Janmashtami marks the day that Krishna made his earthly appearance. He was the eighth son to be born to Janaki and Vasudev. This day is celebrated widely all over the world since Krishna is one of the most important Hindu gods and followed by millions around the earth especially those Hindu’s who are Vaishnavites.
Krishna is one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, he was born with a threat to his life by his evil uncle Kansa. He was born at midnight and his father Vasudev, facing all hardships traveled to all night across the river Yamuna to Gokul and delivered him to his foster parents Nand and Yashoda. Therefore, till date, the Janmashtami festivities start at midnight and continue until wee hours just to commemorate this passage.
As a part of the rituals, women keep fast until midnight. Once the time of Krishna’s birth is crossed, they take idols of baby Krishna and bathe it in milk and honey and dress it up in fine clothes. They thereafter break their fast with sweets and items made of milk since that was Krishna’s favorite. Stories of Krishna’s childhood and youth are told and enacted in the form of “Lila’s”.
For larger communities, a retelling of the Bhagavad Gita or the Purana’s is organized. Kirtan and bhajan’s take place. As mentioned, Krishna Lila or Raas Lila’s are organized. They are very popular in Mathura, Manipur, Assam, and Gujarat where the number of Krishna devotees are more. These dance dramas are performed by amateur actors and start of days prior to Janmashtami. Like every other festival in India, a community celebration is where the true essence lies and Janmashtami is no exception.
Janmashtami is also known as Gokulashtami in Maharashtra, Gujarat and the South of India. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, the most famous ritual to be conducted on this day is the Dahi handi. Dahi Handi literally means “pot of yoghurt” it finds its way back to the legend of baby Krishna who used to love yoghurt and freshly churned butter and was always on the lookout to steal some from the houses in his village so people would place their wares high up in the hopes that he would not be able to reach it.
He would always find his way to those heights and eat up all the goodies. In modern times, a pot of Dahi is suspended from a rope at a great height and boys known as “Govinda’s” are supposed to form a human pyramid to read that height and break the handi. This ritual has been commercialized and now there are sponsored dahi handi competitions and people gather is thousands to witness it.
The other custom on Janmashtami is to dress up little kids as Krishna and Radha. There are competitions that take place in localities and communities to judge the best dressed one. The children look so adorable on this day!! The other custom followed at home is to make Krishna’s footsteps from the main door leading inside the house, as a symbol of Krishna’s auspicious presence within one’s abode.
One should also not miss out on watching the festivities conducted at ISKON temples throughout the world. Since this is their largest and grandest celebration every year, they go all out and their programs are broadcast throughout.
This festival is a great one to introduce your kids to the legend of Krishna and tell them stories of his childhood. You can also sit and watch the various series that have been made regarding his life and gift your kids’ books and coloring pages related to Krishna to get them into the festive mood.
All in all, this is a wonderful festival to enjoy, celebrate, make merry and remember one of Hinduism’s most suave, romantic, mischevious and yet wise God. He is an embodiment of it all. Krishna had said that if any devotee calls out to him with an earnest heart he shall respond, he doesn’t need his devotees to be elaborate in their rituals. So, this Janmashtami, remember him in whichever way that you like and you can, he will for sure be there by your side.