Question: Some devotees worship Govardhana as Kṛṣṇa or Balarāma and others worship Him as the best devotee of Kṛṣṇa (Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī). How should we worship Govardhana?
Answer: Govardhana Hill holds a very unique position. On one hand He is non-different than the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa and on the other hand He is a devotee of Kṛṣṇa in śānta-rasa (neutrality). As for the worship of Govardhana we are to worship Him as Kṛṣṇa. This is what we have been shown by Kṛṣṇa Himself and by our Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ācāryas. Some devotees also worship govardhana-śilā as both Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma but this is not a bona-fide conception.
One may be surprised to know that Govardhana is in śānta-rasa and even more surprised to know that Rādhā-kuṇḍa is also in śānta-rasa. But it is a fact, Rādhā-kuṇḍa, Govardhana Hill, Yamuna and many other entities in Vṛndāvana are in śānta–rasa. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja mentions this as follows:
“Everything in Vṛndāvana is necessary for the pastimes of Rādhā-Govinda. Everything in the spiritual environment has its indirect value… Another example of śānta-rasa is Rādhā-kuṇḍa. Rādhā-kuṇḍa, the bathing place of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, where Kṛṣṇa enacts his pastimes of conjugal love, is considered to be the highest place in Vṛndāvana. The gods and devotees all praise Rādhā-kuṇḍa. Should we think it to be an ordinary body of water? Rather, how exalted is the position of Rādhā-kuṇḍa. Then there is Govardhana Hill. That is also a kind of pose. Apparently it is a hill, but Govardhana is worshiped as Kṛṣṇa Himself.” (Subjective Evolution of Consciousness, Ch-5)
The highest worship of Govardhana (govardhana-śilā) is performed with guñja-mālā (small red, white, and black beads). The guñja-mālā is the representation of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave govardhana–śilā to Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī to worship He did so with guñja–mālā. Dāsa Gosvāmī, our prayojana-ācārya, worshiped Govardhana with guñja–mālā and thus achieved the highest perfection in love of God. (For further details see Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.287-307)
Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja has written the following describing the govardhana–śilā and guñja–mālā as non-different from the Divine Couple, Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa:
“Once, Śrī Śaṅkarānanda Sarasvatī came to Śrī Purī Dhāma from Śrī Vṛndāvana to deliver to Śrīman Mahāprabhu a piece of the Govardhana stone together with a string of ‘guñja-mālā‘ (beads) wrapped in two bundles of cloth which he presented to Śrīman Mahāprabhu who, at that time was residing at Gambhīra. The Lord became exceedingly pleased on receiving these invaluable items. In continuous remembrance of the divine pastimes of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, He used to wear the mālā (beads) round His neck. By contemplation of the Govardhana stone as non-different from the transcendental body of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, He used to place this stone over His head and eyes, becoming overwrought with loving emotions. In the loving moods, He would exuberantly place it on His head or near His nose as if to catch the overpowering transcendental fragrance of the stone and more often than not, would drench it with tears flowing from His eyes. In this regard, Śrīman Mahāprabhu used to visualize the Govardhana stone and the guñja–mālā together as the personification of the Divine Couple Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.”
Some devotees worship govardhana-śilā as the best devotee of Kṛṣṇa because Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī has referred to Govardhana as ‘Hari-dāsa-varya.’ These devotees take it that because Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is actually the best devotee of Kṛṣṇa therefore Govardhana is Rādhārāṇī and they worship govardhana-śilā as ‘Girirāṇī’ and not as Girirāja – thus they do not offer tulasī leaves to Govardhana. This is a novel idea, but it does not find support from our ācāryas. (Note: We have not been able to find the term ‘Girirāṇī’ nor the term ‘Hari-dāsī-varya’ in any of the Gauḍīya literature.)
Dāsa Gosvāmī has written:
mṛtam idam uditaḿ śrī-rādhikā-vaktra-candrāt
“O Govardhana, O king of mountains, O hill whose nectar name “the best of Lord Hari’s servants” flows from the moon of Śrī Rādhā’s mouth…” (Stavāvalī, Śrī Govardhana-vāsa-prārthanā-Daśaka, v.8)
Govardhana is called “Hari-dāsa-varya” but it appears from this verse that it is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī Herself who has given Govardhana his illustrious title.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura also mentions ‘Hari-dāsa-varya’ in Stavāmṛta Laharī, v.8 as follows, but there is no indication that he is referring to Rādhārāṇī or that one should not offer tulasī leaves to Govardhana:
vinā bhavet kiḿ hari-dāsa-varya-
padāśrayaḿbhaktir ataḥ śrayāmi
yam eva saprema nijeśayoḥ śrī-
govardhano me diśatām abhīṣṭam
“Without taking shelter of the feet of the hill that is the best of Lord Hari’s servants and full of love for the divine king and queen, how is it possible to attain pure devotional service? May Govardhana Hill fulfil my desire.”
Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja used to recall that when his Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was staying at Candraśekhara Bhavān (Caitanya Maṭha) in Māyāpura, which is considered non-different from Govardhana Hill, that he observed his guru daily offering fresh water and tulasī leaves to govardhana-śilā. Example speaks louder than precept – our ācārya has instructed us by the method of his own practice.
Of course, it is laudable to want to raise our glance and try to recognize the representation of our most worshipable object, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, in doing this we should not neglect the example of our ācāryas or neglect to give proper attention to the eternal ontological truths.
If we were to accept the proposal that Govardhana is non-different than Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, then ontologically what position would Rādhā-kuṇḍa hold? The līlā of Kṛṣṇa is a complete organic whole and each part compliments another – all rising in a great symphony to the culmination of mādhurya–prema at Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa. Rādhā-kuṇḍa is non-different from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the abode of pure love for Kṛṣṇa. But if we accept Govardhana as equal to Rādhā-kuṇḍa then a discrepancy is created in the Lord’s līlā. When something is superior, it cannot have an equal, otherwise it is not superior. The superiority of Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa as above all other spiritual abodes and places of līlā is explained by Śrīla Rupa Gosvāmī as follows.
vaikuṇṭhāj janito varā madhu-purī tatrāpi rāsotsavād
vṛndāraṇyam udāra-pāṇi-ramaṇāt tatrāpi govardhanaḥ
rādhā-kuṇḍam ihāpi gokula-pateḥ premāmṛtāplāvanāt
kuryād asya virājato giri-taṭe sevāṁ vivekī na kaḥ
“Due to Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s having taken birth there, the abode of Mathurā is superior even to Vaikuṇṭha, the realm of spiritual opulence. Superior to Mathurā is the forest of Vṛndāvana because there the festival of the rasa dance took place. Superior to Vṛndāvana forest is Govardhana Hill because Śrī Kṛṣṇa raised it with His lotus hand and performed many pastimes there with His devotees. Yet superior even to Govardhana Hill is Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa because it immerses one in the nectar of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s divine love. What intelligent person would not desire to render service to this magnificent pond, which is splendidly situated at the base of Govardhana Hill?” (Upadeśāmṛta, v.9)
Govardhana Hill is indeed superior to other places in Vraja but it is not superior or even equal to Rādhā-kuṇḍa.
Quoting Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, there is another example that shows us that Govardhana is not equal to Rādhā-kuṇḍa. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja explains:
“Pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge. Prabhupāda instructed that we must not go to live in Rādhā-kuṇḍa, the most sacred place of pilgrimage. One day near Lalitā-kuṇḍa, where there was a single-story building at Svānanda Sukhanda Kuñja, he said, ‘A second story is necessary, but I will not be able to live there.’ I asked, ‘If you will not live on the first floor, who will live there? What is the necessity of further construction?’
“‘No. You don’t know. Better persons will live there; Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Gaura Kiśora Bābājī Mahārāja. They will live there, and we shall stay on the ground floor and we shall serve them.’ Again he said, ‘I shall live in Govardhana. Rādhā-kuṇḍa is the highest place, the place of our Guru Mahārāja, our Gurudevas. They will live here in closer connection with līlā, but we are not fit to live there. We shall live in Govardhana, just a little far away. Because we shall have to come and serve our Gurudevas, we must be near, but we must not live in closer connection with them. We are not fit.'” (Follow the Angels, Part Two)
Indeed, if in the conception of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura (whose conception is non-different from that of Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī) he had considered Govardhana as non-different from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī then he would not have suggested it as our place of residence. Pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge, his suggestion was that we should keep our position a little distant and below. That is the tenor of the proper approach to the highest domain. Dāsa Gosvāmī and Sarasvatī Ṭhākura both revered the service section of the Lord’s līlā, thus they desired to reside at Govardhana and kept Rādhā-kuṇḍa as their most worshipable object
The fact is that even if devotees take shelter of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī in mādhurya-rasa, if they neglect to accept the example of our previous ācāryas, then their bhajana is not accepted by the Supreme Lord. Therefore, we should perform our bhajana following exactly in the footsteps of our ācāryas.
In the līlā of Kṛṣṇa the residents of Vraja also saw Govardhana Hill as non-different than Kṛṣṇa. They did not see Govardhana as Rādhārāṇī. In fact, Kṛṣṇa manifested His form to the Vraja-vāsīs as Govardhana Hill for all to see (this was also seen by Rādhārāṇī and other gopīs).
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has mentioned the govardhana-līlā in the following way:
“It is also described here that when the Vraja-vāsīs worshipped Him and engaged in sacrifice for His satisfaction, they saw Govardhana Hill as the Supreme Person, extending His hands, accepting the things offered to Him, and feeding Himself.
“At that time, Kṛṣṇa pointed out, ‘You see! You thought that Govardhana Hill was only a heap of stone. No, it is living, it is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.’ At that time, Kṛṣṇa revealed Himself as Govardhana Hill and showed how it is also His extended self. According to authorities in our line, Rādhā-kuṇḍa is the extended self of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and Govardhana is the extended self of Kṛṣṇa. And so we worship a stone from Govardhana Hill, a part of Giridhārī, as Kṛṣṇa Himself. We may understand from this that a part of the infinite is infinite. And yet so feeble is our ordinary vision that although govardhana-śilā is a part of the infinite, and therefore also infinite, to our material vision it is only a piece of stone.
“A part of the infinite is also infinite. The govardhana-śilā represents Kṛṣṇa as the master and keeper of cows. Within Govardhana is that mild and soft conception of God the Beautiful. We beg for His mercy, His affection, and His gracious glance upon us.” (Loving Search for the Lost Servant, Ch. 4, Lord of the Cows)
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja also says:
“Kṛṣṇa expressed Himself in Bhāgavatam and other places, where we find that He says ‘I am in Govardhana’. ‘Govardhana and Myself, inseparably we are connected. Anyone who will worship Govardhana, he will worship Me.’ And this idea, Mahāprabhu gave it to Dāsa Gosvāmī Prabhu. And then in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava school that worship of govardhana-śilā is continuing. And his entrance into the rāga-mārga, direct in the line of divine love towards Kṛṣṇa.”
If we want to sincerely serve Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Govinda, then we have to accept Them as our ācāryas have done – then the Lord reveals Himself as He is. We are not to conjecture what He is or try to capture Him and make Him an object of our imagination. As it is said:
“It is folly to think that we can bring the infinite into our fist and make Him an object of our whim. He is an autocrat and therefore it is better to have a true glimpse of Him according to His will rather than to try to capture Him with our tiny brains.” (Anonymous Monk)