Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Krishna Janmashtami is one of the most celebrated festivals in our country

Krishna is a major deity in Hinduism. He is worshipped as the eighth avatar of Vishnu and also as the Supreme god in his own right. He is the god of protection, compassion, tenderness, and love; and is one of the most popular and widely revered among Indian divinities. Krishna’s birthday is celebrated every year by Hindus on Krishna Janmashtami according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, which falls in late August or early September of the Gregorian calendar.

What is Krishna Janmashtami and why is it celebrated?

Krishna Janmashtami literally means the ”Occasion of the birth of Krishna”. Hindus celebrate Krishna Janmashtami by fasting, singing, praying together, preparing and sharing special food, night vigils, and visiting Krishna or Vishnu temples. Krishna temples across the globe organize recitation of ‘’Bhagavata Purana” and “Bhagavad Gita”. It is one of the popular festivals celebrated across the Indian subcontinent. Millions of people participate in the celebration even in the west.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Devaki and Vasudev parents of Lord Krishna

Who is Lord Krishna?

Krishna is the son of Devaki and Vasudev. It was predicted by the Gods that Kansa, king of Mathura and brother of Devaki shall die by Krishna’s hand. After which Kansa tried to kill Devaki at first but later was persuaded to spare her life after Vasudev made a promise to deliver every baby birthed by Devaki.

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Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Lord Krishna during his childhood (Image Source: Hindustan Times)

Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated when Krishna is believed to have been born according to Hindu tradition, in Mathura, at midnight on the eighth day of Bhadrapada month in jail. Kansa had already killed his six brothers beforehand so his safety was of paramount issue.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Kansa willing to kill his own sister Devaki

Krishna was born in a time of chaos. It was a time when persecution was rampant, freedoms were denied, evil was everywhere, and then there was a threat to his life by his uncle King Kansa. Immediately following the birth at Mathura, his father Vasudev took Krishna across the Yamuna crossing neck-deep water, to foster parents in Gokula, named Nanda and Yashoda.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Vasudev transporting Lord Krishna to safety

This legend is celebrated on Janmashtami by people keeping fast, singing devotional songs of love for Krishna, and keeping a vigil into the night. After Krishna’s midnight hour birth, forms of baby Krishna are bathed and clothed, then placed in a cradle. The devotees then break their fast, by sharing food and sweets. Women draw tiny footprints outside their house doors and kitchen, walking towards their house, a symbolism for Krishna’s journey into their homes.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
People visiting Krishna mandir in Patan, Nepal

What is special about Krishna?

Krishna had a life of a tragic hero. He was born in a jail cell awaiting death at the hands of his cruel uncle Kansa. His six brothers were killed beforehand by his uncle. In order to avoid such a fate, his father had to take him away to his foster parents at mid of a stormy night. This tragedy is heartbreaking since a baby who is a few hours old had to be separated from his parents. Despite all this, he grows up to be a talented and martial person defeating his cruel uncle and getting his parents out of jail.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Krishna killing his cruel uncle Kansa

Furthermore, he went on to kill more demons and bad people who had harmed others for personal benefit, and most important of all he imparted his wisdom to his cousin Arjuna (famed archer and warrior) and it is immortalized in the “Bhagwat Geeta”. Those teachings still have value and provide us with guidance in difficult times.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Krishna imparting Geeta to Arjuna in midst of the battle

How is Janmaasthami celebrated in Nepal?

Devotees observe Janmashtami by fasting until midnight. It is a national holiday in Nepal. The devotees recite the Bhagavad Gita and sing religious songs called bhajans and kirtans. The temples of Krishna are decorated. Shops, posters, and houses carry Krishna motifs.

Krishna Janmashtami: Birthday of a Tragic Hero
Patan Durbar Square during the festival

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