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Sri Krishnan is considered as a Hindu god, an icon of knowledge, a Jagadguru for the humanity. Krishna is also a popular Guru in western world. It is very difficult to guess as to whether he is god lived like a human or a human risen like a god. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas and the Muslims celebrate Mawlid (Milād an-Nabī) for Hindus Krishnashtami is one of the important annual festivals celebrated throughout the country. It falls on the thithi of Ashtami the eighth day of the lunar month of Bhadrapada (Sravan, Savan - Chingam). As the name suggests it is the Birth day of Sri Krishna celebrated by the Hindus. Srikrishna was born in dwaparayuga (a Yuga is about 6000 years of duration) and is the immediate predecessor Yuga to the present one known as Kaliyuga. Krishna Janmashtami is also known as Krishnashtami, Gokulashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Srikrishna Jayanthi, Sree Jayanthi or Janmashtami. Srikrishna is the 9th incarnation of Sri Maha Vishnu.
Janmashtami Festival is Celebration
The Janmashtami is celebrated in grand scale throughout India, but with some degree of intense intensity in some parts like Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP and Bihar etc. The lord Krishna was born under extraordinary circumstances. Since the birth took place during midnight, people observe with joy in the Ashtami night with dances, Bhajan, pooja and cultural programs etc. As mentioned the festival falls on the Krishna Paksha Ashtami thithi that is the 8th day of Bhadrapada month (also the 8th day from the Rakshabandan day – Rakhee tying - sisters tying a red auspicious thread on the wrists of brothers) of Hindu calendar when Rohini Nakshatra is ascendant (Lagna). This will be within the months from mid August to mid September. This year the festival is on the 22nd of August. There will be a day's difference to the Iyengar Community who celebrate on the next day. Most of the festival in all the religions will have along with the rituals lip smacking food items. Gokulashtami is no exception to this.
Most of the pooja items for all festivals will be common. Of course there will be some different items special to the poojas of different gods/goddesses. The important once for the Krishnashtami are Pooja plates (thaalis made of copper, brass, silver r gold according to the financial strength), bell, diya (earthen lamp), rice, cardamom, betel nuts (pan supari), beetle leaves, roli, small container (lota) filled with Gangajal, honey, vermilion (sindoor, kumkum), incense sticks, flowers and clarified butter (ghee). Apart from this, one also requires new clothes and jewelry for the deity as well as a small cradle. The items needed to make the Panchamrit include Gangajal, honey, ghee, milk and yogurt.
Elaborate poojas are done in Vaishnav temples. But the gist of the process is same at home and temples. The pooja starts in the early morning. Al inmates take bath. The idol usually that Srikrishna as a child, is given a sacred bath with holy water (made at home with the kalasha pooja). Thereafter the idol is decorated with new cloths of yellow, orange or red colours adorned with jewelry. The idol is place in a swing (jhoola, cradle). Then the offerings made at home, sweets and the spicy items are offered as Naivedyam.
Main Programs of Ashtami Rohini
The programs vary from state to state except the ones like the poojas and rituals. Some of the main programs are given below.
Dahi Handi or curd pot
This is an important item followed in many states. This is a program to be performed by groups mainly young male members. Here in a common place a mud pot (madka, handi) with curd is hung at a very high place in such a way that there will be no support around the place to hold on. Along with the pot there will be a bag with money depending on the locality and the contribution of members tied. There will be different groups of people who will in turns one by one try to break the pot to claim the money bag. Depending on the height at which the pot some members will form a ring of people holding each other for support. They will be sitting, Then another set of people form a slightly smaller ring and climb on t the shoulders of the first ring. A third ring smaller than the 2nd will be formed and climb on the 2nd ad so on in a pyramidal form till the height may be enough to hit the pot. It may look easy, but not so. The festival falls during heavy rainy time usually. The weight of the people above will be very high for the first and 2nd tier of the rings and these rings may crumble. In addition when the rings of people star climbing those who watch from the balconies and terraces of the nearby buildings will be pouring water on the climbers. Each team will make several attempts. Ultimately one team may break the pot and take the money. Once they break the on lookers may pay separately in addition to the bag tied with the madka. That is like bonus for the team.
In some cases there may be a slight variation in the sense that the madka will not be tied fixedly. Instead it may in such a way that the same can be raised or lowered by means of a rope/thread so that when the top ring people try to break the pot the same will be raised and lowered so that those who try miss the mudka. The dahi handi plays are to depict the playful and mischievous nature of the boyhood of Srikrishna. This program is mostly in the daytime. The madka breaking game is known as Uriadi (meaning is the same – hitting the pot) in Tamilnadu. This game is a very important one in Maharashtra. Here the people who try to break the pots are called as Govindas.
Another major item of the festival is the dances by groups of people I public places. Te dancers will be both men and women of all ages. They will form a ring and dance to the tune of music in circles. In most of the cases the dancers will be holding one short stick in each hand. These sticks of the palms will be beaten or clapped with each other making sounds to the dunes of the music. This will be to self by one hand to the other or with the neighbors on each side alternatively. They will also be moving in circles with clapping, and moving in circles. These dances may last till morning. These dances in some places are also known as Rasa Leela, Garbha dance etc. These dances in many cases will have flirtatious aspect re-creating the youth life of Srikrishna.
Dramas and Dance Dramas
In some place there may be performances by local troupes formed for this purpose and they will be staging drams or ballets of mythological and sometimes current social themes in a satirical manner.
Swing is known to most of the people. But this swing is mostly a simple one. One end of two ropes is tied to a tree branch and the other ends are tied to the ends of flat piece of plank (wood piece) of about 6 inches wide and about one and half to two feet long. The wood plank piece will be about 2 feet above from the ground level. One person sits on the plank and another one will push the swing. Each push will make the swing to move to and fro like a pendulum with more and more speed. Some people do not require any push by others. Some will sit and push he swing with one foot and each push will increase the speed. In some other cases mostly boys will stand on the swing plank and make a manipulation of the whole body that the swing start moving in pendulous mode with the speed increasing each time.
Bhajans and poojas
N addition to the above merrymaking programs there will be Bhajans and poojas as this is also a religious festival. In some cases mud idols of Srikrishna in various forms and postures will be kept in public places where the cultural programs will be conducted and universal poojas will be conducted.
In some states like Orissa, West Bengal etc the day will be celebrated by Bhajans and poojas. In many places most of the people observe fast for the whole day till midnight, the birth time of Srikrishna and then only take some food. Some people do not take food after midnight also but have milk and milk derivatives. Some people do not even taken water or swallow saliva during the fasting time. In some places the festival is observed for 2 days while few other places celebrate this for more number of days like Navarathri.
Main items will be made of (or with one of the ingredients) milk, curd, butter or ghee as these are supposed to be favorite items of Srikrishna during childhood. Let us see some of the popular ones.
Kheer or payasa
This is one common item throughout the country and is comparatively a simple dish. This is prepared by cooking rice or vermicelli in mil with sugar.
This is an item prepared from thick curd and sugar with option of fruit pulp of the seasonal fruit for flavor.
This is not a sweet item, but prepared with beaten rice (Avalakki, avil, Poha), coconut grates, cucumber, green chillies, curd, bit of ghee, jeera, finely chopped ginger, bit of sugar ad salt.
The ingredients for this item are milk, sugar, nuts chopped, bit of citric acid, water and optionally silver foil.
Murukku (Chakkali, muchole, cheeda etc)
These are made from different fours of rice, besan and udid etc. They will be very crisp ad very tasty.
There are several other items special to each region. Since they are very many they are not mentioned.
Krishna Janmashtami Legend
Once upon a time there was a kingdom by name Mathura now I Utter Pradesh. The King was Ugrasen. Ugrasen was a good and just ruler. He had two wives and one son by one wife and a daughter by another wife. That is they were step brother and sister. They love each other very well. However Kamsa (also pronounced as Kansa) was a wicked prince with boisterous nature, unbridled ambition, vices and immense strength which made his arrogant cruel and merciless. The subjects (people) of the kingdom were unhappy and restless and constantly in fear of the wrath of the king Kamsa. He fought with his father and put him prison and usurped the kingdom and declared as himself as the king. His sister Devaki came to marriageable age and as he loved her as an intimate brother, he wanted give her in marriage to a most eligible person. In fact Ugrasen had already decided Vasudev a high ranking official of the army as his son-in-law. Kansa also liked Vasudev and was happy to give his sister to Vasudev. The marriage was celebrated in grand manner. For sending the bride and groom Kamsa himself decided to be the horse cart driver. He was about to move the cart when there was a heavenly voice an anonymous voice which made an announcement that his sister Devaki's 8th so will kill Kamsa. He was terribly angry and immediately put the bride and bridegroom in his prison. His sister in due course delivered a child and immediately Kamsa arranged to kill the child in spite of pleadings that the 8th child is the potential danger and not the other ones. But Kamsa did not listen and killed. Like this 7 children were killed. Devaki conceived eighth time.
Vasudev and Devaki were very sad as they cannot do anything to protect the child. Kamsa had arranged guards to inform him about the delivery so that the child can be killed. When the delivery time neared there was heavy rain and the night was pitch dark. There was a heavenly voice saying to Devaki and Vasudev that Vasudev should take it immediately to Dwaraka where the ruler Nandagopa's wife also has delivered a girl child. Vasudeva was to take his child from the jail to Nandagopan give this child to him and bring his girl child to the prison to be with them. He said the door of the prison will automatically open for going out and coming in without anybody's knowledge and all the guards will be in deep sleep till this whole operation is over. Immediately after that Devaki delivered a male child. The child was the incarnation of Lord Mahavishnu one of the main 3 gods of Hindus. The child being incarnation had extraordinary powers. As suggested Vasudeva put the child in a big basket and kept on his head and started to Dwaraka. The Serpent Anantha (Adi Sesha) was with Vasudev his hood above the child to protect it from rain water. They had to cross River Yamuna on the way which was full to the brim. When Vasudev and Anantha reached the bank the water in the river made way for them to pass. Vasudev went to Dwaraka and explained the details to Nadagopa who readily took Vasudev's child and gave the girl child to Vasudev. Yashoda, Nandagopa's wife was asleep and she did not know anything including the switching of the children. Vasudev returned to the prison. Immediately the girl child started crying. The guards woke up and informed the child birth to Kamsa. Kamsa as usual wanted to kill the child by holding the legs and dashing the head against a rock with all force so that the child dies. But the child just escaped from his hand and rose to the sky. It said that she is not the killer of Kamsa but the killer is already born and is safe elsewhere and Kamsa can wait for the death and vanished. As per the legend this girl took birth as Draupadi (Panchali) and became the wife of Pandavas.
Srikrishna was growing with other children and his cousin brother Balarama in Dwaraka doing many wonders which were beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. They took the child as a divine one and lavished all the love and affection on the child in spite the pranks mischief in the houses like stealing butter and wasting the milk, butter and the curd etc harassing the householders in Dwaraka.
Kamsa heard about the extraordinary boy and tried to find out whether it was the same one to h kill him and arranged to kill the boy by various methods without success. When the boy came to the age of about 8 he informed Yashoda his foster mother and Nandagopan his foster father that he is going with his brother Balarama to Mathura his uncle Kamsa's palace. Though the parents tried to stop them telling that they too young and Kamsa is very strong, the children did not listen to them and went to Mathura and killed Kamsa eventually.
In famous Srikrishna temples of Udupi Srikrishna and Guruvayur etc there will be elaborate poojas.