The birthday of Hinduism’s favorite Lord Krishna is a special occasion for Hindus, who consider him their leader, hero, protector, philosopher, teacher and friend all rolled into one.
Krishna took birth at midnight on the ashtami or the 8th day of the Krishnapaksha or dark fortnight in the Hindu month of Shravan (August-September). This auspicious day is called Janmashtami. `
Hindus celebrate Janmashtami by fasting and staying up until midnight, festivities begin before dawn and extend all day until midnight, the exact moment of the anniversary of Krishna’s appearance. Events include kirtan, singing the Lord’s name along with other devotees; and japa, private, more intimate prayer. Some devotees cook a feast of over one hundred dishes, while others perform drama and dance. Some clothe and decorate the deity of Krishna while others string enormous flower garlands and other decorations for the temple. Incense burns, scriptures are read, and all but the young and the infirm fast all day. The deities are also bathed with a variety of auspicious liquids in a kind of ablution ceremony called abhisheka. Sometimes taking over two hours, this is performed with great pomp. Finally, at midnight, priests pull apart the curtains to reveal the freshly dressed deity of Krishna on a creatively festooned and colored altar. The excitement builds, and a rousing kirtan ensues.
Janmaashtami popularly known in Mumbai and Pune as Dahi Handi, is celebrated as an event which involves making a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot (handi) filled with buttermilk (dahi), which is tied at a convenient height. The topmost person tries to break the handi by hitting it with a blunt object. When the handi breaks, the buttermilk is spilled over the entire group. This event is based on the legend of the child-god Krishna stealing butter. A participant in this festival is called a Govinda or Govinda pathak.
Many such Govinda pathaks compete with each other, especially for the prize money. These groups are called mandals or handis and they go around the local areas, attempting to break as many pots as possible every August. The event, since the 2000s, has gathered a political flavour, and it is common for political parties and rich community groups to offer prizes amounting to lakhs of rupees. Local celebrities and Bollywood actors also participate. Some of the popular handis are at Dadar, Lower Parel, Worli, Mazgaon, Lalbaug, Thanein Mumbai and Babu Genu, Mandai in Pune. Cash and gifts are offered for Govinda troops to participate; for over 4,000 handis in Mumbai, 2,000 Govinda troops compete for the prizes.
The coastal state of Goa(see:Gomanta Kingdom) has been associated with the Yadavas.Known as Ahstam in Goa,celebrated with great zeal on family level as well as community levels,especially in the temples of Devaki Krishna(perhaps the only temple dedicated to Devakiin India) and Naroa,the ancient town of Kadambas.
Krishna’s birthplace Mathura and Vrindavan celebrate this occasion with great pomp and show. Raslilas or religious plays are performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and to commemorate his love for Radha. Song and dance mark the celebration of this festive occasion all over northern India. At midnight, the statue of infant Krishna is bathed and placed in a cradle, which is rocked, amidst the blowing of conch shells and the ringing of bells.