Question: Some devotees worship Govardhana as Krsna or Balarama and others worship Him as the best devotee of Krsna (Srimati Radharani). 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, Krsna and on the other hand He is a devotee of Krsna in santa-rasa (neutrality). As for the worship of Govardhana we are to worship Him as Krsna. This is what we have been shown by Krsna Himself and by our Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas. Some devotees also worship Govardhana-sila as both Krsna and Balarama but this is not a bona-fide conception.
One may be surprised to know that Govardhana is in santa-rasa and even more surprised to know that Radha-kunda is also in santa-rasa. But it is a fact, Radha-kunda, Govardhana Hill, Yamuna and many other entities in Vrndavana are in santa-rasa. Srila Sridhara Maharaja mentions this as follows:
"Everything in Vrndavana is necessary for the pastimes of Radha-Govinda. Everything in the spiritual environment has its indirect value... Another example of santa-rasa is Radha-kunda. Radha-kunda, the bathing place of Srimati Radharani, where Krsna enacts his pastimes of conjugal love, is considered to be the highest place in Vrndavana. The gods and devotees all praise Radha-kunda. Should we think it to be an ordinary body of water? Rather, how exalted is the position of Radha-kunda. Then there is Govardhana Hill. That is also a kind of pose. Apparently it is a hill, but Govardhana is worshiped as Krsna Himself." (Subjective Evolution of Consciousness, Ch-5)
The highest worship of Govardhana (Govardhana-sila) is performed with gunja-mala (small red, white, and black beads). The gunja-mala is the representation of Srimati Radharani. When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave Govardhana-sila to Raghunatha Dasa Goswami to worship He did so with gunja-mala. Dasa Gosvami, our prayojana-acarya, worshiped Govardhana with gunja-mala and thus achieved the highest perfection in love of God. (For further details see Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila 6.287-307)
Srila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Maharaja has written the following describing the Govardhana-sila and Gunja-mala as non-different from the Divine Couple, Sri Radha Krsna:
"Once, Sri Sankarananda Sarasvati came to Sri Puri Dhama from Sri Vrndavana to deliver to Sriman Mahaprabhu a piece of the Govardhana stone together with a string of 'gunja-mala' (beads) wrapped in two bundles of cloth which he presented to Sriman Mahaprabhu who, at that time was residing at Gambhira. The Lord became exceedingly pleased on receiving these invaluable items. In continuous remembrance of the divine pastimes of Sri Radha-Krsna, He used to wear the mala (beads) round His neck. By contemplation of the Govardhana stone as non-different from the transcendental body of Sri Krsna, 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, Sriman Mahaprabhu used to visualize the Govardhana stone and the gunja-mala together as the personification of the Divine Couple Sri Radha-Krsna."
Some devotees worship Govardhana-sila as the best devotee of Krsna because Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami has referred to Govardhana as 'hari-dasa-varya.' These devotees take it that because Srimati Radharani is actually the best devotee of Krsna therefore Govardhana is Radharani and they worship Govardhana-sila as 'Girirani' and not as Giriraja - thus they do not offer Tulasi leaves to Govardhana. This is a novel idea, but it does not find support from our acaryas. (Note: We have not been able to find the term 'girirani' nor the term 'hari-dasi-varya' in any of the Gaudiya literature.)
Dasa Gosvami has written:
mrtam idam uditam sri-radhika-vaktra-candrat
"O Govardhana, O king of mountains, O hill whose nectar name "the best of Lord Hari's servants" flows from the moon of Sri Radha's mouth..." (Stavavali, Sri Govardhana-vasa-prarthana-dasaka, v.8)
Govardhana is called "hari-dasa-varya" but it appears from this verse that it is Srimati Radharani Herself who has given Govardhana his illustrious title.
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura also mentions 'hari-dasa-varya' in Stavamrta Lahari, v.8 as follows, but there is no indication that he is referring to Radharani or that one should not offer Tulasi leaves to Govardhana:
vina-bhavet kim hari-dasa-varya-
padasrayam bhaktir atah srayami
yam eva saprema nijesayoh sri-
govardhano me disatam abhistam
"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 fulfill my desire."
Srila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Maharaja used to recall that when his Gurudeva, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was staying at Candrasekhara Bhavan (Caitanya Matha) in Mayapura, which is considered non-different from Govardhana Hill, that he observed his guru daily offering fresh water and Tulasi leaves to Govardhana-sila. Example speaks louder than precept - our acarya 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, Srimati Radharani, in doing this we should not neglect the example of our acaryas or neglect to give proper attention to the eternal ontological truths.
If we were to accept the proposal that Govardhana is non-different than Srimati Radharani, then ontologically what position would Radha-kunda hold? The lila of Krsna is a complete organic whole and each part compliments another - all rising in a great symphony to the culmination of madhurya-prema at Sri Radha-kunda. Radha-kunda is non-different from Srimati Radharani, the abode of pure love for Krsna. But if we accept Govardhana as equal to Radha-kunda then a discrepancy is created in the Lord's lila. When something is superior, it cannot have an equal, otherwise it is not superior. The superiority of Sri Radha-kunda as above all other spiritual abodes and places of lila is explained by Srila Rupa Gosvami as follows.
vaikunthaj janito vara madhu-puri tatrapi rasotsavad
vrndaranyam udara-pani-ramanat tatrapi govardhanah
radha-kundam ihapi gokula-pateh premamrtaplavanat
kuryad asya virajato giri-tate sevam viveki na kah
"Due to Sri Krsna's having taken birth there, the abode of Mathura is superior even to Vaikuntha, the realm of spiritual opulence. Superior to Mathura is the forest of Vrndavana because there the festival of the rasa dance took place. Superior to Vrndavana forest is Govardhana Hill because Sri Krsna raised it with His lotus hand and performed many pastimes there with His devotees. Yet superior even to Govardhana Hill is Sri Radha-kunda because it immerses one in the nectar of Sri Krsna'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?" (Upadesamrta, v.9)
Govardhana Hill is indeed superior to other places in Vraja but it is not superior or even equal to Radha-kunda.
Quoting Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, there is another example that shows us that Govardhana is not equal to Radha-kunda. Srila Sridhara Maharaja explains:
"Pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. Prabhupada instructed that we must not go to live in Radha-kunda, the most sacred place of pilgrimage. One day near Lalita-kunda, where there was a single-story building at Svananda Sukhanda Kunja, 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 Thakura, Gaura Kisora Babaji Maharaja. 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. Radha-kunda is the highest place, the place of our Guru Maharaja, our Gurudevas. They will live here in closer connection with lila, 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 Srila Sarasvati Thakura (whose conception is non-different from that of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami) he had considered Govardhana as non-different from Srimati Radharani then he would not have suggested it as our place of residence. Pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange, 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. Dasa Gosvami and Sarasvati Thakura both revered the service section of the Lord's lila, thus they desired to reside at Govardhana and kept Radha-kunda as their most worshipable object
The fact is that even if devotees take shelter of Srimati Radharani in madhurya-rasa, if they neglect to accept the example of our previous acaryas, then their bhajana is not accepted by the Supreme Lord. Therefore, we should perform our bhajana following exactly in the footsteps of our acaryas.
In the lila of Krsna the residents of Vraja also saw Govardhana Hill as non-different than Krsna. They did not see Govardhana as Radharani. In fact Krsna manifested His form to the Vraja-vasis as Govardhana Hill for all to see (this was also seen by Radharani and other gopis).
Srila Sridhara Maharaja has mentioned the Govardhana-lila in the following way.
"It is also described here that when the Vraja-vasis 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, Krsna 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, Krsna revealed Himself as Govardhana Hill and showed how it is also His extended self. According to authorities in our line, Radha-kunda is the extended self of Srimati Radharani and Govardhana is the extended self of Krsna. And so we worship a stone from Govardhana Hill, a part of Giridhari, as Krsna 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-sila 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-sila represents Krsna 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)
Srila Sridhara Maharaja also says,
"Krsna expressed Himself in Bhagavatam 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, Mahaprabhu gave it to Dasa Goswami Prabhu. And then in Gaudiya Vaisnava school that worship of Govardhana sila is continuing. And his entrance into the raga marga, direct in the line of divine love towards Krsna."
If we want to sincerely serve Sri Sri Radha Govinda, then we have to accept Them as our acaryas 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)
read other articles on Govardhan Hill by other writers here