Govardhana Puja – the sweetest day of the year – celebrates the day when Lord Krishna as a young boy lifted Govardhana Hill with just His little finger, to protect the residents of Vrindavana village from Lord Indra’s furious thunderstorm.
The king of heaven’s outrage was caused by Krishna’s family and friends offering huge amounts of delicious food to Govardhana instead of him, as a thank you for the hill’s indispensable role in their livelihood and caring for their cows.
Copying this, devotees around the world pour their hearts into their own offerings for the late October festival, engaging their creativity in Krishna’s service to often astonishing effect. Here are just some of this year’s eyepopping festivities:
New Vraja-Dhama, Hungary
Hungarian devotees spent weeks before the festival making mountains of different sweets
Dubbed ‘the Festival of Sweets,’ Govardhana Puja at the 650-acre New Vraja Dhama farm is not just an internal celebration, but a public favorite. Everyone wants to see the highlight – an unbelievable two tons of sweets being offered to Govardhana.
Vaishnavas from all over Hungary spend weeks leading up to the festival preparing endless varieties of quality treats. On the day, everyone arrived with their sweets and a 20 lb bag of sugar, fulfilling the Deity department’s sugar needs for the year.
During the festivities an ox driven cart transported Govardhana Lal and a kirtan band to the Goshala where an arati was offered to the cows and oxen along with mountains of sweets. Meanwhile Govardhana Lal watched from a swing made of marzipan and rock candy.
“We wanted to express our gratitude to our bovine mothers and fathers,” says Communications Head Nilamani Cakravarti Dasi. “Our 22 cows give 21,000 liters of milk a year and the oxen collect 90 tons of hay and all the wheat, spelt, rye and barley we need.”
Back at the temple, the legendary two tons of sweets – of every color, shape and consistency — covered every surface, including a “Govardhana Hill” made of the Hungarian speciality cake “Gerbeaud” surrounded by halava and marzipan flowers.
Everyone then performed Govardhana parikrama around New Vraja Dhama’s pavilions recreating Vrindavana Dhama. After the festival, devotees distributed 250 packs of sweets to the local villagers, and more in Food for Life efforts.
“On this beautiful sunny autumn day, it was wonderful to see the bliss of Vaishnava friendships, as well as new visitors’ first encounter with this culture – of 550 festival participants, 100 had never been here before,” says Nilamani.
Krishna Balarama Mandir, Vrindavana, India:
Vrindavana’s four-foot high halava Govardhana was topped with 56 kinds of sweets
In Braj, India, Krishna’s home and the site of the original Govardhana Hill, Govardhana Puja festivities are huge. This year some 15,000 people visited ISKCON’s Krishna Balarama Mandir throughout the day, and around 4,500 devotees from 30 countries attended.
Devotees worked hard to create an absolutely colossal Govardhana Hill, using 259 kilos of green, yellow and white halava, 20 kilos of rice, 56 different types of sweets, 5 to 7 varieties of fruits and hundreds of cookies.
Four feet high and over 12 feet long, the hill was topped with Giriraj silas and featured recreations of the different holy places of Govardhana including Radha Kund, Shyama Kund, Kusum Sarovar, Manasi Ganga, Aniyor, and the entire Parikrama path. Thousands of devotees circumambulated it in joyful fashion with members of the 24 Hour Kirtan group. The entire hill was then passed out to grateful hands in a massive prasadam distribution effort.
Other festivities included a palanquin procession with Krishna Balarama Deities to the Goshala to feed the cows and perform “Go puja,” and a night-time parikrama of the real Govardhana Hill.
“Vrindavan is such a special place to celebrate Govardhana Puja,” says organizer Param Das. “It is of course where all of the pastimes of Sri Sri Radha And Krishna were performed. And it is the land of the cows, which brings a special warmth and feeling of love.”
Dallas, Texas, USA
The residents of Vrindavan huddle under Dallas’ beautifully lit carob cake Govardhan
The ISKCON Radha-Kalachandji community in Dallas, Texas created one of the most beautiful Govardhana Hills for their festival.
Co-organizer Krishna Mangala Dasi began planning six months in advance, and worked with her team until midnight every night for the last five days. The hill was made with a 64-square-foot carob cake with carob frosting. This was then covered with blueberry halava flatlands, and grass made from shredded coconut dyed green.
All 80 different holy places on Govardhana were represented in some way. Lakes like Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda were made with baked crusts filled with blue sweet rice. And each ornate temple was handpainted and decorated with vines, glitter, and flags identifying them.
“Many even had framed miniature photos of their presiding Deities inside them,” says Krishna Mangala’s husband and co-organizer Nityananda Chandra Das.
Beneath the hill, which was raised up, fifty dolls, beautifully decorated with former deity outfits, represented Lord Krishna, Radharani, mother Yashoda, Nanda Maharaja, and the other Brijabasis. Indra, his elephant Airavata and the surabhi cow were also represented.
After arati and class in a temple room decorated as a forest paradise by professional wedding decorator Premamrita Kenner, all 500 devotees and guests made their way outside onto the grounds.
The temples on the hill were created with painstaking attention to detail
With ornate lanterns and Christmas lights decorating the cake hill and trees and creating a beautifully atmospheric mood, everyone circumambulated Govardhana in an ecstatic kirtan.
Devotees and amazed guests then tucked into a sumptuous feast supplemented with hundreds of offerings community members had brought from their homes. Finally, there was a gorgeous candle-lit darshan of Sri Sri Radha Kalachandji with lamp offerings to Lord Damodar.
“Every year, we try to outdo the previous year,” says Nityananda Chandra. “And we were glad to hear a lot of very, very positive comments in response.”
Five hundred devotees circumambulated Moscow’s half-ton cake and halava Govardhan Hill
Not to be outdone, ISKCON Moscow celebrated Govardhana Puja over not one, but three days.
On Saturday, there was a small celebration with its own hill and abhisekha at the Jagannath temple, a preaching center that’s home to around 15 brahmacharis. On Sunday, there was a Diwali celebration with a fire yajna and beautiful lamp offering ceremony, as well as discussions about Govardhana.
And on Monday, 500 people gathered for the big Govardhana Puja festival at ISKCON Moscow’s main temple. As in Hungary, as well as devotees the event drew many local Russian people, intrigued at the prospect of a mountain of sweets.
They were not disappointed. “The hill weighed half a ton, with a cake base, and was covered with different types of halava, laddhus, and other sweets,” says temple president Sadhu-Priya Das.
Interestingly, the Govardhana Puja Hill was previously made by Malika, a devotee-run Moscow cake factory that sold 10,000 egg-free cakes, offered to Krishna, every day. However, with the factory closed down this year, large numbers of congregational devotees pulled together to make the hill.
“It came out wonderfully, with replicas of all the different lakes and holy places on Govardhaana Hill,” says Sadhu-Priya. “I’m sure Giriraj Maharaja must be very happy with their effort.”
One of the sacred lakes on the hill, signposted in Russian Cyrillic script
As well as Giriraj abhisekha and circumambulation of the hill, the festival included a drama by the temple’s Sunday School children on the Govardhana pastime. It ended with a delicious feast of rice, subji, pakoras, halava, and the hill itself.
“Russian cake is famous worldwide, and the Russian devotees are very creative,” Sadhu-Priya says. “The hill was so well made that by circumambulating it, we felt as if we were at the real Govardhana hill, and getting the same benefit as doing Govardhana Parikrama.”
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications