Gopashtami, a sacred Hindu festival, is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the bright lunar fortnight (Shukla Paksha) in the month of Kārtik. It holds great significance as it marks the day when Lord Krishna, in His childhood, took His cows and calves for grazing. This event is deeply intertwined with the divine leelas (pastimes) of Lord Krishna in Vrindavan.
Govardhan Leela and the Origin of the Names "Giridhari", "Gopala" and "Govinda"
One of the most famous incidents associated with Gopashtami is the Govardhan Leela. Once, the king of heaven, Indra, became furious with the residents of Braj and unleashed heavy rains as punishment. To protect the people of Braj, young Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain effortlessly with His little finger and provided shelter to everyone beneath it. This act earned Him the name "Govardhandhari" or "Giridhari," signifying His role as the lifter of the mountain.
This divine episode continued for seven days, and on the eighth day, Indra realised his mistake and came to seek forgiveness from Lord Krishna. During this reconciliation, a sacred cow named Surbhi showered milk on Indra and declared Lord Krishna as Govinda, the protector and Lord of cows. Thus, Lord Krishna is also known as Gopala, the one who looks after cows.
The Divine Connection between Lord Krishna and Cows
The connection between Lord Krishna and cows is profound and integral to His divine identity. The Gochāran Leela, where Krishna grazes the cows in the lush pastures of Vrindavan, is a cherished theme in the poems and writings of rasik saints. Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj beautifully describes this divine scene in one of his Padas in his book Prem Rasa Madirā:
धूसरि धूरि भरे हरि आवत ।
dhūsarī dhūrī bhare hari āvata
मोर मुकुट कटि कछनी काछे, मुरली मधुर बजावत ।
mora mukuta kati kachhanī kāchhe, muralī madhura bajāvata
धुनि सुनि वेनु सबै ब्रजबनिता, देखन को जुरि धावत ।
dhuni suni venu sabai brajabanitā, dekhana ko juri dhāvata
काँधे लकुटि कामरी कारी, लट उरझी मन भावत ।
kāmmdhe lakuti kāmarī kārī, laṭa urajhī mana bhāvata
वत्स-प्रेम रस पूरि सुरभि थन, मेदिनि क्षीर चुवावत ।
vatsa-prema rasa pūri surabhi thana, medini kṣhira chuvavata
सो 'कृपालु' झाँकी झाँकन हित, शंभु समाधि भुलावत ॥
so 'kripalu' jāmmki jhāmmkana hita, shambhu samādhi bhulāvata
"As Lord Hari returns from grazing the cows, His entire body is covered in the dust raised by their hooves. He wears a crown adorned with a peacock feather, a red cloth around His waist (kachhanī), and plays sweet melodies on His flute. His enchanting music attracts all the Gopis, who eagerly rush to catch a glimpse of Him.
He carries a staff and a black blanket on His shoulders while His curly locks of hair captivate the heart. The cows, filled with love for Krishna, automatically release milk from their udders.
This scene is so captivating that even Lord Shiva, known for his deep meditations, momentarily leaves his trance in the impersonal Brahm to witness it."
Gopashtami is a joyous celebration of Lord Krishna's love for cows and His intimate connection with the residents of Vrindavan. It reminds us of the profound devotion and affection that exist between the Divine and His beloved devotees, both human and bovine.