The Krishna Janmashtami festival, popularly known as Janmashtami, is celebrated across India and marks the birth of the revered Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Celebrations of this holiday include prayers, night vigils, fasting, and dance-drama reenactments of the life of Krishna which are called rasa lila.
This festival is accompanied by cultural events and competitions, the most interesting being Dahi Handi, a competition where clay pots containing yogurt are strung up high from buildings and people form a human pyramid to reach the pots and break them open.
Why You Should Experience Janmashtami in India
- Watch the Dahi Handi celebration, where people form a human pyramid to reach clay pots that are strung up high from buildings and try to break them open.
- Watch rasa lila, a dance-drama performance that acts out various phases of Krishna’s life and takes place at many Krishna temples in Mathura.
- Visit the many beautiful Krishna temples that are decorated with idols and colorful lights.
- Eat seasonal sweets such as rasmalai, a dessert made with milk, paneer, and dried fruits.
- Watch young boys dress up as Krishna and visit their neighbors and friends.
Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, is an annual Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Krishna. This two-day long celebration usually consists of prayers, fasting, devotional singing, a night watch, and drama performances.
According to the Hindu calendar, this festival is celebrated on the Ashtami of Krishna Paksha or the 8th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadrapada. This usually falls in late August or early September in the Gregorian calendar.
Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu incarnated as Krishna brings hope and frees the earth from the despair caused by the tyranny of evil rulers. He is revered for his love, compassion, playfulness, and wisdom about how to live. This flute-playing god is also associated with music and dance.
Janmashtami, is celebrated across India to honor the Birth of Krishna
The festival is enthusiastically celebrated at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temples and other temples dedicate to Lord Krishna across the country. It is also an important holiday in Mathura and Vrindavan which are the places widely thought to be the locations of Krishna’s childhood and early youth.
When is Janmashtami
Janmashtami dates are determined according to the Hindu lunar calendar, and takes place on the eighth day of the waning phase of moon in the month of Bhadrapada. This usually occurs in late August or early September.
Upcoming Festival Dates:
- 2020: August 11th to 12th
- 2021: August 30th to 31st
- 2022: August 18th to 19th
Janmashtami Legends and History
According to Hindu mythology, the evil king Kansa married his sister, Devki to Vasudeva, the Yadu King, in order to extend his empire. After having many children, an oracle predicted that Devki's eighth child would be the cause of Kansa’s death. This angered Kansa and he sent his sister and Vasudev to the dungeons with a promise that all their children will be killed.
Kansa succeeded in killing all the six newborn babies of Devki and Vasudev, however, the seventh child was saved by divine intervention as the child was magically transferred from Devki's womb to that of Rohini's, Vasudev's other wife. This child was then called Balram and was Krishna’s elder brother.
Krishna’s birth took place in the Bhadrapada month on the eighth day of the dark fortnight. Soon after the birth of the child, all the dungeon guards fell asleep and the gates of the flew open. Vasudev decided to take this opportunity to smuggle the child out of the dungeons to safety with his friend Nanda in Gokul.
Krishna was raised believing he was Nanda’s son. When he grew up, he killed his uncle Kansa and freed all the people of Mathura from his tyranny.
Krishina acted as the chariot driver for Arjuna in the epic Mahabharata
How Janmashtami is Celebrated
On the day before the holiday, devotees gather to hold a vigil and fast until midnight, when Lord Krishna was believed to have been born. At midnight, a traditional prayer is offered.
On the day of Janmashtami, Lord Krishna's idols are washed and adorned with news clothes and ornaments. The idol is then placed in a cradle to symbolize his birth. It is tradition for women to draw tiny footprints walking towards their house as a symbol of Lord Krishna's journey into their homes.
The highlight of the festival is an event called Dahi Handi, which takes place on the second day and is especially fun to watch in Mumbai. During the event, clay pots full of yogurt are strung up high from buildings and people form a human pyramid to try and reach the pots and break them open.
This celebration represents Krishna's love of food and especially yogurt which he enjoyed eating most. Legends say that Krishna was quite mischievous and would take yogurt from village homes. In order to stop him, the housewives hung it up high out of his way. Not to be discouraged, he gathered his friends and climbed up to reach it.
Today Dahi Handi is performed to remember Krishna and also liven up the celebrations with a fun event and competitive atmosphere.
Yogurt is Krishna's favorite food
Celebrations in Gujarat and Rajasthan
People in Dwarka in Gujarat, the place where Krishna is believed to have established his kingdom, celebrate the festival with a tradition similar to Dahi Handi. Here the event is called Makhan Handi and instead of yogurt uses freshly churned butter.
Here, Janmashtami is also celebrated with folk dances, religious songs, and visits to Krishna temples such as Dwarkadhish Temple or Nathdwara. In the Kutch district region, farmers decorate bullock carts and use them to carry Krishna idols around the area along with crowds of people singing and dancing.
Janmashtami is the largest festival of the year in the Braj region of North India and especially in cities such as Mathura and Vrindavan, the places where Krishna was born and grew up. During the celebrations, Krishna temples are decorated with beautiful lights while Krishna devotees hold worship events and keep watch through the night.
Janmashtami typically falls as the monsoons in north India have begun retreating. The festival is celebrated with the rasa lila tradition, an event where Krishna-related songs and reenactments of his childhood pranks are performed.
On Janmashtami in East India, parents dress up their children as characters from the legends of Krishna. Some popular costumes include gopis, or cow herders, and Krishna himself. Temples and community centers are also decorated with regional flowers and leaves, while groups recite or listen to the tenth chapter of Bhagavata Purana and the Bhagavata Gita.
In the eastern state of Odisha, the festival is also referred to as Sri Krishna Jayanti or simply Sri Jayanti. People celebrate by fasting and worshipping Krishna until midnight.
Temples and community centers are also decorated with regional flowers
The second day of the festival is called "Nanda Utsav" or the celebration of Krishna's foster parents Nanda and Yashoda. On this day, people break their fast and offer various cooked sweets such as rasmalai (a dessert made with milk, paneer, and dry fruits) and cham cham (a dessert made with curd and condensed milk).
South India celebrates this festival as Gokula Ashtami. In Tamil Nadu, the people decorate the floor with kolams (decorative patterns drawn with rice batter) and draw footprints from the threshold of the house to the prayer room, which is meant to symbolize the arrival of Krishna into the house.
In Andhra Pradesh, young boys dressup as Krishna and visit neighbors and friends. Different varieties of fruits and sweets are first offered to Krishna and after the prayers, these sweets are distributed to the young visitors.
Temples and community centers are also decorated with regional flowers
Where Should you Celebrate Janmashtami in India
These are some of the best places to celebrate Janmashtami. Visit Mumbai for a fun festive atmosphere and to see big celebrations with Dahi Handi competitions.
Mathura is the best place to be for a more traditional experience as it has various spots that stand as reminders of milestones during Krishna’s childhood. In Gokul, residents drench each other with curd and turmeric to celebrate the festival.
If you wish to witness the chaos and joy with which Janmashtami is celebrated in India, then Mumbai is the place to be. Dahi Handi competitions take place at hundreds of locations across the city.
During the celebrations, you will see trucks full of people wearing their group costumes and visiting one Dahi Handi venue after another to try and break the pot and claim the cash prizes and rewards that are offered.
The huge ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple complex in the beachside suburb of Juhu and ISKCON Chowpatty in South Mumbai are also great places to see as they are covered with festive decorations. During the holiday, these temples also hold community kitchens and distribute free meals to all visitors.
Mathura is home to some of the oldest and most famous Krishna temples in the world. Temples like the Bankey Bihari, Dwarkadhish, Krishna Janmabhoomi Mandir, and the ISKCON temple are brightly decorated for the occasion and many put up displays depicting important scenes from Krishna’s life.
Another great spectacle worth witnessing here is the rasa lila, a drama performance that acts out the various phases of Krishna’s life. They are performed at temporary stages set up at temples across the city. Performers, including 10 to 13 year old kids, prepare for weeks with great fervor for this event.
There are various spots to visit in Mathura which stand as reminders of important milestones of Krishna’s childhood. The most prominent are Potara Kund, where Krishna’s clothes were washed, and Vishram Ghat, where Krishna rested after his battle with his evil uncle, King Kamsa.
Gokul is the place Krishna was taken to immediately after his birth in Mathura. Krishna grew up in Gokul under the direction of his adopted parents Yashodha and Nanda. The residents celebrate with Dadhikana or Nandotsava where they drench each other with curd and turmeric to celebrate their joy.
The two most prominent temples to visit in this city are the Radha Raman temple and Radha Damhodar. The celebrations here include Janmashtami prayers, the ringing of chimes, blowing of conches, and religious rituals.
How Should you Celebrate Janmashtami as a Traveler
Taking to the streets and watching the Dahi Mandi celebrations in the best thing to do on Janmashtami. This way, you can feel the joyous atmosphere of the celebrations by watching the hordes of people as they compete with each other to break the yogurt pots.
Watching a rasa lila performance is a great cultural experience for Janmashtami. You can these performances scattered across the temples in Mathura. Through the performance, travelers will get to know more about the childhood story of Krishna.
Tips for Experiencing Janmashtami
- Be prepared for heavy crowds in Mumbai as Dahi Handi competitions bring hundreds of people to the streets to watch the celebrations.
- Watch out for pieces of debris that can fall from the broken clay pots during Dahi Handi competitions.
- Make sure to check online or with your hotel to ensure that you are wearing appropriate clothing when visiting Krishna temples. Typically temples require that everyone covers their shoulders, chest, and knees to enter.
Experience Janmashtami with Asia Highlights
If you want to celebrate the festival of Lord Krishna’s birth but don’t know where to start, Asia Highlights can help you. We can recommend the best places to visit on this festival and make all your bookings for you. Contact us to start planning your trip.