Today marks the anniversary of lifting of Govardhan hill by Lord Krishna some 5000 years ago, however the festival celebrating this event is more popularly known as the “Mountain of Food Festival.”
Govardhana is a hill located near the sacred town of Vrindavana, in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, India. It was a favourite place of pastimes for Lord Krishna who was born in Vrindavan and is considered sacred especially in the Vaishnava traditions within Hinduism. The famous hill is also known as Giriraj and is identified as one of the natural forms of Lord Krishna.
The name ‘Govardhana’ has two primary meanings, ‘Go’ translates to ‘cows’, and ‘vardhana’ translates to ‘nourishment’, so the name is simply a place of nourishment for the cows. But ‘Go’ also refers to ‘the senses’ and ‘vardhana’ can also mean ‘to increase’ – thus the name can be translated by devotees as that which increases their attraction to Krishna. In this connection, it is believed that the personality of Govardhan blesses the devotee by increasing their devotion (bhakti) to Krishna (God).
The lifting of Govardhan
The worship of Govardhan hill, known as Govardhana Puja is celebrated the day after Diwali the festival of light. On this day, some 5000 years ago Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the God of thunder and rain. Young Krishna saw the local residents making enormous preparations of food for their annual offering to Indra. Practically the entire hill was covered in food. Young Krishna questioned his father Nanda about the need for such a ritualistic offering.
At the time, Indra the demigod was feared by human beings because he would either give the people no rain or flood them if he was not satisfied with their worship. However, Krishna called this annual offering useless and openly debated with the villagers about what their true duty as farmers was. He told them to concentrate on farming and protecting their cattle. All human beings should simply do their ‘dharma’ (life duties), to the best of their ability and not pray or waste time conducting sacrifices for natural phenomenon.
After Krishna presented very convincing arguments to them, the villagers decided not to proceed with their annual ritualistic offering. Upon hearing of this change of plans, Indra became angry and invoked many clouds to appear in the sky to flood the region with rains lasting for seven days and seven nights. The villagers were shocked and desperately asked for Krishna’s help.
Krishna responded by lifting Govardhan hill with the small finger of his left hand, under which all the animals and people of the region took shelter, safe from Indra’s fury. Seeing Krishna’s amazing feat of strength, Indra accepted defeat, offered his prayers to Krishna and returned to his heavenly kingdom. Krishna then revealed to the villagers that he was non-different from Govardhana hill and that the offering of food should be presented to the hill and then shared freely with the public, beginning with animals, the elderly and children. All living beings were to be respected equally and sharing food was the most practical way to show that.
To this day, the re-enactment of Krishna’s lifting of Govardhan is celebrated all over the world by Vaisnavas which naturally includes huge feasting.
Massive distribution of food to the public
Some 4500 years later a great devotee of Krishna named Madhavendra puri re-enacted the massive preparation of food as an offering to Govardhana and then distributed to the public, which is now a key component of the festival celebrating the lifting of Govardhana hill by Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada the inspiration behind the Food for Life project encouraged his students to learn from the example of Madhavendra Puri by offering food to Krishna and then liberally distributing it to the public. “This activity should be extended universally,” he wrote, “to stop sinful eating habits…”
Food for Life was born from this ancient hospitality culture and we are proud to say that Srila Prabhupada’s vision is slowly but surely manifesting. Our hope is that Srila Prabhupada’s other wish that “everyone get a chance to take prasadam” also comes to pass. This ideal is non-sectarian in principle and that is why I have spent most of my life encouraging people of all faiths to join us in this noble mission. My books, How to Build a Great Food Relief Project and FOOD YOGA – Nourishing Body, Mind & Soul are my humble attempt to facilitate that ideal.