Today is the annual Hindu festival of Janmashtami - here’s how it’s celebrated

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 1:19 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 2:13 pm
Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, is an important annual Hindu festival (Photo: Shutterstock)

Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Janmashtami or Gokulashtami, is an important annual Hindu festival.

But what is Janmashtami, how is it celebrated and what is the history behind it?

Here’s what you need to know.

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What is Janmashtami?

The annual Hindu festival of Janmashtami celebrates the birth of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.

Hindus believe that on this day, Lord Vishnu, the preserver or sustainer of life, was incarnated on Earth as Lord Krishna in order to fight evil.

When is the festival celebrated?

Janmashtami is observed according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar.

The festival falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) of Krishna Paksha or the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the Hindu month of Bhadon.

This overlaps with August or September of the Gregorian calendar.

The date changes every year, but this year the festival lands on Tuesday 11 August. Next year, Janmashtami will take place on Monday 30 August 2021.

What is the history of the festival?

Lord Krishna is considered the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

The parents of Lord Krishna, Devaki and Vasudeva, were thrown into prison by Mathura's King Kansa.

Mathura is a sacred city in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, and was the capital of the Vrishni kingdom where King Kansa was the ruler.

Devaki was the sister of King Kansa, but on the day of her marriage it was prophesied that her eighth son would kill Kansa.

After this, Kansa threw both his sister and brother-in-law into prison and killed all of their sons one-by-one until Krishna was born.

On the night Krishna was born, a divine voice told his father, Vasudeva, to carry the baby to Vrindavan in order to protect him from Kansa's attack.

How is Janmashtami celebrated?

People typically observe fast and offer prayer to the deity for good health and happiness.

Fasting is observed for the entire day and broken only after the birth of Lord Krishna at midnight.

People wear new clothes, and dance and sing in celebration of the birth of their deity.

The puja ritual, which takes place at midnight, sees the idol of Lord Krishna worshipped, and people offering flowers, fruits and sweets to the god, alongside praying for the welfare of their family.

When is Dahi Handi and how is it celebrated?

The second day of the Janmashtami festival, Dahi Handi, falls on 12 August this year.

It’s a major part of the celebration, and represents the life and deeds of the young Lord Krishna, who used to steal butter and yogurt by breaking the pots that people used to fasten at a height.

The festival sees pots of yogurt (dahi), hung at a height in pots (handi). Teams of young people then form a human pyramid, with the person at the top - the ‘govinda’ tasked with breaking the handi to get the dahi.

Dahi Handi is popular in Maharashtra and other westerns states of India.