Govardhan puja is celebrated on the day after Deepawali. On this occasion Mount Govardhan, near Mathura, is worshipped. Pious people keep awake the whole night and cook 56 or 108 types of food for the bhog (the offering of food) to Krishna. This ceremony is called “ankut” which means a mountain of food. Various types of food – cereals, pulses, fruit, vegetables, chutneys, pickles, and salads are offered to the deity and then distributed as prasada to devotees.
Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, India. On this day, people in the northern India build cowdung hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them. This festival is in commemoration of the lifting of Mount Govardhan by Krishna. As per Vishnu-Puran the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worshiped him after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul.
People were afraid that the downpour was a result of their neglect of Indra. But Krishna assured them that no harm would befall them. He lifted Mount Govardhan with his little finger and sheltered men and beasts from the rain. This gave him the name Govardhandhari. After this, Indra accepted the supremacy of Krishna.
In temples specially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as "Bhog" and then the devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it.
Govardhana Parvat (hill) was about 16 miles (29 km) high 5,000 years ago. Govardhana is formed in the shape of a peacock. The following places; Radha Kunda and Syama Kunda are the eyes, Dan Ghati is its long neck, Mukharavinda is the mouth and Punchari is its back and tail feathers. As a peacock often curves its neck and puts his head under its stomach. Govardhana Hill is shaped in this pose of a peacock.
Due to the curse of Pulastya Muni, it is sinking the height of a mustard seed daily. In Satya Yuga, Pulastya Muni approached Dronacala, the king of the mountains, and asked him for his son Govardhana. Dronacala was depressed and pleaded the sage that he was unable to bear the separation from his son. Govardhana then went with sage, under the condition that wherever the sage would put him down, he would remain.
Pulastya Muni then took Govardhana and then started for his ashram. While passing through Braja Mandala he put Govardhana down to answer the call of nature. On his return he found that he couldn’t move Govardhana. He became very angry and then cursed Govardhana to shrink to the size of mustard seed daily. At that time it was 115 km (64 miles) long, 72 km (40 miles) wide and 29 km (16 miles) high. Now the hill is only 80 ft. high at the highest point.
Another story about Govardhana Hill is that the monkey army of Lord Rama was carrying different stones to construct a bridge to Lanka. Sri Hanuman was carrying Govardhana from Himalayas to help built the bridge. As Hanuman was carrying Govardhana over Vraja, Nala and Neela, who were incharge of building the bridge, declared that it was completed and no more stones were needed. Hanuman was in Vraja Mandala and he put Govardhana there. Thus it would appear that Govardhana was then lost in two ways. He was away from Lord Shiva and Lord Rama. Sri Rama heard about Govardhana crying and said that in Dwarpara Yuga he would make His appearance as Sri Krishna and would have His pastimes in that place, and would hold Govardhana up for seven days and nights to save the residents of Vraja.
It is believed that Lord Krishna lifted “Govardhana Giri” (this huge hill) with his little finger of His left hand, and gave shelter to people under that huge hill from a big storm presented by Indradev. A Parikrama (that is going around the hill) is a sacred ritual performed by many devotees. It is approximately a 24-mile Parikrama. Govardhana is set along the edge of a large masonry tank known as the “Manasi Ganga”, believed to have been brought into existence by the operation of the divine will.
The parikrama starts by taking bath in Manasi Ganga. One then takes the darshan of Harideva, Manasi Devi and Brahma Kunda. There are eleven main Silas on the Govardhana parikrama like bhuma sila, sindura sila, etc, that have some special significance. One of them is the dasavati sila. Knowingly or unknowingly if anybody commits a sin then he should pay obeisance to Sri Girirajaji over here.
The sacred tank known as Rinamochana Kunda is near the Govardhana power station and according to shastra if one bathes in this kunda they are freed from all vices, usually only after it rains will there be water in this kunda. There are several important places in the vicinity of Govardhana Hill, which are not visited on the normal parikrama. Many of these places are close to Govardhana Hill (within 5 km) and can be visited by taxi easily. Some devotees prefer to walk from each place and spend many days in the area doing so.
Nearby is Papamochana Kunda. It is said that anyone who bathes here has all his offenses removed. After this normally one returns to the road to Mathura and then goes in the direction of Mathura, passing the government bus stand on the right. Here is a small hill on the right, and next to this hill is a small pond - Indra-dhwaja Tila. This is where the cowherd men would normally come to worship Indra.