Krishna Janmashtami 2023: Why It Is Celebrated, Its History And Rituals
Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, is a Hindu festival that celebrates the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The festival falls on the eighth day (ashtami) of the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksha) of the month of Bhadrapada, which usually corresponds to August or September in the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, Krishna Janmashtami will be celebrated on September 1.
Krishna Janmashtami is one of the most popular and joyous festivals in India and around the world, as it commemorates the life and teachings of Lord Krishna, who is considered to be the supreme personality of Godhead and the embodiment of love, compassion, wisdom, and bliss. The festival is marked by various rituals, customs, and traditions that reflect the devotion and enthusiasm of the devotees.
Why is Krishna Janmashtami celebrated?
Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated to remember and rejoice the divine incarnation of Lord Krishna, who was born to liberate the world from the tyranny of the evil king Kansa and to establish righteousness (dharma) on earth. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna was born at midnight in a prison cell in Mathura, where his parents Vasudeva and Devaki were imprisoned by Kansa, who was their cousin and the ruler of Mathura. Kansa had a prophecy that he would be killed by the eighth child of Devaki, so he killed her first six children and tried to kill her seventh child Balarama, who was miraculously transferred to the womb of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva. When Krishna was born as the eighth child, Vasudeva secretly carried him across the river Yamuna to Gokul, where he was raised by his foster parents Nanda and Yashoda.
Lord Krishna grew up in Gokul as a charming and mischievous cowherd boy, who enchanted everyone with his flute music and his playful antics. He performed many miraculous deeds such as killing many demons sent by Kansa, lifting the Govardhan hill to protect his village from a torrential rain, and stealing butter from the houses of the gopis (cowherd girls). He also revealed his cosmic form to his mother Yashoda and his friend Arjuna, showing them that he was not an ordinary human being but the supreme Lord himself.
Lord Krishna later returned to Mathura and killed Kansa and his allies, freeing his parents and restoring peace and justice in the kingdom. He then moved to Dwarka, where he established his own city and married Rukmini and other queens. He also played a pivotal role in the Kurukshetra war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, as he became the charioteer and guide of Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers. He imparted his timeless wisdom to Arjuna in the form of the Bhagavad Gita, which is considered to be one of the most sacred and influential scriptures in Hinduism.
Lord Krishna is revered as the source of all creation, preservation, and destruction. He is also worshipped as the embodiment of love, joy, beauty, and grace. He is believed to be present in every living being as the indwelling soul (atma) and in every aspect of nature as the universal spirit (paramatma). He is also believed to descend on earth whenever there is a decline of dharma and an increase of adharma (unrighteousness), to protect his devotees and restore harmony in the world.
What are the history and significance of Krishna Janmashtami?
Krishna Janmashtami has been celebrated since ancient times as a festival of devotion, joy, and gratitude. The earliest references to the festival can be found in the Puranas, which are ancient Hindu texts that narrate the stories of various gods and goddesses. The festival is also mentioned in other classical texts such as the Harivamsa, the Vishnu Purana, and the Mahabharata.
The festival is significant for several reasons. First, it celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, who is regarded as one of the most beloved and revered deities in Hinduism. Second, it celebrates the manifestation of God’s love for humanity, as he descended on earth to save his devotees from suffering and sorrow. Third, it celebrates the victory of good over evil, as Lord Krishna destroyed many wicked forces that threatened peace and justice in the world. Fourth, it celebrates the essence of life itself, as Lord Krishna taught the principles of dharma, karma, bhakti, and moksha, which are the pillars of Hindu philosophy and spirituality.
What are the rituals and customs of Krishna Janmashtami?
Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great fervor and enthusiasm by millions of devotees across India and around the world. The festival involves various rituals and customs that vary from region to region and from sect to sect. However, some of the common rituals and customs are as follows:
- Fasting: Many devotees observe a fast on the day of Krishna Janmashtami, abstaining from food and water until midnight, when Lord Krishna is believed to have been born. Some devotees also observe a partial fast, consuming only fruits, milk, and other light foods. The fast is broken after offering prayers and sweets to Lord Krishna at midnight.
- Decorating: Many devotees decorate their homes and temples with flowers, lights, rangoli (colored patterns), and other festive items. They also prepare a cradle or a swing for Lord Krishna and adorn it with clothes, ornaments, and flowers. They also place an idol or a picture of Lord Krishna in the cradle or the swing and rock it gently, singing devotional songs and hymns.
- Offering: Many devotees offer various delicacies and sweets to Lord Krishna, especially those made from milk, butter, and curd, as he was fond of these items in his childhood. Some of the popular offerings are makhan mishri (butter mixed with sugar), kheer (rice pudding), peda (milk fudge), laddoo (sweet balls), etc. They also offer tulsi (basil) leaves, fruits, flowers, incense, lamps, and other items to Lord Krishna.
- Praying: Many devotees perform special prayers and rituals to Lord Krishna on the day of Krishna Janmashtami. They recite various mantras, chants, and verses from the scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Vishnu Sahasranama (thousand names of Vishnu), and the Ashtottara Shatanama (108 names of Krishna). They also perform aarti (waving of lamps) and abhishekam (bathing of the idol) to Lord Krishna at midnight.
- Singing: Many devotees sing and dance in praise of Lord Krishna on the day of Krishna Janmashtami. They sing various bhajans (devotional songs), kirtans (call-and-response chants), and dandia (stick dances) that glorify the life and deeds of Lord Krishna. They also play musical instruments such as flutes, drums, cymbals, etc. to create a festive atmosphere.
- Playing: Many devotees play various games and activities that are related to Lord Krishna’s childhood on the day of Krishna Janmashtami. They play dahi handi (pot of curd), where a group of young men form a human pyramid to break a pot filled with curd that is hung high above the ground. This game is inspired by Lord Krishna’s prank of stealing butter from the pots of the gopis. They also play jhulan leela (swing play), where they swing Lord Krishna’s idol or picture on a decorated swing. This game is inspired by Lord Krishna’s pastime of swinging with his beloved Radha on a swing in Vrindavan.
Krishna Janmashtami is a festival that celebrates the birth and life of Lord Krishna, who is one of the most revered and loved deities in Hinduism. The festival is marked by various rituals, customs, and traditions that reflect the devotion and joy of the devotees. The festival also reminds us of the divine love, grace, and wisdom that Lord Krishna bestowed upon humanity.