Kartika mAsa is of great importance as it is said to represent agni among the devatas. As agni represents the face of all other devatas, this month goes with the name mukha mAsa or mukhya mAsa.
The shastras prescribe two important activities during Kartika:
1. gAyatrI japa
2. kArtika snAna
If these two are performed throughout the month, sins of the entire year are said to get washed away:
samvatsarakR^itAt pApAt pUtI bhavati || [viShNu smR^iti]
devapitR^imanuShyebhyo dattaM ghR^itamadhuplutam |
tatrAnnamakShayaM proktaM brahmaNA lokakartR^iNA ||
Great merits are attained by offering rice with ghee and honey to the deities, pitrs and guests during Kartika Masa.
samabhyarchya hariM bhaktyA dIpaM datvA divAnisham |
sarvapApavishuddhAtmA naro yAti divaM nR^ipa || [Agneya purANe]
By worshipping shrImannArAyaNa and lighting lamps during the morning and nights, one is cleansed of all sins and earns svarga.
One should perform dIpadAna to yama which saves one from darkness after mortal life and grants prosperity in the phenomenal world. The mantra for dIpadAna, performed at the beginning of night, is:
namaH pitR^ibhyaH pretebhyo namo dharmAya viShNave |
namo yamAya rudrAya kAntArapataye namaH ||
The great merits of dIpadAna to deities such as shiva, viShNu and durgA are described in Aditya purANa.
The shukla chaturdashI of kArtika is called vAyubhakSha chaturdashI. One should worship shrImannArAyaNa on this day, fast by consuming only water and recite nArAyaNa aShTakSharI standing immersed in water. This is termed jalakR^icChra,
The kR^icChra named paitAmaha involves drinking only water, milk, curd and ghee for four days starting with kArtika shukla saptamI and fasting on the ekAdashI. This vrata grants one ananta viShNu loka prApti.
The kR^icChra named mAhendra involves living on milk alone for three nights starting with the sixth day of kArtika mAsa during the shukla pakSha. This grants viShNu loka to ones pitrs.
The bhAskara kR^icChra involves living on milk for the first five days of the shukla pakSha in this month , on curd for the next five days and performing upavAsa on ekAdashI. This grants one Aditya loka or shveta dvIpa.
A similar kR^icChra involves consuming yava, kshIra, dadhi, shAka, ghR^ita and jala and it grants R^iShi loka. This is termed as saptarShi kr^icChra. Fasting on the sixth day of shukla pakSha by
consuming only milk is called Agneya kR^icChra that destroys sins.
The following are termed avrataghna vastu and do not cause vratabha~Nga in case of any of these kR^icChras, if used appropriately: fruits, milk, haviShyAnna, milk, medicine and anything consumed to obey the orders of shrInAtha i.e. svaguru. That said, one should use these appropriately and sensibly as one cannot use haviShyAnna during vAyu kR^icChra and assume it to be avrataghna.
By giving up mAmsAhAra during kartika, one attains viShNu loka:
mAmsAshino hi bhUpAlA atraythaM mR^igayAgatAH |
te mAmsaM kArtike tyaktvA gatA viShNvAlayaM shubham || [viShNu purANe]
While various dAnas are prescribed during other months, no dAna
compares to dIpadAna during kArtika:
ekataH sarvadAnAni dIpadAnaM hi chaikataH |
kArtike na samaM proktaM dIpako hyadhikaH smR^itaH ||
shrImannArAyaNa immerses himself in yoganidrA starting with devashayanI ekAdashI [AShADha shuklaikAdashI] and this marks the beginning of chAturmAsya. The lord awakens from yoganidrA on kArtika shuddha ekAdashI, called devaprobodhinI ekAdashI. The vigil of Lord at the doorstep of balIndra also ends on this auspicious ekAdashI. One should fast on this day without water and stay awake to earn the grace of the Lord:
prabodhinIM naraH kR^itvA jAgareNa samanvitAm |
na mAturjaThare yAti api pApAnvito naraH ||
In shrIkrama sampradAya, on prabodhinI ekAdashI, dampati pUjA is performed where mAyA vAmana and kubjashrI are worshipped in a couple and are offered arghyAmR^ita. In the night, homa is performed with a smapuTa of yaj~navarAha, bhuvaneshvarI and hAdi panchadashI mantras. The pramANa for these is baDabAnala [mAsa kR^itya khaNDa, 43-78] and also UrdhvAmnAya tantra [as quoted by H H Shamsher Jung Bahadur in his manual, but using kAdi panchadashI instead].
Also, one is advice to give up oil, liquor and use of bronze during kArtika.
Worshipping lord bhUvarAha is of great significance during kArtika. By worshipping the Lord in vArAha maNDala, one attains the merit of shata kratu. If one consumes the meat of a boar during kartika, he attains raurava naraka followed by birth as a domestic pig:
kArtike saukaraM mAMsaM yastu bhu~nkte sudurmatiH |
ShaShTivarShasahasrANi raurave paripachyate ||
Tanmukto jAyate pApI viShThAshI grAmashUkaraH |
Also, one should not consume the meat of fish or tortoise, which represent incarnations of nR^ihari, during the prabodhana mAsa. By doing so, one attains chaNDAla yoni:
na mAstyaM bhakShayenmAmsaM na kaurmaM nAnyadeva hi |
chaNDAlo jayate rAjan kartike mAMsabhakShaNAt ||
The Tantra shastras sing praise of dIkShA performed during kArtika. Also, kArtika is not a gR^iha mAsa but instead a tIrtha mAsa i.e. all activities prescribed, like dAna, pUjA, japa, snAna etc., should be performed at tIrtha kShetra rather than at the residence.
The devotees of parAmbA are advised to give up meat, take bath early before the sunrise, and worship ambA through homa performed with tila, madhu, kShIra and ghR^ita. All are eligible to worship parAshakti in kArtika, through japa, homa, dAna etc. and the mantra prescribed for all of these is:
jayantI ma~NgalA kAlI bhadrakAlI kapAlinI |
durgA kShamA shivA dhAtrI svadhA svAhA namo.astute ||
[ananaiva tu mantreNa japahomantu kArayediti devIpurANavachanagrahaNAt]
prabhAte chArdharAtre cha madhyAhNe divasakshaye |
achyutaM ye.anukIrtanti te taranti bhavArNavam ||
One who is immersed in the smaraNa of nR^isiMha during the morning, noon, evening and night, he is surely saved from the ocean called samsAra!