What is Krishna Janmashtami? It is a celebration of the birthday of Lord Krishna, who is considered to be the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. One of the oldest festivals of India, it holds great importance as a celebration of the naughtiest and most loved characters in Hindu mythology. To understand the significance of Krishna Janmashtami and the importance of the festival, it’s essential to know some of the facts behind this celebration as well as the rituals and festivities that accompany it. According to the Hindu lunar calendar, he was born in the holy month of Shravana at Mathura and was brought up in Vrindavan. Celebrations in these towns start weeks in advance with the streets and homes decorated and delicious prasad is made for the deity. Different regions of the country celebrate this festival in their own unique way and in some parts the celebrations go on for more than a day. To understand this festival better, here are some facts about this festival as well as some rituals and celebrations that are a must during Krishna Janmashtami.
- One of the biggest Hindu festivals, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated by approximately 930 million people all over the world.
- As legend goes, the birth of Lord Krishna took place in the kingdom of Mathura which was in a miserable state during the rule of King Kansa. Kansa’s sister, Devaki, got married to Vasudeva and on their wedding day, the clouds made a prophecy that their eighth son would cause Kansa’s death. He immediately imprisoned Devaki and Vasudev and killed all their children as soon as they were born.
- Lord Krishna was born at midnight and to save him Vasudeva took him to his friend, Nanda, in Vrindavan. The torrential rains made it an arduous journey but Vasudeva carried baby Krishna on his head and kept walking. It‘s said that the Snake God, Shesh Nag, spread its hood from behind to protect him from the rain.
- Little Krishna was brought up by Yashoda and Nanda. He and his friends were among the naughtiest children in the neighbourhood. He adored white butter and would steal whatever Yashoda made at home and eat it. Till date, the most popular prasad made on Krishna Janmashtami is white butter and sugar or ‘makhan mishri’.
- There are approximately 108 names by which Krishna is known all over the world.
- The word ‘Krishna’ in Sanskrit means ‘black’ and he is so called because of his dark skin tone.
- To simulate his habit of stealing butter, a popular ritual of dahi handi is celebrated till date. Young men and boys form a human pyramid to break open an earthen pot placed at a height of 20 to 30 feet.
- Devotees observe a ritualistic fast on this day and the Krishna Janmashtami fast rules are quite stringent. They eat only a single meal the day before Janmashtami and on the actual day only eat fruits and water.
- Krishna Janmashtami in Mathura, where he was born, Vrindavan, where he grew up, and in parts of Braj is celebrated spectacularly. The temples and streets dazzle with decorations and beautiful lights. Sweet shops overflow with delicacies. The whole day, people throng to the temples where the deities are bedecked in new clothes and placed on swings. At midnight, Krishna is bathed in ghee, milk and water and is offered ‘prasad’. In Mathura, there are 400 temples dedicated to him where this festival is celebrated with a lot of pomp and show.
- The legend of fifty-six food items or ‘chhapan bhog’ in which Krishna is presented with 56 food items has an interesting event behind it. Once, Lord Indra, the Rain God, flooded Vrindavan out of anger. When people went for refuge to Krishna, he directed them to Govardhan Parvat and lifted the mountain on his little finger so that people could take shelter under it. For 7 days, he stood like that without food or water and when the rain stopped, people honoured him by presenting him with 56 kinds of food.
- The day after Janmashtami, which is known as Nandotsava, the chhapan bhog is distributed among people. It comprises Krishna’s favourite foods and has an array of fruits, cereals, drinks, dry fruits, sweets, savouries and pickles with 8 food items under each category.
- Janmashtami is celebrated all over India with some variations — in Tamil Nadu, people draw elaborate kolams with rice batter at the entrance of their homes with tiny footprints of Krishna entering their homes.
- In Mumbai alone, more than 4000 Dahi Handi events are organised.
- New clothes are made for the Krishna idol and it’s decorated with flowers.
- People fast the whole day till midnight and then break their fast with a host of delicacies.
- Kirtans are organised either at home or in the community and the mantra ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ is chanted. Hymns are sung along with the ringing of bells and conches.
- A lamp is lit and flowers, tulsi leaves and incense are offered to Krishna.
- Homes are cleaned and decorated beautifully with children helping to make garlands of flowers and leaves and hang balloons.
- The Abhishek ceremony is done where the idols are bathed in milk, honey, ghee, nectar and curd which are considered auspicious.
- Rasleela is another must-have in any Janmashtami celebration where children dress up as Krishna and Radha and enact his escapades.
- Jhulan Utsav is where Krishna is carried around in a palanquin around the temple during Krishna Janmashtami celebrations and then put in a room to rest.
- Dahi Handi is a must on the second day of Krishna Jannmashtami celebrations where young men form a human pyramid and try to break an earthen pot filled with ghee, milk and dry fruits which is hanging at a height. Onlookers throw water on the men to prevent them from reaching their goal and this celebration is filled with fun and frolic.
- Nandotsav is a celebration similar to Holi where people throw curd, turmeric and jasmine flowers on one another on Janmashtami.
- Beautiful tableaus or ‘jhankis’ are made to recreate scenes of Krishna’s childhood during Krishna Janmashtami celebrations.
The Bhagavad Gita mentions that whenever evil takes over the world and religion begins to decline, a reincarnation of Krishna will appear to remove evil and save the good. Krishna Janmashtami epitomises a spirit of not just faith but togetherness and unity as people come together to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. You can get in touch with EuroKids for more information on Krishna Janmashtami celebrations.