By Krish Dulal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Krish Dulal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Celebrating the Hindu god Krishna’s birthday with praying, singing, fasting, lavish food, temple decorating and games.

The Hindu festival Krishna Janmashtami or simply Janmashtami is a celebration of the Hindu god Krishna’s birthday. The festival happens annually on the eight day of the Krishna Paksha or dark fortnight during the Hindu month of Bhadrapada. This 2015, the special date will fall on September 5. But as early as September 1, celebrations already start and all festive activities often last for eight continuous days.

Krishna is considered the eight avatar or incarnation of Vishnu. Although there are many deities in Hinduism, many consider Krishna as the most significant or supreme because Hindu teachings cite that God manifested Himself through Krishna. The deity is also loved by many because he is often portrayed as a divine hero, model or romantic lover, compassionate friend, mischievous son, prankster, and is known to reciprocate good deeds

Janmashtami is not only celebrated in India and the neighboring Hindu countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, but is also observed all throughout the world by Hindu groups or communities. And for Hindus, the celebration is said to be bigger than Christmas and New Year combined.

There’s a long list of activities associated with Janmashtami and each Indian region has its own set of traditions. Nonetheless, the festivity is marked by praying, singing, fasting, lavish food preparations, home and temple decorations and including competitions and games.

Fasting

On the day of Janmashtami, Hindus fast before sunrise and will last until midnight. Krishna is believed to be born at midnight time. After the fasting at 12 midnight, the newly dressed statue of Krishna is presented to the public or those who gathered and is symbolically fed with fruits and sweets. Devotional bhajans and songs, dancing, giving gifts, and general merrymaking can also be witnessed during the ceremony.

Music

In the regions of Vrindavan and Mathura where Krishna was believed to be born, Hindus celebrate the Janmashtami festival through Rasleela or Rasa lila which is a musical play and dramatic enactment of Krishna’s life.

Games

In the Maharashtra region a game or competition of breaking the pot is participated by dozens of Hindu believers. The activity is termed as Dahi Handi which literally means buttermilk pot. It is based on the legend citing the young Krishna stealing butter and it also represents Krishna’s playful nature.

In Dahi Handi, the pot of buttermilk is tied at a certain height and requires participants known as Govinda or Govinda pathak to form human pyramids just to reach and break it. It has become a highlight or major activity during Janmashtami that it is now considered a major competition and the monetary prize is getting bigger each year. It’s so popular that politicians and celebrities now participate directly or indirectly by contributing to the prize money.

Decorating, Feasting and Dancing

Other activities include the lavish decorations of homes and temples. Hindus also observe the abhisheka ceremony or the symbolic bathing, cleaning and changing of clothes of Krishna idols or statues. Preparing all sorts and varieties of food and feasting afterwards is also practiced.

Celebrations in other countries during the Janmashtami are somewhat similar. In Bangladesh, a procession is held aside from the usual devotional singing and dancing. In Nepal, fasting, singing, dancing, and temple decorations can also be observed. And in Pakistan, sermons on Krishna are also delivered other than the chanting of bhajans.

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