, the sage put Govardhana down and went off to answer the call. But when he returned he was unable to lift Govardhana again. Trying with all his might, using both hands, he could not lift Govardhana even slightly.
In great anger, Pulastya Muni cursed Govardhana to sink into the ground by the measurement of one mustard seed every day. When Govardhana first came to Vraja in the beginning of Satya-yuga, he was eight yojanas long (64 miles); five yojanas wide (40 miles) and two yojanas high (16 miles). It is said that after ten thousand years of the Kali-yuga, Govardhana will have completely disappeared. Presently at His highest point, the hill is 25 m high and 11 km long. Govardhana Hill is said to resemble a peacock. Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda are his eyes, Manasi-Ganga and Govardhana town his waist and the Apsara Kunda and Navala Kunda are the tail (poonch).
After Upananda narrated the wonderful story of Govardhana’s appearance, Sunanda informed Nanda Maharaja that as long as Govardhana Hill and the river Yamuna remained manifest, Kali-yuga would not take its full effect. Sunanda also said that anyone who is fortunate enough to hear the description of the appearance of Govardhana Hill would be freed from all sins.
Summary of the Lifting of Govardhana Hill
One day, Krishna saw that his father, Nanda, and the other cowherd men of Vraja were preparing an annual sacrifice to Indra (king of heaven and controller of rain & lightning). Krishna questioned his father about the significance and necessity of the sacrifice and suggested that as simple cow herders and famers dependent on the land, they had no obligation towards any demigod, but should simply do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cows. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their dharma (duty) to the best of their ability and not conduct sacrifices for phenomenon that occurs naturally such as rain. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special sacrifice. This made Indra angry. The king of heaven then ordered many storms clouds to appear in the sky and to flood the region with rains lasting for seven days and seven nights. In reply, Krishna, then only a seven-year-old boy, lifted Govardhan hill with the little finger of his left hand, under which all the animals and people of the region took shelter, safe from the rains of Indra’s fury. Ultimately, Indra accepted defeat. He offered his apologies and returned to his heavenly kingdom.
To read the full story as told in Krishna Book, click here.