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Janmashtami is one of the holiest festivals of Hindus. It is also known as Sri Krishna Jayanti, Krishnashtami, Gokulashtami, or Krishna Janmashtami. This day is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. On this occasion, grand celebrations within the Krishna temples take place throughout India. Janmashtmi has a massive significance for the devotees of Lord Krishna. It highlights the power of good over evil and reminds us of how God reincarnates himself to end the reign of evil on Earth.
According to the legends several centuries ago, the ruler of Mathura was a king named Kamsa. He was a ruthless tyrant and didn’t believe in Karma. He had a sister Devaki, whom he loved dearly. So, he decided to marry her to his best friend, Vasudeva. On the day of the wedding, a divine voice predicted that the eighth son of Devaki would kill Kamsa. Out of fear and rage, Kamsa imprisoned his Devaki and Vasudeva in his dungeons. He killed each one of the Devaki’s children until one night when the eighth son of Devaki, Lord Krishna, was born. It’s believed that Lord Krishna’s birth on the darkest day, signifies the end of evil and the beginning of a new era. At that moment, all the guards fell asleep, and the doors of the prison unlocked themselves. Vasudeva took the baby boy and delivered him to his friend Nanda in Gokul. The same night, Nanda’s wife gave birth to a baby girl. She had fallen unconscious after giving birth to her child. Nanda handed over his daughter to Vasudeva, who brought her back to the prison cell. When Kamsa found that Devaki’s eighth child is a girl, he tried to kill her as well. However, the girl turned herself into a goddess. She warned Kamsa that his slayer had been born already. Lord Krishna grew up in Gokul as the son of Nanda and Yashodha.
As a child, Lord Krishna was very naughty and performed several acts (also known as Leelas), and everyone adored him. Kamsa tried to kill Krishna by sending several demons, but Krishna slew them with ease. Finally, Kamsa invited Krishna to Mathura and tried to kill Krishna himself. Krishna killed Kamsa to end his tyrannical reign over Mathura and freed his parents, Devaki and Vasudeva, from prison. Later, Lord Krishna played a significant role in the battle of Mahabharta and ensured that ultimately good won over evil.
Janmashtami is celebrated on the Ashtami of Krishna Paksha or the 8th day of the dark fortnight of Bhadon month, as per the Hindu calendar. It usually overlaps with the August or September month of the Gregorian calendar.
This festival is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm throughout India. Grand celebrations are held in places like Mathura and Vrindavan of UP, where Lord Krishna was born and had spent his life as a child. Mumbai in Maharashtra is renowned for a distinct celebration where people practice the sport of Matki-Phodo. Dwarka region in Gujarat also witnesses massive Janmashtami celebrations.
A day before Janmashtami, the devotees observe fast for the entire day until midnight as it is believed that Lord Krishna was born precisely at the mid-night. People decorate and illuminate their houses. The temples devoted to Lord Krishna are decorated, and their beauty is mesmerizing. People visit temples on this day to pray for Lord Krishna’s blessings. Chants and hymns, in praise of Lord Krishna, can be heard all day long. The devotees sing and dance all day long. At many places, the artists re-enact the scenarios of Lord Krishna’s life. At exactly midnight, the idol of baby Krishna is bathed in panchamrit and dressed in new clothes. Everybody worships the idol and make their offerings to the baby Krishna. After that, the Prashad (left-overs of the holy offerings, made to the God) is distributed among the devotees. People also prepare traditional delicacies at their homes, to be eaten after midnight. In Mumbai, people engage themselves in a sport called Matki Fodo. It’s played to honour the spirit of Shri Krishna with which he used to steal butter from earthen pots as it was fond of its taste. During this sport, a pot full of butter is tied at approximately twenty metres high from the ground. The participants of every team have to create a human pyramid, and one candidate from that team has to reach the pot and break it, just like Lord Krishna used to do in his childhood. People keep shouting ‘Govinda’ (another name of Lord Krishna) as the players try to break the pot. The team that fulfils this task in minimum time is declared the winner.
The festival of Janmashtmi brings with it the joy and happiness of the birth of Lord Krishna. It’s one of the most celebrated events in the Hindu calendar and reminds us of God’s promise to his devotees. It is believed that God takes a reincarnation on Earth every time Dharma is in danger, and the evil is surpassing all its limits. The birth of Lord Krishna is one such event that keeps us assured that good will always win over evil.