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Janmashtami celebrates the birthday of Lord Krishna who was the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu took ten incarnations to rid the world of darkness and evil forces. Krishna was born as the son of the Yadava prince, Vasudeva and his wife, Devaki, who was the sister of the tyrant king, Kamsa. A divine prophecy foretold that Kamsa would be slain by the 8th child of Devaki and Vasudeva. He panicked and threw his sister and her husband into a dungeon. He also killed the children born to them. But when the 8th child, a son, was born, aided by divine forces, Vasudeva escaped from prison and took the infant to Gokul where he left it with his friend, Nanda and his wife, Yashoda. Krishna grew up as their son. Later, he fulfilled the prophecy by killing his evil uncle, Kamsa. Here are 15 interesting facts about Janmashtami celebrations:
1. Janmashtami is also known as Krishna Janmashtami, Gokulashtami, Saatam Aatham, Ashtami Rohini, Sree Jayanthi and Srikrishna Jayanti.
2. During Janmashtami, one can witness a religious frenzy in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, the birthplace of Lord Krishna was born, and Gokul, 15 km south-east of Mathura, where the Lord was raised by his foster parents. Supposedly, there are more than 400 temples in Mathura dedicated to Nandgopal. Grand celebrations take place in Mathura’s twin city, Vrindavan, too.
3. The festival is also celebrated in South India. Devotees offer fruits as ‘prasadam’ to Krishna and sing bhajans or devotional songs. The ground leading to the entrance of houses are decorated with tiny footprints made of rice flour symbolizing the footprints of Bala Gopala (infant Krishna).
4. In Maharashtra in western India, a major draw of the festival is the ceremony of ‘dahi-handi’ (a contest to break a pot suspended in the air by teams of young men forming a human pryamid). The pot used to have curd or butter before but now it usually contains gifts, money, etc.
More than 4000 “dahi-handi” competitions are held on Janmashtami in Mumbai alone of which the most popular are held at Girgaon, Lower Parel, Dadar, Lalbaug and Worli. The event recreates the theft of butter by the child, Krishna, and his friends.
5. Gujarat is the land which is believed to be Krishna’s kingdom. Here too, there are grand celebrations, especially at the Dwarkadhish temple.
6. In the East, in states like Odisha, (especially Puri), and West Bengal, (Mayapur and Nabadwip), devotees fast till midnight (till the birth time of Krishna) on this day. They worship the Lord and chant verses from the Bhagavad Gita (Krishna’s battlefield advice to Arjuna during the Kurukshetra war in the epic, Mahabharata), sing devotional songs and utter the chant, “Hare Krishna” and “Hari Bol”.
7. The festival is celebrated not only in India but also abroad. In Singapore especially, the festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. There are religious processions accompanied by chants of “Hare Krishna” which can be seen on Serangoon Road, a street that extends from Little India to Kallang.
Grand celebrations are also the norm at Shree Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Chander Road in Little India.
8. In Canada, especially in Toronto, the Indian community takes the initiative to organize cultural programmes at the Richmond Hill temple to mark the festival.
9. In Karachi, Pakistani Hindus celebrate the festival at Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. On the occasion, there will be bhajans and sermons on Lord Krishna.
10. Despite being a Muslim country, Janmashtami is observed with great fervor in Malaysia, especially at the Lord Krishna temple located in Kuala Lumpur.
11. Indians living in Paris and other regions of France, decorate their homes and temples at the midnight hour. They give a ritual bath to the idols of infant Krishna with Ganga water from India. The idols are then placed in cradles and swung, as conches are blown.
12. Celebrations in Nepal are held at the Krishna temple in Patan Durbar Square. Devotees offer flowers, coins and “prasad” to the Lord.
13. Hindus in London celebrate for two days. More than 60,000 people take part in the Janmashtami celebrations at the UK headquarters of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), called Bhaktivedanta Manor. George Harrison, lead guitarist, singer and songwriter of The Beatles donated the building to ISKCON.
14. The US too has Janmashtami celebrations, especially in California, New York, Orlando and Massachusetts.
15. In Bangladesh, Janmashtami is a national holiday. In 1902 and in the years that followed, devotees began taking out a religious procession from Dhakeshwari National Temple located in the capital, Dhaka, passing through Old Dhaka streets. The procession was stopped in 1948 after the partition of India but it med in 1989.