Janmashtami, also known as Krishna Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, is an annual Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna. Occurring in the Hindu month of Shravan, it falls in August or September according to the Gregorian calendar. Janmashtami is one of the major religious holidays in India and Nepalese Hindu communities across the world.
This article provides an overview of Krishna Janmashtami traditions, the stories behind the holiday, how it is celebrated, and the significance of Lord Krishna as a widely worshipped deity in Hinduism.
The Narrative of Lord Krishna’s Birth
According to Hindu scripture, Krishna was born in the prison cell of the tyrant King Kamsa in Mathura to mother Devaki and father Vasudeva. The story goes that divine intervention allowed his parents to safely smuggle the infant Krishna across the Yamuna river before Kamsa could kill him, as foretold. He was then raised by adoptive parents Nanda and Yasoda in the village of Gokul. These events form the basis of Janmashtami celebrations.
Main Traditions and Rituals
Janmashtami is marked by various observances and festivities:
- Fasting by devotees till midnight when Krishna is said to have been born
- Reciting devotional songs and hymns from the Bhagavad Gita
- Offerings of flowers, incense sticks and food at Krishna temples
- Decorating statues of baby Krishna in his cradle
- Raas Leela dances reenacting scenes from Krishna’s life
- Dahi Handi celebrations of breaking a curd pot hung high
- Feasting on prasad, especially sweets, after midnight
- In Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat: Dahi Handi events with groups forming towers to reach and break the pot
- In Tamil Nadu: People dress up as Krishna, Gopis, Radha for reenactments
- In Uttar Pradesh: Pilgrimages to Mathura and Vrindavan, the land of Krishna’s youth
- In Manipur: Rasa Leela dance dramas with costume and music
- In Odisha: Chariot processions and paniharas (water offerings)
Significance of Lord Krishna
Krishna holds deep spiritual meaning in Hinduism:
- 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism
- Embodiment of playfulness, innocence, wisdom and divine love
- Gave the influential Bhagavad Gita sermon as guidance before a battle
- Stories of his life teach morals and ethics of Hindu dharma
- Icon for the power of devotion to God (bhakti yoga)
- Represents joy, humor, youthfulness in contrast to rigid ritual
To most Hindus, Krishna is a beloved, accessible god worthy of celebration.
Krishna Janmashtami is a time for jubilation honoring Lord Krishna’s birth and the divine providence that allowed his survival and ascent as an influential avatar. The stories, dances, chants and rituals associated with the festival help impart cultural values and faith to Hindu communities. For devotees, celebrating Krishna allows feeling a profound connection with God through joy.