Madhav Dave – NHSF (UK) Learning Team
17th August 2014 (Shraavana Vad 8)
Krsna Janmashtami or Gokulastami is the Jayanti or appearance day of Lord Shri Krsna, the eighth of avatara of Lord Visnu. Observed on the eighth day (Astami) of the dark half of the month of Shravan, this festival is widely celebrated across India since Shri Krsna is one of the most well recognised and worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon of Gods. Under the constellation of Rohini, the Lord incarnated to fulfil His purpose as described in the Bhagavad Gita 4.7/8:
yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata (7)
sambhavami yuge yuge (8)
Meaning: “whenever there is a decline in Dharma and evil predominates, I incarnate to vanquish evil and re-establish dharma”.
Often worshipped as the most glorious, beautiful and perfect incarnation of Lord Visnu, Shri Krsna restored dharma by killing His demonic uncle Kamsa, and by helping the Pandavas defeat the cruel Duryodhana. Shri Krsna radiates a profound glory and divine love so that merely chanting His name or hearing of His pastimes brings deep bliss and joy to His devotees.
Birth of Shri Krsna
On the banks of the river Yamuna, in the capital city of the Vrsni dynasty, Mathura, Shri Krsna was born to Devaki and Vasudeva. Devaki was the niece of the King, Ugrasen, who also had an evil and rotten minded son named Kamsa. The King gave his niece’s hand in marriage to Vasudeva, a devout and saintly man of the Yadu dynasty.
The wedding was a grand and lavish one. Overjoyed at Devaki’s wedding, Kamsa took the reins of the golden chariot that carried the newly wedded couple. Suddenly, the heavens were torn by a voice that proclaimed “Kamsa, fool the eight child of your sister will slay you!”
In his wrath, Kamsa grabbed Devaki’s hair with one hand, and with the other unsheathed his sword to kill her, when Vasudeva begged his cruel brother in law for mercy, accepting imprisonment instead. Vasudeva promised to hand over all of their children at birth, and accepting this, Kamsa locked away the couple and in time killed six of their newly born infants. He had his father taken away and made himself King, and started to terrorise the people who prayed to be freed from Kamsa’s tyranny.
The seventh child was due to be born. Lord Visnu instructed Sheshnaga, the King of the Serpents and servant of the Lord to take birth. By instructing His divine powers, Lord Visnu transferred the child into the womb of Rohini, who was another one of Vasudeva’s wife and lived in Gokula. There, on Raksha Bandhan, Sheshnaga incarnated Himself as Shri Krsna’s older brother Balabhadra, also called Baladeva or Balarama because of His phenomenal strength. Everyone thought that Devaki had miscarried, but in fact the child was safe in Gokula.
It was time for the eighth child to be born. With the disappearance of the seventh, Kamsa was increasingly anxious and fearful, keeping his sister under strict surveillance. As the eighth day approached, the heavens opened pouring forth their rain, and the Yamuna swelled. All celestial beings rejoiced and the air was overflowing with sweet anticipation and excitement for the birth of Bhagavan. At midnight, Shri Krsna was born with the brilliance of a thousand suns emanating from His beautiful and divine form. The guards were put under a mysterious spell by the Lord and the doors of the prison cell opened. Vasudeva carried the radiant child on his head, and accompanied by Sheshnaga, he crossed the violent Yamuna River which made way for him as he walked. Vasudeva came to the house of his friend, Nanda, where his wife Yashoda had a daughter sleeping beside her. Everyone was asleep, and so Vasudeva left Krsna, and took the girl back with him, shackling himself back into the cell.
As morning broke, Kamsa heard of the birth and rushed in to kill the eighth child. Devaki pleaded with him, but Kamsa did not listen, snatching the girl from Devaki by her legs to smash to Her against a stone. As he picked Her up, She slipped from his hands and ascended into the sky taking the form of an eight armed and fearsome Goddess. She roared “Kamsa, you fool! The eighth child, the one who will slay you, has already taken birth and is safe elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, in Gokula the apparent birth of a son at Nanda’s home was celebrated joyously, and the whole town was immersed in blissful festivities, all mesmerised by the divine child that Yashoda had bore. Shri Krsna grew up with His adopted parents Nanda and Yashoda in Gokula and in time He returned to Mathura to kill Kamsa with His brother Balarama.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krsna states that He resides within the hearts of all, and so Janmastami isn’t just about His literal birth, but a reminder to instil Him within our hearts, to light the spark of the spiritual ideal that is Shri Krsna. He is the source of all kinds of bliss, and so by establishing our head and heart in Him, we can achieve lasting happiness.
Celebration of Janmashtami
Culturally, the festival is celebrated by devotees worldwide, particularly in shrines in Vrindavan, Mathura,andDwarka for example. The festival is also celebrated as ‘Dahi handi’ (meaning a pot full of curd), where men and boys will form a human pyramid to reach and break a pot hanging from a rope containing curd. Some devotees dress up and sing Shri Krsna’s holy names or hear of His divine pastimes. Others may perform folk dances such as raas, and cook sumptuous delicacies infused with devotion and fervour to offer to Shri Krsna. On this night, Bhagavan is worshipped in the form of ‘Lalji’, an infant, and is seated on a swing. Makhan is especially made since Shri Krsna was so fond of it as a child, and throughout the streets of India, the air is heavy with the chanting of the auspicious names of Bhagavan.
Spiritual joy is superior to mental or emotional joy, which is greater than physical joy. And so, all three are integrated in this festival and its true meaning becomes apparent: “Shri Krsnaarpanamastu”– let everything be offered to Shri Krsna!
Jai Shri Krishna!