The celebration of Krishna’s birth is one of the largest Hindu festivals in the world, celebrated by nearly 930 million people worldwide.
Popularly known as Krishna Janmashtami, the festival falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) of Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the month of Bhadrapad (August–September) in the Hindu calendar. This year it falls on August 25, 2016.
Krishna’s Birth – Prophecy to End Evil
Krishna, the 8th incarnation of Vishnu, took birth 1000s of years ago, to destroy the evil forces controlling the world. It was prophesied that Krishna would be responsible for the death of his evil uncle Kamsa, the ruler of Vrishini whose capital was Mathura. He imprisoned Krishna’s parents Vasudev and Devaki and killed each child born to them, in an attempt to negate the prophecy.
The night of Krishna’s birth was a night steeped in magic and divine intervention. The shackles fell off his father’s ankles, the prison doors swung open, and all the guards slept as if drugged. He escaped from the prison with his new-born son under the cloak of darkness and a torrential downpour. Krishna was left with Nanda of Gokul and his wife Yashoda who raised him as their own. As a youth Krishna did indeed slay the evil Kamsa and free his parents from prison.
This was the beginning of one of the most majestic lifetimes seen on the planet Earth by an incarnation of the Divine. The celebration of Lord Krishna’s birth is therefore a day of recounting the amazing events of his life (Rasaleela), fasting, singing bhajans, preparing food offerings, and kirtan dancing.
Janmashtami at ISKCON
ISKCON, heart of the Hare Krishna movement, begins planning for this auspicious festival months in advance. Thousands of devotees visit the ISKCON temple on the day of Janmashtami to be a part of the festivities, receive the blessings, and eat the freely offered vegetarian meals. Devotees are encouraged to use this day to: “Prepare for this spiritual festival by recalling the things in life for which you are grateful; by forgiving your enemies; by tolerating others mistakes; by expressing happiness for whatever God gives you on this day. Most of all, be respectful to devotees and other pilgrims. This is the success formula for lots of blessings on this special day” says ISKCON devotee Radhadesh, Belgium.
Roots of the Crowd-Pulling Dahi Handi
One of the more famous stories from Krishna’s childhood was his love for curd and butter. In the village of Vrindavan where he grew up, these items were stored in clay pots and hung from the ceiling in the kitchen. In order to get to it, Krishna and his friends would form a human pyramid to climb to that height and steal the butter or curd.
This has turned into a modern day gala celebration known as Dahi Handi. It involves making a human pyramid and breaking an earthen handi or pot, filled with vermillion water, money donated by several people, and such other goodies all tied high above street level. The topmost person tries to break the handi by hitting it with a blunt object. When the handi breaks, the vermillion water is spilled over the entire group.
Participating in this event is not for the faint hearted. Usually these human pyramids are pros from local yoga centers and gyms who turn out in large numbers during Janmashtami to enthrall the crowds with their skills of making human pyramids. This is a huge uproarious event that brings wild excitement to the crowd. Over time the human pyramids have gotten higher, the participants more daring, and the prize money more alluring. Most recently one group (called a mandal) known as Jai Jawan Govinda Pathak from Jogeshwari, Mumbai, made it into the Guinness World Record by forming a human pyramid 9-tiers high, totalling 43.79 feet (13.35 m) in Thane.
In the north of India the celebrations of Janmashtami include a variation of the Rasa Leela (the divine play), as a popular form of folk theatre in the regions of Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, especially during this festival. This Rasa Leela usually depict scenes of the child prankster Krishna, miracles he displayed as a child such as in the Kalinga Mardana (taming of the 7-headed serpent Kalinga), or his endearing relationship with his adoptive mother Yashoda.
The entire day is a grand celebration of life. In many houses in South India, people draw footsteps of Lord Krishna from the entrance of the house to the Puja room, which are drawn with rice flour paste and is a sign of welcoming Lord Krishna home. These footprints represent the baby Krishna walking in with curds all over his little feet, stolen from curd pots from his own or fellow cowherd homes!
No matter where in the world you celebrate Janmashtami, the highlight is the ceremonial bathing of Krishna at the stroke of midnight. The utsava deities of Krishna are anointed with fragrant oils and are bathed with auspicious items like milk, yogurt, ghee, honey, sweet water and fresh juices. They are then smeared with turmeric paste and bathed in Ganges water. Flowers are showered until the deity virtually disappear in the petals. Alankaram is performed, decking them out in new garments and jewels before they are revealed to the rest of the family or the world.
The feast spread include a whole host of delicacies made of the boy Krishna’s favorite food – milk products such as curds, butter, paneer (cottage cheese), buttermilk, ghee and the like. At many Krishna temples and religious institutes little children are dressed as Krishna in prize winning competitions to win the coveted trophy as the best imitation of the little lord!
Authored By : Ma Nithya Mayatitananda