Lord Sri Krishna was born on the ‘Rohini’ nakshatram (star) on Ashtami day. The festival Sri Krishna Jayanti is also known as Gokulashtami and Janmashtam. The actual day of celebration can be on two different days as the star ‘Rohini’ and Ashtami may not be on the same day. This occurs between August and September on the Christian calendar.
According to traditional sources, the Janmashtami is observed on the day when the ashtami tithi occurs at midnight. If the ashtami tithi AND the Rohini nakshatra occur on the same day, then the observance is considered to be doubly sacred; otherwise the observance is held on the day on which the ashtami prevails at midnight. The vrata mainly consists of fasting, spending the whole night in the worship of Krishna, reciting hymns of praise and Krishna’s pastimes, reciting prayers from the Bhagavata, offering arghya to Krishna, and the parana or the ceremonial breaking of the fast. The next day is celebrated as Krishna Jayanti.
Celebrations are held on a grand scale in all Krishna temples, especially the ones in Vrindavan, Mathura (Uttar Pradesh), Dvaraka (Gujarat), and other regionally famous temples.
Sri Krishna is Lord Vishnu’s eighth avatar (incarnation) on earth. He is considered to be the Lord’s most glorious incarnations. Even saying and remembering His name brings joy because Sri Krishna himself was a manifestation of joy at all levels and in all walks of life. No other God in the Hindu pantheon, or for that matter in any other religion, is associated with so many romantic tales and so fully radiating with all the divine attributes as Sri Krishna.
Since Sri Krishna lived in luxury throughout his life, Sri Krishna Jayanti is celebrated with pomp and splendor. Plenty of sweets are made. Among these are laddus (yellu oonde), chakli, cheedai, payasam (kheer), and so on. In addition, plenty of milk products especially butter, which was Sri Krishna’s favorite childhood food, are given in offerings. A wide variety of fruits are also offered. The most common sweets made laddus and payasam.
Great indeed are his many Leelas and the way in which he charms one and all. Several sages and seers have paid homage to him. Narada, Sri Kulashekara Azhwar, Andal, Tirumangai Azhawar, Nammazhwar have sung glorious verses in praise of Lord Krishna who embodies Shudda Satvam. The Bhagavad Gita coming from the Lord is the absolute truth which has withstood the test of time and has formed the basis and inspiration for many Acharyas and Azhwars.
The life and message of Sri Krishna is the most stirring saga of one of the greatest saviours and propounders of Dharma. Born in the dungeons of Kamsa who was out to kill him at the very moment of his birth, Sri Krishna’s life is replete with many such mortal dangers which he successfully triumphs over. He was the unchallenged hero of his times both in terms of his bodily prowess and his intellectual brilliance.
The story of how he killed, one after another, all the demonic adversaries – Pootanaa, Shakata, Agha, Dhenuka, Baka, Keshi and a number of others – even in his infancy, signalled the advent of a peerless saviour of mankind. He also liquidated the wicked kings like Kamsa and Shishupala and got vanquished the terrorizing Jaraasandha and Kaalayavana. His role in the historic Kurukshetrawar in humbling the arrogant and despotic Kauravas and crowning the just and noble Paandavas, finally earned him the unchallenged position of Dharma Samshaapaka – the establisher of Dharma.
A striking feature of his character was his supreme detachment to power. Though he had personally destroyed many an evil ruler, he never coveted those kingdoms for himself. He installed the next of king as the rightful heirs in those places. And he himself remained utterly simple and unassuming till the very last. After the killing of Kamsa, he chose for himself a menial task like the receptionist at the court of Ugrasena whom he himself had installed as the king of Mathura. Himself a king and known all over the land as the mightiest and the wisest on the face of the earth, he however mixed freely with one and all. He embraced his old, poor friend Sudaama and ate with extreme relish the dry beaten rice offered by him and left him endowed with rich presents.
This was indeed a wonderfully rare, inborn trait with him. He mingled freely with the cowherd boys and girls in the Nandagokula and they loved him more than their life for his charming manners and heroic exploits. he subdued Kaaliya, the dreaded seven-headed King Cobra. Once he protected the Nandagokula against the wrath of Indra himself. Indra, growing jealous of Krishna’s superiority, had brought down rains in torrents and the entire area was threatened by deluge. Sri Krishna called his cowherd playmates and asked them to apply their little fingers to the adjoining Govardhana mountain and raise it up – he himself taking the major burden.
And lo, the mountain went up and acted as an umbrella over the Nandagokula. Indra conceded defeat and Krishna’s unchallenged superiority was established. How beautifully the story depicts Krishna as a born organizer of men who could inspire even boys with a high purpose and for superhuman efforts!
The towering genius of Sri Krishna lies in a particularly baffling aspect of his personality. This relates to some of his apparently outrageous violations of the prescribed code of conduct. A strange anecdote in his life helps us to unravel this enigma. When all the children of Paandavas were killed by Ashwatthaama and even the child in the womb of Uttara, the wife Abhimanyu, was killed by him, Sri Krishna came forward to save the progeny of Paadavas by breathing life back into that still born child. Sri Krishna’s utterance at that moment makes strange reading: “May this child come to life, if I have observed brahmacharya, if I have stuck to truth and if my wealth of virtues has never diminished.” And of course, the child came to life and became the future king of Bharatavarsha, Parikshita. Sri Krishna had indeed uttered falsehoods so many times, had broken his pledges, had wives and even `married’ 16,000 ladies! But still none of these actions violated the truth of his statement. The inference is that he did all these actions in a spirit of supreme detachment, motivated only with the highest goal of safeguarding Dharma.
Sri Krishna himself often affirms this role of his while he explains to Arjuna the intricacies of the highest spiritual philosophy. At one place he says that he was engaged incessantly in worldly actions only for the welfare and sustenance of society, though he himself had no need or desire to be satisfied by the society. On another occasion he assures that he would take birth whenever Dharma declines and Adharma rises its ugly head. He declares his role as the protector of the good and the holy and the destroyer of the unholy and the wicked, and as the establisher of righteousness.
The parabramhan as Sriman Narayana was manifested in Sri Krishna – the adorable son of Devaki and Vasudeva. The word Krishna itself refers to the causal force of all divine and joyful works (Sarva devata karyam karoti iti va Krishnaha). At the same time, Krishna also refers to the causal force which destroys the demonic energies and removes ignorance (Daityan karshayati iti va Krishnaha).
Sri Krishna personified in himself all the various Divine Paths – the Bhakti, the Jnaana and the Karma to reach the highest goal of God-realization. And his personal example gave authority to the great gospel he preached to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It is said of Bhagavadgita, “The Upanishads are the Cow, Krishna the milker, Partha the calf, and nectar of Gita, the milk.” No other scriptural text propounds all the various paths to Divinity in such a profound and yet so concise and easily intelligible manner to the commoner as the Bhagavadgita. The setting of the Gita is also wonderfully unique, Kurukshetra representing the eternal battlefield in the human soul.
With all his superhuman qualities and achievements, Sri Krishna never appeared distant to any of his fellow human beings. In fact he was dearer to them than their own nearest kith and kin. He was ideal in all his human relationships – a darling son to his parents, an endearing friend and comrade, a devoted disciple, a loving husband and a trusted brother. The shadow of his greatness never marred these bonds of the heart.
After preaching the sublime teachings of Bhagavadgita and manifesting his awe-inspiring Vishwaroopa to Arjuna, he remained his bosom friend as ever before. That was his unique trait even as a tiny tot. Once, Yashoda – the foster-mother – learnt that her child Krishna had eaten mud. She was alarmed and asked him to open his mouth. But when Krishna did so, she was stunned to see illimitable universes dancing in the little cavity of his mouth. However, her shock of coming face to face with Divinity Incarnate didnot last long. Again, the child Krishna cast his spell with his mischievousness, and remained the adored child of Yashoda as before.
Sri Krishna Jayanti, therefore, signifies not merely the birth of a great and Divine Teacher of mankind in some distant past but the lighting of the spark of the Divine Power in every one of us, which spurs us on to play our dynamic part in this world of practical and hard realities with a sense of high spiritual purpose.
Krishna represents the total power of attraction (Aakarshna Shakti) like a magnet of infinite rise. Hence Krishna is the source of joy. Any festival in the Hindu context generally has three aspects namely philosophical, religious and cultural. The integration of the three gives spiritual joy.
The philosophical aspects deal with the knowledge of the personality behind the festival, Sri Krishna, who is Sanatana Dharma itself. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning and purpose of life. The great Bhishma in Vishnu Sahasranama (the 1000 names of Vishnu) relates the attributes of Vishnu in front of Sri Krishna, as both Vishnu and Krishna are essentially one and the same.
The religious aspects deal with the ritualistic details: the corresponding worship, chanting and recitation. Sri Krishna’s idol is formally worshipped through Vedic chanting and stotras or hymns. Since Lord Krishna was born at midnight, symbolizing light dispelling darkness, the worshipping is done in the late evening hours. The mantapam or structure built to house the Lord, is elaborately decorated with fruits and thindis (snacks) and flowers, representing sensory joy.
The cultural aspects are represented by the traditionally dressed devotees. The raas or dance is also done with devotees taking part with spiritual fervor. Sri Krishna who manifests all levels of joy, is also the source of spiritual joy, which overrides mental or emotional joy, just as emotional joy overrides physical joy. If all the three are integrated and interdependent, then the observance of the festival takes on the full meaning of Sri Krishnaarpanamastu – let everything be offered to Sri Krishna.