We celebrate Janmashtami to glorify Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Lord and Radhashtami to glorify Radharani, the epitome of devotion. This month we celebrate Gopashtami, the day that glorifies Krishna’s playmates, who knew nothing more in any calamity than simply turning to their dear friend.
Gopashtami falls on the eighth day of the shukla paksha of Karthika. It was on this day that Krishna was crowned Govinda, the savior of the cows and the Gopas who sought refuge at His Lotus Feet. This paradigm of ashraya or surrender is beautifully brought out in Srimad Bhagavatam in the telling of the Govardhana Lila.
Once when the “innocent” young Krishna noticed the Gopis hustling to make elaborate arrangements for a grand event, Krishna enquired about the reason for this impressive preparation and found that it was for a yagna to honor Indra. The Gopas and Gopis believed that it was Indra who bestowed them with bountiful rains year after year and that hence they were obliged to pay their homage to him.
No avatara of the Lord conforms to social norms or beliefs; they always revolt against superfluous customs to bring people back on the right path towards the Lord. Krishna was no different!
Krishna told the Gopas that it was not necessary for them to specially propitiate Indra, who was only performing his duties by providing them with rains. Their affluence, He said, was simply the fruition of their own actions. Turning the plan around, He urged them instead to worship the Govardhana hill, which had abundant grass across its expanse for the cows to graze on, and the cows, who generously gave the Gopas the milk that was meant for their own calves.
The young and the old in Vrindavan agreed in unison to follow Krishna’s directions. Questions or qualms had no place in their hearts for it was filled with pure love for this young enchanting boy.
Benedictory verses were chanted and varieties of food were offered to Govardhana Maharaj; grass was offered to the cows. Sri Krishna assumed a gigantic form and consumed a large part of the offering, thus revealing that the mountain was none other than Himself. After performing the ceremony as directed by Krishna everyone retuned to Vrindavan.
Indra was furious. He was convinced that the wealthy Gopas were puffed with pride. He called Krishna several names including calling him “an ignoramus, a pretentious pseudo-scholar, a silly boy and a braggart”, all of which were really Indra’s own vices! He wasted no time in summoning the most powerful clouds—usually recruited only during Pralaya—to submerge Vraja Bhoomi.
Flashes of lightning spanned across the dark skies, clouds rumbled with roars of thunder, tempestuous winds seethed in rage, heavy columns of rain and hailstones poured down and the waters started to rise in the sacred Land. Fearful and helpless, the Gopas and Gopis did the only thing they knew—they ran to their dearest Krishna and surrendered to Him.
The Lord, whose heart is ever tied to those who surrender their all at His Feet, instantly took a vow to use His divine power to protect them, who had sought shelter in Him, who looked upon Him as their Protector and constituted His own family!
Thus saying the Lord sportily lifted Govardhana Maharaj and beckoned the cowherds, the women folk and the cattle to take shelter under the mountain. For seven days the rains were unrelenting and the Gopas and Gopis, oblivious of the surrounding tempest, just set their eyes on Krishna’s beautiful, smiling, and radiant face.
Seeing the Gopas unscathed by seven days of torrential downpour, Indra realized his mistake. It dawned on him that the cowherd boy was none other than the Supreme Lord Himself. Humbled, he sought Lord’s forgiveness. Lord Krishna was then crowned “Govinda”, fittingly the only coronation that He will ever have in this avatara, which was taken primarily to protect and shower immense love on his devotees.
Our thoughts are consumed on a daily basis with “controlling” our actions and decisions while we delude ourselves into thinking that we were actually responsible for the results of our actions. Surrender steps in when all our manipulation finally fails to produce the desired result. Surrender is not inaction. It is simply giving up expectation of or claims to the outcome, like the Gopas, who did everything Krishna asked them to do and simply left the result to Lord.
Gopashtami commemorates the day of surrender of the Gopas of Vrindavan and shows us how we should lead a life like the one led by those Gopas and Gopis. This Gopashtami, let us pray for the Lord’s Grace to let go of all our notions and hold on to the Lord’s Feet with a mind as simple as the Gopas’.
Lekshmi Nair, Houston, TX