Janmashtami falls on the eighth day of Bhadon month of Indian calender. It is the birth (Janma) anniversary of Lord Krishna
and an important festival for followers of Lord Vishnu
as well. According to the legend of the birth of Krishna, Vishnu incarnated himself as Krishna to destroy the evil Kansa
who was harassing mankind. Krishna was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. Janmashtami is also known as Krishna Janmashtami, Srijayanti, Gokulashtami and Krishnasthami.
Janmashtmani in Mathura and Vrindavan
During Janmashtami, the twin cities of Mathura
, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, take on a festive look and the spirit of devotion runs high among the people. There are about 400 temples dedicated to Lord Krishna in these sacred cities
and the major festivities are held at the Banke Bihari
, Rangaji, Shri Krishna Balram and Gopinath temples. The `Raslila
` of Braj is thematically the basis of many performing arts. Professional drama troupes or even young children perform Raslilas. Colourful costumes and equally colourful backgrounds are a special attraction of these shows. The play is enacted in the local language, Braj bhasha
, but sometimes Hindi
is also used. Janmashtami is celebrated in a grand way in Dwarkadhish temple
, Mathura, in the form of Jhulanotsava and the Ghatas during the entire month. In jhulanotsava, swings are placed in houses and temple courtyards, embellished with bells and flowers, for welcoming Baby Krishna. The ghatas are a unique feature of the month long celebrations where all the temples and the deities are decorated in the same colour in accordance to a particular theme. Jhanki is another prominent feature of Janmashtami where the scenes from the life of Krishna are depicted.
Rituals of Janmashtami
On Janmashtami, devotees keep a strict fast. This is broken only at midnight, the time of Krishna`s birth. At midnight, the idol of baby Krishna is placed in a small, decorated cradle, which is rocked while singing hymns. Then, `Pancharti` is performed and the image is bathed with Gangajal in a mixture of curd, milk
, honey, dry fruits and tulsi leaves. This mixture is then distributed as `Prasad` and partaking of it breaks the fast. Passages from Bhagavad Gita
and Bhagavata Purana
The following morning "Nand-Mahotsav" is celebrated in praise and gratitude to Nand, the ruler of the cowherds of Nandgaon
. Krishna was very fond of curds and homemade butter; hence, this day is also called Dahi-Kala. On this day, his childhood pranks of stealing are re-created by youngsters who call themselves "Govindas" and "Gopalas" and move about in streets. On this day, in some parts of India, especially Maharashtra
, youths celebrate it by breaking clay pots called `Dahi-Handi`. These pots are filled with curd and butter and rice flakes and are suspended high above the ground. Young men and children form human pyramid to reach the pot and break it. At some places, the pots contain silver coins, which are then equally distributed. This custom follows the tendency of Lord Krishna who used to steal butter in this manner from villagers along with his friends. The superstition exists that if the broken pieces of the pot are kept in house mice do not enter and damage things.
The grandeur of this festival in Mathura and Vrindavan are worth witnessing. The real essence of Janmashtami lies in extravagant decorations and its unique rituals. Apart from this, people all over India celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm and religious fervour.