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Krishna Janmashtami, also known as "Krishnashtami", "Saatam Aatham", "Gokulashtami", "Ashtami Rohini", "Srikrishna Jayanti", "Sree Jayanthi" or sometimes merely as "Janmashtami", is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Krishna, the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.


Krishna Janmashtami is observed on the eighth day of the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of the month of Shraavana in the Hindu calendar, when the Rohini Nakshatram is ascendant. The Hindu calendar being lunar, these two events [the day being the eighth of the waning moon (Krishna-paksha Ashtami) and the Rohini Nakshatram being ascendant] may overlap for only a few hours. In such an event, the festival may be celebrated on different (but successive) days by different people, depending on their local or family traditions.

The festival falls sometime in the months of August/September of the Gregorian calendar.


The pious begin the festival by fasting on the previous day (Saptami, seventh day). This is followed by a night-long vigil commemorating the birth of Krishna at night, and his immediate removal by his father to a foster-home for safe-keeping. At midnight, the deity of the infant Krishna is bathed, placed in a cradle and worshipped. In the early morning, ladies draw patterns of little children's feet outside the house with rice-flour paste, walking towards the house. This symbolizes the entry of the infant Krishna into his foster-home. This custom is popular in some communities of South India. After ablutions, morning prayers and worship, the devout break their fast with Prasadam, food that has first been offered to God. During the fore-noon hours, the "Dahi-Handi" (see below) custom is celebrated in some parts of the deccan. This is followed by sumptuous mid-day feasts, where extended families customarily get together. Sweets made of milk and other dairy products, especially butter, are traditionally prepared on this occasion.

The festival is celebrated differently in North India. The temples at Vrindavan and Mathura witness a colorful, even boisterous celebration on this occasion, and festivities at these places may extend for several days. Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration. The Rasa Lila is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and commemorate his love for Radha.

Care is taken among certain circles not to imitate the Rasa Lila in a mundane way. It is said that one should not imitate the Rasa Lila even in dreams. The idea is that Krishna, or God's pastimes cannot be understood by the mundane mind-set and discussing them should therefore be avoided altogether. Krishna's pastimes with Srimati Radha can never be understood by materialistic people, they are transcendental and great care should be taken to present them in such manner.

While the Rasa Lila recreates the youthful Krishna's dalliance with the milkmaids of his native land, the "Dahi-Handi" tradition of Maharashtra re-enacts his childhood pranks, wherein Krishna and his young friends helped themselves to butter and other goodies in the houses of their neighbors. Clay pots called "Dahi-Handi", filled with curd and butter, are suspended high above the ground. To a constant chorus of "Govinda Govinda" from all those present, teams of young men form human pyramids to reach the pot and break it, to the merriment of the youths and of the assembly.

The festival is thus celebrated with great joy and communal togetherness by one and all.

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