Krishna Janmashtami also known as Krishnashtami, Saatam Aatham, Gokulashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Srikrishna Jayanti, Sree Jayanti or sometimes simply as Janmashtami, is an annual celebration of the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu.
The festival is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the month of Shravana (August–September) in the Hindu calendar. Rasa lila, 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 towers 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. Krishna Janmashtami is followed by the festival Nandotsav, which celebrates the occasion when Nanda Baba distributed gifts to the community in honour of the birth.
Painting of Krishna being carried across the river.
Krishna Carried Across the River
Krishna was the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. Based on scriptural details and astrological calculations, the date of Krishna’s birth, known as Janmashtami, is 19 July 3228 BCE and he lived until 3102 BCE. Krishna belonged to the Vrishni clan of Yadavas from Mathura, and was the eighth son born to the princess Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.
Mathura (in present day Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh) was the capital of the Yadavas, to which Krishna’s parents Vasudeva and Devaki belonged. King Kansa, Devaki’s brother, had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father, King Ugrasena. Afraid of a prophecy that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki’s eighth son, Kansa had the couple locked in a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, and Devaki’s apparent miscarriage of the seventh (which was actually a secret transfer of the infant to Rohini as Balarama), Krishna was born.
Following the birth, Vishnu ordered Vasudeva to take Krishna to Gokul to Nanda and Yashoda, where he could live safely, away from his Uncle Kansa. Vasudeva took Krishna with him and crossed the Yamuna to reach Gokul. There, everyone was asleep; so he quietly kept him there and returned with Yashoda’s daughter. Kansa, thinking her to be Devki’s eight child, threw her on a stone. But she rose into the air and transformed into Yogmaya (who is Vishnu’s helper) and warned Kansa about his death. Then, she disappeared. Krishna grew up in Gokul with his brother, Balram. He then returned to Mathura and killed Kansa with the help of Balram.
Hindus celebrate Janmashtami by fasting and staying up until midnight, the time when Krishna is believed to have been born. Images of Krishna’s infancy are placed in swings and cradles in temples and homes. At midnight, devotees gather around for devotional songs, dance and exchange gifts. Some temples also conduct readings of the Hindu religious scripture Bhagavad Gita.
Main article: Dahi Handi
Janmaashtami or Gokulashtami, popularly known in Mumbai and Pune as Dahi Handi, is celebrated as an event which involves making a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot (handi) filled with buttermilk which is tied at a convenient height. The topmost person tries to break the handi by hitting it with a blunt object. When the handi breaks, the buttermilk is spilled over the entire group. This event is based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter. A participant in this festival is called a Govinda or Govinda pathak.
Many such Govinda pathaks compete with each other, especially for the prize money. These groups are called mandals or handis and they go around the local areas, attempting to break as many pots as possible every August. The event, since the 2000s, has gathered a political flavour, and it is common for political parties and rich community groups to offer prizes amounting to lakhs of rupees. Local celebrities and Bollywood actors also participate. Some of the popular handis are at Dadar, Lower Parel, Worli, Mazgaon, Lalbaug, Thane in Mumbai and Babu Genu, Mandai in Pune. Cash and gifts are offered for Govinda troops to participate; for over 4,000 handis in Mumbai, 2,000 Govinda troops compete for the prizes.
The coastal state of Goa has been associated with the Yadavas.Known as Ahstam in Goa,celebrated with great zeal on family level as well as community levels,especially in the temples of Devaki Krishna(perhaps the only temple dedicated to Devaki in India) and Naroa,the ancient town of Kadambas.
Northern and Eastern India
Places in Uttar Pradesh that are associated with Krishna’s childhood, such as Mathura, Gokul and Vrindavan, attract visitors from all over India, who go there to participate in the festival celebrations. People in the city of Dwarka in Gujarat – where Krishna is believed to have established his Kingdom – celebrate the festival by visiting the Dwarkadhish temple. In Jammu, kite flying is an important part of the celebration on his day.
In the eastern state of Odisha, in the region around Puri and in Nabadwip, West Bengali people celebrate Janmashtami by fasting and worship until midnight. Purana Pravachana from the Bhagavata Purana are recited from the 10th Skandha. This section deals with pastimes of Krishna. The next day is called “Nanda Utsav” or the joyous celebration of Krishna’s foster parents Nanda and Yashoda. On this day, people break their fast and offer various cooked sweets during the early hours.
The first ever elected government official in the world to issue proclamation for the celebration Janmashtami is Janet Napolitano, while she was the Governor of Arizona. The festival is also celebrated widely by Hindus in Caribbean in the countries of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and the former English colony Fiji as well as the former Dutch colony of Suriname. The Hindus in these countries originated from Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh and are the descendants of indentured immigrants from Tamil Nadu, UP, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.