Krishna Janmashtami also known as Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami is a festival dedicated to Lord Shri Krishna and this festival celebrates his birth. Among the Dashavtar, Lord Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is considered the most popular avatar.
WHEN IS JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATED?
In India, birth of Lord Krishna is celebrated with great devotion and enthusiasm in the month of August or September. According to the Hindu calendar his birthday falls on the eight day of the dark fortnight i.e. the ashtami of Krishna Paksh (eight days after Raksha Bandhan) and is celebrated over two days. The first day is Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami and the second day is called Kalastami or Janmashtami.
WHY IS JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATED?
Legends associated with Jamashtami – BIRTH OF LORD KRISHNA –
Kans, the king of Mathura was a very cruel ruler. His reign of terror spared no one, even the rishi- munis had to bear the brunt of this. Gods approached Lord Vishnu for help and he assured them that he would soon take birth on earth and put an end to Kans terror.
Kans had a sister named Devaki and he had a soft spot for her. Devaki was a kindhearted and a loving girl. One fine day, she got married to Vasudev. As Kans started to escort the newly wed couple to their new home, a voice from the sky startled everyone. The voice addressed Kans and said, “O, foolish king, what are you happy about? The eighth son of Devaki-Vasudev would kill you and bring an end to your tyranny.”
Hearing this Kans got scared, he drew his sword out and tried to kill his sister. Vasudev rushed to save Devaki and begged Kans to spare her life in return he promised to let him kill all their kids. Kans was convinced but was still scared about his life so he decided to imprison them. He threw his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudev in prison so that he could kill all the sons born to Devaki. This prison was watched night and day by Kansa’s soldiers. Many years passed and in captivity Devaki bore six sons, each of them were mercilessly killed by Kans.
On the night of their seventh child, Vasudev prayed to Lord Vishnu to save this child. His prayers were heard and it’s believed that using his magical powers Lord Vishnu transferred this baby into the womb of Rohini. This kid was called Balaram and was brought up safely in Braj. Here, Devaki and Vasudev informed Kans that their seventh child died during birth.
Soon Devaki started expecting her eighth baby and here in the palace Kans was waiting anxiously for this baby. The baby was born at midnight on a dark and stormy night in the month of Shravan. Because of its dark complexion this baby was therefore called Krishna, which means ‘dark’ or ‘black’. Just then Vasudev heard a voice that said, “Vasudev, take your baby to Gokul, across the Yamuna river to the house of Nand, a cowherd. Nand’s wife just had a baby. Leave your son by her side, and bring her child back to Devaki.” Vasudev bowed and followed that divine voice orders.
Magically, all the prisons doors opened and their chains and locks were broken. Every living creature including prison guards were fast asleep and snoring. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Vasudev lifted the baby in his arms and slipped out of the prison.
It was a stormy and rainy night. When he reached the banks of Yamuna river, to his surprise the bridge had washed away and there was no boat in sight. Holding the basket on his head, Vasudev stepped into that wild river and monstrous waves. He was fully drenched in water but was trying to keep the basket above water level. One of the baby’s foot touched the water and that very moment the waves calmed down.
It is believed that Yamuna had risen that night because she wanted to touch Lord Vishnu’s feet (baby’s feet) and she could have only done that by rising up-to that level. Once she touched Lord Vishnu’s feet the river became very calm, the waves subsided and Vasudev was able to cross the river with ease. Lord Vishnu’s serpent (Vasuki) spread his hood over the baby and protected his lord from the stormy weather.
When Vasudev reached the house of Nand, all the cowherds were asleep. With a heavy heart he placed his own son next to Yasoda, picked up her newborn girl and returned back to the prison. He laid this baby beside Devaki and soon he saw the doors locking behind him, chains fastening them again and guards yawning and waking up. Seeing the eighth baby, guards rushed to inform Kans.
Kans came rushing to the prison and grabbed that baby. Devaki begged Kans that she is a girl, how can she harm you. But Kans roared, “Girl or boy, she has to die.” As he was about to kill that girl, she slipped and in her sweet voice said, “Kans, your destroyer is already born and is safe. I am Devi and you cannot kill me. Your destroyer, Devaki’s eighth son is born.”
Hearing this Kans was petrified. He ordered Devaki and Vasudev to live in prison forever and he will find their eighth son and kill him. On the other side at Gokul, under Nand’s protection, Krishna got the loving affection of Nand’s wife Yashoda and days passed in fun and frolic. Since Krishna grew among cowherds, cattle was the principal means of living. His childhood activity revolves around tending cows, milking them, making curds, butter etc.
Krishna’s entire life is filled with heroic deeds. From killing Putana to lifting Mount Govardhan (to save people of Vrindavan from torrential rains) and fighting Kalia naag ( a giant snake that lived in the Yamuna river and terrorised the people of Gokul). When Kans time was up Krishna defeated him in wrestling and killed him. He freed his parents from prison and the people of Mathura were relieved.
HOW IS JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATED?
Many people observe fast on Janmashtami, but one meal is allowed. This is known as falahar, and consists of fruit, mithai, curd, (kuttu) Singhare-ki-Puri. This falahar is taken in the afternoon (around 2-3 p.m.) along with tea and coffee as they are not forbidden and can be taken at any time of the
day. At midnight the birth of Lord Krishna is replicated with pomp and ceremony.
The birth of Krishna is welcomed at midnight by the elders of the house by applying teeka and then doing puja. In the evening, family members gather together and sit down in the room where all the decoration has been done, and sing bhajans in praise of Lord Krishna. Delicacies are prepared from milk and curds that Krishna loved. Prasad and charnamrit are then distributed to all present.
The temples of Vrindavan witness an extravagant and colorful celebration on this occasion. Little children are adorned as Lord Krishna and Radhika, his spiritual beloved. At many places Bal Leela or Krishna Leela (plays depicting scenes from Krishna’s life, especially childhood) are performed. An idol of the baby Krishna (bal gopal) is bathed at midnight and is placed in a cradle, amidst the blowing of conch shells and ringing of the bells.
Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration of this festive occasion all over Northern India. The more popular ceremony of Dahi-handi (breaking a pot full of milk) takes place on the second day.
CEREMONY OF DAHI HANDI
During this ceremony a large earthenware pot is filled with milk, curds, butter, honey fruits etc. and is suspended at a height. This earthen pot and it’s strings are adorned with flowers and young men and boys form teams and come forward to claim this prize. To reach that height, they have to build a human pyramid by standing on each other’s shoulders till the final person reaches to the top. A lot of teamwork and cooperation in involved in breaking this pot.
Since bal gopal was fond of Makkan (butter and curds) and this ceremony depicts Krishna’s love for milk and butter. In his childhood days, after everyone left for their work, Krishna along with his friends would go inside the house, find the earthen pot where the Gopi had put her milk and butter and would form a human pyramid and eat butter and milk from those hanging baskets. He was extremely found of curd and butter.
In Maharashtra, Janmashtami witnesses the performances from Krishna’s childhood. The state of Gujarat is the abode of Lord Krishna, and town of Dwarka comes alive, with major celebrations and hordes of visitors.
RECIPES OF JANMASHTAMI
Mawa Burfi – Homemade mawa combined with sugar, nuts and flavored with cardamom creates this popular sweet delicacy.
Paneer Burfi – A simple, delicious, rich and yummy sweet that will just melt away in your mouth.
Milk Seviyan – Vermicelli pudding. Under 30 minutes quick and easy Indian festival sweet.
Angoori Gulab Jamun – Small spongy pearl shaped anguri gulab jamun made with mawa/khoya.