Krishna Janmashtami: Celebrating the birthday of a popular Hindu deity

MONDAY, AUGUST 18: Break out the handi pots, fast in reverence and join the anxious wait for the midnight birth of a Hindu deity on Krishna Janmashtami. Many of the world’s more than 900 million Hindus mark this magnificent holiday with sweets, butter, Dahi Handi and uriadi events, and dramatic enactments of Krishna’s life.

Renowned for his playfulness and mischievous youth, the eighth avatar of Vishnu is believed to have been born in 3228 BCE. Prior to his birth, a prophesy declared that the eighth child of Princess Devaki—Krishna—would kill the murderous king, Kansa. The prophesy inspired the hiding of the child Krishna, and as foretold, the grown Krishna returned home to take Kansa’s life.


From the morning of Krishna Janmashtami, devotees fast and place images of Krishna’s infancy in swings and cradles. Temples are decorated, and throughout India, groups of youngsters travel to areas where handi pots—earthen pots, most commonly filled with buttermilk—are hung high. Each group forms a human pyramid, from which the topmost child attempts to break the handi pot, which is hung high above the ground. (Wikipedia has details.) Prizes are offered for the group that breaks each pot, and large sums of money have attracted more competitors in recent years. In some regions, local celebrities and Bollywood actors participate in the activities, all in attempt to recall the child-god Krishna’s affinity for stealing butter.

At midnight, festivities culminate in the temple, where Hindus gather for devotional songs and dance. Kirtans are sung or played, and offerings of flowers, coins and food are made. Excitement builds, and some begin to bellow the kirtans for Krishna.

The following day is called Nanda Utsav, for the celebration of Krishna’s foster parents.

Celebrating at home: Even without a temple, anyone can celebrate Krishna Janmashtami. suggests decorating the home with garlands and balloons; playing music and listening to bhajan recordings; reading stories of Krishna’s life; and bathing figures of Krishna in yogurt, honey and ghee. Temple goings-on can be viewed online, here.

Why Krishna? Krishna is revered by devotees for his personable ways and for his reputation for mischief making, passion and empathy. It’s believed that Krishna responds to and reciprocates the innermost desires of his worshippers.


A Mumbai High Court decision to ban children under age 18 from participating in the pyramid-building of Dahi Handi was lifted mere days before Krishna Janmashtami, when the Supreme Court lowered the age restriction to 12. The pyramids can reach heights that can cause injury or even death, if participants fall. In its ruling, the court directed organizers to supply helmets, safety belts and layers of cushions to participants. (Indian Express reported.) The court also asked organizers to have emergency medical help available.

Work will begin on the world’s tallest Krishna temple this Janmashtami, for a building expected to reach 210 meters on 70 acres of land. Located in Vrindavan, India, the temple will also be home to a museum, library, park, forests and luxury villas. (Read the story here.)

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