Gokulashtami, also known as Krishna Jayanthi is an annual Hindu festival to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. This auspicious occasion is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of waning moon in the Shravana month of the Hindu calendar, usually occurring in the month of August or September, depending on the lunar cycle. Because of this, it is also known as Janmashtami.
Janmashtami is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion across India, as well as by Hindus across the globe.
Krishna is Lord Vishnu’s eight avatar and that came to Earth in order to vanquish evil and establish righteousness (dharma). He was born to Devaki and Vasudeva in the prison of King Kansa, his maternal uncle. It had been prophesied that Devaki’s eighth child of Devaki would be the cause of Kansa's death. Worried about his fate, Kansa had imprisoned Devaki and her husband so that he could destroy the child at birth. However, through divine intervention, Vasudeva was able to take baby Krishna to the village of Gokul, where he was raised by his foster parents, Yashoda and Nanda.
In the north of India, Janmashtami celebrations start well before the actual day, with devotees observing fasts and engaging in deep prayer and meditation. The fasting typically lasts for 24 hours and ends at midnight, symbolising the exact moment of Krishna's birth. Homes are beautifully decorated, and families join together to create a small cradle for the divine child. The idol of Lord Krishna is placed in the cradle, and traditional prayers and rituals are performed in the presence of family and friends. In the southern states however, homes are done up and the path from the entrance to the puja room is decorated with little feet to show the arrival of baby Krishna. The celebration is completed with home made traditional sweets and plenty of freshly churned butter.
Temples dedicated to Lord Krishna are beautifully decorated with flowers and lights. Devotees visit these temples to participate in various religious rituals such as bhajans (devotional songs) and kirtans, and recitations from the Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam.
The main highlight of Janmashtami is the night-long vigil kept by the devotees in anticipation of Krishna's birth. The temple premises reverberate with the joyful chants of "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." The atmosphere is filled with spiritual energy, and the faithful immerse themselves in Krishna's divine love and grace.
Another significant part of the celebrations across the North is the 'Dahi Handi' ceremony. This tradition symbolises Krishna's playful personality and his efforts to steal butter from the pots hanging from the ceiling of homes. Groups of young men form human pyramids to reach the pots suspended at a height and break them, just like Krishna did during his childhood. The Dahi Handi event is also accompanied by enthusiastic music, dance, and sheer exhilaration as the 'Govindas' (participants) are cheered on by the crowd.
Janmashtami is not just a religious festival; it is a celebration of love, devotion, and the eternal teachings of Lord Krishna. The festival not only commemorates his birth but also serves as a reminder of his wisdom and guidance on leading a righteous life. Janmashtami brings people together to rejoice in the divine presence of Lord Krishna and seek his blessings for a prosperous and fulfilling life.