Govardhan Parikrama in MathuraGovardhan, falling within the Mathura-Vrindavan pilgrimage circuit, is a narrow sandstone hill, located about 26 kms west of Mathura town. It is accorded the same sacred status as Braj Bhoomi in the worship of Krishna or the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism. Govardhan, also known as Giriraj (the term ‘giri’ refers to a hill or hillock), is at the heart of Braj Bhoomi and is worshipped as a natural formed appendage of Lord Krishna. Hence, traditionally devout and conservative Vaishnavas do not even step on the hill because it is considered an alter form or Krishna.
The name ‘Govardhan’ can be translated to provide two different meanings or connotations. ‘Go’ or ‘Gau’ means cow and ‘bardhana’ means nursery or ‘to nurse’. So, in the context of Krishna worship, it means the land that nursed and nourished the cows of Vrindavan and Gokul. Krishna’s foster parents came from families of cowherds settled along the Yamuna for their livelihood.
Govardhan is also used in connotation to mean ‘increase in senses’, as when referring to the heightened bliss and enchantment devotees feel in the magical presence of Krishna; the Bhakti rasa that transcends all earthly connections.
Govardhan was re-discovered by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu during his visit to Braj Bhoomi in 1515 AD and he was immediately struck by the similarity of the shape of the bill to a peacock curving and bending its head down to nuzzle its throat. Traditionally, images of Krishna are depicted in the ‘tribhanga’ posture, or head bent slightly forward and to the side playing the flute with one leg crossed on the other, literally bending his body at three angles.
The Govardhan hill, in its present state, is only 80 feet (25 metres) high but has a wide base, probably giving credence to the legend that says that Govardhan was cursed to sink into the earth at the ‘dimension of a mustard seed’ everyday. Whether this has scientific relevance is hard to prove, but believers record that with the waters of the Yamuna receding each year, so is the height of Govardhan proportionately decreasing as visibility from surrounding areas has reduced considerably.
Legends Surrounding Govardhan Hill
The Adi Varaha Purana, during the time of Rama and his conquest of Lanka to bring Sita back, talks about the ‘vanaraseva’ building the bridge across the sea to Lanka. Hanuman was given the duty of bringing rocks and stones to make the bridge. As he was flying with the Govardhan hill which he had uprooted from Uttaranchal, he heard a divine voice letting him know that the bridge was complete and no more rocks were needed. As Hanuman set Govardhan down where Vrindavan is now, Giriraj (Govardhan) lamented the fact that he would not have the honour of Lord Rama’s feet touching him allowing him to receive the blessings. When Rama heard about this, he replied that he would hold Govardhan on his finger during the Dvapara Yug and accord him a status greater than Lord Indra. During the Dvapara Yug, Lord Rama who is also a Vishnu avatar took birth in the land of the Yadavas (cowherds) as Krishna, according Govardhan its iconic status as the centre of Braj Bhoomi and as Giriraj.
The Lifting of Govardhan Hill
The ancient Vaishnava Puranas tell the story of Govardhan and its endearing image as the triumph of faith over ego and power. Indra (god of lightning and rain) the most feared of the Vedic Devas of Indralok became extremely angry at Krishna and the people of the Braj disobeying his orders about performing sacrificial worships. He unleashed torrential rains on Vrindavan for seven days and seven nights. Without any shelter for themselves, their belongings and the cows, the people asked Krishna to protect them. Krishna lifted the Govardhan hill over his head, on his little finger and provided protection to his kinsfolk and all the animals from Indra’s fury, thus earning the epithet ‘Govardhandhari’.
Indra had not realized the potential of Krishna, as the complete avatar of Lord Vishnu and had to accept defeat. He offered prayers at Govardhan and left for Indralok.
This defeat of Indra symbolised a change in Hindu philosophy and belief in a more spiritual thought level as against the more conventional appeasement oriented and sacrificial forms of worship. Krishna was indeed a great reformer of the time, spreading the message of love, peace and harmony among all and cautioning people against using force only as a last resort when all else failed. The philosophy of ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’ was propagated by Krishna, and later references to this can be found in the Bhagavad Gita.
Govardhan, Iconic References
Early reference to the worship of God, in the Hindu faith, is represented by an iconic symbol rather than an image. A ‘sila’ or murti or deity did not have a particular form or image, Shiva’s banalinga and Vishnu’s saligrama are two iconic references to two of Hinduism’s most popular sects of belief. In folk worship of the earliest times, nature in all forms – sun, moon, trees, rocks, water, soil etc – was worshipped and offered obeisance to.
Many sects of Hinduism worshipped different forms of gods and goddesses according to popular perceptions of the time. The followers of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition worship Govardhan sila because they believe that Krishna and Govardhan are one and the same.
Even today, people collect small pieces of rock from Govardhan and worship them in their natural form, as reverent obeisance to Krishna.
Govardhan Parikrama or Giriraj Parikrama
The Parikrama (circumambulation or circumnavigation) is a sacred ritual in common Hindu worship. The entire distance of 24 kms can be done in one day if the parikrama is performed by walking briskly, according to devotees who have performed this many times. But for first timers it may be an arduous task as the pathway around the bill is uneven and filled with stones of different dimension making it difficult to walk on the uneven surface.
On special occasions like Purushottamamasa and Guru Purnima, thousands of devotees perform the Govardhan Parikrama.
Performing Govardhan Parikrama
There are three ways to perform the Parikrama.
- On foot – traditional Vaishnavas sing popular bhajans and kirtans and recite Ashtakshar mantra while doing the parikrama barefoot.
- Doodh dhara – this parikrama is done with the devotee holding a pot of milk which has a small hole at base that allows milk to flow in a steady stream on Giriraj. This way, abhishek of Giriraj is done. An attendant accompanies the devotee to ensure the pot is refilled constantly.
- Dandavata – this is the most arduous method where the devotee falls prostrate in full stretch (sash tang namaskar or Dandavata) all along the parikrama marg. This is performed by standing in a spot, doing obeisance with the full stretch of the body (like a stick), getting up and continuing to do this all the way. This parikrama may take days or even weeks to complete. Some sadhus or holy men offer 108 dandavatas at every spot; in this fashion it may take several months in completing the Parikrama. They sleep at a spot for the night and continue from that spot along the entire parikrama, depending upon alms given by the pilgrims to sustain themselves.
The Govardhan Parikrama usually takes the route created by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and followed by the Goswamis of Vrindavan.
The traditional route covers many important ghats, shrines and temples relevant to Krishna’s leelas.
- Begins by bathing at the Manasi-Ganga kund
- Having darshan of Lord Haridev
- Visit Radha-kund village where the parikrama path meets the road to Vrindavan
- Rinamochana kunda
- Kusum Sarovar
- Punchari, and finally ends at
- Manasi-Ganga kund
- Saat kosi Parikrama – this is the most preferred route covering seven Kos or 21 kilometres. This route begins at Mukharvind in Jatipura, and goes through Govardhan village, Manasi-Ganga kund, Udhav-kund, Radha-kund, Anyuar village, Govind-kund, Punchari village, Surabhi-kund, before coming back to Mukharvind.
- Panch-kosi Parikrama – this distance of 5 Kos (15 kms) proceeds to Anyuar village from the village of Govardhan without stopping at Radha-kund and Govind-kund.
- Nav Kosi Parikrama – this distance covering 9 Kos (27 kilometres) includes Chandra Sarovar after touching Govardhan village.