Govardhan, the sacred hill of Lord Krishna

Govardhan is a sacred hill 26km from Mathura. It is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus; to them, Lord Krishna and Govardhan hill are one.

According to legend, in ancient times the villagers feared the wrath of Indra the rain god, and used to perform a fire ritual or yagna in his honour.

Indra’s vanity got so bloated by this worship that he came to think he was above the Hindu trinity of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. To teach him a lesson, Krishna persuaded the villagers to stop praying to Indra and to pray to Govardhan hill instead. Indra was furious and poured a deluge of rain onto the village.

Indra, the god of rain and lightning | Illustration: unknown artist

Krishna saved the day by lifting up Govardhan on one finger and holding it over the village like an umbrella for seven days. Indra realised he was powerless and stopped the rain. Ever since, Krishna has asked the local population to worship the hill with pujas and a Parikrama, a pilgrimage around the foot of the hill.

Krishna carrying the hill on his little finger (fresco from Barsana temple)

The Parikrama: pilgrims perform a 21km circumambulation or Parikrama around Govardhan hill in honour of Krishna. Some pilgrims go all the way round in 5 hours while others perform Dandavata, prostrating full length on the ground as they go. This can take days. The parikrama start at the Daan Ghati temple then, after 12 km, it continues around Radha and Shyam Kund for 9 km, then ends at Manasi Ganga pond (see below).

Govardhan boasts nearly 70 holy places and halts along the pilgrims’ way. In this article are described the most sacred of them.

Shyama and Radha Kund

Radha and Shyama kund | Photo : Ananta Vrindavan

Shyama and Radha Kund are two juxtaposed sacred pools located 5 km from Govardhan in the village of Arita.

The story goes that when the people of Vrindavan heard that Krishna had killed the terrible demon Aristasura, who had appeared in the form of a bull, they rushed to the place in great jubilation.

But Radha was angry with Krishna for killing a sacred animal. She told him to purify himself by bathing in all the holy places in the universe; only then would she take him back. Krishna acquiesced but rather than take the trouble to go round all the holy places in the universe, Krishna brought them all to where he was. He dug his heels into the ground making a huge hole, the Shyama Kund, and invited all the holy places to pour their waters into it. Krishna was very proud of this and became arrogant.

Krishna and Radha pouring the sacred waters into the basins (painting from Radha Kund)

Radha dug out a hole of her own, the Radha Kund, with her bracelets and the help of her gopis.

Krishna was amazed and offered to pour water from his tank into hers. She refused and said that she and her friends would go themselves to fetch holy water from the Ganges in pots.

Radha Kund

The holy places heard this and begged Radha to let them fill her tank. She agreed. Krishna immediately took a bath in the Radha-Kund and said that all who bathed there with faith would feel the same ecstatic love for him as Radha did. In return, Radha bathed in the Shyama-Kund and said that all sincere pilgrims who bathe there would feel the same divine love that Krishna has for her.

Offerings in Radha Kund

Kusum Sarovar (Govardhan)

Kusum samovar

Kusum Sarovar is a big (450m2 ) kund or bathing tank that is said to have been built in the time of Krishna.

It is said that this place was the garden where the gopis (girl cow-herds) gathered flowers for Krishna.

Frescoes in one of the cenotaphs

It was the king Jawahir Singh who gave the tank its current form and its Rajput style pavilions in 1764, in honour of his father Suraj Mall who had died on the battlefield. The pavilions contain three tombs and some fine wall paintings depicting the leisure pursuits of Krishna and of Suraj Mall and his wives Kishori and Hansiya.

Govardhan Govardhan
One of the cenotaph

Manasi Ganga Kund & Sri Giriraj Temple (Govardhan)

Manasi ganga bathing tank

Another important place for Hindus is the very special Manasi Ganga Kund in the centre of Govardhan town.

Manasa means “spirit” or “mind” and Ganga is the Ganges: so the spirit of the Ganges inhabits the place.

Giriraj temple

According to the legend, it is the holy water of the Ganges that flows in this tank. It is said that to bathe in this water brings Krishna Prema, love for Krishna. It is here that the Parikrama pilgrimage ends. On its bank stands Giriraj temple dedicated to Krishna where pilgrims offer milk after the parikrama.

The entrance to Giriraj temple

Daan Ghati Temple

Daan ghati temple

With its richly decorated facade showing Krishna lifting up Govardhan hill, Daan Ghati is one of Govardhan’s two most important temples, the other being Sri Giriraj.

In this temple the god is in the form of a rock to which offerings of milk and sweets are made. A one of a kind temple.

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