Krishna Janmaashtami, also known as "Krishnaashtami", "Gokulaashtami", "Srikrishna Jayanti", "Sree Jayanthi" or sometimes merely as "Janmaashtami", is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Krishna, the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
Krishna Janmashtami is observed on the eighth day of the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of the month of Bhadrapadha in the Hindu calendar, when the Rohini Nakshatram is ascendent. The Hindu calendar being luni-solar, these two events [the day being the eighth of the waning moon (Krishna-paksha Ashtami) and the Rohini Nakshatram being ascendent] may overlap for only a few hours. In such an event, the festival may be celebrated on different (but successive) days by different people, depending on their local or family traditions.
The festival falls sometime in the months of August/September of the Gregorian calendar. In 2005, Krishnaashtami was celebrated on August 26 or August 27.
The pious begin the festival by fasting on the previous day (Saptami). This is followed by a night-long vigil commemorating the birth of Krishna at night, and his immediate removal by his father to a foster-home for safe-keeping. At midnight, the idol of the infant Krishna is bathed, placed in a cradle and worshipped. In the early morning, ladies draw patterns of little children's feet outside the house with rice-flour paste, walking towards the house. This symbolizes the entry of the infant Krishna into his foster-home. This custom is popular in some communities of south India. After ablutions, morning prayers and worship, the devout break their fast with Prasadam, food that has first been offered to the lord. During the fore-noon hours, the "Dahi-Handi" (see below) custom is celebrated in some parts of the deccan. This is followed by sumptuous mid-day feasts, where extended families customarily get together. Sweets made of milk and other dairy products, especially butter, are traditionally prepared on this occasion.
The festival is celebrated with especial fervour in north India. The temples at Vrindavan and Mathura witness a colourful, even boisterous celebration on this occasion, and festivities at these places may extend for several days. Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration. The Raslila is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and commemorate his love for Radha.
While the Raslila recreates the youthful Krishna's dalliance with the milkmaids of his native land, the "Dahi-Handi" tradition of Maharashtra re-enacts his childhood pranks, wherein Krishna and his young cronies helped themselves to butter and other goodies in the houses of their neighbours. Clay pots called "Dahi-Handi", filled with curd and butter, are suspended high above the ground. To a constant chorus of "Govinda, Govinda" from all those present, teams of young men form human pyramids to reach the pot and break it, to the merriment of the youths and of the assembly.
The festival is thus celebrated with great joy and communal togetherness by one and all.
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