Janma literally means ‘birth’ and ashtami means the ‘eighth day’. The eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadrapad is celebrated as Krishna Janmashtami. It commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu in the Dwapar Yuga.
This day is marked by religious festivity and devotion. Lord Krishna or “He who is all-attractive”, descended on this earth to subdue the rakshasas ruthlessly and save mankind from all evils. He is regarded, as the epitome of transcendental qualities, which made him the most, loved one.
As per mythology, the birth of Lord Krishna is as follows. Kamsa, who ruled Mathura after usurping it from his father Ugrasena, was a wicked king. None could stop his atrocities and save themselves from his torturous deeds. One day, after the marriage of Devaki (his sister) and Vasudeva, Kamsa was riding his chariot, when suddenly a voice from the sky warned him that the eighth child of Devaki would one day destroy him and put an end to all his sinful deeds. Perturbed and furious, Kamsa ordered the imprisonment of his sister and brother-in-law at Vajra, a village eight miles across river Yamuna near Mathura. When the first child was born to Devaki, Kamsa killed it immediately. Thus, every time an infant was born, it met with the same fate. However, before the birth of the eighth child, a voice from heaven instructed Vasudeva to exchange the child-to-be-born with his friend Nand’s yet-to-be-born baby.
On the fateful midnight when Devaki delivered her eighth child, there occurred a tempest with dark thundering clouds drowning the cries of the little born. It was a divine ordain. Vasudeva put the baby boy in a cushion of leaves within a basket and carried him on his head. Braving the storm, he waded across the gushing waters of the Yamuna. Miraculously, the snake adisesha appeared around the basket and with its hood protected the infant from hail and storm. Vasudeva reached Gokulam, where Yasodha had just given birth to a baby girl. His friend Nand, the ruler of Gokulam, took Vasudeva’s boy and gave his own infant, promising to keep it a secret. With Nand’s child in the basket, Vasudeva returned to the prison and suddenly the rage of the hurricane calmed down.
At the crack of dawn, the cries of the new-born filled the air and brought Kamsa straight to the prison. There, he saw the eighth child – his destroyer, with Devaki and Vasudeva and his blood curdled. He lifted the baby and threw her against the ceiling. Lo and behold, the infant, who was actually “Shakti” or “Durga”, flew out of sight and a thunderous voice once again reverberated in the sky. It scorned at Kamsa’s foolish killings and warned him that his destroyer was alive and will one day put him to death. The thought of an insecure life sent chills down his spine.
Meanwhile, at Gokulam (the place where cowherds and cowboys inhabited), news spread about the birth of a baby boy to Yasodha. The gopis or cowherds rushed to take a glimpse of the dusky new-born child. There was reveling all around to mark the birth of the little one who was named Krishna – the attractive one.
Since His early days itself, Krishna showed qualities of His supernatural being. He was frivolous and notorious for stealing His favorite butter. He was the apple of everyone’s eyes. Every woman called Him her own child and held Him dear to their heart. Krishna spent His adolescence at Brindavan where He won the hearts of the gopikas, the women who milked the cows. He was the embodiment of love and manhood and every woman wanted a husband like Krishna.
At every stage Krishna fulfilled the purpose of his reincarnation. He slayed Kamsa, exhibited incredible feats to save the people of Brindavan from disasters and went on to deliver the holy preaching of “Bhagavat Gita”. The object of Krishna’s birth was to bring about a victory of good over evil.
Thus, Janmashtami marks the celebrations of Krishna’s birth, the incarnation of Vishnu, one of the Hindu Triumvarate, who came onto earth to cleanse the sins of the human beings. The modern day festivity recreates the birth of the Lord. It is celebrated with utmost gaiety and fervor in Mathura and Brindavan. The towns are colorfully decorated wearing a festive look. The main temple at Mathura and Brindavan are bedecked with flowers and Lord Krishna is clothed in jewellery. The rituals begin ahead of time in the evening and culminate at midnight, the time of Krishna’s birth. A crawling image of Krishna is cradled amidst singing of bhajans and chantings of Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
In South India, Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, as it is called, is celebrated with prayers, devotional renditions and offering of fruits and special prasadams to Lord Krishna. People usually observe fast on this day. In the houses, mango leaves are tied to the doorways to mark the auspicious occasion. Colorful floral designs are drawn on the front yard. Inside the house, a small wooden mantap is erected and decorated with flowers and plantain leaves. An icon of a crawling Krishna in a silver cradle or leaf is placed in the mantap. Small footmarks produced by impressions with rice powder mixed with water are believed to symbolically recreate the coming of Krishna into peoples’ homes.
Janmashtami in Udupi
Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami is celebrated with great pomp in Udupi, the land of Krishna. People observe fast on the day. The scholars chant Bhgavad Gita, Bhagavatha and other sacred texts. The idol of Krishna is specialiy decorated as a sporting child. At the midnight when the moon rises, dishes like chakkuli and laddige are offered to the idol. Sacred leaves of bilva are offered. Water and milk are poured with shankha by the devotees. As per the tradition the cowherds from the nearby villages also offer arghya of water and milk in front of the idol of Lord Krishna. The rituals take place in the early morning also on the next day.
This afternoon is celebration of Sri Krishna’s sports, fun and frolics. The idol of Krishna is taken round the Car Street in a palanquin. The mud pots known as mosaru kudike containing turmeric and saffron water are suspended from the top of wooden poles. People dressed like cowherds form a human pyramid standing one above the other and break the pots.
The idol of Udupi is that of Krishna who had broken the pot of curds with churning rod in hand. This is an important episode from the childhood sports of Krishna and hence celebrated with all pomp, festivity and fun. Fancy dress parades relating to the childhood sports of Sri Krishna as well as the imitations of dances of tigers, bears etc appear before the procession as a sort of service to Lord Krishna on his birth day. The swamijis of all Mutts pay presents and remuneration to these performers.
Everyone fasts on this day and when the moon rises in the midnight, the Swamijis take a dip and offer special pooja and arghya to Sri Krishna. Varieties of sweets are prepared as offerings during this pooja.
Next day, after the special puja in the morning a large number of invited guests are sumptuously fed in the morning (dwadasi). At noon a special Utsava takes place. A clay image of Sri Krishna is kept on golden chariot and taken round the Car Street, which is beautifully decorated with number of special arches, under which earthen pots filled with coloured water and sweets are broken, in imitation of Sri Krishna’s childish pranks. Various pantomimes, mimics of tigers, men in masked figures and fancy dress go about amusing the people. This celebration attracts a very huge crowd from neighbouring places. After the Utsava, the Mutt people indulge in sports, smear themselves in coloured water and take their bath. The clay idol is then thrown into the Madhvasarovar. Refreshments like laddus are served to the public.
Janmashtami is thus yet another celebration of God’s omnipresence Article By: Samskrati Gulvady
Sri Krishna Mutt, Udupi