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According to the Hindu calendar, the festival of Govardhan Pooja, also called Annakut , falls on the first lunar day in the month of Kartik, which corresponds to the months of October or November of the Gregorian calendar.
Literally translated from Sanskrit, ‘Go’ means Cow and ‘Vardhan’ means ‘nourishment’, and not surprisingly, during the festival of Govardhan Pooja, the sacred animal in the Hindu community, the cow, is worshipped.
Another meaning of the word Govardhan is derived from ‘Go’ meaning ‘senses’ and ‘vardhan’ meaning ‘to increase’. The literal translation of this is ‘increasing one’s senses’, which can be achieved by worshipping Lord Krishna.
Annakut or Govardhan Pooja,, is usually celebrated on the fourth day of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. This day also marks the first day of the New Year in the Vikram Samvat Calendar, which is the official Hindu calendar.
For the Gujarati community, the festival is also celebrated as their New Year day.
Legend associated with the festival
According to Hindu mythology, the people of Gokul used to worship Lord Indra, who is also known as the God of Rain. However, Lord Krishna told the people to instead worship the Annakut Hill or Govardhan Parbat, who he felt was the more powerful God. Govardhan Parbat is often worshipped by devotees who seek nurturance and protection from drastic conditions in life. The Parbat is also revered for providing his devotees with food and shelter when required.
Following Lord Krishna’s advice, the people of Gokul started worshipping the Govardhan Hill, instead of Lord Indra. Upon seeing this, Lord Indra became exceedingly angry and rained down heavily in Gokul. Lord Krishna intervened to save the people by lifting the Govardhan Hill with his little finger and covering the people of Gokul under it.
Customs and Rituals of the Festival
Since the festival of Annakut falls very close to the festival of Diwali, the rituals of both festivals are also closely linked. Similar to the festival of Diwali, during Annakut, the first three days are days of prayer, which are done to sanctify wealth and invite greater prosperity into the family. Devotees pray to Lord Krishna and offer their gratitude to God.
Often confused as being the same, Govardhan Pooja and Annakut are actually separate. Govardhan Pooja is a principal ritual performed during Annakut; that is; the Govardhan Pooja is actually only one segment of the day-long Annakut festival.
There are many rituals for Govardhan Pooja that are practiced by different communities. One such tradition is making an idol of God (usually of Lord Krishna). The idol is made from cow dung, which is then placed alongside beautifully decorated earthen lamps( called diyas) and candles. Devotees also pray to Lord Govardhan. Many families also make rangolis (decorative art made from coloured powder, coloured sand, and even flower petals) outside their homes.
The sculptures and idols of the deity are also bathed in milk, and dressed in beautiful new clothes, which are decorated with precious stones and pearls.
In Hindu families, elders of the family consider Annakut to be an auspicious time to teach children religious and cultural values, and to ask for forgiveness from God while expressing devotion towards Him wholeheartedly.
As part of the celebrations, people prepare a grand feast, which consists of 56 varieties of food items (referred to as chappan bhog by the locals). This is first offered to Lord Krishna.