Let’s try and understand the significance of the Krishna Janmashtami festival. It celebrates the birth of Krishna, who came down to earth for the protection of the good and the destruction of evil and to establish Dharma. It falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) in the dark fortnight in the month of Shravan (August- September).
Krishna gave this world the greatest gift in the form of Bhagwad Gita, which is a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata (Chapters 23- 40 of Bhishma Parva). Though it is a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, the Bhagwad Gita is a Universal Guide and is meant for each and every one of us. It teaches us how to live with peace and harmony in this world.
Since Lord Krishna was born at midnight , people fast throughout the day and stay awake all night singing Bhajans. People also celebrate the festival by listening or chanting the Bhagavatham, the Bhagwad Gita or the hymns in praise of incidents from the life of Lord Krishna. Music lovers get together and spend the night singing the glory of Lord Krishna.
In some parts of India like Mathura, north eastern states like Manipur and Assam and in some parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, it is a trend to organize dance-drama events called Rasa Leela or Krishna Leela. These events begin a few days before the actual festival and helps in creating the festive spirit in these regions. Many amateur artists perform these dramas and are encouraged and cheered with great enthusiasm, by the local communities.
In Maharashtra, it is very common to witness human pyramids trying to break an earthen pot that would be tied or hung at a great height. This event is called Dahi Handi and is celebrated on the day after the festival of Krishna Janmashtami. This event is based on the childhood Leelas of mischievous Krishna and His friends, who were known to play pranks by stealing butter. They would get an earful from their mothers but this would not deter them from breaking the pots and running away with the butter much to the chagrin of the Gopikas! People gather and watch the human pyramid in action with bated breath. This adds to the excitement of the whole festival!
In Gujarat and Rajasthan, people celebrate “Makhan Handi” where the pot is filled with fresh butter. This is similar to Dahi Handi tradition. People visit temples of Krishna and join in satsangs and bhajan singing. Beautiful folk dances enthrall the audience and add to the joy of the festival!
In Kutch, farmers decorate their bullock carts and arrange for Krishna processions. People join the procession with devotional signing and dancing. The whole atmosphere is filled with joy and laughter!
In Northern India too, Janmashtami is a very popular festival. In cities such as Mathura, which is the birth place of Krishna and in Vrindavan where Krishna spent his childhood, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great delight! The temples in Mathura, Vrindavan as well as in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himalayan north attract many visitors. The Temples are decorated with lights and shimmer like jewels at night. Often the Rasa Leelas are based on the childhood pranks of Krishna or on the stories of Krishna and his beloved, Radha. These dramas help in igniting the longing and love for Lord Krishna. ISKCON temple in Delhi is a popular place for Krishna devotees to gather.
In Jammu, kite flying from rooftops is a part of the celebration on Krishna Janmashtami.
In South India, the festival has its own charm. People draw Rangolis and the most popular practice is making tiny foot prints with rice paste from the threshold of the house till the pooja room, which indicates the arrival of Lord Krishna into the house.
People recite Bhagwad Gita and participate in singing Bhajans. Mouthwatering savouries such as Sweet Seedai, Salt Seedai, Groundnut balls etc. are prepared for the Lord. People usually celebrate this festival in the evening and the celebrations continue till midnight.
In Andhra Pradesh, recitation of shlokas and devotional songs are a popular practice during this festival. Another unique feature of this festival is that young boys dress up as Krishna and they visit neighbors and friends.