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Janmashtami: The birth at midnight

Today, August 23, the Hindu community will be celebrating the birth of a very prominent deity, Krishna. Here are some details about the festival of Janmashtami
Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
Janmasthami, marks the birth of Hindu deity Krishna, the eight avatar of Lord Vishnu. One of the biggest religious festivals in the country, it is celebrated with pomp and gaiety. The Hindu community in Goa will indulge in its celebrations on August 23.
Hindu mythology tells us that mother Earth was burdened with innumerable asuras disguised as violent and haughty kings. Unable to bear the burden, Earth took the form of a cow and appeared before Lord Brahma. Crying distressingly, she narrated her tale of woe, following which Brahma emphatically said to her: “My dear child, there is only one being who can help you that is Narayana. We shall take refuge in him.” Accompanied by Lord Shiva, they proceeded to meet Narayana (Lord Vishnu) who dwelt on the snake Adishesha in an ocean of milk. Upon reaching the shore, while they prayed with utmost devotion, Brahma stood in deep meditation and heard a voice ring within him. He then addressed the other gods: “Listen to the words of Narayana which I heard in my meditation,” he added: “Lord Vishnu is already aware of mother Earth’s distress. He has decided to be born on Earth as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva. You are to be born on Earth in the Yadu clan, to be his helpers as long as he remains there.” Hearing Brahma’s words, mother Earth and the gods were satisfied. On the eight day of the black half of Bhadra (August-September) Krishna was born. This auspicious day is celebrated in all parts of India as Janmashtami.
The circumstances in which he was born were quite peculiar and mysterious. He incarnated himself primarily to destroy evil and wickedness and to establish dharma. It is a well-known story that the demon King Kansa was aware that his death would be at the hands of his sister’s child. Thus he imprisoned Devki and Vasudev and killed their seven newborn children. Krishna, their eighth son, was born in the prison cell. However, with divine help the guards fell asleep, Devaki and Vasudeva’s chains loosened and the gates of the cell opened. Vasudeva took the child to Nanda’s house in Gokula and exchanged him for a baby girl born to Yashoda. When Kansa heard of the birth of a girl child, he rushed to the prison cell and lifted the child, holding it by the feet and was about to dash her against a rock, when she slipped from Kansa’s grip and assumed the form of the ‘divine mother’ and vanished saying: “Wretch! Thy destroyer is flourishing in Gokula.”
Royal priest of the Yadava kings, Gargacharya visited Nandagokula. To keep the naming ceremony a secret, it was performed in the cowshed.
Krishna grew up as a mischievous child, and the gopis would complain to his mother Yashoda about his behaviour. Today, youngsters on Janmashtami tie a pot high on a rope and form human pyramids to reach the pot to depict the mischievous behaviour of Krishna.
Janmashtami celebrations begin early in the morning with a bath in sacred waters and prayers. Celebrations climax at midnight with the rising of the moon, which marks the divine birth. Devotees observe strict fasts and break the same only after Krishna’s birth at midnight. An image of Krishna as a child is put into a richly decorated swing and is rocked with tender care all day by devotees.
In Goa, Janmashtami is celebrated by all Hindus, however, only some perform the puja and place the idol in their homes. Those who do, have to observe a strict fast and can only eat fruits and freshly cooked gram or lentils. No masala is added to food unless it is freshly ground. The idol of baby Krishna is offered thousand-odd tulsi leaves. A ‘bhat’ performs the ‘uttarpuja’ and family members sing ‘ovis’.
After the religious ceremony is over, the idol is restored to its original place in the house. If a clay idol is used, it is immersed into a well and a new one is brought the following year. In temples, an idol of Krishna is placed in a swing and women, particularly those praying for a child, rock it.
In the temple of Narve Bicholim, Janmashtami celebrations witness a big fair setup. The same happens in Panaji: a tradition that was observed even during the Portuguese regime and still continues today. It is traditionally known as the ‘ashtamichi feri’. The fair in Panaji is setup near the Municipal market and in the area along the river front. Amongst the usual items sold at such fairs there are stalls that sell wooden items (Chitari or carved ‘paath’) that are required for Ganesh festivities. According to tradition, the bride’s parents have to send these items as part of ‘vajem’ of the first year to the son-in-law’s home during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.[NT]