Janmashtami, celebrated on the eighth day of Ashtami of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Shraavana or Bhadrapada is a major festival in India.
Families sing bhajans, there is festive food and special prayers are held. Just like Lord Krishna himself, Janmashtami is full of real time fun and frolic. Giant human pyramids are made in various states, and one local kanhaiya breaks the matka at the top. But here a few lesser known traditions and stories related to Janmashtami:
Janmashtami and rain
On Janmashtami, whether one expects it or not, Earth is blessed with a rain shower. The story behind this surprising rain is rather interesting. According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born thousands of years ago in Dwapar yug to Devki and Vasudeva inside a jail. His uncle Kansa wanted to kill him as he was afraid of a prophecy that proclaimed Devki’s eight child would eliminate him.
After Krishna was born, every single jail guard fell asleep and Vasudeva’s chains broke down miraculously. A heavenly intervention asked Vasudeva to take the baby to Nand gaon or village and exchange him with the daughter of Nand Baba and Yashoda. Vasudeva then put his newborn child in a basket and went ahead to cross the Yamuna river to reach the Nand gaon. As it rained heavily as Sheshnag, the snake with five heads appeared and spread his head to protect the little Krishna from the downpour.
Hindus celebrate Janmashtami by fasting, singing, praying together, preparing and sharing special food, night vigils, and visiting Krishna or Vishnu temples. Major Krishna temples organize recitation of Bhagavad Gita. Dance and drama events of rasa lila are organized within communities to remember the life of Lord Krishna. . The tradition of Rasa Lila is particularly popular in the Mathura region, in northeastern states of India such as Manipur and Assam, and in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Vrindavan and its greeting of Radhe-Radhe
Vrindavan is the place where the early years of Lord Krishna were spent. In scriptures and illustrations, we see Lord Krishna playing the flute for his devotees, including Radha. Later, he left Vrindavan and went to Mathura to kill Kansa who was continuously trying to threaten him. As a matter of fact, in Vrindavan, people greet each other as radhe radhe, instead of Krishna as they believe that if you summon Radha, Krishna will definitely grace them with his blessings. Moreover, Krishna kept Radha ahead of him in all his decisions.
On Janmashtami, the Vrindavan is decorated with lights, people sing and dance while praying to the god. It is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm in Prem Mandir, ISKCON Temple, and 5000 other smaller temples that are present in the city. People here chant mantras, sing Krishna songs, dance to them, and rock cradles with baby Krishna inside. Devotees also play with buttermilk, curd, and turmeric, bathing Krishna with all these items. Though the preparations start a day before Gokulashtami, the city gets into the festival mood about a week before the actual day.
Kathamo Puja in Bengal
Many Bengali households celebrate Janmashtami by hosting Kathamo Puja in the morning to worship Narayan, where a clay idol is built on a wooden frame. This is followed by worshipping Radha Krishna in the evening. Food is a big part of Janmashtami celebration in Bengal. Given Lord Krishna’s love for makhan, buttermilk, and ghee. bhog is prepared and offered to the Lord. Makhan mishri is made from sugar and makhan, Lord Krishna’s favorite. Mishti Doi, Shinni and Khoya Malpua are also prepared. Taler Bora or sweet fritters are made as bhog. Tal kheer or sweet palm pudding is another delicacy.
Celebration through performing arts in Manipur
The well-known culture of celebrating Janmashtami in Eastern and Northeastern India is attributed to the teachings of 15th and 16th century Sankardeva and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The people of Manipur perform Manipuri dance, enacting Raslila – a love inspired dance drama act of Radha and Krishna. New forms of performance arts were created to celebrate the Hindu god Krishna such as lyrical songs or Borgeet, Ankia Naat or one act plays inspired from Lord Krishna’s worship, Sattriya nritya, and Bhakti yoga now popular in West Bengal and Assam. These dance drama arts are a part of Janmashtami tradition in these regions. Their contextual roots are in the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text Natya Shastra, but with time, they have undergone cultural influences from fusions.