Kartik is the final month of the Hindu calendar. Every year it takes place roughly in October/November according to the Gregorian calendar.
This year Kartik starts on Thursday, October 21, 2021 and ends on Thursday, November 18, 2021.
Kartik: The Last Month of Chaturmasya
Traditionally in India the last four months of the year were the rainy season. Day and night there would be almost constant rain, making travel and many outdoor activities and occupations difficult, if not impossible. For this reason, these four months have always been a special time for increased spiritual practices. Krishna devotees and all kinds of spiritualists take advantage of the inclement weather to stay indoors and spend time together worshiping God.
Today, Chaturmasya (literally “four months”) is observed throughout the world by members of the Hare Krishna movement. Even though the weather varies in different countries, these four months are still a special time for taking one’s spiritual practice up a notch.
Chaturmasya culminates in Kartik, the fourth month of the series and the final month of the Hindu calendar year. Kartik is said to be the most powerful month of the year for making spiritual progress. The entire month is surcharged with spiritual energy, due to the increased spiritual practices taking place all over the world. Devotees make special efforts during this month to please Krishna and come closer to Him through their preferred practices in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.
In the Vaishnava calendar, the month of Kartik is known as Damodara masa. Damodara is a name of Krishna that refers to a favorite pastime Krishna performed when He appeared on Earth as a young boy.
As a child, Krishna behaved like an ordinary baby and was very fond of drinking His mother’s breast milk. One day, while His mother, Yashoda, was breast-feeding Him, a pot of milk on the stove began to boil over. Seeing this, Yashoda put Krishna down and left to tend to the milk on the stove. Krishna was so upset to have His nursing interrupted that He picked up a stone and broke a nearby clay pot filled with yogurt. Then He ran to the storehouse and began stealing butter from the different pots and jars that were stored there.
When Yashoda had finished tending to the milk, she saw that the yogurt pot was broken and that there was a trail of baby-sized yogurt footprints leading to the storehouse. When she arrived there, the room was in total disarray. Pots were turned upside down, butter, yogurt, and ghee were spilled everywhere, and in the middle of it all sat Krishna, His face smeared with yogurt and sweetened butter.
Yashoda knew that it was her duty as a mother to discipline her son, so she picked up a stick and pretended she was going to spank Him. When Krishna saw His mother approaching Him in this angry mood, His eyes grew wide in fear and He ran into the courtyard. Mother Yashoda raced to catch Him, and when she caught Him, she decided to tie Him up to a nearby grinding mortar as punishment.
However, when Yashoda took rope to tie Krishna to the grinding stone, she was astonished to discover that it would not reach all the way around His belly. She took another length of rope and tied the two together, this time sure that the rope would be of sufficient length to tie up her son. But still, somehow, the rope mystically came up short.
Yashoda was not one to give up so easily. She called her neighbors and friends and asked them to bring all their rope, and together they made a length of rope long enough to go around the entire courtyard. Finally, after Yashoda tried again one more time, the rope was able to reach around Krishna and the grinding stone, and Yashoda made a tight knot so He couldn’t escape.
This is where the name “Damodara” comes from, meaning “bound by the waist.” Although God is unlimited, He allows Himself to be bound by the love of His devotees.
There are many important holidays that take place during the month of Kartik:
Thursday, November 4th: Dipavali — Also known as Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, this day marks the triumphant return of Lord Rama to His kingdom, Ayodhya, after defeating Ravana and rescuing His wife Sita.
Friday, November 5th: Govardhan Puja — The famous celebration of Govardhan Hill, the beloved mountain where Krishna and His friends played and tended their cows as youths.
Thursday, November 11th: Gopastami — This day marks the anniversary of the very first time Krishna and His brother Balarama were given the responsibility of herding the cows.
Thursday, November 18th: Sri Krishna rasa-yatra — This day marks the full moon night and the final day of Kartik, when Krishna invited His gopi girlfriends out to dance under the moonlight in a romantic outing known as the rasa dance.
How to Make the Most of Kartik
Anyone interested in having a spiritual experience can benefit from taking some time during Kartik for daily mantra meditation and reading wisdom texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
The Vedas recommend many different mantras, but among all of them, the Hare Krishna mantra is considered to be the best. It is called the maha-mantra or “Great Mantra,” because it contains the spiritual potency of all other mantras combined:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
You can chant this mantra alone as a quiet meditation (japa) or you can chant it in a group accompanied by musical instruments (kirtan).
The best way to progress in your practice of bhakti is to connect with other like-minded practitioners who have similar spiritual goals as you do. Find other Krishna devotees in your area and invite them over for a meal of prasadam, some kirtan, and some reading and discussion on holy books like the Bhagavad-gita. This is a guaranteed way to get the most out of your Kartik month.