Janmashtami, or as it’s sometimes known, Krishna Janmashtami, celebrates the birth of Krishna one of Hindusim's most popular and beloved deities. According to Hindu belief, Krishna was born at midnight on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadrapad. The day before Janmashtami is one of prayer and fasting, which continues till midnight and beyond, when an idol of the god is placed in a cradle and rocked.
Janmashtami Festival Celebrations
Janmashtami celebrations of Mathura and Vrindavan are famous all over the world as these two are the places where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. All the main temples in Vrindavan namely Banke Bihari Temple, Rangnathji Temple, Shri Krishna Balram Temple, Radharaman Temple, and ISCKON Temple are all decked up with lights and the idol of the God is ceremonially bathed in a mixture of milk, honey, yoghurt, dry fruit and tulsi leaves- all of which is then distributed as prasad.
Hymns, the chanting of devotional mantras and processional tableaux are accompanied by the enactment of incidents from the life of the God. These are performed by small Brahmin boys, who, for the day, are regarded virtually as incarnations of Krishna himself. In some areas, a staging of the Raslila- which celebrates Krishna’s love for the cowgirls of Vrindavan- is an integral part of Janmashtami celebrations.
One of the liveliest customs connected with Janmashtami festival is the breaking of the 'dahi-handi', a pot of milk, yoghurt, butter, honey and dry fruits which are suspended high above a street. Teams of young men and boys compete with each other to build human pyramids high enough to reach the dahi-handi and break it. The act is symbolic of Krishna’s love for milk and butter, and his plundering of the local cowgirls’ handis.
Janmashtami Celebrations in Vrindavan
Janmashtmi celebrations in the holy town of Vrindavan which is a place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood and perfomed raasleelas with his beloved gopis. During Janmashtmi festival, Vrindavan is full of devotees who come from all over the country to pay homage to Lord Krishna. People start celebrating ten days prior the date of the festival. Lots of plays depicting the life of Krishna are staged and rasleelas are performed at various temples here.
The whole city is filled with the sound of bhajans and mantras and professional artists are invited to give their best performances so that Lord Krishna showers them with his divine blessings. Excerpts from Janmashtami are also staged during the festivities.
Janmashtami Celebrations in Mathura
Just like Vrindavan, Janmashtami celebrations in Mathura are equally well attended for the various ceremonies and rituals unique to this place. Mathura is the birthplace of Lord Krishna and this is the only city where swings decorated with fresh flowers and bells are hung in courtyards of temple and houses to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna.
Mathura is famous for its midnight celebrations which includes special puja and rituals. It is during the puja the idol of Lord Krishna is ceremoniously bathed and then rocked in a cradle. According to the popular belief if you rock the idol with full faith all your wishes will be fulfilled. After the puja the idol is offered a prasad of Chhappan Bhog (fifty six dishes) which is later distributed among the devotees who break their fast with this prasad.
Rasleelas are another aspect of celebrations here in Mathura and the entire city gets to see the raasleelas performed by both professional and amateur artists.
Another tradition is of the ‘Jhanki’ which depicts the scenes from the life of Krishna. Some of the prominent scenes are janmlila, Shankarlila, Putanlila and Naglila.
Another interesting element of Janmashtami celebrations in Mathura is Ghatas. Ghatas is a month long unique feature and in this feature all the temples in Mathura are adorned with the same colour that has been pre-selected by the high priests and even the idol of Krishna is also decorated with the same colour. So everything is colour coordinated!
Fasting is the most important ritual followed by devotees all over the country. Devotees fast throughout the day until midnight when Krishna was born. The fast is broken after a special Janmashtami puja. Lots of milk delicacies are made and offered to Lord Krishna. Some of the prominent sweets that are made are kheer, srikhand, and pedha.
According to Hindu mythology Krishna who was the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu was born under miraculous conditions. He was born to King Vasudev and Devaki on a dark stormy midnight.
Apparently on the day King Vasudev and Devaki were married a divine voice foretold that the eighth child of Devaki would end his evil reign by killing him. Hence Kansa had imprisoned his sister Devaki and her husband and also killed their seven children one by one.
However at the time of Lord Krishna’s birth a divine intervention saved the baby. All the guards went into deep slumber, and were not able to inform Kansa about the birth of the new born. A voice from the heavens commanded Vasudev to take the child to Gokul and exchange the child with the daughter of Yashodra and Nanda.
Despite being a stormy night and the waters of River Yamuna raging, the river parted to let Vasudev pass who was carrying the baby Krishna in a basket. A huge snake with 2000 hoods known as Adidesha formed a protective canopy for the baby Lord Krishna. And once Vasudev returned with the daughter of Nanda and Yashodra, the shackles which had opened earlier fastened themselves and the prison doors closed and the guards awakened.
When Kansa tried to kill the child, it slipped from his hands and transformed into a Goddess Yogmaya who informed him that his destroyer has already taken birth.
According to a popular legend in Vrindavan – Madhuban is the exact place where Lord Krishna performed rasleelas with his beloved gopis more than 5000 years ago and that Lord Krishna till today descends to perform rasleelas. So anyone venturing into Madhuban during the night either dies or become insane. Hence, no local resident go there during the night and all the festivities are scheduled for day time only.