Krishna Janmashtami – Celebrating the Birth of Lord Krishna

The festival of Krishna Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. This festival is also known as Krishna Jayanti or is also known commonly in South Africa, as in other parts of the world, as Krishna Astami. This special day is celebrated by hundreds of millions of Hindus across the globe and is among the most important religious days in the Hindu calender. Krishna Janmashtami occurs on the eighth day of Bhadra, a Hindu lunar month. Literally, janmasthami means birth (janam) on the eighth day (asthami) of the Hindu lunar calender. The day roughly corresponds to a date between mid-August to mid-September in the Gregorian calendar.

Day Before Janmashtami

On the day before Janmashtami, devotees observe a day-long fast. Some do not even drink water while fasting. Prayers and devotional hymns are chanted and sung from the evening. This frenzied devotion builds up as the midnight celebrations approach. Some devotees are so engrossed in prayer and song that they break out into a dance as they continue to seek the blessings of the Lord.

On Janmasthami

It is believed that Lord Krishna was born at midnight. At this time on Krishna Janmashtami, the idol of Lord Krishna depicted in the form of a child is bathed in a mixture known as panchamrit. It contains milk, curd, clarified butter (ghee), honey and basil (tulsi) leaves. A beautiful jhulan (cradle) is decorated with flowers and the idol is placed there and gently rocked.

Breaking the Pot of Curd

Janmashtami is a festival celebrated by people of all ages. While elders engage in devotional songs and wait for the aarti, young boys eagerly await the ‘Dahi Handi’ event. In this event, a dahi handi (pot of curd) is suspended at a height and young boys have to form a human pyramid to reach and break it. This event often takes the shape of a competition where the first team to break this pot carries away the prize.

The dahi handi symbolizes the repeated attempts of Lord Krishna to steal butter as a young child. Although his mother Yashoda tried to keep him under her gaze, he often found ways to evade her attention and steal scoops of butter. The ‘Dahi Handi’ event, which copies the agility and mischievousness of Krishna to steal butter, also promotes the importance of teamwork in the achievement of a goal.

Celebrating Krishna Janmasthami

On Janmashtami, rasleelas (skits) depicting the life Lord Krishna are often staged to spread awareness about the lord and celebrate him. These skits depict the lord’s charm in his interactions with the gopis (milkmaids).

The festival of Janmashtami is not only celebrated with great fervour in Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, it is also celebrated all over India as well as in different parts of the world. In South Africa, some temples observe celebrations for a few days so that devotees can participate in this festival. Temples are beautifully decorated and hundreds of devotees come to pay their respects. Smaller gatherings happen among religious groups in halls and even homes.

Meaning of Krishna Janmasthami

Krishna Janmasthami is not just a time of celebrating the incarnation of the Supreme Lord. The rituals and prayers of Janmashtami celebrate the life and teachings of Lord Krishna. In the Bhagavad Gita (the holy book of the Hindus) Krishna also mentions that people should expect results in life according to the nature of their actions. This festival acquaints people with these teachings again, so that they can remember these teachings and follow it in their daily lives.

Last updated on 5 August 2012