The world was in turmoil. Darkness, evil and strife ruled this age. So much so, that Mother Earth herself was disturbed. Unable to bear the sins unleashed on her soil and soul, she went to Lord Brahma – creator of the Universe – in the form of a cow, requesting him to banish the evil. Lord Brahma, along with other deities, took her to Lord Vishnu who assured her that he would take form in the Yadu Dynasty to rid the earth of evil.
That form was his eighth avatar – Lord Krishna
Janmashtami is not just a celebration of that midnight hour. It is also a celebration of the life of a legend. Krishna continues to play an integral role in millions of lives today. He is a protector, a strategist, a teacher, a brother, a lover, a playful child, a divine being. His time on earth had many significant moments, which are celebrated across India in different ways.
The Birth : Krishna Janmashtami
In the Yadu Dynasty, the king of Mathura – Kansa – was a cruel king. It was foretold that his sister Devaki would bear the child that would defeat Kansa. Enraged and fearful, Kansa killed each and every child that Devaki bore. When Krishna, the eighth child, was born, he was smuggled outside the palace and across the Yamuna and given to his foster parents – Nanda and Yashoda. The young child of Nanda and Yashoda was carried back, in Krishna’s place, and killed by Kansa. The infant ascended to heaven, transforming into a goddess who informed Kansa that his time was to come soon.
Years later, Krishna returned and killed Kansa – the embodiment of cruelty and evil.
A Night-time Vigil and Celebration :
Krishna is revered by Hindus around the world – the devotion reaching its zenith on his birthday, Krishna Janmashtami (also known as Gokulashtami). The festival is observed in the period between August end and the beginning of September. A day that changed the fates of many, a life that fascinated and a legend that will never die. Let’s celebrate Janmashtami together this August.
A Night-time Vigil and Celebration
This legend is celebrated on the night of Janmashtami. On the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha in Shraavana of the Lunar Calendar (August-September), devotees fast (upavasa), sing devotional songs to Krishna and keep vigil at night (ratri jagaran). After the hour of midnight – when Krishna was born – statues of the infant are bathed, clothed and placed in a cradle. Devotees break their fast, sharing sweets and food. Women often draw tiny footprints outside their houses, symbolising the entry of Krishna into their homes and their lives.
However, Janmashtami is not just a celebration of that midnight hour. It is also a celebration of the life of a legend. Krishna continues to play an integral role in millions of lives today. He is a protector, a strategist, a teacher, a brother, a lover, a playful child, a divine being. His time on earth had many significant moments, which are celebrated across India in different ways. The day after the midnight vigil and prayers, the entire country celebrates the festival (mahotsava). Here are some of the different ways in which Janmashtami is celebrated in India.
One God, Countless Celebrations :
The kingdom of (Mathura) Krishna’s birthplace, and Vrindavan (where he grew up) are found in one of India’s largest states – Uttar Pradesh. In Vrindavan, celebrations begin 10 days before the actual day. Rasleelas and plays based on the events of Krishna’s life are performed. Temples and homes are decorated with pomp and splendour, and the “abhishek” – the bathing of the idol before the celebrations, is a massive event. In Mathura, the two most important aspects of the festival are celebrated with fervour. The first being Jhulanotsov, where locals place swings in their courtyards (to symbolise baby Krishna’s cradle) and decorate temples with flowers and rangolis to welcome Krishna. The second celebration is Ghatas – where all temples are decorated with a particular thematic colour. The main events are held at the location of Krishna’s birth, which was converted into the Krishna Janma Bhoomi Mandir.
Other parts of North India, like Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himalayan North celebrate Janmashtami with equal splendour.
Janmashtami in Maharashtra is a day of joy and fun. Festivities circle around one important and unique ritual – Dahi Handi. This ritual takes place a day after Janmashtami and is a re-enactment of one of Krishna’s most playful moments. As a baby, Krishna loved milk products like yoghurt and butter, and so people would hide these supplies outside of his reach. Krishna would employ all kinds of creative stratagems to reach his favourite treats, including creating a human pyramid with the help of his friends to reach the butter or yoghurt.
In tribute to the charm, joy and innocence of this story, pots of yoghurt (dahi) are strung up high – supported by wires and poles. Teams of boys (named Govindas, after Krishna) form a human pyramid to reach the pot. The boy at the top of the pyramid will break the pot, releasing the Dahi. The spilled offerings are considered holy. As the boys form the pyramid and climb, the women and neighbours in the locality cheer and tease them. They dance, sing and celebrate, creating a festive atmosphere that is welcomed and loved by all.
This ritual has become so popular in Maharashtra that competitions are held across different neighbourhoods and cities, and cash prizes are often given out to winners. A similar ritual, known as Makhan Handi (a pot with freshly churned butter), is celebrated in Dwarka, Gujarat (the epicentre of Krishna’s kingdom).
Eastern and North-eastern India :
The Hindu Vaishnavas of these regions in India celebrate this festival. Here Janmashtami is celebrated through performance arts like Borgeets (lyrical songs), Ankia Naat (one act plays), Sattriya (dance dramas) and Bhakti yoga. In Manipur, the locals developed a classical dance form dedicated to the dance-drama of the Krishna-Radha story is performed. Parents also dress their children as characters who play parts in the legend of Krishna. Temples are festooned with flowers and leaves, and Bhagvad Gita recitations are carried out. In Odisha and West Bengal, the day after Janmashtami is known as Nanda Utsav, a celebration of Krishna’s foster parents – Nanda and Yashoda.