Krishna's Birthday Bash
Krishna, the blue-faced prankster, is a beloved Hindu deity. His birthday, Janmashtami, is a joyous day with a serious message.
(Editors' Note: This article first appeared on Beliefnet in 2005)
Krishna is the vanquisher of all evil and the guide for right living. In the mighty Mahabharata war in which the Pandavas battled their kinsmen, the Kauravas, he drove the Pandava warrior Arjuna's chariot and instructed him to perform his duty, to be on the side of dharma or righteousness. When Arjuna hesitated to fight against his own brethren, Krishna enlightened him with wisdom that encompasses all aspects of living. These words are immortalized in the 700 slokas of the Bhagavad Gita or the Song of the Lord, which has sustained people across the world.
Why do Hindus love Krishna so much? He is the all-pervading, omnipresent One without whom even a leaf cannot stir, but he assumes a very accessible human form, becoming babe, naughty child, son, friend and lover. There is an instant bonding and connection between this deity and his devotees because Krishna is all about love.
The Bhakti or devotional movement in many parts of India revolves around Krishna, for his love for his beloved Radha is about cosmic love, about the union of soul and the Supreme Being.
Krishna is very much a part of a Hindu's life: Many children are named after him – the deity has hundreds of names so there's plenty to choose from! Interestingly, Krishna is a name for both male and female children and the parents certainly hope they will take on his shining attributes. Everything associated with Krishna is auspicious--there's even a Krishna Savings Bank in Delhi and a Lord Krishna Bank in Kerala!
Krishna's devotees are also found in the movement commonly known as the Hare Krishnas--formally called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness--that was started in the United States by A.C. Bhaktivedanta in the 1960s and which now has centers all over the world. You may have seen the Hare Krishna devotees dancing on the streets or at airports.
Walk into a Hare Krishna temple and you see that same blissful abandon before the images of Krishna. Vegetarian feasts are served, free for everybody, based on the many delicacies that Krishna loved--butter, ghee, and milk.
In addition to ISKCON temples, Janmashtami is celebrated with pomp and pageantry, with dance performances and skits of Krishna's life, in the many temples throughout America that were founded since the 1960s by Indian immigrants.
"Janmashtami, the birth of Lord Krishna at midnight which is the darkest moment of the night, symbolizes that the Lord manifested Himself from the prison cell, thus vigorously illuminating the universe, dispelling the darkness of ignorance," says Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America.