Intro : Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day of Shravan month to mark the birth of Sri Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. He took birth to kill Kamsa, the unreligious demon king of Mathura to establish a kingdom of peace, prosperity and religion on earth and to spread the message of brotherhood and humanity. Historians calculate the birth of Sri Krishna to the Dwapar Yug.
Mother Earth, unable to bear the burden of sins committed by evil kings and rulers, appealed to Brahma, the Creator, for help. Brahma prayed to the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who assured him that he would soon be born on earth to annihilate tyrannical forces. One such evil force was Kamsa, the ruler of Mathura. People were terrified of him. He had put his father King Ugrasen in prison and declared himself as the King. When Kamsa's sister Devaki was married off to Vasudeva, an akashvani or voice from the sky was heard prophesying that Devaki’s eighth son would be the destroyer of Kamsa. The frightened Kamsa immediately unsheathed his sword to kill his sister but Vasudeva intervened and implored Kamsa to spare his bride, and promised to hand over their children to him. Kamsa relented but imprisoned both Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.
When Devaki gave birth to her first child, Kamsa came to the prison cell and slaughtered the newborn. In this way, he killed the six sons born to Devaki. When her eighth child was to be born, Devaki and Vasudeva started lamenting its fate and theirs. Then suddenly Lord Vishnu appeared before them and said he himself was coming to rescue them and the people of Mathura. He asked Vasudeva to carry him to the house of his friend, the cowherd chief Nanda in Gokula right after his birth, where Nanda's wife Yashoda would be giving birth to a daughter. He was to exchange his boy and bring Yashoda's baby daughter back to the prison. LordVishnu assured them that nothing shall bar their path. At midnight on ashtami, the divine baby was born in Kamsa's prison. Remembering the divine instructions, Vasudeva clasped the child to his bosom and started for Gokula, but found that his legs were in chains. He jerked his legs and was unfettered. The massive iron-barred doors unlocked and opened up. While crossing the river Yamuna, Vasudeva held his baby high over his head. The rain fell in torrents and the river was in spate. But the water made way for Vasudeva and miraculously a five-mouthed snake followed him from behind and provided shelter to the baby.
How is the festival celebrated?
The celebration goes on for two days. On the first day, the Raslila (dance drama) is performed, which depicts the different stages of Sri Krishna's life. A small cradle is placed with a miniature Krishna's idol in it as a symbol of his birth. The merry making reaches its peak at midnight, when arati is performed and bhajans are sung to praise the Lord. Small children dress as young Krishna and his playmate Radha. Devotees fast on this day and usually break their fast at midnight or the next day.
Dahi Handi (pot of curd) is celebrated on the second day of Janmashtami. Sri Krishna, as a child was very naughty. He loved butter. He would steal butter prepared by the gopis (young women in Gokul) Thus little Krishna got the name, Makhanchor (one who steals butter). Dahi Handi is celebrated to mimic the stealing of butter by Krishna. An earthen pot containing butter is hung at a height with the help of a rope. Energetic men make a human pyramid to reach the pot and break it. Later Dahikala (ingredients in the pot) is distributed among all the people. Dahi Handi celebration encourages working in a team, thus signifying the importance of team work.
When Vasudeva reached Gokula, he found the door of Nanda's house open. He exchanged the babies and hurried back to the prison with the baby girl. As he entered, the doors of the prison closed themselves. In the morning, the people at Gokula rejoiced the birth of Nanda's beautiful male child. When Kamsa came to know about the birth of the child, he rushed inside the prison and tried to kill the baby. But this time it skipped from his hand and reached the sky. She was transformed into the Goddess Yogamaya, who told Kamsa: “O foolish! What will you get by killing me? Your nemesis is already born somewhere else.” In his youth Krishna killed Kamsa and liberated his parents from prison. He reinstated Ugrasen as the King of Mathura.
Children in His preaching to Arjun in the Holy Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna says “Whenever the balance of the universe is disturbed by external interference from any of its parts, then I reveal myself as the Power of eternal balancing.” So, it is assumed that the form of God will return to earth for the establishment of peace, religion and prosperity in society when required.