Gokulashtami is a grand festival celebrated all over India. It marks the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna, one of the ten avatars of Maha Vishnu. Krishna is remarkable for His mischievous personality combined with absolute spirituality.
As the name Gokulashtami or Janmashtami implies, it is Ashtami thithi on which Krishna took birth.
The birth day of Lord Krishna falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) after Krishna Paksha in the Bhadrapada month. It occurs during August-September as per English calendar. It is Aavani as per Tamil calendar. The day is marked by celebrations that ring with joy, happiness, spirituality, and games resembling the mischievous pranks of Lord Krishna in his childhood. The birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated as Janmashtami, Gokulashtami, Sri Jayanthi, Dahi Handi, Raslila in various parts of India. This year it falls on August 14.
The 10Th chapter of Bhagavata Puranam speaks about the avatar of Sri Krishna. He was born in a time when people were shuddering under the tyranny of the evil king Kansa in Mathura. Kansa was the uncle of Krishna who harassed the people to the core. Further, he heard the ill omen that he would be killed by the eighth son of his sister Devaki who was married to Vasudeva. Kansa mercilessly killed six sons of Devaki and the seventh son was transferred to the womb of Rohini, the second wife of Vasudevar. The seventh son was Balram, the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu.
According to the hair-raising description of that birth in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, tenth canto, third chapter,
it was in the dense darkness of that fateful night, the Lord appeared – mark the word, appeared, not born – as an unusual child from the womb of Devaki, just like the full moon rising on the eastern horizon!. Oh, what a sight it was!
tam-adbhutam bAlakam-ambujekShaNaM caturbhujam shanka-gadAdyudhAyudhaM /
shrIvatsa-lakShmaM gala-shobhi-kaustubhaM pItAmbaraM sAndra-payoda-saubhagaM//
mahArha-vaiDUrya-kirITa-kuNDala-tviShA pariShvakta-sahasra-kuntalaM /
uddAma-kAnchyangada-kankaNAdibhiH virAjamAnaM vasudeva aikShata //
தமத்புதம் பாலகம் அம்புஜேக்ஷணம்
சதுர்புஜம் சங்க கதார்யுதாயுதம்
ஸ்ரீவத்ஸலக்ஷ்மம் கலஸோபி கௌஸ்துபம்
பீதாம்பரம் ஸாந்த்ர பயோத சௌபகம்
மஹார்ஹ வைடூர்ய கிரீட குண்டல
த்விஷா பரிஷ்வக்த ஸஹஸ்ர குந்தளம்
உத்தாம காஞ்ச்யங்கத கங்கணாதிபிர்
விரோசமாநம் வசுதேவ ஐக்ஷத
Vasudeva saw that wonder child with four hands, holding a conch, a mace, a chakra (discus) and a lotus; with Srivatsa emblem on his chest; with Kaustubha gem on the neck; with cloth of golden hue, as beautiful as the blue water-filled cloud; with dense hair flowing around amidst the adornments of crown and ear-rings radiant with precious gems; and excellently brilliant with bracelets around the hip and arms.
The eight son Krishna was born on Ashtami at 12 am in the prison where Devaki and her husband were jailed. It was dark night and Vasudev decided to save the child by taking it to his friend Nandh’s place. It was pouring heavily and Vasudev had to cross the river Yamuna which was flooding like anything. The Seshnaag (Adhiseshan) was the protector of father and son and the child was left in the custody of Nandh, who with his wife Yasodha took care of Krishna in His childhood in Vrindavan.
· Gokulashtami marks the avatar of Sri Krishna to establish dharma on earth. Lord Vishnu comes down to earth to establish dharma whenever there is the overwhelming sway of adharma on earth.
· Spirituality is mixed with happiness and joy while celebrating the birth of our great Lord Krishna whose childhood pranks are a combination of mischief and spiritual revelations.
· Gokulashtami celebrations make us joyous with the feeling of welcoming a new born in our household.
· It makes us revel in the glory of the little child Sri Krishna who is capable of endless mischiefs that differentiate him from any other God.
· In various parts of India people celebrate Gokulashtami in different manners. In general, people decorate their homes with small footprints signifying the coming of the new born into their households.
· Prayers, bhajans are conducted on the day and people observe fast and keep vigil at night.
· Sweets, butter, milk and savouries are the favourites of Lord Krishna. These things are offered as neivedhyam to God on this day.
· Many keep fasting throughout the day and only after pooja to Lord Krishna at midnight, they break their fast by taking prasadam and share the sweets with others.
· Recitals of Bhagavat Gita and Bhagavata Purana are organised in many places and people participate in these recitals.
· People visit Krishna temples and offer their prayers to the God.
Dwarka, Mathura, Vrindavan are the places where Gokulashtami is celebrated in a very grand manner apart from other places where special poojas are conducted to Lord Krishna.Guruvayoor is one more place where Gokulashtami pooja is performed in a special manner.
At Dwarka in Gujarat, the devotees are able to see the darshan of Krishna in Arcadis temple in the morning and again they are able to watch special poojas and celebrations at midnight. In Mathura and Vrindavan in North India also it is the same kind of celebration.
In Kutch district(Gujarat), farmers decorate their bullock carts and take a procession singing in praise of Lord Krishna.
Dahi Handi is a celebration on Gokulashtami in Maharashtra especially in Mumbai. People make a human pyramid and try to hit the handi (pot with yogurt) through this pyramid. The person at the top of the pyramid hits the pot (tied on a height) with a coconut and the milk particles inside spill down. These particles are considered as the prasadam of Krishna and are eaten with piety by the devotees. It is a game symbolically representing the mischievous and playful activities of Krishna in His childhood.
Nowadays, Dahi Handi has become a competition among Govind Pathaks (people who form a human pyramid) and those who break more handis are declared as the winner of the competition.
In Dwarka. people celebrate it as Makhan Handi.
Raslila is a kind of celebration of Gokulashtami followed in East and North-East States of India. The stories of Radha and Krishna are enacted as dance drama in Manipuri style and people enjoy watching it.
It is considered that Raslila enactment is a depiction of the soul’s longing to become one with the Absolute Self, similar to the longing of Radha for Krishna.Sri Govindjee Temple and ISKON Temples celebrate Janmashtami with grandeur.
South Indians decorate their homes with small footprints that welcome the new-born into their home. The footprints start from the entrance to the place where pooja is conducted.
It is a custom to dress young children like Krishna and celebrate the occasion.
Sweets, butter, milk, curd, savouries like seedai, murukku are offered to Krishna as these are the favourites of Lord Krishna.
Pooja is conducted in the late evening and prasadam is offered to God.
Gokulashtami brings the boon of a child to the childless couple. Those who are childless need to say Santana Gopala mantram and pray to Lord Krishna for a child. Their prayers will be granted by God.
Imagining Lord Krishna in a cradle renders joy and happiness to all. At the same time, it also reminds us of the significance of His avatar. Let us celebrate Gokulashtami with grandeur and piety so as to seek the Grace of Lord and revel in memories of His childhood pranks.