In Sanskrit, ‘Ashtami’ means the ‘eighth day’, while ‘Janma’ means ‘existence’; this is where the word ‘Janmashtami’ was derived. Krishna Janmashtami, which marks the birth anniversary of the Hindu god, the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna, is celebrated in India and across different parts of the world each year on the eighth day of the month Bhadra, as per the Hindu Calendar. It is also known as Gokulashtami.
Lord Krishna symbolises win over evil as in the Bhagavad Gita. The festival is specially celebrated with a lot of zeal, enthusiasm and love in Mathura and Vrindavan, the places widely regarded as the locations where Lord Krishna spent his childhood and early youth. The festival is enthusiastically celebrated at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temples and other temples dedicated to Lord Krishna across the country.
Janmashtami Legends and History
According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born on this day to destroy Mathura’s demon king, Kansa, the brother of Krishna’s virtuous mother, Devaki. Krishna was born on the eighth (Ashtami) day of the dark fortnight in the Bhadrapada month (August–September) in Mathura.
The evil king Kansa married his sister Devaki to Vasudeva, the Yadu King, to extend his empire. A prophecy said that Devaki’s eighth child would be the cause of Kansa’s death. This angered Kansa, and he imprisoned Devaki and Vasudeva and killed off their first six children.
However, the seventh child was saved by divine intervention as the child was miraculously transferred from Devaki’s womb to that of Rohini’s, Vasudeva’s other wife. This child was then called Balram, Krishna’s elder brother.
When their eighth child, Krishna, was born, the entire palace went into slumber, and Vasudeva rescued the baby to his friend Nanda and his wife Yashodha’s house in Vrindavan. After making the exchange, Vasudeva returned to the palace with a baby girl and handed her to Kansa. Krishna was raised believing he was Nanda’s son. When he grew up, he killed his uncle Kansa and freed all the people of Mathura from his tyranny.
How Janmashtami is Celebrated
A day before Janmashtami, devotees gather to hold a vigil and fast until midnight, when Lord Krishna was believed to have been born. At midnight, traditional prayer is offered.
On the day of Janmashtami, Lord Krishna’s idols are washed and adorned with new clothes and ornaments. The idol is then placed in a cradle to symbolize his birth. It is a tradition for women to draw tiny footprints walking toward their house as a symbol of Lord Krishna’s journey into their homes.
The highlight of the festival is an event called Dahi handi, which takes place on the second day, especially in Mumbai. During the event, clay pots full of yogurt are strung up high from buildings, and people form a human pyramid to try and reach the pots and break them open.
Celebrations of this holiday include prayers, night vigils, fasting, and dance-drama re-enactments of the life of Krishna called Rasa Lila.
No Janmashtami is complete without Makhan (butter). Popularly known as Makhan Chor, Lord Krishna’s birthday brings Indian art and culture to the limelight. The melodic tune of the flute with the beauty of our national bird, Krishna Janmashtami, is one of the most beautiful festivals across India.