Synonymous with joy and celebration, the festival of Janmashtami celebrates the birth of the Hindu god, Lord Krishna, who was born in Mathura and spent his early years in Vrindavan. Days before Janmashtami, festivities begin in homes and all the temples and these two towns spring to life anew to welcome the lord on his birthday. Decorations with twinkling lights, strings of leaves and flowers, paintings and rangoli make each temple a shutterbug’s delight and visitors never fail to be charmed by the charged atmosphere of these twin cities as people flock to be part of the celebrations.
Since this land was the venue of Lord Krishna’s Raas Leela (divine dance) with the gopis (cowherd maids), children continue the delightful tradition in every corner, particularly in temples and at the ghats (riverside) of the Yamuna. Their passion and devotion is infectious and, more often than not, people join in the dance as Lord Krishna himself is believed to be amongst the merry dancers.
At midnight, the time of Lord Krishna’s birth, sounds of temple bells and conch shells ring out and ecstatic cries can he heard all around. Lord Krishna idols are given a ritualistic bath with milk and curd and devotees are offered panchamrit – made of gangajal, curd, ghee, honey.
Most Lord Krishna devotees fast through the day and it is only after midnight – after Lord Krishna has been welcomed into the world – that they break their fast and partake of the celebratory goodies like kheer, laddoo and, of course, butter – a favourite food of the Lord.
Dressed in a beautiful outfit, Lord Krishna’s Ladoo Gopal form is made to sit in a decorated cradle and one by one devotees line up to swing it gently as if lulling baby Krishna to sleep. While all the temples offer a celestial experience, the major ones like the Banke Bihari, ISKON, Radharaman, Radhaballabh and Rangji are all worth a visit to take part in the celebration as joyous cries in praise of Lord Krishna ring out and people dance in gay abandon with devotion writ large on their faces.
A word of advice to all visitors – keep your glasses, phones and small cameras in your bag as there are plenty of monkeys around.