Janmashtami is a Hindu festival that is celebrated with great devotion and enthusiasm all around the country. This day commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu who is considered the epitome of love, compassion and friendship. This festival originated in Gokul ( modern day Gujarat) and slowly expanded to include the Mathura region (Uttar Pradesh) and later on the entire country. Every year the festival is observed on the Krishna Paksha Ashtami day in the month of Shravana (according to Amanta system) or Bhadrapada (according to Purnimanta system).
Hinduism is a free religion and people worship him in many ways, ranging from spending the day in penance to merely taking a few moments to remember him, from fasting the whole day to reciting prayers at midnight. Most devotees observe a fast on this day before performing a puja and aarti in the evening. The idol of Lord Krishna is dressed in new clothes and is then showered with milk, water, and flowers. Many decorate their houses and temples in their towns with lights and flowers. Sweets and fruits are offered to the idol and then distributed as Prasad (holy offering) to friends and family.
As a kid Lord Krishna was named "Makhanchor" as he used to steal butter from every household in Gokul. Dahi Handi is an event where Krishna’s childhood antic of butter stealing is mimicked on the second day of Janmashtami. An earthen pot or “handi” is filled with butter, clarified butter or ghee, dry fruits, yoghurt and milk is suspended at a considerable height with the help of ropes. All the local youth gather to make a human pyramid and climb on each other to reach the handi and break it. This is an activity that promotes the dictum “Unity is Strength”.
As the legend goes, Krishna was born in the darkness of night, inside a jail cell where His parents were incarcerated by his cruel uncle Kansa. A prophecy had been made that the Lord Krishna the eighth child born to his sister Devaki and Vasudeva would kill Kansa. It is said that at the moment of his birth, all the guards fell asleep and his shackles were broken and the barred iron doors gently flew open. Vasudeva came out of the jail to find all the guards in a hypnotic sleep. He, with the help of Sheshnag, carried the child across the river Yamuna in the torrential rains and manage to save Him from the evil clutches of the King Kansa.
Let us try and understand the inner significance of Janmashtami and the myth behind celebrating it. Janmashtami’s meaning is deep-rooted and it conveys the message that all human beings spend their time engulfed in the darkness of their own vices. We are enslaved by the shackles of anger, greed, temptations, attachments to material things and pain. But as the Lord takes birth, every bit of the darkness is dispelled and we are released from all the bonds of worldly pleasures.
To help us rise above all externality, ego, selfishness and greed and understand that the real pleasure we are seeking is unmotivated, unconditional love, is the true purpose of religious practices. While we rejoice in celebrating Janmashtami, we should not get caught up in mere rituals and conventions and lose sight of the real objective of these practices -- transformation of consciousness. Transformation of greed to generosity, egoism to humility, vengeance to forgiveness, agitation to peace and hate to love, all happens when we revive our eternal relationship with the absolute truth, God. This is genuine celebration.