The season of Kartik Masa is right here. This month when widows among the Hindus observe fast during the day and pray before God for Moksha and peace of mind throughout the year.
The religious importance of the month of Kartika has been described in the 'Kartika Mahatmya'. Once sage Narada put a query to Lord Brahma as to which was the best month of a year and who is the best deity to worship. Brahma's instant reply was that the best month of the year is Kartika and the supreme deity to worship is Narayana (Lord Vishnu).
In this month whatever good deeds were performed Bhagavan Vishnu fully accepts it since He is readily available there throughout the month. Sutaji said to the great sages: 'The sin-destroying month of Kartik is said to be endowed with divine influence. It is ever so dear to Lord Vishnu and is the bestower of both worldly pleasures and moksha (salvation).'
As per some other texts, the dark fortnight of the month is the most auspicious time to pray to Yama, the lord of death, to avoid an unnatural death and for good health. One should chant 'Om Namo Narayanaya' and should hear or read 'Vishnu Sahasranam' and 'Gajendra Moksha Paatha' to get freedom from want, disease, adversity and discontent.
There is an interesting tale from the Padma Purana: In Lord Vishnu's temple there was a mouse that used to eat the ghee from the extinguished ghee lamps which were offered by devotees. One day when the mouse felt hungry she tried to eat the ghee from a lamp which was still burning. While slurping the ghee from the lamp, the cotton wick got stuck in its teeth. Since the ghee wick had a flame, the mouse started jumping in front of the Lord and died shortly. But Lord Vishnu accepted the jumping of that mouse with a lit ghee wick in her mouth as His aarti. In the end, He gave her liberation, the highest destination.
Kartika maasa starts from the next day of the Kumara Purnima festival that marks the end of Ashwini maasa, while it culminates with the festival of Kartika Purnima. There are, of course, many rituals associated with this month. During this entire month, the pious abstain from the intake of non-vegetarian diet. Taking bath at the pre-dawn time of the day and paying regular visits to the temple are few of the inscribed rituals to be observed during this month. Those who observe the special rituals associated with this month, called Habisa or Kartika Brata, renounce a number of items in their diet. Throughout this month, they fast and take food once during the day, which is during the afternoon. As per tradition, those undertaking the brata can only take a specific diet prepared from few items like coconut, sweet potatoes and few other pulses.
The age old tradition also finds many elderly, especially women and widows swarming the cities of Puri and Bhubaneswar to serve their beloved Lord Jagannath and Lord Shiva.
The whole month of Kartika is not only auspicious but it heralds a bevy of festivities in a series thereafter. The last five days of the month however are the most sanctified and are collectively known as 'Panchuka'.The very last day of these five days is celebrated as Kartika Purnima. As per practice, the devout must refrain from partaking non-vegetarian food and food without onion and garlic during Kartika maasa but those who fail to follow these strict regulations for the entire moth can opt to observe the same during these last five days of the month. As per a popular saying, even a crane, a fish-hunting bird, forsakes eating fish during Panchuka!
Early in the morning married women draw beautiful designs with 'muruja' (natural coloured powder) around the 'chaura' (a small elevated structure with a 'Tulsi' or basil plant overhead) during Panchuka.
The month long Brata ends with the festival of Kartika Purnima that also marks the victory of Lord Shiva over the Tripuri demons. The day after Kartika Purnima is called Chadakhai, when the people break their month-long abstinence from non-vegetarian food. On this day, it is not uncommon to see local markets, particularly fish and mutton shops, crowded with people, who leave no stone unturned to enjoy a rich non-vegetarian feast after the long hiatus. Goes without saying, the prices of meat and fish soar up during this period.