On the eighth day of the black half of Bhadra month ( Aug-Sept), Sri Krishna, the eighth Avatar or incarnation of Vishnu was born. Hence, this day is known as Janmasthami or Krishna Janmasthami. The auspicious day of birth of Krishna, the direct manifestation of Lord Vishnu is celebrated in all parts of India with great enthusiasm. In the Bhagwat Gita, Sri Krishna declares: ‘All this Universe has been created by me, all things exist in me’. Arjuna addresses him as “the Supreme Universal Spirit, the supreme dwelling, the eternal person, divine, prior to the Gods, unborn, omnipresent”. His life is celebrated in great detail in the Puranas like Harivamsha and Shrimad Bhagvatam. The circumstances in which he was born were quite peculiar and mysterious. He incarnated himself primarily to destroy evil and wickedness and to establish Dharma on this earth.
The demon king Kansa was a great and dreaded tyrant, but he loved his sister Devaki and at her marriage with Vasudev, he, out of great affection, drove their marriage chariot. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed when an oracle told him that the eighth born of Devaki shall be the cause of his death. At this, he would have killed her then and there, but Vasudev intervened and promised to give him over each and every child that is born to them. They kept their promise and Kansa killed the six children born to them one after the other. The couple could not do anything except remaining as mute witness to this act of cruelty, since they were chained, inside the prison and kept under strict vigil. The seventh child born to them was saved by the divine grace.
The eighth child was Krishna. When he was born, it so happened that with divine grace, the guards fell asleep, their chains loosened and the gates of the prison cell opened. Vasudev took the child Krishna to his friend Nand’s house in Gokul. He entrusted his son with Nand and in exchange carried back the baby girl born to Nand and Yashoda. When Kansa heard of the birth of a girl child, he at once rushed to the prison cell and lifted the female child high, catching her by the feet. When he was about to dash her against a rock, she slipped from Kansa’s grip and assuming the beautiful form of Divine Mother, vanished in the sky saying, “Wretch! Thy destroyer is flourishing in Gokul”. People at Gokul were rejoiced at the birth of a son to Nand and Yashoda. In fact, Yashoda was quite unaware of the exchange that had taken place during the night.
The Janmasthami celebrations start right from the early morning and reach its climax at midnight with the rising of the moon which marks the divine birth. On this auspicious day, fast is observed which is ended only after the birth of Lord Krishna at midnight. The temples and homes are decorated, scenes depicting Krishna’s birth and his childhood pranks etc. are staged. Child Krishna’s image is placed in a richly decorated swing and rocked with tender care by the devotees. At midnight, time after birth, a small image of toddling Krishna is bathed in Charnamrit, amidst chanting of hymns, blaring of the conches, ringing of bells and joyous shouting of ‘victory to Krishna’.
In Brij Mandal, especially in Gokul and Mathura, this festival is celebrated with great religious fervor and enthusiasm and the special deliberations of the day are relayed on air. People from distant places congregate at Mathura and Vrindavan on this day to participate in the festival. The piety and fast observed on this day ensures the birth of good sons and salvation after death. Reading of Bhagvatam and Geet Govindam are also done in temples.
During the recent times, the day after Krishna’s birth is celebrated as “Dahi Handi” or Dahi Kala”. Young men and now, even women folks form groups or ‘Pathak’ and try to break the Handi – earthen pot with sweetened yogurt – by preparing a human pyramid amidst the crowd cheering them. Competitions are held for the highest human pyramid.
In this way, the celebration of Janmasthami marks the birth of Lord Vishnu in His eighth incarnation as Krishna to mark the end to tyranny of Kansa - in other words, to get rid of the evil and to re-establish the order of Dharma.