... spirit of place was there, more than it was for me at Paphos in Cyprus, where Venus was said to have issued out of sea. In the time of Tacitus (in the first century) the magic of the - now - unremarkable little cove would have been preserved by the temples and the rites described in the Histories, with the mystery underlined by the form in which Venus was worshipped at Paphos - a rock cone sliced off at the top...
...Too late, then, I remembered with a pang a story I had heard about when I was a child, and later read another version of (in Charles Kingley's 'At Last', 1871). Every now and then, according to this story, groups of aboriginal Indians in canoes came across the gulf from the continent (where remnants of the tribes still existed), walked through certain places in the woods in the southern hills, performed certain rites, or made offerings, and then, with certain fruit they had gathered, went back home across the gulf...This was all that I heard...I wasn't of age to want to ask more...story now is somethig in a dream.
...Perhaps it is this absence of the sense of sacredness - which is more than the idea of the "environment" - that is the curse of the New World... and perhaps it is this sense of sacredness - rather than the history and the past - that we travel to the Old World to discover...
from "Beyond Belief" by V.S. Naipaul
One such place, that blesses the millions of people every year with that same tenderness of sacred, is the beautiful hill of Govardhana, located in the Braja mandala. It is one of the most venerated site of Hindus since the times immemorial.
In Sanskrit, 'vardhana' means increasing, and 'go' means cow as well as light, sat, bliss. The mount of Govardhana - indeed, as is the name, nourishes and rejuvenates the bliss of the devotees. Such is the ancient tradition that the personality of Govardhana, also known as giriraja - king of mountains - blesses the devotees by increasing their devotion to the Supreme Lord. By circumambulating around the foothills of Govardhana, the process known as Pancha-Koshi parikrama, it is said that the senses and the mind of the pilgrim attain purifrication, they become worthy of divine love and become much more inclined towards Lord.
The traditions of Govardhana are very enchanting too. Garg Samhita describes one of the traditions connected with the mountain. In it, Bheeshma once explains to King Pandu, that in the island of Salmali once lived mountain Dronacal who had a son named Govardhana. Once sage Pulastya who lived near Kashi, visited Salmali, and seeing Govardhana, realized its potential of being liberating to the people. He desired to move the mountain to the main lands near Kashi. Dronachal happily agreed and asked his son - Govardhana, to accompany the sage. But Govardhan did not really want to move away from parents. So he played a trick. He asked the sage that he would come along only on one condition. Sage must carry him, not put him down anywhere on the way otherwise Govardhana would get fixed at that place itself. Sage agreed and they started towards Kashi. While passing through Vraja, Govardhana liked that place, and did his trick. He caused Sage Pulatsya to attend to the call of nature and the Sage had to put him down in order to do so.
There is yet another tradition that continues from the above, and which connects us to our topic of Sri Rama Setu.
It is said that the above mentioned event happened in Satyayuga, after which many years passed and came Tretayuga. Sri Mahavishnu appeared in his seventh Avatara as Sri Rama in this yuga. We all know how Sri Rama desired to construct a causeway between mainland India and island of Lanka so that His army could cross over to destroy the demon Ravana and rescue His noble wife Sita. For this cause, His architect Nala dispatched the most mighty of the vanaras in all directions to fetch the large stones and mounts.
In this context, the tradition so goes, that Sri Hanuman Ji, arrived at the Giriraja Govardhana and requested him to allow to be moved to the ocean and become part of the Setu being constructed. Hearing this, Giriraja readily and happily agreed and was very delighted that he would be of some service to Sri Rama, the all pervading. But while Govardhana, could begin to move, the news arrived that the construction was almost done and such a large mountain was not needed.
This made Govardhana very disappointed and he lamented to Hanumana that he could not be of any service to the Lord. Hanumana, the best of all devotees Himself, was very moved by his sorrow. He promised him to convey his prayers to Sri Rama, and to request Him from his own side for Giriraja.
Hearing the tale about Giriraja Govardhana, and Hanuman's own pleadings, Sri Ram was moved. He told Hanuman that after several thousands of years, in dwaapara, He would come back to fulfill all the desires of his devotees. In that era, he would also fulfill the desires of Giriraja Govardhana, and lift him with affection, by His own hands.
So it happened, and we know the rest of the tradition all too well.
Came Dwaaparayuga, when Lord Sri Krishna was spending his childhood in Vraja. He noticed that the people of Vraja were too much involved in the performance of sacrifices, and Indra-worship was dominant. Indra himself too had become highly egoistic by all the offerings people made. Krishna and his elder brother Balarama instigated the people to stop worshipping Indra, and instead worship Govardhana who nourished them and their cows. He successfully convinced the people in stopping the sacrificial offerings to Indra.
This angered Indra, who, to teach a lesson to the people of Vrindavana, sent mighty clouds like Saavartaka to Vrindavana, ordering them to rain very heavily and cause enourmous destruction. Ordered by Indra, all the dangerous clouds appeared above Vrindavana and began to pour water incessantly, with all their strength and power. There was constant lightning and thunder, blowing of severe wind and incessant rains. The rainfall seemed to fall like piercing sharp arrows of Indra. By pouring water as thick as pillars, without cessation, the clouds gradually filled all the lands in Vrindavana with water. Every living creature began to tremble from the severe cold. Unable to find any other source of deliverance, they all approached Govinda to take shelter at His lotus feet. The cows especially, being much aggrieved from the heavy rain, bowed down their heads, and taking their calves underneath their bodies, they approached Sri Krishna to take shelter of His lotus feet.
Little did Indra know about Sri Krishna and his powers. Sri Krishna assembled all the community and addressed them. He assured them that if they all tried together, they can lift the govardhana like an umbrella and protect themselves. Saying like this, Sri krishna plucked the mountain of Govardhana like a child might a mushroom. Gopis supported it with their sticks, also thinking they have a role in it. The tradition has it that Govardhan protected them like an umbrella for a week, and eventually Indra conceded his defeat and apologized to Sri Krishna and the people of Vrindavana, and was happily pardoned.
This way Sri Krishna fulfilled the desire of his devotee Govardhana, kept the words of another devotee Hanumanji, protected the dwellers of Vrindavana the other devotees, and purified the ego of yet another - Indra.
After all, He himself declares in Sri Bhagavad Gita:
tesham nityabhiyuktanam yogakshemam vahamyaham (BG 9/22)
To this day, Sri Govardhan ji, just like Sri Rama Setu, is one such sacred site that nourishes the devotion of millions of devotees every year. The saga of Sri Krishna lifting Govardhana and humbling Indra is permanentally etched upon the conscience of the Hindus, just like the saga of Sri Rama constructing the Setu across the ocean and humbling Varuna.
(Giridhari Govind - sculpture on the walls of Belur Temple)
Rama Setu and Sri Krishna - I: Kamyavana Setu Bandha Kunda
Rama Setu and Sri Krishna - II: Hanuman's Promise to Govardhana
Rama Setu and Sri Krishna - III: Arjun and Hanuman's tussle over Setu
Rama Setu and Sri Krishna - IV: Hanuman Tells Bhimasena About Setu