Janmashtami, which is also known as Krishnashtami, Krishna Janashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Gokulashtami or Srikrishna Jayanti, is the day when the eighth avatar of Vishnu and Hinduism’s favourite god Krishna was born. According to the Hindu calendar, Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in Bhadrapad month or on ashtami of Krishnapaksha. Krishna was the eighth son of princess Devaki and her husband, Vasudev, the King of Yadus. The festival is celebrated all over India with great enthusiasm and devotion. This year Janmashtami falls on Thursday, August 25. As Krishna was born at midnight, people stay awake all night and offer prayers. Devotees sing devotional songs, dance to Krishna Bhajan and rejoice. Readings of Bhagvad Gita, the Hindu religious scripture, are also held at several temples. Also Read - Major Fire Breaks Out at Company Office in Noida Sec 59, Over 100 Staffers Evacuated

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Krishna, for Hindus, is a hero, a charmer, protector, a leader, a friend, a guide and a teacher. He is believed to be the absolute or complete incarnation of Vishnu and is often portrayed mischievous small child eating butter or as a young boy playing flute, as prankster and young man with his lover Radha. In Mahabharata, Krishna was the charioteer of Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and is one of the most popular and revered of gods in the Hindu pantheon.

THE STORY OF KRISHNA’S BIRTH

According to Hindu mythology, the goddess earth or Bhudevi became disheartened by the sins and injustice committed on Earth by evil kings and rulers, appealed to Vishnu for help. Vishnu promised her that he would soon take birth on earth to destroy the evil. One of the tyrannical forces was Kamsa, the ruler of Mathura. Kamsa declared himself the king of Mathura after imprisoning his father Ugrasen, a just ruler. Not only did Kamsa oppress his people, he also went to war against the Yadu rulers. However, Kamsa’s sister Devaki decided to get married to Vasudev, the king of Yadu dynasty. After the marriage, a divine voice prophesied that Devaki’s eighth son would kill Kamsa. The frightened and infuriated Kamsa decided to kill his sister but Vasudev pleaded to spare his bride. He also promised to give Devki’s every child to Kamsa.

Kamsa locked up the couple in a prison cell and every time his sister gave birth to a child he would kill the child. One by one, Kamsa killed Devaki’s seven children. After the seventh child, Vishnu himself descended into Devaki’s womb as her eighth child. Before the eighth child was born, Vishnu appeared before Devaki and Vasudev and asked Vasudev to take Krishna to the house of Nanda in Gokul where Yashoda had given birth to a daughter. Vishnu asked Vasudev to exchange his son for Yashoda’s daughter and return to the prison.

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Devaki gave birth to Krishna at midnight on ashtami or the eighth day of the month Bhadrapad. Legend has it that the prison doors opened automatically and guards mysteriously fell asleep. Vasudev carried the child and left the prison. As he approached the banks of the river Yamuna, the overflowing river parted for Krishna. Vasudev carried Krishna high over his head and five headed serpent positioned its hood over the child to protect him from the rain.  Vasudev reached Nanda’s house, kept Krishna in the cradle and returned to Mathura with Yashoda’s daughter. The next morning, people of Gokul congratulated Nanda on the birth of a beautiful male child. In Mathura, Kamsa rushed to the prison after hearing about the birth of Devaki’s eighth child. As Kamsa tried to kill the child, she rose to the sky and transformed into goddess Yogmaya. She disappeared after telling Kamsa that his nemesis has already born and is somewhere else.

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Krishna grew up as Nanda’s child and returned to Mathura several years later with his adopted brother Balram to kill Kamsa. He declared Ugrasen as the king of Mathura and liberated his parents, Devaki and Vasudev, from the prison cell.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN INDIA: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN INDIA

Much of Janmashtami celebrations include staying up till midnight (at times throughout the night), fasting, dancing, offering prayers, singing hymns in praise of and worshipping Krishna. At midnight, an idol or image of infant Krishna is bathed in milk, dressed in colourful clothes and placed in a cradle. Devotees rock the cradle amidst the sound of bells and conch shells. Sweets are distributed to celebrate the birth of Krishna. Devotees also recite hymns and listen to tales of the birth of Krishna. Although the entire country celebrates Janmashtami, the celebration at Mathura and Vrindavan is very special. On the occasion of Janmashtami, temples and homes are decorated and hymns from Bhagvad Gita are sung. These are some of the places you must visit to experience different flavours of Janmashtami celebration.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN MATHURA: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN MATHURA

Mathura finds mention in the Hindu epic Mahabharata thanks to its most famous son, Krishna. Indeed, the birthplace of Krishna is known as much for its culture as it is for its heritage. Along with Avantika, Kanchi, Ayodhya, Puri, Dwarka and Kashi, Mathura is one of the sites that grant moksha or salvation to the pilgrims visiting it. While Mathura is closely linked with Krishna the city is as sacred to the Buddhists and Jains as it is to the Hindus. Two of the most popular festivals of Mathura include Holi and Janmashtami. The Holi celebrations of Barsana, some 27 km from Mathura, are unique in it that they involve women beating up men (who hold up shields to protect themselves) in a tradition that has come to be called.

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But Janmashtami is clearly the biggest and the most popular festival of the city. Even as the entire country celebrates Janmashtami, the celebrations at Mathura, Krishna’s birthplace, are special. The grand celebrations in Mathura include religious plays called Ras Leela. Ras Leelas are dramatic enactment of events from Krishna’s life. The main theme of these plays is Krishna’s love for Radha. It depicts the youthful days of Krishna and his flirtatious nature. Krishna Jhakis are also organised in Mathura. These colourful shows also portray the life of Krishna. Mud figurines of Krishna are made and displayed across the city. Usually, scenes from Krishna’s life are displayed using these figurines.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN VRINDAVAN: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN VRINDAVAN

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Located at 11km North of Mathura, Vrindavan is another place you must visit to witness a beautiful celebration. Vrindavan is where Krishna spent his childhood stealing butter and people’s hearts. Janmashtami celebrations in Vrindavan begin ten days prior to the date of Janmashtami. Ras Leelas are performed on this day. Temples perform various aarti and pooja to worship Krishna. The whole town becomes alive with the sound of bells and bhajans. Devotees from all over the world visit the holy town of Vrindavan on Janmashtami.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN MAHARASHTRA: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN MAHARASHTRA

In Maharashtra, Janmashtami is celebrated in a unique way, by hanging dahi handi high above the ground. People form a human pyramid to break the dahi handi, basically an earthen pot filled with curd, milk, water and fruits. The people who form the human pyramid are called govindas. Dahi Handi celebrates the mischievous and playful side of Krishna. According to legend, Krishna, when he was a child, formed human pyramid with his friends to break pots filled with curd or butter hanging from the ceilings of houses in the neighbourhood. He used to steal the butter or curd that would be hung from the ceiling and distribute among his friends. Krishna was raised in Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh and the city was ruled by his evil uncle Kamsa. Under his rule, people were forced to give all the milk products and farm produce to the king. Krishan used to distribute the milk products among the children of Vrindavan. The practice of Dahi Handi owes its origins to this legend.

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The decorated dahi handi is a common scene in Mumbai and Pune.  The event also includes a cash prize to the winning team. The prize money depends on the sponsors and organisers. It usually ranges from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 12 lakh (occasionally even more). Usually, the pyramid consists of less than nine tiers and three attempts are given to break the pot. The person on the top of the human pyramid tries to break the pot using a blunt object. As the pot breaks, the buttermilk and curd from the pot spill over the group. Thousands of people gather to watch this spectacle every year. To make this event more lively and competitive, people splash water on the group attempting to break the pot.

Thane, on the outskirts of Mumbai is one of the popular places to watch dahi handi. With every passing year, the scale of celebration and the amount of prize increase due to the event’s commercialization, increasing competition and the involvement of political parties. Local political parties including the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) actively participate in this festival and sponsor the prize money. Popular celebrities from the Marathi film industry and Bollywood also participate in these events and add to the glamour quotient. For food measure, some mandals use the occasion to spread socially relevant messages.  Marathi culture is the main focus of MNS and Shiv Sena. At dahi handi event in Thane in 2012, Jai Jawan Govinda Pathak, a mandal from Jogeshwari entered the Guinness World Record for making a nine-tier human pyramid of 43.79 feet.

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Other major places to watch dahi handi in Mumbai are the former cloth mill areas of Dadar, Lalbaug and Lower Parel as well as the south Mumbai dock district of Mazgaon. By some estimates, around 2,000govindas compete for more than 4,000handis in Mumbai every year.

The Supreme Court has placed a ban on the participation of youth below the age of 18 in the ritual of dahi handi and limiting the height of the human pyramid to just 20 ft.

In Pune, Babu Genu and Mandai areas host popular dahi handi celebrations. Dahi handi events are also held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Tamil Nadu also hosts a similar practice, though it called Uriyadi. The event is held in Varahur, which is located 30km from Thanjavur. Participants of uriyadi dress up as cowherd and try to break a pot filled with eatables. The pot is tied to a slippery pole and one has to climb the pole to reach it.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN TAMIL NADU: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN TAMIL NADU

People in Tamil Nadu draw elaborate kolam (decorative pattern) on the floor of their house and tiny foot prints of Krishna entering the house. The footprints continue from the threshold of the house to the altar. Another popular ritual followed on this day is recitation of Bhagwad Gita. People also sing devotional songs like Geeta Govindam. Krishna is offered butter, betel, fruits and other sweet dishes. People observe fast and eat only after pooja at midnight. Idol of Krishna is placed in a decorated swing and is rocked gently. Also, the youngest male child of the family is dressed like Krishna.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN DWARKA: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN DWARKA

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It is said that Dwarka, located in Gujarat, was Krishna’s kingdom. Legends suggest that Krishna lived here for about five thousand years and after his death, the city submerged into Arabian Sea. Needless to say, the present day city of Dwarka is popular for its Janmashtami celebration. The city comes alive during this festival with chants, ringing of bells and sound conch shells. Thousands of people visit Dwarka to witness the celebration of Krishna’s birth. The celebration starts with aarti at 11 pm and at midnight.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN MANIPUR: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN MANIPUR

When you think of Janmashtami celebrations, Manipur isn’t a name that would typically pop in your head. Even so the isolated northeast state of India celebrates the birth of Krishna in a grand manner. Manipur has a strong history of Vaishnavism (the sect that follows Vishnu, whose incarnation Krishna is). But Manipuris choose to worship not just Krishna alone but rather with his consort Radha. Vaishnavism is widely followed in the state which has a large Christian population to the extent that almost every village has a Krishna temple.

The history of modern Vaishnava practices in Manipur can be traced back to Kyamaba, the King of Manipur who received an image of a Vishnu chakra (or disc) as a gift around the 1470s. It was soon after this that the king began worshipping Vishnu (and in effect Krishna) and the rest of his subjects followed. Soon, Manipur began to attract Brahmin priests of the Vaishnava sect from all over the country who settled here. The king even commissioned the construction of a Vishnu temple. By the early 1700s, Vaishnavism had become the state religion. One king after another was initiated into Vaishnavism and Krishna became a particularly popular god in this part of the country.

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Most Janmashtami celebrations in Manipur are similar to the ones across the country. Devotees observe fasts, visit temples and seek blessings. On the day of Janmashtami, Manipur sees several Ras Leela performances. These performances, like every other, narrate the story of Krishna’s birth and his exploits (or leelas) but they are like no other Ras Leela you would have seen. Performed in the Manipuri dance tradition, these Ras Leelas are unique to watch.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN JAIPUR: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN JAIPUR

The main celebration of Janmashtami is seen at Krishna Balaram temple and Govind Devji temple. Krishna Balaram temple is located in Jaipur city and is similar to the Krishna Balaram temple in Vrindavan. Thousands of devotees flocked to the city to witness the inauguration of the temple in 2012. Govind Devji temple, which is dedicated to Govind Dev Ji or Krishna, is located inside the City Palace complex in Jaipur. The main image of Krishna was brought to Jaipur by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II from Vrindavan. If the legends are to be believed, the images of Krishna in Govind Devji temple looks exactly how Krishna looked when he roamed the earth. It is believed that the image was made by the great grandson of Krishna, Bajranabh. Bajranabh asked his grandmother (daughter-in-law of Lord Krishna) to describe how Krishna looked and created the image that looked exactly like him. Janmashtami is an important festival at this temple. On Janmashtami, idol or image of Krishna is bathed and decorated with beautiful clothes and jewellery. People visit these temples to celebrate the festival and offer prayers.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN ANDRA PRADESH: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN ANDRA PRADESH

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Like other states, Andhra Pradesh also celebrates Janmashtami with great devotion. The festival is celebrated by reciting devotional songs and shlokas dedicated to Krishna. Young boys in Andhra Pradesh dress up like Krishna and visit the neighbours. People perform pooja and offer different types of sweets and fruits to Krishna. As there are only few Krishna temples in Andhra Pradesh, people worship paintings of Krishna and not an idol.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN UDUPI: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN UDUPI

Udupi Sri Krishna Matha is the most popular Krishna temple in Udupi. Founded by saint Madhwacharya in the 13th century, the temple, is like a living ashram.  It is surrounded by several other temples. As per legends, the idol of Krishna in the temple was found by Madhwacharya on a ship. This idol is placed Pashchimabhimukha (facing West) in the temple. One of most unique traditions of this temple is that devotees have to worship Krishna through a window with nine holes. This exquisitely carved window is called Navagraha Kitiki. During Janmashtami, the temple resonates with chants and ringing bells. The festival is celebrated in Udupi by bathing the idol of Krishna in milk or water. Special sweets like laddus are offered to Krishna. To mark this day, various cultural events are held across the town. People perform Leelotsav, tiger dance and various plays depicting the life of Krishna.

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JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN KERALA: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN KERALA

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Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The festival is celebrated with utmost devotion in Kerala. Special dishes like palpaysam and appam are offered to Krishna on this day. On this day, people attend the rituals and pooja performed at Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple, which is one of the most famous temples in Kerala. Located in Guruvayur town, the temple is often called Bhuloka Vaikunta, which means the ‘Holy Abode of Vishnu on Earth’. The main idol of Krishna has four arms carrying a lotus, the mace kaumodaki, Sudarshan chakra and the conch Panchajanya. The temple is also called ‘Dwarka of South India’ as the idol of the temple represents the form of Vishnu that was seen by Devaki and Vasudev around the time of the birth of Krishna. Janmashtami is an important festival at Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple and is celebrated with great devotion.

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JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN GOA: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN GOA

Although we think Goa as a Christian state, the state has a large Hindu population. Goa is as popular for its temples as its churches. The state is associated with Yadavas, the clan to which Krishna belonged. One of the unique temples in Goa is the Devaki Krishna temple. Located in the town of Marcel, which lies 17 km from Panaji, it is the only temple in India where Krishna and Devaki are worshipped together. Along with Devakikrishna, the temple has idols of Dhada Shankar, Chodaneshwar, Katyayani, Mallinath, Laxmi Ravalnath and Bhumika Devi. All these deities were earlier located at Choodamani island, which is the present day Chorao island. During the Portuguese inquisition, the idols were shifted from Choodamani to Mayem to Marcel. The idol of Devakikrishna is placed in the inner sanctum of the temple. The idol is carved out of black stone and has a particular pose with Devaki in standing position and little Krishna between her legs. The temple celebrates Janmashtami on a grand scale. People visit Devaki Krishna temple to celebrate the festival.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONSAT ISKCON: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED AT ISKCON

For International Society for Krishna Conscience (ISKCON), Janmashtami is the most important festival. This is one of the places in India you should visit to be part of the celebration. The birth of Krishna is celebrated with great devotion by the temple. Preparations for the celebration start well ahead of the date. The temple is cleaned and decorated for the occasion. The altar and the hall of the temple are decorated with flowers and lights. All the lamps, which will be used for the puja, are polished. The offering made on Janmashtami is one of the main events during the celebration of Janmashtami. A total of 108 different food items are prepared and offered to the idol of Krishna. These offerings are usually prepared by devotees. From sweets to savouries, everything is prepared to offer to the idol and then for distributing it to the devotees who come to the temple for darshan on this auspicious day. The ceremonial bathing of Krishna idol is another important event. The water, which will be used for the ceremonial bathing is sanctified using saffron, cardamom, tulasi leaves, cloves and rose petals. A kalash is decorated with coconut, leaves and threads. Various arrangements are made to take care of the visitors who will be coming to the temple on this auspicious day. The top ISKCON temples of India include ISKCON Bangalore, ISKCON Vrindavan, ISKCON Delhi, ISKCON Mumbai, ISKCON Pune, ISKCON Ahmadabad, ISKCON Jaipur, ISKCON Imphal and ISKCON Pandarpur.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN BANGLADESH: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN BANGLADESH

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Janmashtami in Bangladesh is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Dhakeshwari temple in Dhaka is the main venue for the celebration. A procession starts from the temple and proceeds through Old Dhaka streets. The procession resumed in 1989 after it was discontinued in 1948 following the formation of Pakistan and riots in Dhaka.

JANMASHTAMI CELEBRATIONS IN NEPAL: HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN NEPAL

In Nepal, around 80 per cent of the population is Hindu and Janmashtami is an important festival there. People observe fasting and visit Krishna temple on this day. They recite hymns from Bhagvad Geeta and sing devotional songs dedicated to Krishna. Narayanhiti Krishna Mandir,Krishna Mandir located at Patan Durbar Square and other Krishna temples are the places where main event is held on Janmashtami. People chant the many names of Krishna and offer food and flower to the main idol of the temple.

Other countries: Janmashtami is celebrated in countries like Tobago, Fiji, Trinidad and Guyana as the Hindus living in these countries were originally from Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. They are also the descendants of immigrants from Orissa, Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

 HOW JANMASHTAMI IS CELEBRATED IN INDIAN HOMES

Janmashtami is the celebration of Krishna’s birth on this earth, so call your family and friendS over to participate in the pooja and rituals.

Preparations: First and foremost, clean your home and decorate it using flowers and garlands for the arrival of Krishna. Get beautiful new dresses for the idol. Decorate and prepare the altar for abhishek or bathing of the idol with milk and water. Keep ghee, honey, flowers, curd and fruits ready for offering. Prepare sweet dishes and other food items to offer it to Krishna during the pooja.

Rituals: The celebration starts with bathing the idol of Krishna with milk and water. Dress up the idol in new clothes and jewellery. After that, you can have midnight aarti. Offer the food items, flowers and other item to Krishna. Read stories of Krishna’s life and hymns from Bhagwad Geeta.

Janmashtami fasting is observed till the next day. You can break the fast sunrise the next day when Rohini Nakshatra and Ashtami Tithi are over. During the fast, one should not consume grain. The rules for Janmashtami fasting is same as the Ekadashi fasting.

After Janmashtami, Nandotsav is celebrated in some parts of the country. It is a festival that celebrates the event when Nanda in Gokul distributed sweets in honour of the birth of Krishna.

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