'Haathi Ghoda Palki Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki'!
You must have heard this many times!
You know 'Shri Krishna Janmashtami' is around the corner, when such beautiful devotional phrases and slogans run in the air. You can't really miss the festive fervour and delight when Krishna bhakts (devotees) swing you in their stride while chanting 'Jai Shree Krishna'. India is a country where diverse religions, cultures and ethnicities co-exist peacefully (or at least I would still like to believe we do). Lord Krishna holds an important place in our hearts, and it is essential to trace how this day of 'Krishna Janmashtami' is celebrated across the country.
Let's try and map the entire trajectory of how and why 'ladoo Gopal's' followers celebrate this day. Krishna was born in the Shravana month of the Hindu calendar. The basic feature to mark the annual celebration of 'Janmashtami' is 'fasting'. The followers of Krishna usually observe fast on this day and stay up till midnight—the time when the Lord is believed to have been born. The moment when the clock clicks 12, the happiness and excitement on the faces of Krishna bhakts is unmistakable.
The entire bevy of followers observing the fast, break it only after feeding the Lord, either with fruits or with curd, honey and sugar (considered auspicious). Then devotional bhajans and songs are sung praising the lord and welcoming him into this world. Devotees of the Lord line up outside temples only to catch a glimpse of their <i>Kanha</i>. The Bhagavad Gita is read in full-bloom and the entire temple throngs with the sound of claps. In Delhi, Birla Mandir, the ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple and Akshardham temple witnesses Krishna-birthday preparations days ahead of the actual D-day.
In Vrindavan and Mathura, it is one of the main festivals, as the latter happens to be the place where Kanhaiya was born. The holy town of Vrindavan has the famous 'Bankey Bihari' temple, where Indians as well as several foreigners can be spotted there singing the 'Jhule Lal' mantra. One of the most highlighted events of this day is the 'Rasleela', which is celebrated with devotional fervour in the holy city of Vrindavan. 'Rasleela' is a form of devotional dance which Gopis (the ardent Krishna lovers) performed with the lord. Each of the Gopis believed that Krishna was her lover and imagined him by her side during the dance.
The entire city gets started with the festivities a week before the actual day. There are various plays and Rasleelas, where professional artists dressed as Lord Krishna and Radha dance, sing and make merry. Besides, 'Banke Bihari' temple, other famous ones in Vrindavan are—Rangnathji Temple, Shri Krishna Balram Temple, Radharaman Temple, ISCKON Temple to name a few.
In Maharashtra, the festival is no less important. The Gokulashtami goes by the name of 'Dahi Handi' in Maharashtra, which sees 'Govindas' or the youth brigade forming humans pyramids to crack the 'Handi' and chant 'Govinda Govinda'! Famous 'Dahi Handi' competitions draw people in hundreds and thousands. There are in fact dedicated teams or mandals, which practice hard to break the 'handi'— sometimes earning lakhs of rupees if they win.
In the Eastern states of India, the festival of 'Krishna Janmashtami' is celebrated with equal élan and spirit. In Manipur, it is called 'Krishan Janma'. The Hindus in Imphal are ardent Krishna followers and celebrate this day with lots of vigour and devotion. The Govindaji temple and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness temple are the two main centres where festivities are in full swing.
The festive mood of 'Janmashtami' is similar in the rest of the states as well. Interestingly, our neighbouring countries - Nepal, Bangladesh and even in some parts of Pakistan (yes, it's true) Krishna's birthday is celebrated with high spirits and echoes the same devotional feeling engrained in their fellow Hindu brothers and sisters in India.
There is a very ancient temple in Pakistan, called the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Karachi, where bhajans are sung remembering the lord. After all, when Krishna is around, there is no place for fear or hatred. The god of love, who had many wives (people usually talk about Rukmini and the beautiful lover Radha more), engulfs everyone who aspire to enjoy the festival of happiness and triumph.
'Radhey Radhey kheechey chale ayengey bihari'— sing along loud!