Janmashtami – History and Celebrations

Janmashtami or Gokulashtami is a festival celebrated every year to mark the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna. It is also popularly known as Krishna Janmashtami or Krishna Jayanti as he was the beloved eighth embodiment of Lord Vishnu – the “preserver” in the Hindu triad (Trimurti). Janmashtami is marked on the eighth day or “Ashtami” of the Krishna Paksha which is a period of 15 days. So on the dark lunar fortnight of either August or September (according to the Gregorian calendar), people from all around the world celebrate Janmashtami.

Krishna Janmashtami

The festival is celebrated all over India following distinguishable processions due to the diversities among different states. Lord Krishna has always received immense love and affection from his devotees. The history of his birth can make us understand the importance of this day for everyone who praises him and wants his blessings. The festivities of this day include various segments like – beautifully adorned ‘jhaanki’ procession and skits. People also stay awake till midnight to acknowledge the moments of Krishna Abhishek (bathing of Lord Krishna’s idol). Although the festival is celebrated all over the world by many people, the city of Mathura and its holy town Vrindavan (in India) celebrate it with more exuberance. Mathura is a sacred city and the birthplace of Lord Krishna, while Vrindavan is the holy region where Lord Krishna lived until the age of eleven. The festivals associated with our Indian background have rich traditions and that’s what makes Janmashtami so special. 

History of Janmashtami

The history attached to Janmashtami is very interesting, especially the circumstances Lord Krishna and his family faced all through his life, from his birth to the successive years. Devaki and Vasudeva were Lord Krishna’s birth-parents but sadly they were separated from him because of the tyrant ruler of the Vrishni kingdom (capital – Mathura), Kansa. The Indian literature and scriptures suggest that Devaki was the beloved sister of Kansa, but on the day when Devaki got married to Kansa, there was a prophecy that was announced from the sky. The prophecy adamantly stated that Devaki’s eighth son would be the cause of Kansa’s death. Hearing this Kansa got scared, but he was a cruel and arrogant ruler because of which he threw Devaki and Vasudeva in prison. After that, whenever Devaki’s child took birth he killed them all, regardless of the fact that the prophecy was related to the eighth child only. The day finally came when the eighth child was about to take birth and both Devaki and Vasudeva heard a divine voice which helped them in escorting little Lord Krishna to Vrindavan. Vasudeva walked through many difficult paths but was assisted by the divine presence of Lord Krishna. After finally reaching the town he gave his little child to his cousin Nanda Baba who was the Chief (‘Mandaladhish’) of Gokul Mandal in Vrindavan. Nanda’s wife Yashoda and Nanda himself loved Lord Krishna very much. They were his foster parents but are still remembered for their mercy and exceptional affection for Lord Krishna. Bhagavat Purana states many tales of Lord Krishna’s heroic acts and amusing chronicles. 

Significance of Janmashtami

The history of Lord Krishna’s birth helps us in understanding the importance and significance of the day when he was born. Vasudeva bravely traveled, overcoming all the hurdles to reach Vrindavan where Lord Krishna was destined to spend the rest of his growing years. This shows that the divine presence of the Lord himself was sufficient to guide him through everything. Lord Krishna was adored by everyone he met and especially by his foster mother Yashoda who always protected and loved him as her own child. Janmashtami signifies the birth of Lord despite the cruel and horrific acts of King Kansa towards his birth parents. Lord Krishna fulfilled the prophecy or the “Word of God” by combating against King Kansa and brought his cruel works to an end by killing him. The people were grateful of Lord Krishna as he brought an end to their years of toil and pain. He became the most widely revered and most popular avatar, Lord Vishnu, among all other divinities. He also became a supreme Lord in his own right due to his generous acts, his lovable charm, and wisdom. For Lord Krishna’s devotees, Janmashtami and its significance are of utmost priority. They gather and sing together till midnight and celebrate the birth of Krishna by bathing his idols as a newborn baby. This festival has never lost its essence over the years and is evidently one among the many festivals of prime importance for Indians and for the devotees of Lord Krishna all around the globe. 

Celebrations

Every year Janmashtami is celebrated with newer exhilaration and delight. The temples accommodating the idols of Lord Krishna are beautifully decorated and exquisite ceremonies and prayers are also conducted. The devotees visit these temples and take an active part in the prayers and celebrations. The day before the birth, people do fasting till midnight, pray and enjoy with each other. In some parts of India like Gujarat and Maharashtra, people fill pots with curd (also known as Dahi Handi) and then different groups of boys compete against each other by forming a pyramid and trying to break the pot. The pot is earthen and put at a height of about 30 feet from the ground.  The Dahi Handi event signifies the mischievous nature of Lord Krishna. Mathura, the city where Krishna was born, celebrates this festival with the highest momentousness. Common celebrations include bathing the idols of Lord Krishna with water and milk, then dressing him in new clothes. Some people also place the idol in a decorated swing and then worship the Lord for being born. People dress up in new festive clothes and meet each other to wish them and give them sweets. Sweets are circulated everywhere but first offered to Lord Krishna. Praying to Lord Krishna on this day gives the devotees the pleasure of renovating their faith towards him and thanking him for blessing them. Lord Krishna is the protector of innocent souls and he provides strength to the weak. Thus, Janmashtami is an important festival for paying reverence to Lord Krishna and celebrating his birth.

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