11 August, 2020
The Krishna Janmashtami is another festival that comes in once the Shravan month sets in. The birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu, is celebrated with great fervour and gaiety across India. This year though, due to the pandemic, as it happened with all festivals, the celebrations are low key. Luckily though, even if one may not be able to visit a temple, this pooja is mostly celebrated at home as a family affair.
Krishna happens to be the favourite god of many people, and he is also said to be the most powerful of the ten Vishnu’s avatars. He set out to establish dharma in the Dwapar yuga, by guiding the Pandavas through the Mahabharata war to defeat the Kauravas, who represented Adharma. The Bhagavad Gita, or the compilation of the life lessons that he gave the great Pandava warrior Arjuna, is considered to be a great epic. To this day, people read, learn, share and discuss it, as an ultimate awakening to understand life and the best way to lead it and attain spiritual awakening. Thus, the birth of this popular god who goes by many names Murali, Gopala, Mukunda, Madhava, Kanha, Govardhanadhari, Chakradhaari, Vasudeva, Devakinandan, Keshava and so on, is celebrated in many different ways across India. A midnight puja at the auspicious time when Krishna in the temples, and even in a few homes, is a common factor across India.
Since Krishna’s life was in these parts mostly in the Mathura, Vrindavan, etc. the festival is celebrated in many colourful ways. The temples are decorated, people fast through the day and attend midnight poojas at temples. Many people spend the day in reciting prayers and preparing offerings for the god. They also do pooja at home and offer him special food like Maakhan Misri, Dhaniya Panjiri, Mathura Peda, etc. The famous raaslila is played out in many parts, especially in rural communities, as it was his favourite pastime. People also regale with stories of his childhood and meet and greet each other.
Perhaps, the most popular picture of a Janmashtami celebration happens to be that of the human Dahi Handi pyramid from Maharashtra. Here, they have Dahi Handi mandals in almost every nook and corner, just like they have Ganesh pandals. What happens in this event is that a Dahi (Curd/Butter/Yoghurt) earthen pot if hung high up and people compete to break the pot, by preparing a human pyramid. This is just to remember and enact the childhood prank of Krishna and his friends, wherein the gopikas of Nandgaon, used to try and save the butter or the Maakhan from them.
Gujarat and Rajasthan
Dwaraka happens to be where Krishna lived in the latter part of his life, and it happens to be in Gujarat. Pooja is conducted with great devotion in the temple here, and the Dahi Handi is also held in few parts of the city. People also wear colourful clothes and perform folk dances, and sing bhajans in these parts. In Kutch, and a few other parts of Gujarat, they celebrate in the carnival mode and also take out processions. Jai Shri Krishna is a popular greeting in most Gujarati families.
Tradition, devotion, folk dances, songs, community celebrations, and temple visits mark the occasion in the North-East. Here small kids dressed as Krishna and gopikas are also seen on this day as they celebrate in groups with various community events.
Orissa and West Bengal
Fasting, prayers, midnight worship of the god, and celebrating the festival by offering a lot of food the god is how these two states celebrate the Krishna Jayanti as is called in those regions. The Bhagavad Purana recital also happens to understand the life of Krishna.
In Tamil Nadu, people draw the rangoli or the kolam outside their homes and then recreate the small foot imprints of the baby, Krishna, from the steps into the pooja room. This is to symbolically welcome the god into the house and represent his arrival in the house. Geeta Govindam and Bhagavad Gita are recited, and different kinds of food are prepared and offered to the god. It culminates with a midnight pooja to Lord Krishna.
In Andhra and Telangana, people dress up kids as Krishna, prepare many offerings, and visit each other and distribute it. In Karnataka, apart from the prayers, offerings, recitals and midnight pooja, they also have Dahi Handi in certain parts. An interesting addition to this is the Huli Vesha or the people dressed up as tigers and dancing to the beats of drums. This is a procession that goes door to door on the streets in certain parts of Karnataka. The major attraction in Karnataka during this time happens to be the Udupi Krishna temple. In Kerala, they offer Paal payasam or milk payasam to the lord and special prayers are held at the Guruvayoor temple.
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