One of India’s most popular festivals- Janmashtami- is celebrated through the years with immense zest and fervour, to commemorate the birth of Lord Krishna- the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The legend of this festival basically revolves around the birth of Lord Krishna with the purpose of getting the world rid of evil sources.
It was back in the ‘Dwapar Yug’ (almost 5000 years ago), when Mathura, which is the birth city of Sri Krishna, was ruled by King Ugrasen. He had a son, Kansa and a daughter Devaki. Kansa, who was selfish and wicked by nature, took over the throne, by imprisoning his father. It was on the day of his sister’s wedding to Vasudeva-one of the highly ranked officials in his army- that a heavenly voice predicted that Devaki’s eighth son will kill him. Scared by this prophecy, Kansa locked up the newlyweds in the prison. He succeeded in killing six newborns of Devaki, as the seventh child was transferred from Devaki’s womb to Rohini’s- Vasudeva’s first wife-and was born as Balarama. But Kansa thought that Devaki had a miscarriage.
Looking at Vasudev and Devaki’s dilemma, Lord Vishnu appeared before them and promised them that he would come and free people of Mathura from the cruel hands of Kansa. It is said that Lord Krishna was born on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) of the month of Bhadrapada. Lord Krishna’s birth was followed by an array of miraculous events. Soon after the birth, all the guards and soldiers had fallen into a deep slumber, following which the prison gates opened. Vasudeva- in a sub-conscious state- along with his newborn left for Gokul. It was said to be raining heavily and Vasudeva carried Lord Krishna in a basket above his head, while crossing the river Yamuna. He reached the cowherd chief Nanda’s house in Gokula, where Nanda’s wife Yashoda had delivered a baby girl that night. Vasudeva exchanged the baby and went back to the Mathura jail with the baby girl, and no one got to know about it.
On hearing the birth of the eighth child, Kansa rushed to kill the girl child. As usual, he didn’t give an ear to his sister’s endless pleas to let go of her baby. And just when he was about to bang the child’s head on the wall, the child vanished into thin air and warned Kansa that his assassin is born and is in Gokul. Lord Krishna was raised up by his foster parents Nanda and Yashoda in Gokul, and later, he killed his evil uncle Kansa. Thereon, Janmashtami is celebrated annually to commemorate the holy deeds of Lord Krishna.
The festival is celebrated throughout the length and breadth of the country with utmost enthusiasm. It lasts for two days; where on the day before Janmashtami devotees fast and sing praises to Lord Krishna, which continues till midnight. An idol of baby Krishna is placed in a cradle and worshipped. People continue to sing devotional songs and dance at midnight- which is said to be the time when Lord Krishna was born. It is at this time when, people break their fast. Some of the places where this festival is celebrated in highest spirits are: Mathura, Vrindavan and Dwaraka.
On Janmashtami, the sport- Dahi Handi/Govinda takes place especially in places like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu. This game, which celebrates Krishna`s playful and notorious side, involves young men who form a tower to hit the pot full of curd or buttermilk, which is usually, hung high in the air with the help of a rope. Apart from Dahi Handi, a divine play called Rasa Lila is enacted in the cities of Vrindavan and Mathura to celebrate various parts of Krishna’s life. Besides India, this festival is also celebrated by devotees of Krishna in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Lord Krishna, who generates high respect and admiration from Hindus, is worshipped this day and remembered this day-as a protector, a good friend and a teacher.