Krishna Janmashtami: Hindus show devotion, playfulness for Lord Krishna

Indian boys gather in a small circle, surrounded by a casual crowd, on a sunny dirt street

Boys on a street in India partake in Matki Fod, a beloved tradition of Krishna Janmashtami that involves the breaking of an earthen pot, often filled with buttermilk, that has been hung high. Photo courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28: Prepare the buttermilk pots and ready the infant figurines of Lord Krishna, for the enormously popular Hindu festival of Krishna Janmashtami. Celebrated with fervor across India and in several other countries by hundreds of thousands of devotees, Krishna Janmashtami marks the birthday of the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. Based on both astrological calculations and scripture, tradition holds that Lord Krishna was born at midnight in 3228 BCE, and today, most adherents fast throughout the day until midnight. Festivities typically begin at dawn today, extending until 12 a.m., when the figure of Krishna is revealed by priests in a grand display. Colored altars, elaborately dressing rituals and meticulous bathing customs have welcomed the beloved Lord Krishna.

The rising of the sun signals the start of most merrymaking events for Krishna Janmashtami—though preparation of these events began weeks ago—and Rasa Lila, dramatic reenactments of the life of Krishna, can be seen on the streets while Dahi Handi draws boys from far and near to compete in the breaking of buttermilk pots.  (Wikipedia has details.) Known for his love of mischief, Lord Krishna draws devotees to expose their playful side today: kites soar in Jammu; sweets are cooked in eastern India; floors are decorated with flour in southern India, to represent Krishna’s childhood pastime of stealing butter from houses.

Krishna Janmashtami is a national holiday in Bangladesh, celebrated widely by Hindus in the Caribbean and in the United States, and carries great importance with the 80 percent of Nepalese residents who consider themselves Hindu. Yet nowhere is Krishna Janmashtami met with more excitement and splendor than in India.

Painted blue Lord Krishna, smiling, amid swirls

Lord Krishna depicted in wood. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

BORN INTO DANGER

The festivities of Krishna Janmashtami focus on the lighter side of Krishna’s life, but at the time of his birth, the situation was anything but. Born the eighth son of Princess Devaki and her husband, Vasudeva, six of Krishna’s preceding siblings were killed by Princess Devaki’s brother, who desired the throne for himself. Knowing his life would be endangered, Devaki and Vasudeva secretly passed Krishna to foster parents.

INCENSE, MEDITATION
& THE BHAGAVAD GITA

Not all customs of Krishna Janmashtami are playful; his deity is worshiped with great devotion. In many Hindu temples, the religious scripture Bhagavad Gita is read, chants are recited and songs, known as bhajans, fill the air. Burning incense wafts through the temples decorated with elaborate flower garlands, and pilgrims flock to places significant in Krishna’s life. When the day-long fast is broken at midnight, festivities escalate even more and enormous feasts are served.

CELEBRATING KRISHNA JANMASHTAMI AT HOME

Even if you don’t live in a hub of festivities, Krishna.com offers advice for celebrating Krishna Janmashtami at home: Decorate the house with homemade flower garlands; read stories about Krishna and meditate on his life; prepare special foods for family and friends, as temple volunteers do in Hindu communities—following the fast, that is; and tune into Krishna.com’s webcams for festivities at some of the major temples of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

IN THE NEWS:
SNAKE BOATS, MEDEIVAL ART, JAIPUR THEATRE AND A EUROPEAN MANOR

Stone temple in India, with passersby in colorful clothing walking nearby

The Jagdish Temple of Udaipur, during Krishna Janmashtami. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ceremonial and magestic snake boats have made their way down the river Pampa once again—legend has it that the boats are the sacred vessel of Lord Krishna—and, despite their costly upkeep, more than 20 participated in the parade this year; a major feast will take place today where the boats have gathered, at the Sri Parthasarathy temple. (Read more in The Hindu.)

Organizers regret that traditional recipes and skilled cooks are lost amid young generations, which is why a webcast of the feast began in 2011 and a Facebook page was created—both of which have been successful in drawing young interest and tourists alike. Next, organizers are hoping to receive more funding for the aging boats. (Get details from the Deccan Chronicle.)

Mumbai artist Purvii Parekh will showcase her bold oil and acrylic paintings throughout Krishna Janmashtami this year, with a series on Lord Krishna. (Read more in the Times of India.) In a style known as “Ragamala,” Parekh hopes to revive the illustrative style of painting that showcases Indian musical nodes and ragas, which was first used in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each piece reflects the mood of Krishna, claims the artist, which is a characteristic of Ragamala paintings.

Residents and visitors of Jaipur can experience a higher level of street plays this year, as a group of theatre professionals present a Broadway-style performance at a city auditorium. Despite financial constraints, organizers have arranged performances with rich content, hi-tech music and lighting. The Times of India reported that inspiration was drawn from Zangoora, Broadway and a Bollywood musical.

Europe’s Hindus can visit Bhaktivedanta Manor today, joining the more than 70,000 pilgrims expected for the grand festival of Krishna Janmashtami. Housing Europe’s largest cow protection project, Bhaktivedanta Manor will stage cultural dances, showcase Krishna deities, display illuminations of Krishna’s pastimes and serve vegetarian food to all attendees.