Gokula Ashtami or Janmashtami as it is called celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna who is an avatar of Vishnu. According to the Hindu lunar calendar Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Shraavana. It is believed Krishna was born some 5252 plus years ago on the 18th July, 3228 B.C in Vrindavan.
Janmashtami is typically celebrated by devotees fasting and singing devotionally at midnight for it was at that auspicious time Krishna was born. There are many rituals that one can follow. The most popular is after Krishna’s midnight hour birth, baby Krishna statues are washed, clothed, and placed in a cradle. Devotees then break their fast by sharing food and sweets. The next day, young boys dress up as Krishna and girls as Radha and dance and sing and enjoy the sweets.
The inner meaning behind celebrating Lord Krishna’s birthday is he was born to vanquish anyone who stood against Dharma and righteousness as was seen in the Mahabharata. It was because of Krishna that one got to know the Bhagavad Gita, its essence, sayings, meanings, and values that is upheld even today.
Each state has its own way of celebrating with the most famous being Dahi Handi in Maharashtra. It was said Krishna’s love for butter and curd would leave his mother no choice but to tie the pots high up beyond his reach. Krishna being himself would ask his friends to form a pyramid and he would climb up and break the pot and relish the curd and butter.
‘Dahi Handi’ is organised with great fervour in every community with teams of young boys called ‘Govindas’ climb one over another and form a human pyramid, then break the pot in ‘Dahi Handi’ while in Gujarat it is called the Makhan Handi. Farmers also decorate their bullock carts for Krishna processions while singing and dancing.
In Tamil Nadu, kolams are created using rice powder on floors and children dressed as Krishna are asked to leave their foot imprints after dipping their feet in a semi solid rice powder mixed with water from the entrance to their puja rooms. This signifies Lord Krishna has entered their house and sweets and savories are prepared for Krishna.
In some places, Raslila is celebrated with groups and individuals dancing around celebrating Krishna. Raslila means the play of delight and everyone dances with Krishna with music, songs and clapping of hands.
It is indeed a celebration of love for Krishna that makes Janmashtami very special.