¤ The Holy Birth of Lord
Janmashtami is celebrated every year on the 8th day of the
dark fortnight that is also known as the Krishna Paksh, in the
Hindu month of bhadon (around July-August). The period usually
coincides with the rainy season.
The festival celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna the black
God. Krishna is the eighth and most important incarnation of Vishnu
(Preserver in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer of
the avatar of Krishna that perhaps overrides the sum total of his
other manifestations is that of the omniscient charioteer who delivers
the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjun before the great war of
Mahabharata a Hindu epic. Therefore Krishna is also known as
Parthasarathi, or Arjun's/Partha's charioteer. The discourse is also
telling of his consummate wit, intelligence and acumen as a statesman.
¤ According To Hindu Mythology
Hindu mythology presents a fascinating chain of events that were to
unfold around the time of Krishnas birth.
Krishna's parents Deviki and Vasudev were thrown into prison by his
maternal uncle Kans the tyrant King of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh),
as it had been prophesied by Naradmuni that Kans would be annihilated
by the eighth child born of his cousin sister Deviki. Not wanting to
leave anything to chance, Kans killed each of the seven children
immediately after their birth in prison. Finally the eighth child was
born a beautiful dark baby boy. Legend has it that miraculously
all the guards of the prison fell into deep sleep, the prison gates
opened, and Deviki and Vasudev became unfettered. An akashvani, or
heavenly voice ordained Vasudev to take his newborn son, destined to
rid the world of evil, to his friend Nand and his wife Yashoda in
Gokul, a city that lay across the River Yamuna. Fearing for the life
of his son, Vasudev readied himself for a journey wrought with perils.
Yamuna in spate parted its waters to make way for the father and son
as soon as infant Krishna touched the swelling waters with his tiny
foot, and the Shaeshnag (the many-headed serpent king) emerged from
the deluge to shield the two from the tumultuous downpour.
Across the Yamuna, Yashoda had recently given birth to a daughter who
was sleeping soundly besides her parents. Vasudev quietly left his son
besides the sleeping and unsuspecting Nand and Yashoda, and returned
to his wife in Mathura with Nand and Yashoda's daughter.
¤ The Legendary Tale Continues
In keeping with the nature of legends, as soon as Vasudev was back in
the prison cell, the gates clamped shut and the guards woke up to
resume their duty. The birth of the child was brought to the notice of
Kans who immediately came to repeat the infernal ritual with the
supposed eighth child of Deviki.
The heartless king threw the girl child against the wall. But instead
of being killed, she rose to the skies and soon the heavens resounded
with a celestial voice informing Kans that his destroyer had already
been born and was safe! With this, the girl child vanished amidst
thunderclap and lightning. It is believed that the child, referred to
as Deviji, was actually the embodiment of the Goddess Durga (the
Goddess of War and Power) and was later to be worshipped under other
names such as Tara, Mandakini, Ishani.
Janmashtami is therefore actually celebrated twice, the occasions
coinciding with Krishna's birth in captivity in Mathura, and the
discovery of the newborn Krishna in Nand and Yashoda's house in Gokul.
¤ The Celebrations
This tale is fondly remembered on the day of Janmashtami as temples
and homes light up for the joyous occasion. Especially cities like
Mumbai, Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan come alive during the festival.
Cribs and other displays with dolls in traditional costumes depict the
life and times of Krishna. Raas Leelas (dance dramas) enact incidents
from Krishnas life amidst much pomp and show. People fast till
midnight, the time of Krishnas birth. Elaborate pujas, or prayer
ceremonies are held in temples and homes to welcome the lord at
midnight amongst joyous singing of hymns. Prasad (sweetmeat offered to
the lord and later eaten by devotees) is distributed to everyone. The
lord having arrived, it is time for everyone to settle down to a
hearty vegetarian meal.