Annakoot — Mountain of food — is celebrated in observance of the episode in Sri Krishna’s childhood, in which He gave protection to the cowherd clan of Vrindavan from the wrath of Indra and humbled Indra in that process. The cowherd, their wives, children and cattle jubilantly surrounded Sri Krishna. They were awed by His superhuman accomplishment and celebrated Sri Krishna’s feat with a sumptuous feast. Thus began the tradition of Annakoot.
Gaudiya Math (গৌড়ীয় মঠ) in Allahabad celebrates Annakoot every year. Math (pronounced as Mutt) is a Hindu monastic organisation. Baba — Jaya’s father — planned to visit the temple at the Gaudiya Math with all the family members for the Govardhan Puja. It’s the next day after Diwali. This year, it’s celebrated on October 24. Baba is a regular visitor at this ashram. The main purpose of Gaudiya Math is to spread Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the philosophy of the medieval Vaisnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, through preaching and publishing.
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, 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. There was a practice among the Brijvashis to offer lavish meals to Lord Indra. They did this to appease him for a generous rainfall every year. Krishna did not approve of this since he desired that the villagers not pray to distant gods but rather give appreciation to avatar of God present before them. He therefore initiated 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 was angered upon seeing the villagers’ devotion diverted away from him and toward Krishna. and directed a lightning storm and a torrential downpour upon the village for days. To protect the villagers from this calamity, Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan on his pinky finger and had the entire village come under the hill to take shelter from the storm. 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.
The Annakoot or the Govardhan Puja celebrations take place on the first day of the month of Kartik which is the first month of the Hindu new year — Vikrami Samvat. The Monsoon season has come to an end and new harvest has been brought in from the fields and grains and cereals are plentiful. To thank the Lord for the good year that has just ended, plenty of delicious foods are prepared and offered to the Supreme Lord. Devotees prepare a sumptuous menu comprising of fifty-six food items called Annakoot to please Lord Krishna, on this day.
Lord Krishna would usually eat eight food items every day, but he didn’t consume any food during these seven days. So at the end of the seventh day, everyone made Lord Krishna a total of fifty-six dishes (eight multiplied by seven), out of gratitude. Thus, the concept of Chhappan Bhog emerged. The word Chhappan translated to fifty six, and Bhog means food. The Annakoot consists of vegetables, pulses, dals, sweets, fruits, dry fruits, and snacks, which are served in tiers.
The food is first offered to Lord Krishna, and then distributed among all the devotees and priests. So, Govardhana Puja is also known as Annakoot puja.
The devotees gathered in the temple, listened to religious discourse given by the Swamiji Maharaj and sang bhajans and kirtans. A communal worship in the form of an Aarti was performed.
We all sat on the floor of the temple hall with other devotees in rows and enjoyed the Annakoot prasad, and bhog offered to Lord Krishna. We prayed to Lord Krishna and returned home. Baba was very happy that we all family members went to the temple and had the prasad and bhog.
May Lord Krishna bless us all! Hare Krishna!