“O sober Vidura, King Indra, his honor having been insulted, poured water incessantly on Vrindavana, and thus the inhabitants of Vraja, the land of cows, were greatly distressed. But the compassionate Lord Krishna saved them from danger with His pastime umbrella, the Govardhana Hill.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.33)Download this episode (right click and save)
From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, there is birth and death. Beginning and end. New life and then the exit for a subsequent birth. The hellish region represents the lower planetary system. The highest place is Lord Brahma’s abode. He lives for an inconceivably long time. A person who knows the length of his day has an actual grasp of time, which is known as kala in Sanskrit.
“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma's one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.17)
As there is birth and death in the material world, no place can be completely safe. If the end must come eventually, something must effect that end. Yet there is one exception. There is full safety in the shelter of the Divine. The shelter can be subtle, coming through consciousness. For this reason the acharyas of the Vaishnava tradition put so much emphasis on the constant chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The shelter can be physical as well, and appearing in this world. One of the most vivid examples is the lifting of Govardhana Hill. A massive structure of land, still manifest in this world and requiring hours by foot to circumambulate, this sacred hill was once resting on the pinky finger of the left hand of an attractive youth of bluish complexion. In that position, the hill acted as an umbrella and the people underneath were in the safest place in the world.
1. Protection from adhidaivika miseries
The material world is like a fort with high walls that are almost impossible to scale. Those walls are paid for by the desires of the residents behind them. As long as there is a desire to compete with God, to enjoy separate from Him, the walls remain. The fort of the material world is maintained by the goddess named Durga.
She carries a trident in one of her hands. The three prongs represent the three sources of misery in the material world. For the residents of Vrindavana one time, the demigod source of misery rushed towards them in a dramatic way. The people had just completed the first puja, or worship, of Govardhana Hill, done at the direction of Shri Krishna, the darling of the town and son of the king, Nanda.
The preparations for the puja were actually holdovers from a different worship. Nanda was prepared to offer tribute to the king of heaven, Indra. He is the leader in terms of bringing the adhidaivika source of misery. If Indra is pleased, then there is sufficient rainfall to allow plant life to continue.
Indra was so enraged about the neglected worship that he retaliated with a devastating rainstorm. It was such a flash flood that the residents were completely surprised. They thought everything was over, that Indra was going to be the cause of death.
Krishna then lifted up the just worshiped Govardhana Hill. He advised everyone to get underneath. Some of the rocks slipped off the hill and thus formed a boundary against the rising waters. The people were safe. Indra could no longer harm them. In fact, they were safe from any misery coming from the heavens.
2. Krishna has immeasurable strength
On a rainy day I’ve taken my umbrella with me for the commute to work. As strong as the umbrella is, on this day the wind is very high. Halfway through the trip, my umbrella has inverted. It is practically useless to me now. I tried to get protection from a typical misery in this world, and that protection failed me.
Not the case with the Supreme Lord. He has immeasurable strength. Nothing was going to stop Govardhana from acting as the world’s largest and sturdiest umbrella. The people worried, for sure. How could a youth with delicate features be strong enough to even lift the hill, let alone hold it aloft for seven straight days? Yet that is precisely what He did, showing the magic of God. Krishna is a unique and distinct personality, who has transcendental features that are beyond measure. For this reason one of His names is Adhokshaja.
3. Protection against dangers within
You’re safe from the rain. The hill is going to stay up. But that doesn’t mean you are totally out of the woods. Another source of misery is adhyatmika. These come from within the body. Think physical ailments. Mental disease is there, too. Would the residents go stir crazy? Would they get homesick? Would they get cabin fever?
Man is vulnerable to these things even when outside the shelter of a massive umbrella. For the residents of Vrindavana, they were completely safe from maya, or illusion, since they were with Krishna. He was not simply another member of the group. He was central to everyone’s consciousness. There was full dependence on Him.
All the different moods of interaction with God the person were present in that situation. Mother Yashoda was worried that the strain on Krishna’s arm was too great. The friends tried to offer help. The young gopis, the cowherd girls, were thrilled to be so close to their beloved. In this way there was no chance of thinking of anything besides the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him. This is the ultimate goal of life, and the memory of the uplifted Govardhana gives a picture of what awaits the devoted soul who remains conscious of Shri Krishna.
Picture of what in afterlife to await,
From Govardhana as umbrella state.
Protection all miseries against,
Like even rain from heaven sent.
Held aloft for seven days length,
By young child of immeasurable strength.
No more boredom at all to see,
Since by Krishna’s side to be.