People celebrate by fasting, breaking dahi-handi, singing hymns, visiting temples, preparing feasts and praying together.
By Reya Mehrotra
Janmashtami is celebrated to mark the birth of Lord Krishna. People celebrate by fasting, breaking dahi-handi, singing hymns, visiting temples, preparing feasts and praying together. It is a grand celebration particularly in Mathura and Vrindavan. Raas Lila or Krishna Lila are also a part of the celebrations. With the festival just around the corner, we bring to you different ways in which the festival is celebrated across India.
Maharashtra has its own unique style of celebrating Gokulashtami. Songs like Govinda aala re play on the streets. Locals perform the dahi-handi ritual, which represents Krishna’s love for buttermilk. It is said that Lord Krishna was so fond of it that he would often steal it from his own home and those of others as well along with his friends. Youngsters form a human pyramid to break open an earthen pot with buttermilk hung high above on the road.
By the 1700s, Vaishnavism had become a popular state religion in Manipur. Hindus in Imphal celebrate the festival by praying at Shri Shri Govindajee and ISKCON temples. Manipuri performances and Raaslila dedicated to Lord Krishna take place during this time. The day is known as Krishna Jamma in Manipur. The festivities begin at midnight and continue till dawn. Worshippers fast for the entire day and various cultural programmes are held to mark Krishna’s birth.
Shri Krishna Math in Udupi, Karnataka, is dedicated to Lord Krishna. It is famous for its Janmashtami celebrations. The matha is a principal pilgrimage site for Hindus in India. It is a centre of the Dvaita Vedanta Hindu philosophy, which says that Lord Vishnu and individual souls have independent existential realities. Lord Balakrishna, or the child form of Lord Krishna, is the main deity of the temple. Krishna Janmashtami is the best time to visit.
Krishna’s birthday is celebrated with much zeal and gusto in the city of Vrindavan as it is believed that he spent a major part of his childhood there. Prominent temples like ISKCON, Banke Bihari and Radharaman hold grand celebrations on this day. Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna, sees a high footfall of tourists and devotees from across India during this time. Temples are decorated with flowers and lights, and are open throughout the night for devotees. In fact, weeks before the festival, both Mathura and Vrindavan come to life with preparations in full swing. Raas Lila, based on excerpts from the Bhagwata Puran, is performed on stage.
Dwarka is historically known as the kingdom of Lord Krishna. The Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka is dedicated to him. On this day, the temple is decorated beautifully for the celebrations of the infant Krishna. Lord Dwarkadhish is adorned with gold, diamond and other precious jewellery, and kirtans and bhajans are sung. Women across Gujarat play cards and give up household work on this day. Celebrations similar to dahi-handi take place in Dwarka, but it is called makhan-handi. Tourists come from far-off places to witness the grand event. Children dress up as mythological characters to participate in dramas. Conch shells and ringing bells are played in the morning aarti.
The celebrations differ in different parts of south India. In Tamil Nadu, people observe a fast, draw kolams, patterns made of rice batter, and recite the Bhagwad Gita. In Andhra Pradesh, sweet dishes like verkadalai urundai are made for the celebrations and young boys dress up as Krishna to visit relatives and friends. Everyone sings hymns, chants mantras and devotional songs. Usually, paintings instead of Lord Krishna’s idols are worshipped and fruits and sweets are offered to him. Musical dramas and enactment of dramas to represent his life are common.
West Bengal & Odisha
In the eastern part of the country, states like Odisha and West Bengal celebrate Krishna’s birth by fasting and offering regional sweets to the baby Krishna. The 10th chapter of the Bhagwad Puran, which is dedicated to Krishna’s life, is read on this day. An elaborate meal is offered to Lord Krishna as prasad. In Bengal, households prepare taler boda, or sugar palm fritter, an extremely sweet dish.