The town of Govardhana is named after Govardhana Hill.  Govardhana Hill is the sacred hill Krishna lifted on His baby finger to protect the inhabitants of Vrindavan from lord Indra’s wrath. Indra, the king of heaven, resented the brijbasi’s  adoration of Krishna.  He summoned his samvartaka clouds, ordinarily invoked at the time of universal destruction, to destroy Krishna’s brijbasis.  It is said Lord Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill ‘like a mushroom’ – an action commemorated by the  Govardhana anakhuta festival or Govardhana puja (puja means ‘worship’).  The pastime called Govardhana-lila is depicted on gaudy cloths and paintings in the homes of pious Hindus all over the world.  I arrived in Govardhana at midday amidst a swirl of tuk-tuks (diesel taxis), dust and mendicants.

A grimy, wiry youth with a red-and-white checked gamcha wrapped around his forehead approached me as I slid off the metal back-bar of the autoriksha. The boy was holding a basket which he pushed towards me with his outstretched arms. I remembered yesterday’s feast at Govardhana Palace.  Rice, dal, spicy Indian sabjis, sweet rice and Giriraja saonpapri – lovingly served by Russian devotees from circular straw baskets. Saonpapri is produced by repeatedly adding syrup to a mixture of channa (chickpea) flour and ghee, heated in a kadai or wok.  The golden-yellow mixture is removed from the kadai, twisted into sticky strands and beaten over a marble slab.  Saonpapri is the light-brown, buttery result of this labour of love. Saonpapri melts in your mouth, like a blend of compacted sugarcane and biscuit.

The boy ceremoniously opened his basket.  There were no heavenly confections inside; only the brown, scaly coils of a lethargic Indian cobra!  Snake charmers starve their snakes to keep them docile and manageable.  I watched the boy’s hand slide over the snake’s neck, in a light caress, a meter from where I stood.  I stepped back.  My craving for Giriraja saonpapri vanished at the thought of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s story, ‘The Frog and the Lily-pad’. The frog sits poised on a lily-pad, waiting for a fly.  The frog is unaware that the black serpent of time is hovering over him with open jaws.  Like the frog, we are also unaware of our mortality.  We think we are going to live forever and, in our foolishness, seek sensual enjoyments.  We do not realise the “snake” of death is waiting for us with wide open jaws. The ancient Sanskrit adage goes: Padam padam vipadam na tesam.  There is ‘danger at every step’.  Why?  Because we are subject to birth, disease, old age and death. The seriousness of my visit to Varsana now dawned on me.   I hailed another autoriksha, skipped my visit to Giriraja Sweet Shop and prepared my mind for the next stop – Radharani’s palace.  The afternoon was slipping by.

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