Janmashtami or Janamashtami, which is the birthday (janam-) of Lord Krishna is widely celebrated in all parts of India with great fervor and devotion on the eighth (-ashtami) day after the full moon in the shraavana month of the Hindu Calendar(जन्मष्टमी). Lord Krishna is considered the ninth eighth (and complete) avatar (or incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. The significance of being a complete avatar is that all the qualities and powers of Lord Vishnu were integrated into Lord Krishna.

The birth of Lord Krishna was for the express purpose of re-establishing the fundamentals of faith within the hindu people. As spoken in the Bhagavad Gita by Krishna himself yada yada hi dharmasya, glaanirbhavati bharata, i.e. whenever faith is under attack in this world, I will re-appear to protect those who are devoted to me and to re-establish faith and order. The message of Vedanta preached to Arjuna through the Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the seminal work and crown in the jewel of all Hindu texts.

yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya

glaanirbhavati bhaarata.

Abhyutthaanam.h adharmasya

tadaatmaanM sRRijaamyaham.h..

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्या, ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानम् अधर्मस्या, तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ।।

Sri Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu is the most popular avatar and is regarded as purna avataar(complete incarnation). All other deities are regarded as his manifestation. His story and his exploits(leela) are numerous and very well known. To the Hindu, he is the supreme statesman, warrior, hero, philosopher, teacher and God himself. He is the great exponent of Bhagavadgita, the "song celestial".

Lord Krishna in his youth

The Birth of Krishna

The festival of Janmashtami is observed as a day of fasting until midnight - which is the time at which Lord Krishna was born to his mother Devaki in a prison cell. The demonic king Kansa had put Devaki (his sister) into prison because he had been told by his advisers that the son of Devaki would be his nemesis. Kansa had planned to kill Krishna at birth, but as soon as he was born, the prison gates magically opened and his father smuggled him out to be raised by his adopted mother, Yashoda.

Sudama and Balarama were two of Lord Krishna's favorite companions during his childhood. The stories of Krishna's love for butter and milk products is legendary and woven into many poems, rituals and bhajans. He was always being scolded by his adopted mother Yashoda for doing all kinds of mischief as a young child.

The Divine Powers of Krishna the Child

At a young age, Lord Krishna and Balarama went to the court of King Kansa and challenged his wrestlers to duel with them. After killing all his seemingly unconquerable wrestlers, King Kansa challenged Lord Krishna to a duel. Krishna simply assumed his supernatural powers and killed him easily. The people celebrated because they were forever rid of Kansa's evil rule.

In another instance, there was a great flood which was threatening to destroy the entire population of Krishna's village. Krishna showed his supernatural powers by lifting the entire village, including the govardhan mountain on his shoulders and thus saving them from the calamity of the flood.

Spiritual Significance of Janmashtami

Janmashtami is celebrated by some as the day on which the preacher of the highest philosophy, the Vedanta (the -anta or "end" of the Vedas), was incarnated onto this earth. The message of the four paths to liberation as spoken by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the greatest spiritual gift of Janmashtami to the hindu thought process. In addition, the message of love - for one another, and for God - was also emphasized by Krishna. In fact, Lord Krishna said - those who do not follow any of the four paths and instead are simply devoted to me, will eventually come and join me in my abode. This simple message gave rise to the cult of Bhakti, or universal love, which is very popular in many parts of India. Many current practices in Hinduism are based on the concept of Bhakti.

Listen to or Download the Bhagavate Mantra (mp3 120K) for yoga and meditation
This rendition of the 'Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaaya' Mantra is sung by Yogi Hari.
Ref. Hindu gods and goddesses by Swami Harshananda. Published by Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore 560020, 2nd edn 1982.
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