Janmashtami 2023: Celebrating the Birth of Lord Krishna
In the colorful tapestry of Hindu festivals, Janmashtami also known as ‘Gokul Ashtami’ stands as a vibrant celebration that commemorates the birth of Lord Krishna, a beloved deity in the Hindu pantheon.
For millions of devotees in India and around the world, Janmashtami offers a unique opportunity to immerse in the rich history of Krishna worship and participate in the lively festivities that bridge cultures and communities. The Janmashtami festivities are popular not just in India, but even among the Indian diaspora in New York, London and in major cities around the world. As Janmashtami 2023 approaches, we bring to you the story of Krishna worship and also how Krishna has influenced Indian art through paintings and sculptures.
The Story of Krishna Worship
The origins of Krishna worship can be traced back to ancient India, where his life story is chronicled in the revered text, the Bhagavad Gita, and the epic Mahabharata. Born in Mathura, a city in present-day Uttar Pradesh, Krishna's life is a captivating narrative filled with divine miracles and profound teachings.
Krishna, often depicted as a playful and mischievous child, evolved into a symbol of love, devotion, and compassion as the bhakti movement spread across India, starting the 6th century. His teachings emphasized the importance of duty, righteousness, and maintaining a spiritual connection while fulfilling worldly responsibilities. As time passed, Krishna's popularity grew, and he also became the muse for art, across India as can be seen in Pattachitra paintings from Odisha, Pichwais from Rajasthan and the vivid Kerala murals.
Janmashtami and its Significance
Janmashtami, also called Krishna Ashtami or Gokul Ashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, is celebrated with great enthusiasm by Hindus around the world. Falling on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the month of Bhadrapada (usually August or September), this festival marks the divine descent of Krishna into the mortal realm.
The story of Krishna's birth is a central part of Janmashtami celebrations. According to legend, he was born in a prison cell in Mathura to Devaki and Vasudeva. Fearing the wrath of his uncle, the tyrannical King Kansa, who had imprisoned his parents, Krishna was miraculously transported to Gokul, where he was raised by his foster parents, Nanda and Yashoda. To celebrate this miraculous event, devotees observe fasts, engage in prayers, and engage in various festivities.
Janmashtami Celebrations in India and around the world
In India as well as in large parts around the world, Janmashtami is celebrated with considerable fervor. In large parts of North India , the Nishita Puja or the midnight celebration is the highlight of Janmashtami, marking the exact moment in time (the midnight) when Krishna was born. Devotees gather to perform puja (ritual worship), sing bhajans (devotional songs), and offer a variety of foods that are believed to be Krishna's favorites.
In Western India, especially in the city of Mumbai, the ‘Dahi Handi’ marks the highlight of the festivities. This lively tradition involves forming a human pyramid to reach and break an earthen pot (handi) filled with curd, which is tied high above the ground. It's a spectacle that brings communities together and is considered an intrinsic part of Mumbai’s cultural tradition.
Even in major cities around the world, Janmashtami is celebrated with much fervor, showcasing the diversity and unity of the Indian diaspora. Temples and community centers come alive with vibrant decorations, cultural performances, and devotional events.
Krishna in Indian Art
Indian art has been a remarkable medium for expressing spirituality, mythology, and cultural richness. Among the many subjects that have captured the imagination of artists over the centuries, none has been as enchanting and diverse as Lord Krishna. The beloved deity, often depicted as a playful child, a charming youth, or a divine lover, has inspired a plethora of artistic creations, from intricate Radha Krishna paintings to vibrant Krishna wall hangings.
Radha Krishna Paintings: Capturing Divine Love
One of the most iconic depictions of Lord Krishna in Indian art is that of him with his beloved Radha. Their love story transcends earthly limitations and symbolizes the eternal bond between the human soul and the divine.Radha Krishna paintings, with their vibrant colors and intricate detailing, have long been a staple of Indian art. These paintings not only showcase the physical beauty of the divine couple but also convey the profound spiritual love that exists between them.
Pichwais of Nathdwara: Portals to the Divine
Nathdwara, a small town in Rajasthan, is renowned for its exquisite Pichwai paintings that celebrate the life and leelas (divine exploits) of Lord Krishna. Pichwais are intricate, hand-painted textiles that serve as backdrop curtains in temples, particularly those dedicated to Krishna. These intricate artworks often depict Krishna in various stages of his life – from his mischievous childhood to his heroic feats as a prince and his enchanting Raas Leela with the Gopis. Today, you can get a fine Pichwai made by a master artisan for your home.
Krishna Wall Paintings: Enlivening Spaces with Divinity
Krishna's influence on Indian art is not confined to traditional mediums alone. Modern interpretations of Krishna's stories have found their way onto the walls of urban spaces, bringing a touch of spirituality to contemporary living. Krishna wall paintings often blend traditional elements with a contemporary flair, making them accessible to a wider audience. The temples of Kerala were known for their fine mural paintings of Lord Krishna, today these murals are being revived using traditional techniques and natural colours and are available.
Janmashtami, a festival that radiates spirituality, devotion, and unity, is a remarkable occasion for Hindus around the world to celebrate their heritage while sharing the beauty of Krishna's life and teachings with a broader audience. As the vibrant festivities of Janmashtami continue to spread across communities, they serve as a bridge between cultures and a testament to the enduring power of faith.
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