Festivals & Fasts

Janma Ashtami

Janma Ashtami Lord Krishna's Birthday

Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu was born in Mathura (near Delhi) on the Ashtami tithi of Krishna Paksha in the month of Shravana to Raja Vasudeva and Devi Devaki in a prison and was raised by Devi Yashoda and Raja Nanda. Depending on how you celebrate the lunar months, the month of Janma Ashtami varies.

The significance of Lord Krishna's birth is to rid the world of evil and particularly to kill his uncle Kansa. In Shri Krishna's chart and therefore for the celebration of his birth, the Sun should be in Leo and Moon in Rohini. This year, the Sun will be still in Cancer as this year there is an Adhika Masa or extra month and the festivals are falling earlier to accommodate this extra month.

Some years have an extra month as the lunar months are shorter than the solar months and therefore an extra month is added to bring them in sync.

The Reason for Lord Vishnu's Eighth Incarnation as Lord Krishna

King Kansa of Mathura was a very cruel tyrant whose tyranny spared no one, even the sages had to bear the brunt of his cruelty. Finally, the Gods couldn't tolerate his atrocities against their devotees, so in a dream, Kansa was told that his evil reign would be brought to an end by his sister Devaki's eighth child who would kill him. Kansa's solution to this message from the gods was to imprison his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.

Devaki bore six sons, each of whom were promptly killed by Kansa. At the sixth pregnancy, the child was secretly given to his second wife. Kansa was enraged to find that Devaki was no longer pregnant when he went to collect the child and kill it. (This child was Krishna 's elder brother Balarama avatar of Sesha Naga). On the night the birth of the seventh child Devi of Maya (illusion) was born and upon being killed took her true form and told Kansa that nothing would stop the eighth avatar from being born and ultimately killing him (this child is later worshipped as Subhadhra who is worshipped at Jagannatha Puri with her brothers Balarama and Krishna.)

On the night the eighth child was born, the prison guards fell into a deep slumber and the doors were magically unlocked. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Vasudeva slipped out of the prison and whisked away the Vishnu avatar to the safety a neighbouring kingdom Gokul which was ruled by King Nanda across the Yamuna river the waters parted making a channel for Vasudeva to pass. At Gokul, under king Nanda's protection, Krishna got the loving affection of Nanda's Queen Yashoda whom Krishna looked upon as a mother. Days passed with fun and frolic where the baby Krishna grew up. But one day rumours reached Kansa that Devaki's son had somehow escaped his clutches and was living in Gokul.

The Demoness Putana

To kill Lord Krishna, Kansa engaged a demoness named Putana who had been his nanny. Demoness Putana’s nipples were poisoned, Kansa disguised her as a nymph and sent her to Gokul to try to breast-feed Lord Krishna and kill him. But the avatar of Vishnu, Lord Krishna even as a child saw through the rouse and instead poisoned her by biting her nipple the demoness fainted and died as soon Krishna 's lips touched her breast. Kansa's plot to eliminate Krishna was foiled. But as a result of sucking the poisoned milk, Krishna 's originally fair skin colour turned dark.

The celebration of Janma Ashtami

Lord Krishna was born at midnight, hence the celebrations also start at midnight. The tale of Lord Krishna's birth is recited and the idol of Krishna as a child is worshiped. The following day is celebrated as "Dahikala" (A dish made of yogurt). As Lord Krishna was fond of stealing butter from clay pots strung high in his childhood, a clay pot full of yogurt is hung at a sufficient height and the young boys form a human pyramid to reach the clay pot and try to break it to the chorus of "Govinda Govinda".

Krishna Janmashtami is observed on the eighth tithi of the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) during the month of Shravana in the nakshatra of Rohini. The Hindu calendar is lunar and the tithi and might join together for only a few hours. When this happens Krishna Ashtami is sometimes celebrated on successive days depending on their local or family traditions.

The fast for Krishna Ashtami begins on the Saptami tithi (seventh day of waning moon), followed by a night of singing to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna at midnight. At midnight, the idol of baby Lord Krishna is bathed, placed in a cradle and worshipped with people (usually women) taking turns in rocking the cradle. The festival is celebrated with great joy by everyone and delicacies made with butter, milk and yogurt which were some of Lord Krishna's favourite foods.

In Mumbai and Pune Janma Ashtami is popularly known as Dahi Handi and is celebrated with enormous enthusiasm, with various Handis (clay pots) suspended high above the ground containing prizes in almost every nook and corner of the city, and groups of young men make tree-like formations to try to break them to the collect prizes.

—Nimisha Khatri


by Komila Sutton

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