Janmashtami is celebrated every year to commemorate the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. It is one of the biggest festivals in India and is celebrated all across the world. It is celebrated on the Ashtami of Krishna paksha. Since Lord Krishna was born at midnight, the Janmashtami puja is celebrated in Nishita Kaal, around midnight.
During Janmashtami, people fast, break dahi-handi, chant hymns, visit temples, prepare feasts, and pray together to celebrate. It is a big occasion, especially in Mathura and Vrindavan. Raas Lila and Krishna Lila are also part of the festivities. People at home invite their friends and family to join them in the celebrations. Homes are decorated and mantras of “Hare Krishna” are chanted. Some even read about Krishna’s birth and other important events in his life. People dress up the Radha-Krishna statues and adorn the altar.
Where there are Vaishnava temples, celebrations begin before sunrise and go all day till midnight, the precise time of Krishna’s arrival anniversary. Kirtan, or singing the Lord’s name with other devotees, and Japa, or private, more intimate devotion, are two events. Some devotees prepare a multi-course meal, while others conduct theatre and dance. Some dress and adorn Krishna’s deity, while others tie massive flower garlands and other temple decorations. Incense is burned, texts are read, and everyone except the children and the elderly fasts all day.
Janmashtami is also celebrated in different ways in different regions of India. Janmashtami in Maharashtra is celebrated with songs like Govinda aala re on the streets. The dahi-handi ceremony, which reflects Krishna’s fondness for buttermilk, is performed by locals. Lord Krishna was reported to be so fond of it that he would frequently take it from his own home as well as that of others, along with his friends. Children create a human pyramid to bust open an earthen pot filled with buttermilk that is hanging high over the road.
In Manipur, Vaishnavism is a prominent state religion. Imphal Hindus observe the occasion by worshipping at the Shri Shri Govindajee and ISKCON temples. During this period, Manipuri performances and Raaslilas devoted to Lord Krishna are held. In Manipur, this day is known as Krishna Janma. The celebrations begin at midnight and go till sunrise. To commemorate Krishna’s birth, worshippers fast for the full day, and numerous cultural programs are organized.
Krishna’s birthday is celebrated with fervor and zest in the city of Vrindavan, where it is claimed he spent a significant portion of his boyhood. On this day, prominent temples such as ISKCON, Banke Bihari, and Radharaman have spectacular celebrations. During this period, Mathura, Krishna’s birthplace, sees a surge of tourists and worshippers from all around India. Temples are decked with flowers and lights and are open to worshipers all night. In fact, preparations for the celebration begin weeks before the festival in both Mathura and Vrindavan. Raas Lila is a theatrical production based on portions from the Bhagwat Puran.
Dwarka is known as Lord Krishna’s kingdom. Dwarka’s Dwarkadhish temple is dedicated to him. Lord Dwarkadhish is decked up in gold, diamond, and other jewelry, and kirtans and bhajans are performed in his honor. On this day, women throughout Gujarat play cards and avoid domestic chores. Dwarka has celebrations similar to dahi-handi, but they are known as Makhan-handi.
People in Tamil Nadu celebrate Janmashtami by fasting, making kolams, and reciting the Bhagwad Gita. Sweet delicacies like Verkadalai urundai are made in Andhra Pradesh during the celebrations, and children dress up as Krishna to visit relatives and friends. Usually, paintings are worshipped instead of Lord Krishna’s statues, and fruits and sweets are brought to him.
States in the east, such as Odisha and West Bengal, commemorate Krishna’s birth by fasting and presenting regional delicacies to the newborn Krishna. On this day, the 10th chapter of the Bhagwad Puran dedicated to Krishna’s life is read. Prasad is a lavish meal served to Lord Krishna. Taler boda, or sugar palm fritter, is a very sweet meal prepared in Bengali families for this occasion.