Gokulashtami, or more commonly known as Janmashtami, celebrates the birth of one of the quirkier Hindu deities, Krishna. Though essentially a festival of South India, its fervour can be felt and seen all the way across the plateau and up till Assam.
As per Hindu belief, every time our world has been on the brink of being engulfed by evil, an avatar of Lord Vishnu (the preserver and protector of our universe) has graced mankind to ensure the destruction of evil and save humanity and Krishna is said to be his 8th incarnation.
Let’s explore some lesser known facts about this zealous festival and why we celebrate the Janmashtami festival.
1. While today (and since several thousand years), Krishna’s birth is celebrated with an unmatched passion, his actual birth took place in a dungeon of Mathura, to Vasudeva and Devaki.
2. However, in order to protect their newborn from the hands of his malicious uncle Kansa (who was told that his end would be at the hands of his nephew), his father decided to take him away. As though the universe was working for them, that night all the guards in that cellar fell asleep as Vasudeva escaped with a newborn Krishna.
3. Vasudeva travelled across the Yamuna in the middle of a storm with Krishna in a basket over his head, all the way to Gokul to the house of Yashoda (better known as Maiya Yashodha now), and Nanda who took him in as their own.
Fun fact: It is said that as Vasudeva traversed the river, the ten-headed eternal snake Vasuki appeared to provide its hood as protection.
4. Krishna’s journey through the years is wildly popular amongst the children. His mischievous and cheeky nature finds a way into the hearts of kids and adults alike, making the celebration of his birthday all the more joyful. From running after girls to being a doe-eyed mama’s boy, Krishna is unlike any other deity we’ve come to know. Which is why Janmashtami is eagerly awaited by children.
5. It is celebrated quite popularly amongst schools. Little kids are seen dressing up as a young Krishna with his famed flute by their sides as they put up dance skits in his memory.
6. Janmashtami is actually celebrated over 2 days. While most of us are familiar with the notion of Dahi Handi being the most prominent feature of the Janmashtami festival, it’s initial celebration takes place at midnight (which was when Krishna was born). During this time, his devotees rock the cradle in which a small idol of baby krishna resides and feed him dahi (his favourite food).
7. Gokulashtami is what is celebrated the next day. This is the popular Dahi Handi ritual that we all know of, which is actually a celebration of Lord Krishna as a child. The tradition of Dahi Handi came about as a portrayal of him always going around stealing butter as a kid.
8. One thing that most of his devotees do the day before his birth is to keep a fast and break it at midnight while bringing in the merriment of his birth.
9. The ‘mor-pankh’ i.e. the feather of a peacock is considered an extremely auspicious symbol of Krishna and people purchase it every year before his birth as a way to bring purity and protection to their homes.
10. Essentially, the significance of Janmashtami lies not only in celebrating the end of evil which Krishna eventually brought on, but the essence of purity and goodness that was seen in him throughout his childhood.