Krishna Janmashtami (Devanagari कृष्ण जन्माष्टमी kṛṣṇa janmāṣṭami) , also known as"Krishnashtami","Saatam Aatham" ,"Gokulashtami", "Ashtami Rohini", "Srikrishna Jayanti", "Sree Jayanthi" or sometimes merely as "Janmashtami", is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Krishna, 8th avatar or 'incarnation' of the Hindu deity Vishnu.
Krishna Janmashtami is observed on the Ashtami tithi, the eighth day of the dark half or Krishna Paksha of the month of Bhadrava in the Hindu calendar, when the Rohini Nakshatra is ascendant. The festival always falls within mid-August to mid-September in the Gregorian calendar. In 2009, for example, the festival was celebrated on 14 August, while in 2010, the festival will be celebrated on 2 September.
The life of Sri Krishna is the most stirring saga of one of the greatest saviors and propounders of 'Dharma'. His life is filled with numerous dangers over which he ultimately gained victory. The stories of how he killed, one after the other, all the demonic adversaries- Pootana, Shakata, Agha, Dhenuka, Bakaa, Keshi, Kansa, Shishupala, Jarasandha etc. - has made him the peerless savior of mankind.
Mathura was the capital of a kingdom in North India. Ugrasen was the king of Mathura. He had a son, Kansa and a daughter, Devki. During the lavish wedding of Devki to Vasudev, Kansa heard a celestial voice announce,'O Kansa, Thy death is written at the hand of the eighth son born to this union.' Through the ensuing years the demon king put to death six children born to Devki in the dungeons of the Palace. On the day that Sri Krishna was born it was raining and dark. At midnight a bright light appeared in the room of Devki. Then the child was born. Vasudev, terrified for the baby's safety, carried it in a basket through the opened gates of the dungeon. On account of the heavy rain the river Yamuna was swollen. But as he stepped out of the prison the rain stopped and the dim light of the moon showed the way. A huge snake taking the shape of an umbrella protected the child. As he reached the river the waters were divided leaving a dry path for Vasudev to cross. Vasudev went to the home of his friend Nanda. He exchanged the baby boy with a baby girl and went back. The following day, when Kansa tried to kill the baby girl she slipped from his hands and the image of Devi appeared. She spoke to Kansa,''The one who is destined to kill you has already taken birth elsewhere.' Sri Krishna flourished under Nanda's and Yashodha's care and later on slew the wicked Kansa.
Rasa lila or dramatic enactments of the life of Krishna are a special feature in regions of Mathura and Vrindavan, and regions following Vaishnavism in Manipur. While the Rasa lila re-creates the flirtatious aspects of Krishna's youthful days, the Dahi Handi celebrate God's playful and mischievous side, where teams of young men form human pyramids to reach a high-hanging pot of butter and break it. This tradition also known as Uriadi is a major event in Tamil Nadu on Gokulashtami.
Statue of baby Krishna being carried in a basket, protected by seven hooded serpent, by Vasudeva across the Yamuna river at midnight
The ritual is to fast the previous day (Saptami, seventh day), which is followed by a night-long vigil commemorating the birth of Krishna at midnight in the jail where his maternal uncle Kansa was keeping them captive, and his immediate removal by his father Vasudeva to a foster-home for safe-keeping.
At midnight, the idol of the infant Krishna is bathed, adorned in new clothes and jewellery, placed in a cradle and worshiped. The fast is completed after Aarti, a special prayer. At day break, ladies draw patterns of little children's footprints outside the house with rice-flour paste, walking towards the house. This symbolizes the entry of the infant Krishna into his foster-home i.e. their homes.
In South India
Celebration of Lord Krishna's birthday as Srijayanthi in anIyengar's house in South India
In the south, the festival is celebrated as Sri Krishnajanmashtami, Janmashtami or Gokulashtami.
In Tamil Nadu, Brahmins (Iyers & Iyengars), Yadhavas, Chettiars and Pillais celebrate the festival. Uriadi or climbing a stick containing a pot of sweet curds is also a major event in Varahur and other parts of Tamil Nadu.
The pooja is performed late in the evening, timed according to the Hindu calendar to coincide with the birth ofKrishna at midnight. Generally, most of the sweets and savouries are prepared on that day. Normally, a Kolam(rice flour drawings on ground), also known as rangoli, drawn specially for the occasion, called ezhakoolam, decorates the front yard. Footprints representing those of Krishna are drawn from the front yard to the pooja room, representing the god entering the devotee's home.
In Karnataka, Madhwas (Vaishnavas) (followers of saint Madhwacharya), Iyengars and Srivaishnavas, (followers of saint Ramanujacharya) and Smarthas followers of Ad Shankara make elaborate preparations for the festival. The idol of Lord Krishna is placed in a decorated Mantapa. Bhakshanam (snacks and sweets in Sanskrit), that are specially prepared for the festival, are offered to Lord Krishna along with fruits and are considered to be his favourites. In some parts of Karnataka, Chakli, Avalakki and Bellada Panaka are prepared especially for the festival. Hand made Avalakki is prepared in memory of Krishna's friend Sudhama. Legend has it that Sudhama had once offered Avalakki to Krishna, as it was considered to be one of his favourite snacks. Gamaka vachana and other devotional activities are held in the evening.
Divergent traditions among Srivaishnavas
Within the Sri Vaishnava tradition itself, there have developed slight differences as to when to observe Sri Jayanti. There is also disagreement as to how exactly to observe the day. Should one observe upavAsa through the night, ceremonially breaking the fast the next morning, or should one eat immediately after the midnight Pooja and Aradhana? Broadly, there are two different opinions within the Sri Vaishnava tradition concerning this matter. One can be called the 'mannAr' tradition, the other the 'tOzhappar' tradition. In a nutshell, the difference stems from lunar vs. solar month and whether to take sunrise or moonrise into consideration for determining jayantI.
The mannar tradition is followed by Sri Parakala Matham and 'munitraya' tradition Sri Vaishnavas such as both Andavan Ashramams and most Vadagalai acharya-purusha families. It is named after one mannAr svAmi of unknown date who is the first extant authority arguing for this calculation. The 'tOzhappar' tradition is named after Sri Vaidika Sarvabhauma Swami, also known as Kidambi Thozhappar, who wrote a detailed text establishing the reasoning behind his tradition.
Govinda Pathaks forming human tower to break the Dahi handi
Janmaashtami, popularly known in Mumbai and Pune as Dahi Handi is celebrated with enormous zeal and enthusiasm. The handi is a clay pot filled with buttermilk that was positioned at a convenient height prior to the event; the topmost person on the human pyramid tries to break the handi by hitting it with a blunt object, and when that happens, the buttermilk is spilled over the entire group, symbolizing their achievement through unity. Various Handis are set up locally in several parts of the city, and groups of youngsters, called Govinda, travel around in trucks trying to break as many handis as possible during the day.
Many such Govinda Pathaks compete with each other, especially for the handis that dole out hefty rewards. The event, in recent times, has gathered a political flavor, and it is not uncommon for political parties, and rich community groups to offer prizes amounting to lakhs of rupees.
Some of the most famous handis are at Dadar, Mazgaon, Lalbaug,Thane and Babu Genu, Mandai in Pune.
Cash and gifts are offered for Govinda troops to participate; for over 4,000 Handis in Mumbai, 700 Govinda troops compete for the prizes.
Janmaashtami, popularly known in Manipur as Krishna Janma, is a significant festival celebrated at two temples in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur. The first festival is at the Govindaji temple and the second is at theInternational Society for Krishna Consciousness temple. Devotees of Lord Krishna gather mostly at the ISKCON temple.
Dwarka, the kingdom founded by Lord Krishna is located within the territories of the present day Gujarat and therefore, Krishna Janmashtami in GujaratIndia is one of the most popular of the fairs and festivals in Gujarat.
The Krishna Janmashtami Celebration in Gujarat is therefore one of the most popular events that is celebrated in both the public as well as private domain
Gujarat witnesses a very peculiar as well as an interesting ritual by the womenfolk during Janmashtami. Women give up all the household chores like cooking and cleaning etc. to play cards. This is an age old tradition. Women doing mind placing bets during the card session. The exact history of this peculiar tradition during Janmashtami is unknown but according to sociologists, this custom may have begun as a pass-time for women in the joint family system. Fasting all day long, the women played cards to kill time as well as keep them awake the entire night. It is said that women eat cold food prepared two days in advance.
Janmashtami in Gujarat
Krishna Janmashtami or the birth of Lord Krishna, 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu on earth, is observed on the eighth day of the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of the month of Bhadrapada according to the Hindu calendar. Janmashtami celebration in Dwarka is very special. Dwarka, means ‘Door to Moksha (Salvation).’ Lord Krishna with his elder brother Balram established this ancient city. Divine architect Vishwakarma built it in two days. The city is said to have been made up of diamonds and crystal, with palaces made of gold, emeralds and other precious stones. It was the abode of Lord Krishna for nearly 100 years. After Lord Krishna's death, the city is believed to have been submerged in the sea.
The celebration of Janmashtami in the main Dwarkadhish temple is very famous in India. Devotees from all over India throng the city of Dwarka during Janamashtami. The celebration on Janmashtami follows the daily routine or ‘Nitya Kram’ of Lord Krishna. The festival day begins with mangla arti performed in the morning. Beginning with 'Banta Bhog’, which made of milk and milk products offered to Lord Krishna, followed by cleansing of his face with water, brushing of the idol's teeth. Then the first darshan of the day is allowed to the devotees.
Lord Krishna is given the holy bath between 8 - 10 am and devotees are given a chance to see the abhishek, which happens only twice a year. The bath is given right after the mangla arti with Panchamrit –which is a mixture of gangajal, ghee, honey, curd and sugar. After the bath, Lord Krishna is adorned with pitambar, yellow colored clothes and ornaments. Ornaments consists of Chandanmala, Vyjantimala, made of flowers and Suparimala made of Betel nut. After the adornment of Shri Krishna, the curtains are removed and devotees are allowed to do the darshan of the Lord. This is followed by offering of Shringar Bhog to the Lord Krishna.
During this ritual, the curtains are down again and darshans are not allowed. After the evening arti, Lord is offered sweets again; devotees are not allowed the darshans of the Lord during this time. Then it is time for Dwarkadhish to sleep. This happens around9:00 pm. It is around 10:30 pm that darshans are opened again for the devotees during the Janmashtami celebrations.
Lord Dwarkadhish is adorned with lot of Gold jewellery and other precious stones such as Diamonds and Topaz. Utsav Bhog is offered to Lord around 11:30 pm. Devotees are not allowed to see the process of Utsav Bhog though they wait eagerly for their beloved Lord in the temple premises and sing bhajans. The devotees welcome the Lord at 12 midnight with immense enthusiasm and joy by chanting “Nand Gher Anand Bhayo- Jay Kanaiya lal ki”. After nearly two-hour celebrations, the temple closes at 2:00 am after the mahabhog offerings to Lord Krishna.
In Gujarat, markets are also filled up with idols of Bal-Krishna and colorful swings. Every temple and house hold has decorated swings with Bal-Krishna-idol in colorful costumes sitting on it. The main Prasad known as PANCHAJIRI-or PANJARI is also work as protection against the seasonal disorder in people, as it made from five important elements of Ayurveda. Apart from Dwarka, the people of Gujarat also visit Mathura (U.P.), Dakor (Gujarat), Shrinathdwara and Shamlaji (both Rajasthan) for pilgrimage. Krishna Janmashtrami inGujarat is also celebrated as festival of fairs in the state. Most of these fairs of "Saatam and Aatham" have been organized in towns and cities of Saurashtra region, which displays the rich culture and traditions of rural folklore.
On Krishna Janmashtami numerous devotees flock to the ancient Krishna temple in old Patan Durbar Square to keep vigil through the glorious night of his birth. As they sit huddled together their bodies rocking in humble obeisance, the women chant the many names of the Lord,'Narayan, Narayan' and Gopal, Gopal'. Some sing ancient hymns, others clap their hands, while some pray. Crowds of men and women edge their way slowly up narrow steps through the seated devotees to the temple's dark interior to where the main idol stands. There they offer flowers, coins and food and wait for a glimpse of Krishna Janmastami festival at Krishna Mandir the idol. After the temple priest gives them 'prasad' they make their way down to join the multitude of devotees in the streets.