Govardhan Puja, or Annakut or Annakoot (translated as “a mountain of food”) is a Hindu festival in which devotees prepare and offer a large variety of vegetarian food to the murtis of Lord Krishna Paramatma (God) as a mark of gratitude.
For Vaishnavas, this day commemorates the incident in the Bhagavata Puran when Krishna lifted 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 many Hindu denominations, but is particularly prominent among the Vallabh Sampradaya (Pushtimarg), the Gaudiya Sampradaya of Chaitanya, and the Swaminarayan Sampradaya.
The Annakut festival occurs on the first lunar day of Shukla Paksha (bright fortnight) in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik, which is the fourth day of Deepawali (Diwali), the Hindu festival of lights, and also the first day of the Vikram Samvat calendar.
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.
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. One ritual is performed in which a god is (Lord Krishna) makes from cow dung in horizontal position. After, completing the structure it is decorated by earthern lamps(deepak or diya), the seenkh(a material which is same as the broom's chaff), and after worshiping,the structure of lord is feed by the bhaktas or worshipers and the ladies do fasts . Prayers are also made to Lord Govardhan. As described in the Bhagavata Purana.
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.