India is a land where various types of festivals are celebrated with excitement and each is significant to different communities. Janmashtami is one of the most prominent festivals that Indians all around the world celebrate. Usually, the date for that falls between August and September, and in the Hindu calendar, this occurs in the month of Bhadrapada.

What is Janmashtami?

Hindus on this festival day celebrate the ‘Jamma’ or birth of Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. As for the second half of the name, i.e., ‘Ashtami’, it holds different meanings. Firstly, Krishna was the eighth child of Devika in the legend of his origins according to Vaishnav theology. The second reason is the date it is celebrated on in the Bhadrapada month, specifically the eighth day of the ‘Krishna Paksha’.

The month is also known as ‘Shravan’ on the basis of the calendar and the lunar factors. Also, Krishna is Vishnu’s eighth avatar, which is another cause for this name. Depending on which community is celebrating, the title too sometimes changes according to the regional languages. For example, in the Bengali language, the Janmashtami festival is known as Gokulashtami.

History of Janmashtami

During this festival, people honor the birth of Lord Krishna, who was born to the Yadava prince Vasudeva Anakadundubhi and Devika in Mathura. According to Hindu mythology, that time was full of danger, persecution, and chaos. The uncle of Vasudeva, King Kansa, wanted to kill his nephew’s son because of a godly premonition of his death by the child. He put his nephew and wife in jail, where Krishna was later born.

To save his life, Vasudeva carried his son to Gokul, crossing through the Yamuna river. Consequently, he gave Krishna to Yashoda and Nanda, who raised him as their own. This particular day or time of Krishna’s birth is the main reason for Janmashtami, which is still of prevalence in many communities.

Janmashtami Celebrations

Specifically, this festival is celebrated in Vrindavan and Mathura, and also in various regions of India, like Orissa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, to name a few. However, the people belonging to the Vaishnava communities are the ones who celebrate it more prominently. They practice fasting, organize and attend a dance and drama function, have a night vigil, and perform a puja ceremony.

To elaborate, Hindus stay awake fasting till the stroke of 12 o’clock at night and then do puja after bathing his image with milk and water and then clothing him. In the puja, people decorate their household shrines, and temples with flowers and leaves, and sweetmeats (‘mishti’, ‘mithai’, etc.,) are offered to him. After the puja, these sweets are then distributed among everyone.

Many of the hardcore Krishna devotees celebrate Janmashtami in a more elaborate manner, by representing each scene of his day of birth with small images of the different personalities involved and miniature wildlife. These include the scenes like Vasudeva passing through the Yamuna with baby Krishna held over his head, Mathura, Gokul, and his younger years.

Another common act includes hanging a huge pot full of milk on tall poles in the streets. And then, the males of that neighborhood form a human pyramid and the one on top breaks the pot. Indeed, this symbolizes Krishna’s naughty young self, whose love and subsequent stealing of curd is a popular story among Hindus. In fact, Krishna is called the popular moniker ‘Makhanchor’ for these childhood antics.

The celebrations are high energy and fun and include dancing and singing together. On the day after Janmashtami or Dahi Handi, people engage in fun activities like flying kites, eating traditional sweets, and going to neighborhood fairs, among others. Indeed, this festival occurs over two days, although some do celebrate it over a single day. And that has to do with Krishna entering the life of his foster parents, which is why Nandotsav is celebrated right after.

Where is Janmashtami celebrated outside India and how?

Certainly, while Janmashtami is an Indian festival, it is not limited to the borders of India. Many Indians throughout the world celebrate the festival in their communities, with some variations to the customs. Some of the main areas in this regard are places like some Caribbean countries like Fiji, Jamaica, Tobago, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, and Suriname. Other regions include countries in the Indian subcontinent like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Of course, a big reason for this is how close they are to India.

To specify, a major reason behind this is because of the amount of Indians who emigrated to these areas during British rule and in recent times. Owing to the former reason, Fiji is one of the most prominent foreign countries that celebrate Janmashtami or ‘Krishna Ashtami’. Almost one-fourth of its population are Hindus, who shifted there from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu in earlier generations. One of the most prominent aspects of this festival in Fiji is the eight-day long celebrations that this includes.

In Bangladesh, this festival is the national holiday and people go out in a procession from Dhakeshshwari Temple through the Old Dhaka paths and streets. This movement ends at Dhaka, a practice that lasted since 1902 with a little lull between 1948 to 1989. Similarly, this holiday is celebrated by the Hindus in Pakistan, another country that got separated from India during Partition like Bangladesh. The Hindus in this country celebrate this festivity mainly in the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Karachi.

Moreover, Janmashtami is an important festival for the people in Nepal too, eighty percent of whom are Hindus. The way the Nepali Hindus celebrate Krishna Janmashtami is by following the usual practices and traditions. These include fasting until the time of midnight and decorating the temples of the God Vishnu. Plus, families and neighbors decorate their homes, and shops with a motif of Lord Krishna, and they sing ‘bhajans’ and ‘kirtans’ (Hindu religious songs).

In fact, ISKCON, or more commonly known as Hare Krishnas, is one of the major reasons for the popularity of this celebration on a global level. The American Governor, Janet Napolitano also acknowledged and greeted ISKCON with a message on the auspicious day of Janmashtami. And by doing so, Governor Napolitano became the first leader from America to acknowledge this festival in a public manner.

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