Krishna has always been a God that I have been interested with learning about. I think for me it was the fact I could relate to his cheeky, childish side when I was younger. I remember reading comics about Krishna and watching movies about him with my grandparents which would always be something I would look forward to. Learning more about him and hearing about the mischief he would get up to.
My favourite would always be about how much he loved butter and the mischievous pranks he would play on the Gopi’s. He would often steal butter from people’s homes which helped him gain the nickname of ‘Maakhan Chor’ also known as the one who steals butter! Vrindavan’s women started to tie their butter up higher so that Krishna would not be able to reach it. Krishna would then form human pyramids with his friends to knock the pot down.
Pots of milk are now hung from tall poles in the streets on Janmashtami. Men form human pyramids to reach and break the pots—this in imitation of Krishna’s childhood play with the cowherd boys, when they stole the curds hung out of reach by their mothers.
The story of Krishna’s birth is not one that is heard often but is a good easy story to tell your kids when they ask about Lord Krishna, especially on Janmashtami:
5000 years ago, Mathura was under the ruling of a king named Kamsa. Kamsa was a really greedy and cunning King. He imprisoned his own father in order to claim the throne and become King of Mathura. Kamsa often fought and created wars with the rulers of the Yadu dynasty which troubled the peaceful citizens.
Happy news eventually came when the princess Devaki (Kamsa’s sister) married King Vasudev of the Yadu’s. The citizens of Mathura were overjoyed with the wedding as they believed it would put an end to Kamsa’s wars with the Yadu dynasty. Kamsa was not happy with this and kidnapped them on their wedding day, but just after they were taken a divine voice came from the sky telling him that his own actions had signed his own death warrant and the couples 8th son will kill him!
Kamsa being the cunning king he is thought to himself “How can a child be born when the mother is dead?” And tried to kill Devaki. Vasudev begged him not to kill his new wife and offered all of his children that she gives birth to so that the divine voice’s prophecy doesn’t come true. The king imprisoned the couple in the palace dungeons and every time Devaki gave birth to a child Kamsa would destroy the child. In order to save himself he did this to the seven children born to Devaki. Their 8th child was to be born within the next few days when a terrified Devaki cried to the Gods and pleaded for them to save her child.
As soon as the 8th child was born, the prison filled with a blinding light. The light converged into a sphere before the same divine voice told Vasudev to take the child across the river Yamuna to the Gokul Kingdom. Where their friend Queen Yashoda had just given birth to a daughter. He was told to exchange his son for the daughter before anyone finds out the child has been born.
Vasudev was able to escape the prison and cross the dangerous river Yamuna in the terrible weather in order to switch the children. He left his son with the queen and soon returned to the prison with the little girl. Once he returned news spread that the baby had been born, the slayer of King Kamsa. Devaki pleaded for her brother to save her daughter as the prophecy wasn’t true as it claimed she would give birth to a son.
Kamsa was not ready to spare the baby. but the baby did not die. It flew up towards the prison ceiling and a bright light filled the prison. The baby had taken the form of an eight-armed Goddess Durga. ‘Foolish Kamsa,’ she said, ‘you cannot kill me, and the one who will kill you is already born and alive. One day he will find you and kill you no matter what you do.’
Some people observe a fast on Janmashtami, they should only have one meal the day before Janmashtami. No grains should be consumed during Janmashtami, fasting until the fast is broken on next day after sunrise.
In order to observe Janmashtami:
- A day long fast
- Worshipping Krishna at midnight
- Visiting Krishna’s temple
- Cooking sweet dishes especially made of milk product
People who observe Janmashtami to celebrate the birth of Krishna. They place an idol of baby Krishna in a cradle and swing it joyously and offer it sweets, curd, and ghee. Devotees of Krishna will fast all day and visit a Krishna temple at night and break their fast only at midnight, when he is said to have been born.
Written and Researched by: Anjali Moti