What is Janmashtami Festival
Janmashtami is the festival of celebration of the birth of SreeKrishna, considered as one of the ten avatars or incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It is an important religious festival celebrated all over India.Janmashtami is also known as Gokulashtami, Krishnashtami, Ashtami Rohini, SreeKrishna Jayanthi. Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami thithi) of the dark phase (Krishna Paksha in the month Sravan corresponding to August-September. This year it falls on the 21st August 2011.
Rituals on Janmashtami
The festival is celebrated with its traditional religious component and community component. In homes people conduct poojas and bhajans. As Krishna was a cowherd, he was having special attraction to butter, milk etc. Hence for Janmashtami, different sweet items containing milk, butter, ghee etc are prepared as Nivedyam –offering to God. In preparation for all these, womenfolk clean and decorate homes, and many go fasting also.
As it is believed that the birth of Krishna was in midnight, the Janmashtami rituals and celebrations start in the evening and go through the full night. People visit temples of Krishna and Vishnu and do the offerings and prayers.
In Southern parts of India the homes are decorated with Kolam- decorative drawings. Infant's footprints drawn using rice flour mixed in water are put on pathway leading from entrance to the place the pooja and nivedyam are conducted inside the home. By this it is believed that infant Sreekrishna is visiting their homes and accepting their offerings, blesses them. Children have much role in Janmashtami celebrations. Boys are dressed like Krishna and girls are dressed like the gopi women. Children are given different sweets offered to god. In Karnataka Udupi is a major centre of Krishnashtami celebrations.
The community side festivities include common bhajans, dances, and enactment of plays depicting Krishna's life.
Dahi Handi, a main item in Janmashtami festivities is the 'breaking the curd pot' providing mass entertainment. Dahi means Curd or Yoghurt, Handi means mud pot. Mud pots with curd and coins inside are hung at a normally unreachable height with ropes. The children and youth have to reach the Dahi Handis by making human pyramids. The team who reach and break the pots will get the declared prize. This has its origin in the legendary pranks of Sree Krishna in the company of his friends entering the homes in his village unnoticed and enjoying the curd stored in earthen pots hung at a height. Krishna and company used to stand one upon other to reach the mud pots and by breaking them, they used to drink the curd and eat the butter.
In Mumbai it has become a well competed team event because of the height of the Handis and the relatively high amount of prize money. In Mumbai some of the Dahi Handis go upto eight to nine level of human pyramid and prize money reaching lakhs of rupees. For the same reason it is witnessed by masses in thousands. Many politicians use the occasion for their publicity by sponsoring such events. There are many thousand Dahi Handis in Mumbai and suburbs ranging in prize money from a few hundreds to a few lakhs. Dahi Handi is conducted on the second day of Janmashtami.
"Dahi Handi attempting youth are called "'Govindas" in Mumbai. Govinda is also a name for Krishna. The cries, "Govinda aala re"- meaning Govinda has come- keep reverberating in the air throughout the day. Public holiday is given for this to enable the people to participate and witness the event. This year Janmashtami,Mumbai Dahi Handi has a speciality of a Spanish team participating. They are invited by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation to promote the festival as a tourist event. This Spanish team is recorded to have made a successful ten level human period. Nowadays the Govindas are undergoing training for weeks and also take insurance cover.
Dahi Handi and anticorruption message
This year the organisers have decided to display anti corruption messages and slogans on the Dahi Handis and on the paths to spread awareness about need to stop corruption.
Celebration in other places
In Kerala , Janmashtami is celebrated as Ashtami Rohini. While the community event "Uriyadi" equivalent to Dahi Handi, has almost disappeared, the festival is celebrated with increased vigour by conducting ralies of students dressed like Krishna and Gopis and fancy dress, tableau competitions etc .These are now conducted in mass scale under the auspices of "Bala Gokulam". Many competitions in dance, songs and other faculties are conducted for children and encouraged with prizes and awards.
Mathura, Brindavan , Dwaraka and other places connected with life of SreeKrishna celebrate Janmashtami observing high reverence and people thronging to Krishna temples. All night live telecast of the temple functions are aired from these places. In recent years the organisation ISCON is in the forefront in Janmashtami celebrations not only in their temples and centres in India but many foreign countries also as attractive visual extravaganza.