The Tree of Knowledge
The holy month of Kartik
“Of all plants, the sacred ulasi is most dear to Me, of all months, Kartika is most dear, of all places of pilgrimage, my beloved Dvarka is most dear, and of all days, Ekadasi is most dear.”
— Padma Purana, Uttara Khanda 112.3
The Padma Purana describes the month of Kartik as Krishna’s “In the month of Kartik one should worship Lord Damodar and daily recite the prayer known as Damodar-ashtakam, which has been spoken by the sage Satyavrata and which attracts Lord Damodar. (Sri Hari-bhakti-vilasa 2:16:198)
favourite month. Devotional activities performed during this holy month are rewarded with greater spiritual results than usual so devotees often take vows to increase their spiritual practices or to simplify their material needs for the entire month.
Kartika or the festival of offering lamps to Lord Krishna lasts the entire month of Damodara (Kartika) starting from 11 October till 10 November. Observing vrata in the month of Kartika is glorified in the Puranas. It is believed that Lord Vishnu took Matsya Avatar in this month to restore the Vedas. Taking bath (snan) in holy rivers in this month is considered highly auspicious. The holiness of the ‘Mahatmya of Kartik’ has been elaborately dealt with in the ‘Uttar Khanda’ of ‘Padma Puran’. Sage Vashita referred to ‘Kartik Mahatmya’ as one of the most efficacious means of obtaining salvation, by illustrating various significant legends pertaining to the month.
Legend of Kartik Month: Despite having scores of servants and attendants, Mother Yashoda would seize every opportunity to do her personal seva to her Gopal. One day, mother Yashoda was churning yogurt into butter herself, and in the meantime Krishna came and tugged at her saree asking for a feed. Of course, mother Yashoda immediately allowed Him to do so, and keeping Him in her lap she suckled him while rhythmically pulling the strings of the churning rod and singing Krishna’s lilas to herself. Desiring to enact another charming pastime, Krishna decided to break the sweet cosy serenity. Presently the hot milk on the stove began hissing and boiling over, and Mother Yashoda immediately stopped what she was doing, removed Krishna from her breast and put him on the floor and ran to take the milk pot off the stove. Displaying a transcendental tantrum, Krishna, annoyed at having been so unceremoniously dumped on the ground, picked up a piece of stone, hit and broke the churning pot. Then he crawled to an adjacent room where He began to eat freshly churned butter kept in a pot there.
After attending to the overflowing milk, when Mother Yashoda returned and saw the pot broken and all the yoghurt spilt, she could understand that this was the work of her mischievous Krishna, and went looking for him in an angry mood. Hearing some sounds from the adjacent room she entered and found Krishna standing on the ulükhala, a large mortar for grinding spices. Standing on the mortar, He was stuffing butter hanging from a swing into his mouth and also generously distributing the butter to the monkeys who had assembled there. As soon as Krishna saw His mother, He froze and looked at her with big fearful eyes, his face all smeared with butter and his mouth stuffed. He then tried to run away, and Mother Yashoda began to chase Him with a stick in her hand. After a few rounds, Maiya was able to catch Krishna, who was now pretending to be crying and saying he didn’t do it.
After scolding Him for having caused so much loss and mess, she decided to teach him a lesson by binding Him with a rope. Holding him by one hand, she went off in search of a rope. Finally after finding a length of rope, she sat down and proceeded to tie him up to a tall heavy mortar standing in the verandah thinking he wouldn’t be able to move from there for some time. Now when the time came to knot the rope, the rope was just short by about two fingers. Finding another piece of rope, she tied it to the first rope and winding it around Krishna’s belly (daam) to use up the slack she tried to knot it. Again it was short by about two fingers. Again and again she tried, and again and again she found the rope too short by two fingers. Thus poor Maiya became very perplexed and tired, and Krishna, seeing His affectionate mother hassled and perspiring, allowed Himself to be bound. Being compassionate, He did not show her His unlimited potency.
“Dam” means “rope,” while “udar” means “stomach,” therefore “Damodar” refers to the bound form of Krishna. This pastime represents that Krishna feels transcendental pleasure by submitting to the will of the pure devotee. Due to this Damodar Lila of Lord Krishna, Kartik Maas is also referred to as Damodar Maas. He was not actually bound by a rope, however; He was bound by prema, by pure vatsalya-bhava (parental love). Krsna is anadi; He has no beginning. And He is ananta; He has no end. Still, although He is Parambrahma, that unlimited beginningless and endless Supreme Lord can be bound and trapped by prema. Therefore this month is called Damodara vrata, and those who observe it will attain the prema by which they can bind Parambrahma, the Supreme Lord. Those who can observe this vrata are very fortunate.
Satyabhama asked Krishna as to how the Kartik month came to be regarded as holy. In reply, Krishna relates the story of Sankhasura the demon who carried away the Vedas into the sea. Vishnu was obliged to take the incarnation of Mastya (Fish) and kill Sankhasura (conch shell demon) and restore the Vedas to the Gods — a quest for truth and enlightenment. This incarnation is said to have taken place on the 11th day of Kartik and is commemorated by all devout Hindus through bathing in holy rivers and prayers. It is said Lord Krishna himself stressed the importance of religious observances during Kartik to his own wife Satyabhama. He disclosed that in her previous life she herself had been a priest’s daughter and was his wife in consequence of the vratas she had performed during this month.
The efficacy of vratas is emphasized through another interesting tale in the ‘Kartik Mahatmya’. The story goes that once Dhaneswara went to Mahismato to sell skins. His business led him to the banks of the Narmada where he got in the company of pilgrims. He watched their religious performances and was prompted to join them more out of curiosity than devotion. But even this anticipation sufficed to secure him heavenly bliss.
Five activities are glorified: staying awake, early morning bath, worship of Tulsi, offering lamps and performing austerities. Everybody should try to follow at least some portion of it according to their capacity. Jaap – chanting the holy names of the Lord; worship the Lord by offering ghee lamps (diyas), flowers, incense, food, etc. Practice brahmacharya – celibacy; worship of Tulsi Devi. Give charity, perform austerities.
The following are excerpts from some scriptures (Puranas) describing the glory of the pious Kartik month:
“If somebody performs even a little worship of Lord Shri Hari in this month, He offers that devotee His own abode.”
“If somebody burns a lamp in the temple of Lord Shri Hari even for a short time (in the month of Kartik), then whatever sins he has acquired for millions of kalpas (one kalpa equals 1000 yugas) are all destroyed.”
“A person, who for the entire month of Kartik eats only once a day, becomes very famous, powerful and heroic.”
“O Narada! I have personally seen that a person who happily reads the Bhagavad Gita in the month of Kartik does not return to the world of birth and death.”
“Of all gifts, the gift of a lamp during the month of Kartik is the best. No gift is its equal.”
“The pious result obtained by bathing in all holy places and giving all charities is not equal to one ten-millionth part of the result obtained by following the vow of Kartik.”
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