“O Kṛishṇa, in our heart’s eight-petalled lotus make Thy crèche!
We ask not for eight siddhis, for Thou art a better boon.”
The eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Krishna was born on the 8th date of the waning lunar phase of Bhadon (August-September), as per the Hindu calendar. Jamnashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, Krishnashtami and Shri Krishna Jayanti, is the celebration of this auspicious birth. It is one amongst the handful of Indian festivals that is celebrated with great pomp and show across the country, irrespective of regional or language divides.
Krishna is believed to be have been born around 5000 years ago in Mathura, in the state of Uttar Pradesh and spent his formative years in the nearby villages called Nandgaon and Vrindavan. The story of Krishna’s birth is an intrinsic part of the Indian folklore and has been recounted through innumerable songs, stories, dance-dramas and even finds mention in ancient texts like the Mahabharata.
Although the birth of krishna is celebrated all across the country and outside the Indian Subcontinent as well, it is but natural that the flavour of celebrations in his birthplace is unlike any other. Krishna Jamnashtami in Mathura and Vrindavan is an experience both for the devout and the secular traveller. As such, millions of tourists, both from India and abroad, land up in Mathura and Vrindavan for the celebrations that start as early as a month before the date and last for up to 2 weeks after.
In Mathura and adjoining villages, the preparations start at least a month in advance and you can find swings and rangolis outside people’s homes to welcome the lord into their homes and to symbolically cradle him in the lavishly decorated swings prepared especially for the occasions. Ghatas are another unique feature of the celebrations at Mathura, where all the temples in the city are decorated with the color of the chosen theme including the clothes of the Idol Krishna as well. Mathura supposedly has over 4000 temples and they follow this tradition for an entire month.
Raas Leelas are dance dramas that re-enact the ‘divine dance of love’ that Krishna used to perform with his consort Radha and her selected friends or sakhis. Throughout Mathura and especially in Vrindavan, such reenactments symbolize the all-pervasive love between Krishna and his consorts. The North Indian classical dance form known as ‘Kathak’ is said to have evolved from Raas Leelas. Raas Leela is a treat to watch for those who love narration of mythological stories. It depicts Krishna at his playful and flirtatious best.
Since Krishna was supposedly born at midnight, the devout fast for the entire day, singing bhajans (devotional songs), chanting his name and break the fast only after the ritualistic birth of Krishna at midnight. The devotional fervor of the millions congregating in the city is a sight to behold at midnight. The most delectable dishes are offered to the newborn in the form of ‘Chappan Bhog’ or ‘The feast of 56 dishes’ which is later distributed as Prasad to the devotees.
Elaborate tableaus, known as ‘Jhanki’ are on display everywhere you go. Temples, various religious organizations and even ordinary citizens put up such jhankis in their homes and promenades, depicting various stories and incidents from Krishna’s life. Since he is considered to be a new-born at the time, the image of ‘Laddu Gopal’ or the infant Krishna with a ball of sweets in his hand is one of the most prominent images on display. People bathe, worship and dress up Krishna statues with the utmost care and love. Swings, especially made for the occasion, are employed to cradle baby Krishna.
The life and philosophy of Krishna has deep seated roots in the Indian ethos. His life, his love for music, his message of pure, unadulterated love, of belief in the doctrine of Karma, his achievements and his playful persona are all celebrated during this festival the world over. But it is in Mathura and Vrindavan that you experience Krishna and all that he represented in its entirety. Visit the land of his birth and growing up years to understand why Krishna Janmashtami is the one of the bigest and and most widely celebrated festival in the country.