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You might think Janmashtami is only celebrated in India. However, the festival attracts huge crowds and is celebrated with zeal and enthusiasm in countries abroad alike. Wikimedia
  • Janmashtami, being celebrated on the 14th of August this year, marks the birth of Lord Krishna
  • Krishna is believed to be the eighth avatar or Lord Vishnu
  • Rasleela as part of the tradition is organized on an auspicious day

New Delhi, August 14, 2017 : Hindus across India and abroad are gearing up for one of their most significant festivals. You will see processions the road, decorations all around; a vibrant environment with kids dressed as Radha-Krishna and lines of devotees dancing, singing and chanting to the tunes of ‘Aala re aala, Govinda aala’ (Here comes Govinda (Krishna). This year it will be celebrated on August 14.

Krishna Janmashtami, popularly known as Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, who is considered the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu.

It is popularly believed that all the devotion and affection offered to Lord Krishna benefits the devotees unlimitedly, and those benefits stay for eternity.

Janmashtami Date

Krishna Janmashtami falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Shravana.

Significance of Janmashtami

Janmashtami is celebrated with a lot of fervor to commemorate the birth of Krishna, who is considered the right avatar of Vishnu.

Times were tough, freedom was denied, evil was everywhere, and there was a threat to life. It was in such a scenario that Krishna was born at midnight on the eighth day of Bhadrapada, in Mathura to Devaki and Vasudeva. As his uncle King Kansa posed a threat to his life, Vasudev crossed the river Yamuna with a young Krishna in tow, and took him to foster parents in Gokul named Nanda and Yashoda.

This legend is celebrated by devotees on Janmashtami by fasting, and signing devotional songs of love for Lord Krishna.

Celebrating The Birth of Lord Krishna

At Vaishnava temples, festivities commence before dawn breaks and extend all day till the midnight, when the Lord Himself is believed to have taken birth. Women draw tiny Krishna footsteps outside their doors, and leading their way to the kitchens and the house-temple, which is symbolic of Krishna’s journey into their homes.

After his midnight birth hour, Krishna deities are bathed in a variety of pious liquids like milk, yogurt, ghee, honey, and water-this ceremony is called the abhisheka. Krishna idols are then decorated with new clothes, flower garlands, kumkum and other decorations.

Lord Krishna dolled up in new clothes for Janmashtami. Wikimedia

Incense sticks are burned and scriptures are also read. Men, women, and children alike indulge in kirtan by singing songs in Krishna’s name, and japa-mala (praying with a rosary), which is a more intimate form of prayer. Some people also observe a day long fast which is then broken by sharing food and sweets. Women cook elaborate dishes to welcome and feed the mischievous God.

Finally, at midnight priests pull apart the curtains to reveal the freshly dressed deity Krishna who sits either in a tiny cradle or on an altar specially decorated for the night.

How is Janmashtami Celebrated In the Country and Outside

Major Krishna temples organize recitals of the Bhagwat Gita and the Bhagwat Purana to celebrate Lord Krishna’s birth. A rich traditional form of dance-drama called Rasleela or Krishna Leela is also organized which begins a few days before Janmashtami.

Maharashtra: Popularly known as Gokulashtami in Maharashtra, it is celebrated as Dahi Handi in cities like Pune and Mumbai.

Legend has it that baby Krishna would steal yogurt and milk-cream from homes, which is reflected in these celebrations. Pots of yogurt are hung up high through ropes and a team of young boys called ‘Govindas’ climb over one another to form human pyramid scheme thus attempting to break the earthen pots. The girls surround them; teasing and cheering for them. The content that spills out of the pot is considered Prasad (holy offering) and are then distributed.

Gujarat: The festival is known as Makhan Handi (pot with freshly churned butter) in the city of Dwarka, where Krishna is believed to have established his kingdom. Folk dances and Bhajan recitals are performed at temples. In Kutch, farmers take out Krishna processions in decorated bullock carts.

Northern India: Janmashtami is the largest festival in Braj region, in the cities Mathura where Krishna was born, and Vrindavan where he is believed to have grown up. Krishna temples are decorated and lighted up, where Bhakti events are organized and night vigils observed.

In the northern states, Rasleela is played which literally means play (Leela) of delight, essence (rasa) wherein the childhood mischief of Krishna and the love affair of Radha-Krishna are primary enacted.

Janmashtami is not only widely celebrated in India but also in other countries. More than eighty percent population of Nepal identifies as Hindu and celebrates the festival with full zeal. The day is also recognized as a national holiday in Bangladesh. Janmashtami in Fiji is known as Krishna Ashtami and is celebrated by a quarter of the population.

The festival also attracts large crowds in the western states and is celebrated with great pomp and show.

Fasting rules for Krishna Janmashtami

On the day of the fast, devotees take a pledge, known as Sankalpa, to observe a day long fast in the devotion of Krishna. This fast is then broken on the following day when both Rohini Nakshatra and Ashtami Tithi are over. The Sankalpa must be taken after finishing all morning rituals, only after which fast begins.

Fasting rules on this day are essentially the same as for Ekadashi fasting and no grains should be consumed when fasting on Krishna Janmashtami.

On the following day, when both Ashtami Tithi and Rohini Nakshatra are over, the fast can be broken-this practice is known as Parana. If both Ashtami Tithi and Rohini Nakshatra don’t get over before sunset, then fast can be broken during day time when either of the two ends.

ALSO READ: Hindu Temple in New Jersey Consecrating Unique Krishna Idol with 19-day Rituals

Why Are There Two Krishna Janmashtami Dates?

Krishna Janmashtami is usually listed on two consecutive days.

  • The first date is for the Smarta Sampradaya.
  • The second date is for Vaishnava Sampradaya.

A single date would mean both the Sampradaya observe Krishna Janmashtami on the same day.

The ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) is established on the principles of Vaishnava traditions. In this belief system, preference is given to Ashtami Tithi and Rohini Nakshatra and Janmashtami is observed on the Saptami. In North India, most people observe Janmashtami on the day chosen by ISKON. The ISKON date is also collectively followed in Braj region.

The ISKON temple at Delhi is decorated with lights and diyas to celebrate Lord Krishna’s birthday. Wikimedia

People who aren’t followers of Vaishnava are Smartiam. They give preference to the Hindu midnight or Nishita for Janmashtami celebrations – either Saptami Tithi or Ashtami Tithi. Finally, the most auspicious combination of Ashtami Tithi and Rohini Nakshatra during Nishita time is given the highest preference. In a situation when a person is not a follower of Vaishnava Sampradaya, Hindu religious texts Dharmasindhu and Nirnaysindhu should be considered to decide Janmashtami day.

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