By Swami Harshananda
Govardhana literally means ‘that which helps in the prosperity of the cows’.
Govardhana is a small hillock situated about 25 kms. (16 miles) from the town Mathurā in Uttar Pradesh. When Kṛṣṇa was living in Vṛndāvana, he found that one day all the elders of the village were busy preparing for the annual festival of Indramaha and were involved in the worship of Indra, the king of the gods in heaven. With a view to demolish the pride of Indra, Kṛṣṇa advised his foster-father Nanda and the other elders of the village to abandon it and instead worship the Govardhana hillock, the cows and the bulls. They actually protect and sustain them. His suggestion was gladly accepted and duly implemented.
Enraged by this, Indra, the lord of clouds and rain, retaliated by creating an unprecedented deluge. However, the boy Kṛṣṇa lifted the Govardhana hillock with one hand and held it like an umbrella and protected the people of the village. They took shelter beneath it. Indra realized his folly and true nature of Kṛṣṇa as Viṣṇu himself. After apologizing and worshiping him, he left for his heavenly abode. Since then Kṛṣṇa came to be known as ‘Govardhana-giridhārī’ which means ‘one who lifted the Govardhana hill’. He was also known as ‘Govinda’, ‘one who protected the cows’ and ‘Upendra’, ‘one who was above or superior to Indra’.
The Govardhana hillock near Mathurā is about 6.5 kms. (4 miles) in length and not very high. Pilgrims who visit it sometimes do ‘parikrama,’ i.e., circum ambulation as per the directions given in some smṛtis and purāṇas.
A ceremonial worship of the hillock called as ‘Govardhanapujā’ is generally held on Kārttika-śukla-pratipad. This day is also known as ‘Balipratipadā’. Worship of cows and bulls is an important aspect of this festival. In other places, the worship is done to a replica of the hillock.
- Viṣṇupurāna 5.10.16
- Kārttika-śukla-pratipad is the first day of the bright fortnight in the month of Kārttika, generally in November.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore