An image of Krishna
|Also called||Krishnashtami, Saatam Aatham, Gokulashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Srikrishna Jayanti, Sree Jayanti|
|Observed by||Hindus in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, other parts of the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, other parts of Africa, and the United Kingdom, the United States.|
|Type||Religious (1-2 days), cultural|
|Celebrations||Dahi Handi (next day), kite-flying, fair, traditional sweet dishes etc.|
|Observances||Dance-drama, puja, night vigil, fasting|
|2018 date||Monday, 3 September|
Krishna Janmashtami (Devanagari ?, IAST: Ka Janmam?), also known simply as Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, is an annual Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. It is observed according to Hindu luni-solar calendar, on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Shraavana of the lunar Hindu Calendar and Krishna Paksha in the month of Bhadrapad of the lunisolar Hindu Calendar, which overlaps with August and September of the Gregorian calendar.
It is an important festival particularly to the Vaishnavism tradition of Hinduism. Dance-drama enactments of the life of Krishna according to the Bhagavata Purana (such as Rasa lila or Krishna Lila), devotional singing through the midnight when Krishna is believed to have been born, fasting (upavasa), a night vigil (jagarana), and a festival (mahotsava) on the following day are a part of the Janmashtami celebrations. It is celebrated particularly in Mathura and Brindavan, along with major Vaishnava and non-sectarian communities found in Manipur, Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and other regions.
Krishna was the son of Devaki and Vasudeva and his birthday is celebrated by Hindus as Janmashtami, particularly those of the Vaishnavism tradition as he is considered the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Janmashtami is celebrated when Krishna is believed to have been born according to Hindu tradition, which is in Mathura, at midnight on the eighth day of Bhadrapada month (overlaps with August and 3 September in the Gregorian calendar).
Krishna was born in an era of chaos, persecution was rampant, freedoms were denied, evil was everywhere, and when there was a threat to his life by his uncle King Kansa. Immediately following the birth, his father Vasudeva took Krishna across Yamuna, to foster parents in Gokul, named Nanda and Yashoda. This legend is celebrated on Janmashtami by people keeping fast, singing devotional songs of love for Krishna, and keeping a vigil into the night. After Krishna's midnight hour birth, statues of baby Krishna are washed and clothed, then placed in a cradle. The devotees then break their fast, by sharing food and sweets. Women draw tiny foot prints outside their house doors and kitchen, walking towards their house, a symbolism for Krishna's journey into their homes.
Hindus celebrate Janmashtami by fasting, singing, praying together, preparing and sharing special food, night vigils and visiting Krishna or Vishnu temples. Major Krishna temples organize recitation of Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita. Many communities organize dance-drama events called Rasa Lila or Krishna Lila. The tradition of Rasa Lila is particularly popular in Mathura region, in northeastern states of India such as Manipur and Assam, and in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is acted out by numerous teams of amateur artists, cheered on by their local communities, and these drama-dance plays begin a few days before each Janmashtami.
Janmashtami (popularly known as "Gokulashtami" as in Maharashtra) is celebrated in cities such as Mumbai and Pune. Dahi Handi is celebrated every August/September, the day after Krishna Janmashtami. The term literally means "earthen pot of yoghurt". The festival gets this popular regional name from legend of baby Krishna. According to it, he would seek and steal milk products such as yoghurt and butter and people would hide their supplies high up out of the baby's reach. Krishna would try all sorts of creative ideas in his pursuit, such as making human pyramids with his friends to break these high hanging pots. This story is the theme of numerous reliefs on Hindu temples across India, as well as literature and dance-drama repertoire, symbolizing the joyful innocence of children, that love and life's play is the manifestation of god.
In Maharashtra and other western states in India, this Krishna legend is played out as a community tradition on Janmashtami, where pots of yoghurt are hung high up, sometimes with tall poles or from ropes hanging from second or third level of a building. Per the annual tradition, teams of youth and boys called the "Govindas" go around to these hanging pots, climb one over another and form a human pyramid, then break the pot. Girls surround these boys, cheer and tease them while dancing and singing. The spilled contents are considered as Prasada (celebratory offering). It is a public spectacle, cheered and welcomed as a community event.
In contemporary times, many Indian cities celebrate this annual Hindu ritual. Youth groups form Govinda pathaks, which compete with each other, especially for prize money on Janamashtami. These groups are called mandals or handis and they go around the local areas, attempting to break as many pots as possible every August. Social celebrities and media attends the festivities, while corporations sponsor parts of the event. Cash and gifts are offered for Govinda teams, and according to The Times of India, in 2014 over 4,000 handis in Mumbai alone were high hung with prizes, and numerous Govinda teams participated.
People in the city of Dwarka in Gujarat - where Krishna is believed to have established his kingdom - celebrate the festival with a tradition similar to Dahi Handi, called Makhan Handi (pot with freshly churned butter). Others perform folk dances at temples, sing bhajans, visit the Krishna temples such as at the Dwarkadhish Temple or Nathdwara. In Kutch district region, farmers decorate their bullock carts and take out Krishna processions, with group singing and dancing.
Janmashtami is the largest festival in the Braj region of north India, in cities such as Mathura where Hindu tradition states Krishna was born, and in Vrindavan where he grew up. Vaishnava communities in these cities in Uttar Pradesh, as well as others in the state, as well locations in Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himalayan north celebrate Janmashtami. Krishna temples are decorated and lighted up, they attract numerous visitors on the day, while Krishna devotees hold bhakti events and keep night vigil.
The festival typically falls as the monsoons in north India have begun retreating, fields laden with crops and rural communities have time to play. In the northern states, Janmashtami is celebrated with the Raslila tradition, which literally means "play (lila) of delight, essence (rasa)". This is expressed as solo or group dance and drama events at Janmashtami, wherein Krishna related compositions are sung, music accompanies the performance, while actors and audience share and celebrate the performance by clapping hands to mark the beat. The childhood pranks of Krishna, and love affairs of Radha-Krishna are particularly popular. According to Christian Roy and other scholars, these Radha-Krishna love stories are Hindu symbolism for the longing and love of human soul for the divine principle and reality it calls Brahman.
Janmashtami is widely celebrated in the Hindu Vaishnava communities of eastern and northeastern India. The widespread tradition of celebrating Krishna in these regions is credited to the efforts and teachings of 15th and 16th century Sankardev and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They developed philosophical ideas, as well as new forms of performance arts to celebrate the Hindu god Krishna such as Borgeet, Ankia Naat, Sattriya and Bhakti yoga now popular in West Bengal and Assam. Further east, Manipur people developed Manipuri dance form, a classical dance form known for its Hindu Vaishnavism themes, and which like Sattriya includes love-inspired dance drama arts of Radha-Krishna called Raslila. These dance drama arts are a part of Janmashtami tradition in these regions, and as with all classical Indian dances, there contextual roots are in the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text Natya Shastra, but with influences from the culture fusion between India and southeast Asia.
On Janmashtami, parents dress up their children as characters in the legends of Krishna, such as gopis (cow maids) and as Krishna. Temples and community centers are decorated with regional flowers and leaves, while groups recite or listen to the tenth chapter of Bhagavata Purana, and the Bhagavata Gita.
Janmashtami is a major festival celebrated with fasts, vigil, recitation of scriptures and Krishna prayers in Manipur. Raslila performances (also referred to as Rasleela or Manipuri Ras) are a notable annual tradition around Janmashtami. Children play the Likol Sannaba game in the Meetei Vaishnava community.
The Shree Govindajee Temple and the ISKCON temples particularly mark the Janmashtami festival. Janmashtami is celebrated in Assam at homes, in community centers called Namghars (Assamese?), and the temples usually though Janmaashtami. According to the tradition, the devotees sing the Nam, perform pujas and sharing food and Prasada.
In the eastern state of Odisha, in the region around Puri and in Nabadwip, West Bengal, the festival is also referred to as Sri Krishna Jayanti or simply Sri Jayanti. People celebrate Janmashtami by fasting and worship until midnight. The Bhagavata Purana is recited from the 10th chapter, a section dedicated to the life 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 after midnight.
Gokula Ashtami (Janmashtami or Sri Krishna Jayanti) celebrates the birthday of Krishna. Gokulashtami is celebrated with great fervor in South India.
In Tamil Nadu, the people decorate the floor with kolams (decorative pattern drawn with rice batter). Geetha Govindam and other such devotional songs are sung in praise of Krishna. Then they draw the footprints of Krishna from the threshold of the house till the pooja room, which depicts the arrival of Krishna into the house. A recitation of Bhagwadgita is also a popular practise. The offerings made to Krishna include fruits, betel and butter. Savories believed to be Krishna's favorites are prepared with great care. The most important of them are Seedai, Sweet Seedai, Verkadalai Urundai. The festival is celebrated in the evening as Krishna was born at midnight. Most people observe a strict fast on this day and eat only after the midnight puja. They also dress the youngest of male child in their family like Krishna and perform oonjal, or swing, which is rocked gently and prasadam offered first to them.
In Andhra Pradesh, recitation of shlokas and devotional songs are the characteristics of this festival. Another unique feature of this festival is that young boys are dress up as Krishna and they visit neighbors and friends. Different varieties of fruits and sweets are first offered to Krishna and after the puja, these sweets are distributed among the visitors. The people of Andhra Pradesh observe a fast too.Various kinds of sweets are made to offer Gokulnandan on this day. Eatables along with milk and curd are prepared to make offerings to Krishna. Joyful chanting of 's name takes place in quite a few temples of the state. The number of temples dedicated to Krishna are few. The reason being that people have taken to worship him through paintings and not idols.
Popular south Indian temples dedicated for Krishna are Rajagopalaswami Temple in Mannargudi in the Tiruvarur district, Pandavadhoothar temple in Kanchivaram, Sri Krishna temple at Udupi, and the Krishna temple at Guruvayur are dedicated to the memory of Vishnu's incarnation as Krishna. Legend says that the Sree Krishna Idol installed in Guruvayur is from Dwarka which is believed to be submerged in the sea.
About eighty percent of the population of Nepal identify themselves as Hindus and celebrate Krishna Janmashtami. They observe Janmashtami by fasting until midnight. The devotees recite the Bhagavad Gita and sing religious songs called bhajans and kirtans. The temples of Krishna are decorated. Shops, posters and houses carry Krishna motifs.
Janmashtami is a national holiday in Bangladesh. On Janmashtami, a procession starts from Dhakeshwari Temple in Dhaka, the National Temple of Bangladesh, and then proceeds through the streets of Old Dhaka. The procession dates back to 1902, but was stopped in 1948 following the establishment of Pakistan and subsequent attacks by Muslim mobs in Dhaka. The procession was resumed in 1989.
At least a quarter of the population in Fiji practices Hinduism, and this holiday has been celebrated in Fiji since the first Indian indentured labourers landed there. Janmastami in Fiji is known as "Krishna Ashtami". Most Hindus in Fiji have ancestors that originated from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, making this an especially important festival for them. Fiji's Janmastami celebrations are unique in that they last for eight days, leading up to the eighth day, the day Krishna was born. During these eight days, Hindus gather at homes and at temples with their 'mandalis,' or devotional groups at evenings and night, and recite the Bhagavat Purana, sing devotional songs for Krishna, and distribute Prasadam.
In Arizona, United States, Governor Janet Napolitano was the first American leader to greet a message on Janmashtami, while acknowledging ISKCON. The festival is also celebrated widely by Hindus in Caribbean in the countries of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and the former British 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.