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Janmashtami or Gokulashtami or Sri Krishna Jayanti celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. He is one of the heroes of the Mahabharata. In the Bhagvat Purana Lord Krishna becomes the chief object of devotion. After all the avatars have been enumerated, the Bhagvat says, "As for Krishna, He is the Lord Himself". Lord Krishna is Lord Vishnu's eighth avatar (incarnation) on earth and considered to be the most glorious incarnation. Even saying and remembering His name brings joy because Lord Krishna himself was a manifestation of joy at all levels and in all walks of life. 

The festivities begin with decorating the temples and homes with flowers and lights. An attractive feature of the celebrations are cribs and other decorations depicting stories of Lord Krishna's childhood with five main "jhankis" running through the entire sequence of events from Lord Krishna's birth to his being discovered in Gokul. The "jhankis" include the birth of Lord Krishna in jail, Vasudev carrying Lord Krishna to safety across the river Yamuna amidst thunder and lightning, Vasudev's return to the jail, Kamsa killing Yashoda's daughter and finally the little Lord Krishna in the cradle in Gokul. "Jhankis" are created out of dolls dressed up as kids, men and women in lehangas, chunnis, dhotis and kurtas.

Raslila of various types are also performed. In the evening bhajans are sung which end at midnight, the auspicious moment when Lord Krishna was born. Thereafter aarti is done, prasad distributed and flowers showered on the idol. The Raslila of Braj is thematically the basis of many performing arts. Children join the celebration on the next day with worship (puja) and sweets (prasad). Temples in Ahmedabad, and the pilgrim towns of Dakore and Dwarka, teem with devotees of Lord Krishna on Janmashtami. 

The celebration of Lord Krishna's birth as celebrated in Maharashtra is also known as "Dahihandi". An earthen pot (handi) filled with curds and jvari (a grain blown out by parching lahya) is tied from a high rope. Young men form a human tower by climbing one upon the other to break the pot. Then the contents are eaten as prasad amidst acclamations of Govinda, which is another fond name for Lord Krishna.

Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, celebrates Janmashtami with great enthusiasm. The main celebrations are performed at the Dwarkadhish temple, Mathura in the form of Jhulanotsava and the Ghatas during the entire month of Shravan. The ghatas are a unique feature of the month long celebrations when the whole temple is covered with decoration in the same colour. Even the Lord dresses up in the same colour. The twin cities of Mathura-Vrindavan take on a festive look and spirit of devotion runs high among the people. There are about 400 temples dedicated to Lord Krishna in this sacred city and the major festivities are held at the Banke Bihari, Rangaji, Shri Krishna Balram temple and Gopinath temple.

Most families keep a fast on Janmashtami, but one meal is allowed. This is known as phalahar and consists of fruit, mithai, curd, kuttu singhare ki puri or pakori. This phalahar is taken in the afternoon around 2 or 3 pm. Tea and coffee are not forbidden, and can be taken at any time of the day. In the afternoon the prasad is prepared for distribution in the evening. This prasad consists of the same eatables that a new mother used to be given after childbirth, and is still given in traditional homes. This is known as paggi-hui-meva. Fruits like banana, guava and apple, cut in pieces or slices, can be added to the prasad. Of course, kasaar and charnamrit are a must. A piece of fruit or only kasaar can also be given as prasad.

The birth of the Lord

The birthday of Lord Krishna falls on the Ashtami of Krishna Paksh (the eighth day of the dark fortnight) in the month of Bhado (July-August of the English calendar), eight days after Raksha Bandhan. The exact year of Krishna's birthday has not been determined but is conjectured to be around 1400 B.C. when the Aryans got settled across the Indo-Gangetic plain.

It was on a dark and stormy night in the rainy season that Lord Krishna was born at midnight, in the prison of Kamsa, a despot, who was then the king of Mathura. He had imprisoned his father in order to become the king. His sister, Devaki, was married to a noble man Vasudeva. Kamsa one day heard a heavenly voice, saying, "Your days of tyranny will soon be over, you will be killed by the eighth child of Devaki."A frightened Kamsa immediately imprisoned Devaki and Vasudeva. He did not want to take any chance and killed each and every child of Devaki as soon as it was born. Thus he killed six of her children. When she conceived the seventh time, Lord Vishnu had the foetus removed from Devaki’s womb into Rohini’s (Vasudeva’s second wife) womb. Word spread that Devaki had aborted and Kamsa was happy. This child was born as Balarama. When it was time for the delivery of the eighth child, Kamsa increased the number of prison guards, kept strict vigilance and put Vasudeva in chains. But God planned otherwise.At midnight when the eighth child was born, the guards fell fast asleep and Vasudeva's chains fell off his hands and feet. Wasting no time, Vasudeva picked up the newborn baby and carrying it in a basket, started towards Gokul, a village of cowherds, located across the Yamuna river, where his friend Nanda lived with his wife Yashoda.

It was a very windy night with blinding rain. When Vasudeva reached the river bank of Yamuna, the river was in spate and Vasudeva was in a fix. Suddenly a miracle happened, the river parted and Vasudeva walked over the riverbed. Throughout the way Vasudeva and the baby were protected from rain by the hood of the great eternal snake, Vasuki. Finally, Vasudeva reached Nanda's house where he found Yashoda and her newborn baby girl in deep sleep. He had no time to think. He quickly exchanged the babies and returned to the prison with the infant girl, while the guards still slept.As soon as Vasudeva entered the prison cell, the door got locked behind him and he was chained again as if nothing happened in between. The guards woke up and heard the cry of the baby. Kamsa was immediately informed and he came running to kill the child. But to his utter surprise he found it to be a girl and not a boy, as he expected. Devaki begged for the newborn baby's life from her brother. The inhuman Kamsa did not pay attention to the appeal. As he was ready to kill the baby by smashing its head on a big boulder, the child slipped out of his hand and flew towards the sky. At that moment, a heavenly voice was heard, "Kamsa, the one who shall destroy you still lives. He is growing up in Gokul."Next morning, Nanda and his wife Yashoda discovered the boy, left by Vasudeva, lying in the crib. They were a little puzzled but did not want to fuss about it because they might lose the baby. The baby was of dark complexion, so he was named Krishna.

Krishna grew up in Yashoda's house until he reached his teens. He later challenged Kamsa and killed him. He then released his grandfather Ugrasena and reinstated him to his throne. He respected and loved his parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, and his adoptive parents, Nanda and Yashoda. 

With all His superhuman qualities and achievements, Lord Krishna was ideal in all his human relationships - a darling son to his parents, an endearing friend and comrade, a devoted disciple, a loving husband and a trusted brother. The shadow of His greatness protects these bonds of the heart. 

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