Devotees take a midnight dip in the sacred waters of Radha Kund on this day to obtain eternal 'Prema-bhakti'.
Bahulashtami (also known as Ahoi Ashtami), which falls on the eighth day of the ‘Krishna Paksha' (dark for fortnight) of the holy month of ‘Kartik' is celebrated in Braj-Vrindavan as the appearance day of Shri Radha Kund. The eternal glories of this divine ‘Kund' situated in the Govardhan foothills draw huge number of pilgrims every year for the festival.
It is believed that during the ‘Pushya Nakshatra' when both Shri Radha and Krishna Kunds appeared at midnight (around 11.45pm) on Bahulastami, the divine couple performs ‘Maharaas' with the ‘Ashtasakhis' in attendance even today. Devotees take bath in the sacred waters of Radha Kund at this hour to obtain eternal ‘Prema-Bhakti' or loving devotional services of Shri Radha-Krishna. Married women who want to be blessed with a son observe a ‘nirjala vrat' through the day and bathe in the ‘Kund' at midnight as part of the rituals associated with the festival.
History and evolving traditions…
Before the appearance of the sacred water bodies, Radha Kund was known as Arith Vana after the demon Arishtasura whose roar was terrifying enough to cause miscarriages in pregnant women. To save Brajwasis from him Shri Krishna carried out the Arishtasura Vadh Lila which culminated with the appearance of Shri Radha and Shyam Kund for the fulfilment of both material and spiritual desires of devotees.
For years Radha Kunda and Syama Kunda were lost and no one knew exactly where they were located. When Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to Vrindavana in 1515, he saw two fields under a shallow covering of water near Arith village, which were known as Kali Khet and Gauri Khet (black field and white field). Recognizing them as Krishna's dearest place of pastimes, he bathed there and experienced the ecstasy of divine ‘Prema'.
After Gaudiya Sampradaya's Shri Raghunatha Das Goswami made Radha Kund his ‘Bhajan Sthali', many saints from other Sampradays also built their temples and ‘baithak' here.
The glories of Radha Kund have been described in the works of devotional poets and saints, such as Nagaridas's ‘Teethananda' and Kavi Jagtanandas' Braj Yatra related texts. Many kings including Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur and other royal personalities were regular visitors to Radha Kund. Apart from giving charity at this holiest of pilgrimages, they built many temples, ghats and kunjas (sacred groves) around it.
The legend behind appearance of Shri Radha Kund…
The story goes Kamsa sent the demon Arishta whose name means ill-luck, misfortune or disaster to kill Krishna. Arishta came to Govardhan in the form of a bull while Krishna was grazing his cows. Like the many other demons sent by wicked Kamsa, Arishta also met the same fate.
After he had killed Arishta, Krishna came as usual to meet Radha and her sakhis to enjoy his pastimes with them. However, being provoked by Lalita and the others, Radharani said she could have nothing to do with him, as he had become impure from the act of killing a bull. The bull, after all, is the very symbol of dharma. When Krishna asked what he could do to be free of his sin, she said that nothing short of bathing in all the seven sacred rivers would be effective.
Showing off for his beloved, Krishna pushed his heel into the ground and made a large depression. Then he called all sacred rivers that appeared in their personified forms and filled it to make a beautiful bathing pond which came to be known as Shyama Kund after Shri Krishna took his purifying dip in it. After bathing, Krishna began to tease the gopis, “Now that I have bathed in the holy waters of Shyama Kund, I am free from any fault, but I am afraid that because you sided with Arishtasura, you have become too impure for me to touch. You are going to have to do something to counteract your fault.”
With that, the Radha and the gopis became a little arrogant and said, “You have your kund, so we will have ours. Our Radha is no less powerful than you!” Then, marking the huge cavity created by the bull's hooves on the western side of Shyam Kund, they decided to make her Kund there. They broke their bangles to make tools for digging and began to make their own reservoir.
Within 48 minutes, Radha and her friends were done; the pool was ready but there was no water in it. Krishna and his friends watched and laughed at the Gopis' predicament. Nevertheless, Krishna generously offered to fill Radha's kund with water from his tank, but Radha and the Gopis, still proud, refused.
Lalita then said, “Why don't we form a bucket chain to the Manasi Ganga and fill it up with water from there?” And so this is what they did.
Then, on Krishna's order, all the holy tirthas who had come to fill Shyam Kund appeared and offered choice praises and obeisance unto Shri Radhika. Being satisfied with their worship, Radharani gave them permission to enter into her kund. And so Krishna broke the dam that separated the two ponds and their waters merged.
Hearing about the appearance of Radha Kund, Yogamaya Paurnamasi Devi called Vrinda Devi and instructed her to plant various trees and vines on all four banks of the kundas. According to her own wish, Vrinda Devi also constructed jewelled ghats, i.e., steps leading down to the water, in order to facilitate Radha and Krishna's pastimes. She arranged for beautiful kunjas to be laid out with different kinds of trees, vines and flowers. These kunjas were assigned to Shrimati Radharani's eight principal sakhis, the ‘Ashtasakhis'. On both sides of each Ghat she had charming wish-yielding Kalpa Vriksha trees planted. Singing male and female parrots, pigeons, cuckoos and peacocks are always sitting on the branches of these trees, and the kundas are filled with golden, yellow, green, red, blue and white lotus flowers.
This Shri Radha Kund is the place where Shri Shri Radha Madhava have their most confidential eternal midday pastimes, as described at great length in the Govinda Lilamrita and other such texts. Besides playing their water sports here, they swing, play at pash khela, drink mead and have their noontime meal, visiting the kunjas of the sakhis which encircle the kund.