Janmashtmi - Lord Krishna's Birthday
According to our Holy Scriptures, the birth of Lord Krishna took place under extraordinary circumstances. Krishna was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who came to the world to get rid of all evil demons. He was born at midnight stroke on a dark, rainy night to 'Devaki' and 'Vasudev' who had been imprisoned by Devaki's brother Kansa. It had been foretold that the eighth son of Devaki would kill the evil king Kansa. Upon hearing this prophesy, Kansa had his sister put into prison. He killed her 6 children (7th child was Balaram who's embryo was transfered into Vasudev's first wife Rohini's womb by Yogmaya) one by one but when Krishna was born (the 8th Child), there was divine intervention to save the life of baby Krishna. The guards had fallen into deep slumber and were unable to inform their master about the new born child.
A voice commanded Vasudev to take the baby to Gokul and exchange with the newborn baby Nanda and Yashoda. The shackles and the prison gates opened miraculously and Vasudev carried the child in a small basket, through the waters of Yamuna. As it was a dark stormy night, the waters of Yamuna were raging but parted to let the carrier of the divine Krishna pass. A huge snake known as Adisesha , glided behind them, its hoods formed a protective canopy over the child When Vasudev returned back with Nanda's child the shackles fastened and the doors closed and the guards awakened. Kansa came and picked up the child to hurl it to the wall and kill him but somehow the baby slipped from his grasp and took the form of a Goddess laughing at Kansa, she vanished after telling him that the one who would kill him had already taken birth and was elsewhere.
As a little boy, Krishna was the heartbeat of Gokul, a mischievous prankster who was favorite amongst the gopikas. He used to steal curd and butter from the houses of gopikas. Even though he was a child, he performed several miracles. His exploits are now the immortal legends of Braj. He killed a number of 'asuras'(devils), vanquished the Kali Nag and later he killed Kansa as it had been.
Festival & Rituals
People fast on this day, usually a waterless fast. They spend the day immersed in Shri Krishna's glory by reading, reciting and singing his divine leela especially in the evening in mandirs. At midnight, the Lord's birth hour, arti is performed. He is also installed in the form of 'Lalji' (child form) in a swing and devotionally offered many sumptuous food dishes. 'Makhan' (butter) is especially included since Shri Krishna loved this in childhood. The traditional prasad is 'Panchajiri' - made of five ingredients: powdered ginger, 'suva', coriander, sugar and ghee. Other ingredients include poppy seeds (khaskhas) and dessicated coconut shavings.
After arti, devotees jubilantly sing and hail kirtans extolling the Lord's incarnation:
"Nand gher anand bhayo, Jai Kanaiyalal ki ..
Jai Kanaiyalal ki ..
Jai Kanaiyalal ki ..
Hathi, ghoda, palkhi, jai Kanaiyalal ki …"
In Brindavan, every year the Raasleelas or the folk theatre acting out Krishnas Lifes stories begin much before the Janmasthami day. These Raasleelas are staged by professional drama troupes or even young children. These dramas characterised by colourful costumes and equally colourful backgrounds. Raasleelas are usually accompanied by musicians and are very popular among the people. The language spoken by the actors and the actresses is the Brajbhasha but sometimes Hindi is also used. Devotees also make beautiful Jhulans (Cradles) for the baby Krishna. In some parts of India, young men break the Matkas (Earthen Pots) filled with butter and curds. I t is estimated that during Janmashtami, almost seven lakh people pour into Mathura and the surrounding towns. Buses crammed with pilgrims come from every corner of the country and line every lane and road in Mathura.