The festival of Janmashtami commemorates the birthday of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The festival is also referred to as Gokulashtami, or Govinda in Maharashtra. Lord Krisha is revered for his love, compassion, playfulness and wisdom about how to live life on Mother Earth. The flute-playing god is also associated with the arts, particularly music and dance.
Who is Lord Krishna?
Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu incarnated as Krishna to bring hope and to free the earth from despair caused by the tyranny of evil rulers. One such tyrant was Kamsa, who ruled Mathura in northern India. He imprisoned Lord Krishna's parents, as he'd heard a prophecy that their eighth child would destroy him. However, when the divine baby was born, Krishna's parents were magically released. His father fled with him to the nearby town of Gokul, where he was safely raised by foster parents who were gopas (cowherds). There, he wooed the village gopis (milkmaids) with his flute-playing. His eternal love affair with one of them, Radha, is very popular in Hindu mythology.
Krishna Janmashtami Festival Dates
The festival dates are determined according to the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival starts on the eighth day (Ashtami) of Krishna Paksha (the waning phase of moon) in the month of Bhadrapada, which occurs in late August or early September. In 2020, the dates are August 11-12.
Do note that festival celebrations are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and will not be taking place as usual this year. Most temples will remain closed to devotees.
Where is Krishna Janmashtami Celebrated?
The festival is enthusiastically celebrated at International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temples, and other temples dedicated to Lord Krishna, across India. Many can be found in and around Mathura, where Lord Krishna was born, in Uttar Pradesh.
India's most important Krishna temples include:
- Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple, Mathura.
- Dwarkadheesh Temple, Mathura.
- Prem Mandir, Vrindavan.
- Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan.
- Sri Sri Radha Madhan Mohan Mandir, Vrindavan.
- Dwarkadhish Temple, Dwarka, Gujarat.
- Shri Keshavraj Temple, Beyt Dwarka, Gujarat.
- Govind Dev Ji Temple, Jaipur, Rajasthan.
- Sri Krishna Matha, Udupi, Karnataka.
- Rajagopalaswamy Temple (Dakshina/Southern Dwarka), Mannargudi, Tamil Nadu.
In Mathura, the temples are brightly decorated for the occasion, many with displays depicting important scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. An auspicious annual Mangala aarti (worship) is performed at Banke Bihari temple in nearby Vrindavan. Here are the best places to stay in these towns.
Mumbai is another top destination experience the festival. Dahi Handi competitions happen at hundreds of locations across the city. The huge ISKCON temple complex in beachside suburban Juhu, and ISKCON Chowpatty (Sri Sri Radha Gopinath Mandir) in South Mumbai, also have special festival programs.
In Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, Vedic Walks offers a special Janmanshtami Festival walking tour. You'll get to learn about the importance of the festival, visit temples and local markets, and even royal quarters to experience the celebrations.
How is the Festival Celebrated?
Fasting is observed on the first day of the festival until midnight -- the time when Lord Krishna was believed to have been born.
People spend the day at temples, offering prayers, singing, and reciting his deeds. At midnight, a traditional prayer is offered. Special baby cradles are installed in temples and a small statue placed in them. The most elaborate rituals are performed at Mathura. The day is marked fasting in appeasement to the lord, exchanging gifts and holding prayers. Lord Krishna’s idols are washed and adorned with news clothes and ornaments. The idol is then placed in a cradle — which symbolizes his birth. On this day, women also draw tiny foot prints walking towards their house, a symbol for Lord Krishna’s journey into their homes.
The highlight of the festival, which happens on the second day especially in Mumbai, is the Dahi Handi. This is where clay pots containing butter, curd, and money are strung up high from buildings and young Govindas form a human pyramid and compete with each other to reach the pots and break them open. This celebration represents Lord Krishna's love for butter and curd, which were the foods he most often enjoyed eating. Lord Krishna was quite mischievous and would take curd from village homes, so the housewives hung it up high out of his way. Not to be deterred, he gathered his friends together and climbed up to reach it.
See Dahi Handi celebrations in Mumbai by going on this festival tour with Grand Mumbai Tours.
One of the biggest Dahi Handi competitions (Sankalp Pratishthan Dahi Handi), which is centrally located, takes place at the Jamboree Maidan on G M Bhosle Marg in Worli. Bollywood celebrities often make appearances and perform there. Otherwise, head to nearby Shivaji Park in Dadar to catch the local action.
What to Expect During the Festival
Lots of chanting, with huge crowds at temples devoted to Lord Krishna. Children get dressed up as Lord Krishna and his companion Radha, and people play games and people perform dances depicting the various events in Lord Krishna's life. The Dahi Handi festivities, while fun to watch, can get quite intense for Govinda participants -- sometimes resulting in broken bones and other injuries.