By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Janmastami, JanmAStami, Janmaashtami
Janmāṣtami literally means ‘the eighth day on which the birth of Srī Kṛṣṇa occurred’.
Janmāṣṭamī, Meaning of the Word
Janmāṣṭamī or Śrī Kṛṣṇa janmāṣtamī is one of the most popular and the most widely celebrated festival all over the country and the Hindus living abroad. The word ‘Janmāṣṭamī’ has no reference of Kṛṣṇa in the word at all. It flatly means the birthday of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Śri Kṛṣṇa, Conqueror Of Hindu Masses
Śri Kṛṣṇa and Śri Rāma are believed to be the incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu. Śri Kṛṣṇa commands love, affection, reverence and devotion of millions of Hindus for millennia. Śri Kṛṣṇa is a ‘person’ or a ‘personality’ who has succeeded in capturing the psyche and ethos of an entire nation for numberless years. Hence he is certainly the maker and shaper of the history and not just a poor historical entity.
Janmāṣṭamī as Śrāvaṇa Kṛṣṇāṣṭamī
The birthday of Śri Kṛṣṇa is mentioned as Śrāvaṇa Kṛṣṇāṣṭamī. It is associated with the Rohiṇī nakṣatra, the 4th asterism, comprising of five stars. It is sometimes assigned to the month Bhādrapada or even to other months and dates, which may be assumed to refer to some older traditions. Janmāṣṭamī falls on the eighth day in the dark fortnight in the month of Śrāvaṇa, usually in August/September is now the universally accepted one.
Vrata of Janmāṣṭamī
If the aṣṭamī tithi and the Rohiṇī nakṣatra occur on the same day, it is doubly sacred. Then the vrata is observed on the same day. Otherwise, it is to be observed on the aṣṭamī day only. If both are spread over two days, the latter day is chosen for the observance.
Rituals of Janmāṣṭamī
Since Krsṇa was born at midnight, the observance of the vrata commences at midnight. The rituals involved in it are:
- Keeping vigil the whole night
- Worship of Lord Kṛṣṇa
- Repeating or listening to the recitations from the Bhāgavata
- Listening or reciting to the hymns of praise on Kṛṣṇa’s story and exploits
- Pāraṇā - Ceremonial breaking of the fast
The sañkalpa mantra mentions the reward one wants. The vrata can be observed as kāmya or with desire or it can be even done for self-purification. Works giving more detailed instructions about the vrata, advise the performer to devise a temporary sutikāgṛha or a delivery room. The pujā includes the performance of certain sacraments to be done at the birth of a child like the jātakarma and nāmakaraṇa or the naming ceremony.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa Jayantī
Generally, the Rohiṇi nakṣatra falls on the next day which is observed as Jayantī or Śrī Kṛṣṇa Jayantī. It may be observed either as a vrata or as an utsava. In some parts of the country like Mahārashtra, boys and common folk hang up pots full of curds and buttermilk. They play underneath them and get drenched by the curds and buttermilk running out of the holes made by the boys in a typical Kṛṣṇa fashion.
In some of the South Indian homes, some of the eatables prepared for the occasion are hung on a frame at the top of the maṇḍapa and distributed among the devotees and especially the children after the festivities. The celebrations are held on a grand scale in all the Kṛṣṇa temples especially the ones in Vṛndāban, Mathurā and Dvārakā. Processions with Kṛṣṇa images in the cradles are a common sight.
- Maṇḍapa is the temporary shrine structure.
- Mathurā is situated in Uttar Pradesh.
- Dvārakā is situated in Gujarat.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore