Janmashtami marks the birth of Sri Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Maha Vishnu who gave us the vital message of Bhagwad Gita?the guiding principles of every Hindu. Sri Krishna was born in the Dwapur Yug which comes just before Kal Yug. Since the festival occurs on ashtami, that is the eighth day of lunar fortnight in the month of Bhadrapada (August-September), it is called Krishnashtami. The festival is celebrated for two days, the first day is called Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami and the second day is called Kalashtami or popularly called Janmashtami.
It is one of the biggest festivals in the world and is celebrated by 930 million people around the world?and two million in the USA alone.
Sri Krishna, the divine son of Devaki and Vasudev, was born on a stormy night in the prison where his parents had been kept by Kansa, the wicked king of Mathura. As the legend goes, Kansa who was the brother of Devaki killed six of her children at birth because he had been warned that her eighth child would kill him. When the seventh child (Balram) was born he was miraculously carried to Rohini, Vasudev's second wife at Gokul.
On the rainy night when Krishna was born, the doors of the prison opened automatically and Vasudev, putting the new born into basket under blankets, carried him across the Yamuna river, then in spate. Krishna was given to Nand and Yashoda, his foster parents at Gokul and the new born daughter of Yashoda, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati was taken to replace Krishna. Later Kansa tried to kill her but could not.
Sri Krishna'sbirth is celebrated all over India with great devotion and enthusiasm. In Mathura, the birth place of Sri Krishna, Janmashtami is celebrated with traditional zeal and gaiety. There are about four hundred temples dedicated to Sri Krishna in this sacred city. The major festivals are held at the Dwarkadhish, Banke Behari, Rangaji, Sri Krishna Balram and the Gopinath temple. The raslila of the Brij is thematically the basis of many performing arts. The image of infant Krishna is bathed at midnight and is placed in a cradle, amidst the blowing of conch shells and the ringing of bells. Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration of the festive occasion. On this day the devotees fast till midnight and they break their fast only after they have rocked the idol of baby Krishna in a flower bedecked cradle. The devotees believe that anyone who makes a wish while rocking the cradle in which Sri Krishna is, his or her wish will be granted on this day. The life of Krishna is depicted in various tableaus.
On this day in some parts of India especially Maharashtra the youth celebrate it by breaking clay pots called dahi handi, filled with curd and butter is suspended high above the ground. Young men and children form human pyramid to reach the pot and break it. This custom follows the habit of Sri Krishna who used to steal butter in this manner along with his friends.
Sri Krishna played many legendary roles during his appearance in the world. He killed many demons such as Kansa and Putana; lifted Mount Govardhan to save the people of Gokul from a storm; tamed Kalia, the giant serpant that lived in river Yamuna. Sri Krishna was also advisor to the Pandavas and during the Mahabharata war he was Arjuna'scharioteer. The original recitation of Bhagwad Gita is accredited to him. He taught the supereme truth of Yoga, Bhakti and Vedanta to Arjuna and Uddhava. He had mastered all the sixty four fine arts. For all these reasons he is regarded as complete manifestation of God. To the Hindus, he is the supreme statesman, warrior, hero, philosopher, teacher and God himself.