Embraced By Your Gaze

This post is part of a series, Snapshots of the Eco-Village

Stories about Govardhan Eco Village would be incomplete without a story about Govardhan itself! Amongst the many ‘replicas’ at GEV is a replica Govardhan Hill in the center of the forest. Near Vrindavan (Bhauma Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh) is a hill called Govardhan, one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in the entire area, where many mystical pastimes of Krishna occurred. The hill is also considered to be a manifestation of Krishna Himself. The monks have shared many stories about all the difficulties they went through in creating this replica Govardhan, from finding and transporting the rocks to figuring out how to place them ‘just so’ in order to create a Govardhan that now calls forth the feelings that one has for the original Govardhan.

IMG_9139‘Replica Govardhan’ is covered with trees and shrubs, surrounded by trees and flowers and grasses and forbs and kunds (ponds commemorating the location of a mystic pastime), and graced by the presence of a Govardhan sila, a stone from the sacred Govardhan itself. Monks carry out first-class worship of this sila several times a day. Its smiling painted face is always adorned with flowers and with the wafting smoke of fragrant incense. There’s a soft sandy path winding its way around the hill and kunds so that pilgrims – I mean visitors – can carry out the traditional parikrama, a meditative walk around the hill. Alongside the path sit small bhajan-kutirs, small little stone huts each labeled with the name of a saint who would have meditated in a similar (larger) bhajan-kutir at the original Govardhan. I could write pages about the story of each of these special saints. But in this snapshot, I would like to share the story of another diorama adjacent to Govardhan that has a very special meaning.

This diorama depicts the central moment of the story known as Govardhan Lila. The overall story is long and complicated and I won’t explain it here, but this moment has been celebrated in Indian literature and art for thousands of years and has a special place in the hearts of millions of people. The diorama depicts the moment when, in the midst of a great storm, Krishna lifts up the Govardhan hill in the center of Vraj and all of the villagers shelter underneath with all their cows and animals. Krishna is about five years old at this time and, standing up on a rock, he lifts up the entire hill with the pinky finger of his left hand, like a grown man lifts a beach ball. The villagers take shelter under the hill for seven days and seven nights until the storm is over. During this time, they all have the special opportunity to spend time with Krishna, uninterrupted by food, chores, or even sleep. As the Vishnu Purana describes, “Lord Krishna held up the mountain while His praises were chanted by the residents of Vraja, all of whom now had the opportunity to dwell together with Him, and who glanced at Him with joyful and amazed eyes. Thus the cowherd men and women were all elated, and out of loving affection they opened their eyes wide.”

IMG_9127What was so special about this moment? The Bhagavatam describes how throughout Krishna’s childhood, everyone wanted to spend time with him, but rarely got the opportunity. The mothers wanted to feed and care for him, the boys wanted to play with him, the girls wanted to flirt with him, the fathers wanted to talk and joke with him, and even the cows wanted to lick him and give him milk. This was their chance. They all gazed on him with love for seven days and seven nights – not competing with one another for affection, but enjoying, all together. What powerful bonding in a community when each member can express their love all together, with no competition and no one getting bored. Some renderings of the story also say that each of them, simultaneously, experienced Krishna gazing back at them with equal love. This story is a powerful reminder of the simultaneously personal and intimate, and fully universal all-embracing love and acceptance that Krishna has for each one of us. We are seen and loved and embraced for who we are; and as a community of souls, all together. Today, so many of us struggle with feelings of isolation, loneliness, or that we’re just not lovable. In Govardhan Lila – the eternal lila inside our hearts – we are fully seen, fully loved, and fully embraced.

It’s worth mentioning that this storm is not just a rainstorm; the Bhagavatam describes the lashing winds, beating hail, and sudden cold temperatures. It sounds like a hurricane! Some of us will remember fondly one fall, during Hurricane Sandy (which may not otherwise be a fond memory), when we celebrated this holiday of Govardhan Puja. Huddled in our basements, living rooms, or temples, we read this story while sheltering from the storm with our families or neighbors and made simple offerings by candlelight to our Lord. For those who were in the Midatlantic at the time, it really brought this story home!