Written by Rukmini dd
Giriraja – The giver of shelter
“The main point for me in the Govardhana Lila,” said Kadamba Kanana Swami as he sat perched upon his bed with the harmonium in front of him, “is that Giriraja gives shelter to everyone. He gives shelter to the cows, the calves, the cowherd boys, the gopis and all the residents of Vrindavan. Giriraja is the giver of shelter.”
It was late afternoon on Diwali (11 November) and disciples were slowly filling the room as Maharaj led a mellow kirtan. This annual private party for Sri Giriraja Govinda, Maharaj’s Govardhana Sila, is a sweet and intimate affair. Maharaj had to go through a lot of trouble to make sure that it happened this year, including moving the “giant bed” from the guest room to the balcony, together with the rose sheets that he didn’t find impressive – all to accommodate the 25 disciples and friends who came with arms loaded with offerings.
In between the mantras during kirtan, Maharaj managed the whole affair from seating to storage, set-up and traffic control. This year was even more special as Maharaj called out, “Any architects?” and got down on his knees to build the hill himself. Disciples pitched in and in between pitting dates, I caught glimpses of the action – it looked a lot like Dad and the kids in a transcendental Lego championship. First the sweets where layered on. “Not like that,” Maharaj playfully chided the devotee who set them out in single profile, “You can use some creativity. Build something.” And all hell broke loose – or maybe heaven – as cookies and crumbles were combined with Vedic sweets, fruits, nuts… and buried somewhere under all of it were the halava kunds. “I’ve got dates, lots of dates. Any takers for dates?” Maharaj playfully auctioned off the bhoga to the builders. He added the final touch with a shower of nuts and raisins. Stepping back to admire the craftsmanship, he commented, “I think it’s impressive.”
The crowning glory was Maharaj placing little Giriraja on top, who was decked out a fancy turban for the occasion. As traditional, we circumambulated the hill, achieving the same benefit as the 23 km parikrama around Govardhana with much less strife. Maharaj, aided by a couple disciples, formed the demolition team and hill disappeared almost as quick as it manifested. Maharaj personally packed little leaf-cups of mahaprasasdam for all and ordered us to devour them on the spot. Some instructions are easier to follow than others! Everyone was armed with boxes of goodies to take away also. And he touched only the last crumbs on the table to his lips. Job done!
As we sat around his room, no one really wanting to leave, informal conversation ensued. A few questions flowed, some philosophical and some personal. One devotee mentioned that it was not so easy to get the personal association of the spiritual master. Maharaj countered that we should do something to attract that mercy – there are so many conditioned souls to rescue.
Eventually Maharaj just spoke what was on his mind – Brahmananda Prabhu. He said what impressed him was that the devotees present at the samadhi ceremony where such surrendered servants who sacrificed their lives and offered substantial service to Srila Prabhupada. They were each impressive on their own yet all they were impressed by Brahmananda Prabhu. He mentioned how once Brahmananda Prabhu and Gargamuni had broken into the book room in one temple and the devotees went to Srila Prabhupada to complain and Prabupada just said, “They have done so much. What can I do?” Maharaj pondered on how Brahmananda Prabhu was large in size and looked like a wrestler but really was at heart more philosophical and a teacher.
Eventually Nimai, Maharaj’s travel companion, entered the room with a bucket and cloth, ready to clean the floor and reluctantly, we took the hint and left but not without the promise of more to come on Govardhana Puja the next day.
Kartik is the festival of festivals and Govardhana Puja is one of the favourites. No fasting, full feasting and giant boulders of mercy. There was a myriad of activities and it was hard to choose where to go and who to listen to from the delectable menu. However, going to ISKCON Palace, located at the lotus feet of Govardhana Hill, was Maharaj’s first choice. It was easy to see why. Smaller, more personal programs is the flavour he prefers. Arriving at the end of Vaisesika Prabhu’s morning class, Maharaj was asked to share some thoughts. “I’ve come here for my own purification,” he declared humbly, “to get some mercy by worshipping the cows and Giriraja.” He zoned in on the conversation between Indra and Krsna when Indra finally came to his senses in the Govardhana Lila.
Krsna: Indra, you are my devotee. How could you try to kill the residents of Vrindavan?
Indra: I was proud.
Krsna: But you are meant to check that pride with intelligence.
Indra: I was angry and therefore I lost my intelligence.
Krsna simply doesn’t respond.
Maharaj highlighted how a humble attitude attracts Krsna and vice versa.
And then it was time to worship the cows with incense, flowers, lamps ….and lots of goor (unrefined sugar). The Brahmin cow cocked her head with sweeping eyelashes in Maharaj’s direction as he offered the arati. She was an unmistakeable beauty.
Next we gathered at the foot hills of Govardhana. The abishek, bhoga and aratik was offered to Sri Giriraja himself in his mountainous form. Rivulets of milk flowed into the dust as all were given the opportunity to bathe Govardhana. The devotees sat in the dust of Vraja, softly chanting or swaying to the beat of the kirtan, drinking in the darshan of Sri Girriraja rising in front of them. It was a rare and special privilege. Maharaj led the kirtan during the arati and continued straight into prasadam. Under the watchful shelter of Giriraja, the devotees feasted.
Later that day, Maharaj left to Delhi enroute to Mayapur. At the grand kirtan festival, he had mentioned a passage of the Caitanya Bhagavata he really liked: Lord Nityananda came to Vrindavan and looked everywhere for Krsna but could not find Him. He asked the residents where Krsna was and they responded that Krsna had gone to Gauradesa and now resided there as Lord Caitanya. Nityananda immediately left to Mayapur. Seeing that Maharaj had the previous day set Sri Giriraja Govinda against the backdrop of the Yoga Pita (Lord Caitanya’s birth site) and Sri Sri Radha Madhava, it was obvious that Maharaj had Mayapur in mind too.