Govardhana Hill knows that the secret of serving Krsna is to serve Krsna's devotees.
A lecture given by Giriraja Swami in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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. Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila 14.86 (quoted from Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.21.18)
IN SRIMAD-BHRgAVATAM, Sukadeva Gosvami describes the activities of Krsna and Balarama throughout the seasons. He describes Their pastimes in the summer season, in the rainy season, and in autumn. When Krsna and Balarama would enter the forest, the gopis, the cowherd girls, would think of Krsna's pastimes and glorify them. Although the gopis were at home discussing amongst themselves, because of transcendental vision and deep attachment for Krsna they would speak as if with Krsna in the forest or at Govardhana Hill.
In this verse the gopis speak with great joy. Hanta is an expression of joy. They say, ayam adrir: "this hill." If someone is near, we say "this." "This boy." Although the gopis were far from Govardhana Hill, they felt as if near. So they say, ayam adrir, "this hill," hari-dasa-varyo, is "the best among the servants of Hari, or Krsna."
We are also trying to become servants of Lord Hari. So how to serve Hari nicely can be learned from Govardhana Hill. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Tenth Canto, other devotees have been called hari-dasa,servants of Hari. Maharaja Yudhisthira is described as hari-dasa because he performed the rajasuya sacrifice to glorify Lord Krsna. Many sages and saintly persons came, many kings and other world leaders, not just to see Lord Krsna but also to see Maharaja Yudhisthira and the Pandavas. Because of the Pandavas' love for Krsna, Krsna regularly used to visit their home. Devotees are prepared to go to any length to meet Krsna, but the Lord Himself used to come to visit the Pandavas. And He used to act as their friend, their master, their servant, and their advisor in so many ways.
So Maharaja Yudhisthira is called hari–dasa. And not only did he and his brothers serve Lord Krsna, but their wife, their mother, and all of their citizens were fully engaged in the service of the Lord. So Lord Krsna was very much pleased with them, and in ecstasy, appreciating Maharaja Yudhisthira and the Pandavas, Sukadeva Gosvami speaks of them as hari-dasa.
Another hari-dasa mentioned in the Tenth Canto is Uddhava. Uddhava was the cousin of Lord Krsna and very near and dear to Him. Amongst all the associates of Krsna in Dvaraka, Uddhava was the constant companion of the Lord, discussing with Him, even advising Him, and serving Him always. Uddhava was so close to Krsna and so qualified that when Krsna thought of delivering a message to Vrndavana He sent Uddhava as His representative. Uddhava stayed in Vrndavana for several months, reminding the residents of Krsna and His pastimes. So Sukadeva Gosvami has also called Uddhava hari-dasa. And there are many other hari-dasas, like Narada.
Still, Govardhana Hill is called hari-dasa-varyo, the best of the servants of the Lord. Why is he considered the best? Rama-krsna-carana-sparasa-pramoda. Pramoda means "jubilant, exceedingly joyful." When a servant engages in the service of the master, the servant should feel joy. And by his service the master should feel joy. Both should feel joy. When the servant sees that the master feels joy, the servant's joy increases. And when the master sees that the servant feels joy, the master's joy increases. So there is competition between the master and the servant, each trying to give more pleasure to the other. By giving pleasure to the other, each feels more pleasure himself.
If a servant does not feel joy but rather complains "Oh, I have been serving my master, but I had no time to take prasadam. I feel so hungry. And I had no time to get enough rest. I feel so tired" then he is not the best servant of his master. The best servant of any master will feel joy in any condition like Govardhana Hill.
Sometimes the question may be raised, How could the whole of Vraja (Vrndavana) fit under Govardhana Hill when Govardhana Hill is only part of Vraja? The acaryas, the previous spiritual masters, have answered that Govardhana Hill felt so much ecstasy in being lifted by Krsna that he expanded in size. And what was his service then? He had to shelter the residents of Vrndavana from fierce winds, from torrential rain and hail, and from the thunderbolts of Indra. But he never felt any distress "Oh, I am being attacked by hail, rain, thunderbolts, and fierce winds." No. He was jubilant because of being touched by Krsna's hand and engaged in service to Krsna and Krsna's devotees. In any condition he felt jubilant to be engaged in the service of Krsna and the devotees, especially being touched by the lotus feet of Balarama and Krsna, or Radha and Krsna (rama-krsna-carana-sparasa).
Serving the Servants
Govardhana Hill is also the best servant of Lord Hari because he gives his whole body for the service of Hari and His devotees. They walk all over his body. If anyone even our master were to walk on our body, we might not feel jubilant. But Govardhana Hill, offering his own body for the service of the Lord, making his body the platform on which the Lord enjoys pastimes with His devotees, felt jubilant. And Govardhana Hill would offer respects (manam tanoti) not only to Krsna but to the cows and calves and cowherd boys (saha-go-ganayos tayor). Go means "cows and calves," and ganayos means "cowherd boys" or all those connected with the cows, including the gopis. In other words, Govardhana Hill didn't want to serve only Krsna, or only Krsna and Balarama. He wanted to serve Them along with Their devotees, not only the cowherd boys and girls but even the cows and calves. He wanted to serve all of them.
We should learn from Govardhana Hill that we can please the Lord better by serving the Lord's devotees than by trying to serve the Lord directly. In the book Krsna, Srila Prabhupada comments on this verse. He says that Govardhana Hill knew the secret of how to please the Lord by pleasing His most beloved associates. Govardhana Hill gave his body and everything else not only for the service of the Lord personally but for the Lord's servants as well. That's how he gave respect to them.
How did Govardhana Hill serve the Lord and His servants? Paniya: by supplying fresh drinking water, especially from his waterfalls. Krsna and the cowherd boys and calves would also wash their hands and feet in Govardhana's water and drink it as well. Suyavasa: "very soft grass." Some of the grasses from Govardhana were used to perform sacrifices, and other grasses, especially soft, fragrant grasses, were used to feed the cows so they would be strong and healthy and give nice milk. Kandara: "caves." Sometimes, when it was very hot, Krsna and Balarama, or Krsna and the gopis, would take shelter in Govardhana's caves and feel cool. And if it was too cold they would take shelter in the caves to feel warm. Kanda-mulaih: "by roots." The cows and the boys would eat roots from the hill, as well as fruits and vegetables and flowers and many other items. And when Krsna and Balarama would walk on Govardhana, he would melt in ecstatic love, and his stones would become soft like butter, giving pleasure to the feet of the Lord. And Govardhana would create natural thrones where Krsna would sit and enjoy pastimes.
How did Govardhana show his joy? His tall grasses were his bodily hairs standing up in ecstasy, his moisture was his ecstatic perspiration, and the trickling of drops of water through his stones were his tears of love. Everything of Govardhana is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss.
Meeting and Serving Radha and Krsna
Although Krsna once revealed that He Himself is Govardhana Hill, here we see the gopis appreciating Govardhana as the best of Krsna's servants, not as Krsna. Why? The gopis are in the mood of separation. They want to meet and serve Krsna. They had not yet directly met Krsna, but by seeing Him or hearing about Him they had become attached to Him. So the gopis are thinking, "One can fulfill one's desires only by the mercy of great souls. Who are great souls? The servants of Lord Hari. And Govardhana Hill is the best of them. So we should go to Govardhana, and by his mercy all our desires will be fulfilled. We will be able to meet and serve Krsna."
Because the gopis were under the protection of their elders and other relatives, they had no chance to meet Krsna. So they thought, "We will tell our elders that we want to go to Manasi Ganga to bathe and then take audience of Hari-deva." Sri Hari-deva, Krsna in the form of Lord Narayana, is the presiding Deity of Govardhana Hill. So the gopis thought, "We will take permission from our elders to go and bathe and see Hari-deva." But actually the mercy one can get from hari-dasa, the Lord's servant, is better than the mercy one can get from Hari-deva, the Lord. So on the pretext of going to Govardhana Hill to worship Hari-deva, they went to get the mercy of Govardhana himself, the best of Hari's servants, to be able to meet Krsna.
All scriptures advise that we should serve great souls and get their mercy. From the First Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (syan mahat-sevaya) to the Fifth Canto (mahat-sevam dvaram ahur vimuktes) and throughout, as well as from other scriptures and authorities, we know that by serving great souls pure devotees we can get the greatest mercy and the greatest benefit. And of all of the devotees, Govardhana Hill is the best. So if we go to Govardhana and get his mercy, we will get the greatest mercy that anyone can get, and our desire to meet and serve Radha and Krsna will be fulfilled.
Serving the Servant of the Servant
Question: Some say that Govardhana is Krsna's devotee, while others say he is Krsna directly. Which is correct?
Giriraja Swami: Both are correct. At the time of Govardhana Puja, Krsna expanded Himself into a huge form and declared, "I am Govardhana Hill." Actually He is Govardhana Hill. And the gopis worshiped Govardhana as the best devotee of Krsna, hari-dasa-varyo. So both ways of seeing are valid. But I think the mercy we can get from the devotee of Krsna is more than the mercy we can get from Krsna directly. By following the gopis we can benefit more.
We see that Gaura, Krsna Caitanya, is also Krsna, but as Krsna He could not give prema love of Godhead as He did as Gaura. As Gaurahari He was more merciful because He was in the mood of Hari's servant. If we aspire to serve Hari's servant, we can benefit more than if we try to serve Hari directly. Therefore Gaurahari aspired to be gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Sri Krsna, the maintainer of the gopis. And by approaching Govardhana Hill, Caitanya Mahaprabhu fulfilled that ambition. I'll read an excerpt from the Caitanya-caritamrta (Antya-lila 14.104-111):
When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu saw all the Vaisnavas, He returned to partial external consciousness and spoke to Svarupa Damodara. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "Who has brought Me here from Govardhana Hill? I was seeing Lord Krsna's pastimes, but now I cannot see them. Today I went from here to Govardhana Hill to find out if Krsna was tending His cows there. I saw Lord Krsna climbing Govardhana Hill and playing His flute, surrounded by grazing cows. Hearing the vibration of Krsna's flute, Srimati Radharani and all Her gopi friends came there to meet Him. They were all very nicely dressed. When Krsna and Srimati Radharani entered a cave together, the other gopis asked Me to pick some flowers.
"Just then, all of you made a tumultuous sound and carried Me from there to this place. Why have you brought Me here, causing Me unnecessary pain? I had a chance to see Krsna's pastimes, but I could not see them."
If we approach Govardhana Hill following in the line of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we may also get the mercy to become a servant of the servant of the best of Lord Hari's servants. So we pray to Govardhana, "Please fulfill our desires."
Giriraja Swami joined the Krsna consciousness movement in 1969 and accepted the renounced order of life in 1978. During the mid-seventies, under Prabhupada's supervision he guided the construction of ISKCON's temple complex in Bombay. He is a member of ISKCON's governing body commission and teaches Krsna consciousness in India, Africa, and other parts of the world.