Radha Kund, 2017.10.13 (VT): Yesterday was a special day of Kartik which is significant for bathing in Radha Kund, and that day is known as Bahulastami. Devotees come from all over India and around the world to attend the festival and bless their souls with a midnight bath in the sacred lake.
“I flew in from the UK to spend a few weeks at Radha Kund during Kartik,” said one devotee, “and I am so thankful to Radharani for the chance to bathe in Radha Kund on this special day. I never even dreamed in my entire life that I would be so fortunate to spend Kartik in Radha Kund.”
Another devotee said, “Twenty-seven of us, friends and family members, came all the way from Bengal just to bathe in Radha Kund today. We traveled by train from Hooghly district and we will stay for five days before going back to our village,”
Devotees from Bengal are especially numerous during Bahulashtami, due to the centuries-old connection between Radha Kund and Bengal.
The magnetic draw of Bahulashtami has its roots in the Kartik Mahatmya of the Padma Puran, which states: govardhana girau ramye rādhākuṇḍaṁ priyaṁ hareḥ, kārtike bahulāṣṭamyāṁ tatra snatvā hareḥ priyaḥ. “Whoever bathes in Krishna’s beloved Radhakund at charming Govardhan on Bahulashtami (Kartik Krishna Ashtami), becomes dear to Krishna.”
Although from a scriptural point of view the Bahulashtami bath can be performed any time during the ashtami tithi, it is a local tradition to bathe in Radha Kund at midnight. Because of the huge number of bathers, traffic is tightly controlled by police to prevent cars and two-wheelers from entering the Kund’s perimeter.
Nevertheless, by nine or ten o’clock, the Radha Kund parikrama marg becomes completely impassible even by foot. Devotees come up to eight hours in advance to claim a coveted spot on the Kund’s shore, and spend the time singing kirtan and chanting prayers like Rādhā-kṛpā-kaṭākṣa-stotra. The rooftops of and verandahs of nearby buildings are also packed.
Contrary to popular belief, Bahulashtami is not the day when Radha Kund was created by the Divine Couple. According to Shri Jeev Goswami, the Appearance Day of Radha Kund is on Chaitra Purnima (see Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī ṭīkā on Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 10.45.3). However, it is possible that Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu rediscovered Radha Kund on this day, thus justifying the concept of “Radha Kund’s Appearance Day” being on Bahulashtami.
Bahulashtami also coincides with Ahoi Ashtami, which is a special day for mothers and children. On this day, couples who desire to have children worship Ahoi Mata at Radha Kund. They create makeshift altars by tacking posters of the goddess on the Kund’s wall, or by drawing images of her in cow dung, kumkum or red clay. The Radha Kund pandas lead thousands of couples in Ahoi Mata poojas throughout the day.
Most of these couples then take a vow to give up a certain fruit or vegetable for one year, and then offer that same fruit to Radha Kund. Most people choose to give up petha, as it is not very popular anyway. Thus a huge number of pethas are lobbed into Radha Kund as the bathing ritual takes place.
When the clock strikes midnight, everyone shouts “Jai Jai Shri Radhe” and the crowd surges into Radha Kund as one.
Many devotees wait till the crowd disperses somewhat, and take their baths at one-thirty or two in the morning. Then comes the cleaning crew.
“Every year I come at three AM to help the local administration clean up,” says Radha Kund resident Amrita Devi. “Village people leave mountains of wet clothes behind, and what to speak of all those pethas floating in Radha Kund! It is not an easy task, but we try to get the whole mess cleaned up by evening of the next day.
“I personally feel that cleaning Radha Kund is just as important as bathing, because by cleaning, I get to serve and touch the dust of the devotees and place that dust upon my head.”