Krishna Janmashtami 2018: India is gearing up for Janmashtami, which would be celebrated on 2nd September 2018 this year. Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth human incarnation of Lord Vishnu
India is celebrating Janmashtami today. Janmashtami is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India. It is also one of the oldest festivals of the subcontinent. Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth human incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who was born at midnight on the ‘eighth day’ or the ‘Ashtami’ of the holy month, Shravana, according to the Hindu Lunar calendar.
Towns like Mathura and Vrindavan start preparing for the festival weeks in advance. It was here that Lord Krishna spent his early formative years, the tales of which are recited and re-enacted across all major pandals that line the streets of Mathura and Vrindavan. Lord Krishna later moved to Dwarika in Gujarat, where he reigned as ‘Dwarkadheesh’ (King of Dwarika). Devotees in Dwarika also celebrate the festival in full fervour. They light up the ancient temple of Dwarika and prepare delicious bhog and prasad for the deity. Apart from this, devotees from different regions of the country have come up with their own local way of celebrating the festival over the years. Celebrations in south India are distinct from the ones in north India. In some parts of the country, Janmashtami celebrations go on for more than a day too.
From legends of his birth, valour and childhood revelry to his great penchant of food, Lord Krishna surely makes for one of the most loved characters in Hindu mythology.
1. The birth of Lord Krishna makes for one of the most loved folklores of all times. The kingdom of Mathura was under deep peril and misery during the rule of King Kansa. King Kansa had a sister, Devaki, who got married to Vasudeva. On the day of their wedding, the clouds roared with a prophecy that the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudev would be the cause of King Kansa’s death. Hearing this, he immediately threw Devaki and Vasudev into the prison (or ‘Karaghar’), and started killing all their children as soon as they were born.
2. It is said that Lord Krishna was born on midnight. To save Lord Krishna, Vasudeva was advised to take him to his friend, Nanda, who lived in Vrindavan. The torrential rains and thunderstorm made it a very difficult journey. But, Vasudeva was determined. He carried little Krishna on his head and kept walking. To protect him, Shesh Nag (the Snake God) also quietly rose from behind to cover his Lord from the rains.
3. Little Krishna grew up in the care of Yashoda and Nanda. He and his gang of friends were among the naughtiest children in the neighbourhood. He loved white butter so much that he would often steal all of it that Yashoda would make at home. Till date, makhan mishri (white butter and sugar crystals) is one of the most popular prasad made for the deity on Janmashtami.
4. There is a popular ritual of dahi handi, which is basically an imitation of the butter-stealing episodes of Lord Krishna. Boys gather in a compound and form a human pyramid to break open the earthen pot fixed at a height of 20-30 feet from the ground. The boy who stands at the top is called Govinda and the groups are either called handis or mandals.
5. Devotees of Lord Krishna observe a ritualistic fast during his birth anniversary. Devotees eat only a single meal a day before Janmashtami. On the fasting day, devotees take a ‘sankalpa’ to observe a day-long fast and to break it on the next day when the Ashtami Tithi is over. Through the day of fasting, no grains are consumed; the devotees take a meal comprising fruits and water, called ‘phallar’.
6. Krishna Janmashtami in Mathura, Vrindavan and parts of Braj is nothing short of a spectacle; temples and streets are decorated with beautiful lights. Sweetmeat shops are filled with delicious pedas and ladoos. Through the day, people throng the temples to pray to their deity. Idols of Lord Krishna and Radha are decked up in new clothes and placed on swings. On midnight, they perform the ‘Krishna abhishekam’, with milk, ghee and water, and proceed to offer ‘bhog’ to the God.
7. The following day, which is referred to as ‘Nanda Utsav’, as an offering to the Lord, devotees put together a list of 56 food items, which is referred to as the ‘chappan bhog’. This is later distributed among the people after the fast. It constitutes Krishna’s favourite dishes and usually includes cereals, fruits, dry fruits, sweets, drinks, namkeen and pickles in quantities of eight under each category. Some of the common items that are found in the bhog are makhan mishri, kheer, rasgulla, jalebi, rabri, mathri, malpua, mohanbhog, chutney, murabba, saag, dahi, Khichadi, tikkis, milk and cashews.
8. The legend of chappan bhog is tied to the episode of Govardhan parvat. Once due to the wrath of Lord Indra, the God of rains, Vrindavan was flooded. It rained continuously for many days in a row. People in Vrindavan went to Lord Krishna, who directed all of them towards Govardhan hill. He then lifted Govardhan hill on his little finger, under which all the villagers took refuge. He stood there for seven days without moving and eating anything. Once the rain subsided, people presented him 56 food items.
9. Janmashtami is celebrated across the country with many local variations. People in Tamil Nadu draw beautiful and elaborated patterns called Kolam, made with rice batter on the entrances of their houses and tiny footprints of little Krishna entering their houses.