This is the most important festival when Hindus celebrate the birth day of Lord Krishn. Janmashtami is to Hindus what Christmas is to Christians. The word Janmashtami is a combination of two words- Janma means birth and Ashtami means the eighth day. The Ashtami refers to the eighth day of the dark fortnight of the month of Bhadraprada (August/September) when Krishn was born. It would be a futile effort to pinpoint the year of his birth since the historicity of Hinduism itself is a highly controversial issue. However, some historians say that he lived around 900 B.C. while some Hindu scholars believe that he was born about 5200 years ago, and lived for 125 years. Krishn was born at midnight when his father Vasudev and mother Devaki were in prison. Devaki’s demon-like brother Kans, the king of Mathura, had imprisoned them after it was prophesied that their eighth son would be his killer. The wicked Kans killed Devaki’s seven infants soon after their birth. It is believed that when Krishn was born, miraculously, the prison guards were sleeping and the prison gate was ajar. Vasudev secretly took Krishn to his friend Nand and, in return, brought Nand’s newly born daughter to the prison. The next morning the cruel Kans came to the prison and killed the baby girl. When Kans discovered that his would-be killer had escaped, he ordered his soldiers to kill all newly born baby boys in his kingdom. However, Krishna’s foster parents, Nand and Yashoda, smuggled him out to the nearby village Vrandavan. Krishn grew up as their cowherd son, and performed many miracles at a very tender age. After foiling Kans’s many plots to kill him, eventually, Krishn slew him in a face-to-face encounter. The litany of young Krishn’s adventures, miracles and exploits is too long to narrate here.
Most Hindus consider Krishn as the eighth Avatar or the incarnation of God who came to this earth to destroy wickedness and establish righteousness. To those who do not subscribe to the Avatar concept, Krishn was a superman with God-like attributes and powers. Some Western historians even claim that Krishn was a mythological character, and not a historical figure. Nonetheless, he has ruled the hearts and minds of all Hindus across the world for thousands of years. The chants of his name echo Hindu homes, and his images adorn the temples around the world. Both Hindus and Sikhs name their children after him. Krishn has been the subject matter for writers, poets, sculptors, painters, and intellectuals. Krishn had a multi-faceted personality, and played many roles, from the most humble to the most exalted: he was a mischievous baby boy, a herdsman, a flute player, a dancer, a divine lover, a brave warrior and king, the universal Guru, Social reformer, the greatest mediator, a counsellor, statesman, and philosopher. Above all, he was the author of Gita, one of the most sacred books of Hindus, also nicknamed as Hindu Bible by Christians.
Hindus across the world celebrate the birth of their divine role model and hero with fasting, worshipping and feasting. Temples and homes are decorated to welcome baby Krishn. The temples and businesses recreate scenes depicting Krishna’s birth in the prison, his childhood pranks and the miracles he performed as a young boy. Mothers are busy preparing special food and sweets for the midnight family feast. People go from temple to temple offering prayers and sweets to Krishn. A colourfully decorated swinging cradle containing a doll dressed as baby Krishn is gently rocked by visiting devotees. Many people who fast and who do not have the energy to participate in the outdoor activities, quietly spend their day reading Gita or listening to devotional music. The all-day festivities reach a climax at midnight when Krishn is ‘born’ and welcomed in temples amidst the chanting of hymns, conch blowing, bell ringing as well as the shouting of Victory to Lord Krishn slogans. The joyous and noisy devotees embrace and congratulate each other. After worshipping and accepting Prasad at the temple, people return home to break their fast with a sumptuous feast.
In Canada, the Janmashtami festivities are very subdued. People who fast take a day off and spend the day at home reading Gita. Most temples stay open till midnight for visiting devotees. Religious societies and temples organize cultural shows on the closest Sunday if Janmashtami happens to fall on a working day.
Book: Hindus of Canada
Author: Ajit Adhopia