Govardhan Puja  as it is also known, is a Hindu festival in which devotees prepare and offer a large variety of vegetarian food to Bhagwan (God) Shri Krishna as a mark of gratitude. For Vaishnavas, this day commemorates the incident in the Bhagavata Puran when Bhagwan Shri Krishna lifted the Govardhan Hill to provide the villagers of Vrindavan shelter from torrential rains. The incident is seen to represent how God will protect all devotees who take singular refuge in him. Devotees offer a mountain of food, metaphorically representing the Govardhan Hill, to God as a ritual remembrance and to renew their faith in taking refuge in God. The festival is observed by most of Hindu denominations all over India and abroad. For Vaishnavas this is one of the important festivals. For the Vallabh Sampradaya (Pushtimarg), the Gaudiya Sampradaya of Chaitanya, and the Swaminarayan Sampradaya etc. among others. The Annakut festival occurs on the first lunar day of Shukla Paksha (bright fortnight) in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik, which is the next day of Deepawali (Diwali), the Hindu festival of lights, and also the first day of the Vikram Samvat calendar.
Origins of Govardhan Puja and Annakut
Krishna spent most of his childhood in Braj, a place devotees associate with many of Krishna's divine and heroic exploits with his childhood friends. One of the most significant incidents, described in the Bhagavata Purana, involves Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan (Govardhan Hill), a low hill situated in the middle of Braj. According to the Bhagavata Purana, forest-dwelling cowherds living close to Govardhan used to celebrate the autumn season by paying respect to Indra, the God of rain and storm. Krishna did not approve of this since he desired that the villagers worship Mount Govardhan with the reason that Mount Govardhan is the one that provides natural resources to the villagers for their livelihood. Trees provided oxygen, the grass provided food for the cattle and provided natural beauty. The mountain was responsible for the natural phenomena that occur in the city of Gokul. Indra got angry with this advice. Shri Krishna, though being younger than almost everyone in the city, was respected by everyone due to his knowledge and immense power. So, the people of Gokul agreed with Shri Krishna's advice. Indra was angered upon seeing the villagers' devotion diverted away from him and toward Krishna. Indra decided to initiate thunderstorms and heavy rains in the city in reflex of his egoistic anger. To protect the people from the storms, Shri Krishna lifted the Govardhan mount on his little finger and provided shelter to all the people and cattle of the city. After 7–8 days of continuous storms, seeing the people of Gokul being unaffected, Indra accepted defeat and stopped the storms. This day is therefore celebrated as a festival that paid respect to Mount Govardhan by preparing a 'giriyajna' - a "great offering of foods and delicacies to the mountain" Krishna then assumed the form of a mountain himself and accepted the villagers' offerings. . Indra, after causing torrential rains for seven days, ultimately gave up and bowed to Krishna's superiority. This story is one of the most recognizable in the Bhagavata Purana.
Govardhan has since become a major pilgrimage site in Braj for devotees of Krishna. On the day of Annakut, devotees circumambulate the hill and offer food to the mountain—one of the oldest rituals in Braj. The circumambulation consists of an eleven-mile trek dotted along the way with several shrines, before which devotees place flowers and other offerings.
Families create an image of Giriraj Govardhan (the mountain) from cow dung, adorning it with miniature cow figures as well as grass as twigs, representing trees and greenery. In the days leading up to Annakut, fifty-six food items (chappan bhog) are typically prepared and offered in the evening. Someone from a cow-herding caste officiates the ritual, circling the hill with a cow and a bull, followed by families in the village. They partake in the sanctified food after offering the food to the hill. The festival often draws a large crowd, including the Chaube brahmins of Mathura.
Rituals Of Annakut
Annakut is celebrated on the fourth day of Diwali. The fourth day of Diwali is also the first day of the new year in the Vikram Samvat calendar. Therefore, the rituals surrounding Annakut are closely linked with the rituals of the five days of Diwali. While the first three days of Diwali are days of prayer to sanctify wealth and invite greater wealth into the devotee's life, the annakut day is a day of offering gratitude for Krishna beneficence.
Govardhan Puja is a principal ritual performed during Annakut. Although some texts treat Govardhan Puja and Annakut as synonymous, the Govardhan Puja is one segment of the day-long Annakut festival.
There are many variants of how Govardhan Puja is performed. In one variant of the ritual a god (Lord Krishna) is made out of cow dung in horizontal position. After completing the structure, it is decorated by earthernlamps (deepak or diya), seenkh (a material used for broom chaffs), and candles. After worshipping, the structure of the lord is fed by the bhaktas or worshippers, and the ladies fast. Prayers are also made to Lord Govardhan.
As described in the Bhagavata Purana, Govardhan Puja is chiefly identified with Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill on his finger to protect those who sought his refuge from Indra's torrential rage.
Main Annkut Festival
Vast array of vegetarian foods is traditionally arranged in tiers or steps in front of the deities. Usually, the sweets are placed nearest to the Deities. As the tiers descend, other foods such as 'dal', vegetables, pulses and fried savory foods are arranged. A mound of cooked grains, symbolic of Mount Govardhan, is placed in the center. In Swaminarayan shikharbaddh mandirs, sadhus begin to arrange the Annakut in the morning and finish before noon.
In all Swaminarayan mandirs, sadhus and devotees then sing 'Thaal' - kirtans or devotional hymns composed by the poet paramhansas of Swaminarayan. These kirtans describe the food items, and are about praying to the Deities to accept the food. The singing lasts for about an hour, and is followed by a grand arti. Afterwards, devotees do puja and circumambulate the Deities and offered food. In some mandirs, Arti is performed several times in the day as long as the Annakut offerings remain before the Deities. In the evening, devotees take portions of the Annakut as prasad, sanctified food, that has been offered to God and is received as his mercy.
Some craftsmen pay reverence to their tools and machinery on the day of Annakut.
Annakut Celebrations Today
Hindus throughout the world actively celebrate Annakut as a part of Diwali and, most frequently, pair the Annakut celebration with the Govardhan Puja performed on fourth day of Diwali celebrations. Hindus also view Annakut as a time to transmit religious and cultural values to children, ask for forgiveness from God and express devotion towards God. Annakut is celebrated with diyas (small oil lamps) and rangoli, decorative art on the ground made from colored rice, colored sand, and/or flower petals. Many distinct food items, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands, are offered to deities during Annakut. For example, 250 kilograms of food were offered to Lord Krishna at the ISKCON temple in Mysore, India in 2009. Although Annakut is most often associated with Lord Krishna, other deities are also focal points. At the Shree Mahalakshmi Mandir in Mumbai, India, 56 sweets and food items are offered to Mataji and then distributed as Prasad to more than 500 devotees.
The Annakut festival is also celebrated annually at approximately 3,850 BAPS Mandirs and centers throughout the world in a day-long event. During the festival, Swaminarayan devotees prepare and offer a large variety of vegetarian food to Hindu deities including Swaminarayan and Krishna, among others. The Annakut festival at BAPS mandirs is often the largest festival of the year. Visitors learn about Hindu spirituality, offer prayers for the new year, partake in the prasad, or sanctified food, and engage in other devotional activities. A devotee at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Leicester, England, which organizes the Annakut festival every year, describes Annakut as being a forum where spiritual aspirants can reaffirm their appreciation for the role God plays in their lives. These gatherings also represent an opportunity to reaffirm a sense of community. At the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, England in 2004, 1247 vegetarian dishes were assembled and offered to the deities during the Annakut celebrations in 2000 at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, England.
The Guinness World record for the largest Annakut ever held was on October 27, 2019 (Diwali) in BAPS Atladra Mandir in Gujarat. With over 3500 vegetarian dishes.
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