Janmashtami is a famous Hindu festival celebrated in the honor of Lord Krishna’s birthday. It is the day of reincarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna. The festival is also popularly known as ‘Krishnashtami’ and ‘Gokul Ashtami’. As per the Hindu calendar, this religious festival is celebrated on the Ashtami of Krishna Paksh or the 8th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadon (July/August). The festival is also famous as ‘Govinda’, ‘Dahikaalaa’ and ‘Dahi Handi’. Followers offers milk and milk products to the idol of Lord Krishna. The festival also signifies the value of milk and milk products.
Lord Krishna, is the Hindu Lord of compassion, tenderness, and love. He is one of the most widely honored and famous Indian divinities, revered as the eighth embodiment of the Hindu god Vishnu and as the supreme God.
He was born in Mathura about 5,200 years ago. The main reason for the birth of Lord Krishna was to release the Earth from the evilness of demons. His role was significant in the Mahabharata and disseminated the theory of Bhakti and good karma which are explained elaborately in the Bhagwat Geeta.
Lord Krishna was born in Kansa’s (tyrant ruler of the Vrishni kingdom) prison. His father Vasudev decided to handover Krishna to his friend Nand to save Him from the grip of Kansa. Krishna grew up in Gokul and killed the king Kansa.
How it is celebrated
Mathura and Vrindavan are the places where Lord Krishna spent his whole life, thus a grand celebration of the festival Janmashtami is observed in these places. The day is celebrated by beautifully decorating with lights and whole night prayers and mantras are chanted in the temples.
The devotees keep fast for the whole day, and breaks their fast in the midnight after the holy birth of Lord Krishna. Some devotees take only milk throughout the day, as milk is known to be as the favourite food of Lord Krishna. Some ardent devotees prefer to take up dry fast throughout the day. Again, there are some devotees who keep fasting for two days.
Devotional songs are sung on the day as a part of the ritual and special shlokas and mantras are chanted to seek the blessings of Lord Krishna. With the chanting of mantras, Aarti is offered to the Lord. The chanting of the 108 names of Lord Krishna is performed and the idol of Krishna is showered with flowers. A beautiful devotional environment is thus created on that day everywhere.
Devotees also tie swings on the trees for the child Lord Krishna as it is believed that He loves to swing. This ritual is very popular in the rural part and also everywhere in India.
Preparation of sweets
Devotees prepare delicious sweets made out of milk to please Lord Krishna, as it is believed that Lord Krishna loved milk sweets. There are many popular stories of Lord Krishna stealing sweets from the houses of His admirers.
Celebration in the Vaishnava Temple
In the Vaishnava temples the celebration starts before sunrise and continues till the midnight when Lord Krishna was born. The celebration includes Kirtans (devotional song) and japa (prayers). Some devotees prepare more than hundred food items, while others decorate the idol of Lord Krishna with flowers and decorate the temple with garlands and lights. The devotees perform Krishna Abhishek by bathing the idol of Lord Krishna with various liquids, like Panchamrit and Gangajal. The priest finally uncovers the idol of Lord Krishna beautifully dressed and devotees perform Kirtans.
Common items required for Puja
- New clothes, a bansuri (flute) and zewarat (ornaments) for Lord Krishna
- Shankha (conch shell)
- Pooja thali (a metal plate)
- Ghanta (bell)
- Chandan, Haldi,Laung, Wheat, Honey,
- Diya (earthen lamp), chawal (rice), Elaichi (cardamom),
- Supari (betel nut) and paan patta (betel leaves)
- Mauli thread
- Gangajal (Sacred water)
- Sindoor (vermillion paste)
- Agarbatti (incense sticks)
- Phool (flowers), Coconuts,
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Panchamrit (a mixture of milk, curd, Gangajal, honey and ghee)
- Artigranth (a holy book contains Shri Krishna’s Aarti)
- Mithai (sweets)
The above list consists of the most common items required for the Puja.
Significance of Janmashtami
Bhagavad Gita, a sacred book of Hindu narrated by Lord Krishna, explains that whenever there will be a dominance of evils and lack of Godliness, Lord Krishna will reincarnate and destroy the evil to save the Earth. The key importance of Janmashtami is to appreciate honesty and to remove the dishonesty. Janmashtami also encourages unity and trust as the festival brings all together.
Celebrating Dahi Handi
Dahi Handi (pot of curd) is celebrated on the next day of Janmashtami, which signifies the action of stealing of butter by Lord Krishna. Dahi Handi, an earthen pot containing ghee, dry fruits and milk is hung at a height. A group of youth challenges among themselves to break these vessels by forming human pyramids. This festival inspires team activity and the importance of physical fitness, agility and other physical and psychological skills. The human pyramids are beautiful to watch.
“Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power and morality.”
– From Bhagavad Gita 18.78, Srila Prabhupada