It was a dark time in Mathura when Krishna was born. King Ugrasena is in prison, put there by his evil son Kansa who is unjust and is in constant conflict with the neighbouring Yadu dynasty.
In an attempt to expand his kingdom, Kansa marries his sister Devaki to the Yadu king Vasudeva. He hopes to usurp Vasudeva’s territory over time by employing underhand tricks but the heavens have other plans for the wretched king.
After the wedding Kansa decides to shower the newlyweds with lavish gifts in order to gain Vasudeva’s trust. When he takes the reigns of the nuptial chariot a voice from the heavens booms out that soon his evil ways will come to an end at the hands of his sister’s 8th child.
Kansa doesn’t see this as a problem and draws his sword to slay Devaki right there. To save his wife Vasudeva brokers a deal with the evil king. He promises to bring his first 8 children to the king on the day they are born if he would spare Devaki’s life.
As promised, he offers the king his first six newborns. When Devaki gets pregnant for the 7th time is when things start to get really interesting. Through divine intervention, Devaki’s 7th child is transferred from her womb to the womb of Rohini, Vasudeva’s first wife and is born in safety.
When Devaki gets pregnant again Kansa is anxious. Krishna is in fact Devaki’s 8th child and also an avatar of the Lord Vishnu.
Just as she goes into labour, Vishnu, the preserver appears in her prison cell. He informs Vasudeva that this child is an incarnation of himself and will deliver the entire kingdom from Kansa the tyrant.
With a bolt of lightening, Vishnu destroys the the locks and puts the guards to sleep. He gives Vasudeva precise instructions of what he should do next and then disappears in a flash of light.
In the dead of night Vasudeva leaves the palace carrying a wicker basket containing his divine son. Vishnu had instructed him to cross the Yamuna into the village of Gokul and exchange the babe with the new born baby of Gokul’s head Nanda and his wife Yashoda.
How we celebrate Janmashtami?
People observe Janmashtami to celebrate the birth and escape of Krishna from King Kansa. They place an idol of baby Krishna in a cradle and swing it joyously and offer it sweets, curd, and ghee. Devotees of Krishna will fast all day, visit a Krishna temple at night and break their fast only at midnight, when he is said to have been born.
Govinda or Dahi Handi is a Janmashtami tradition that reflects Krishna’s mischievous nature. An earthen pot filled with a mixture of dahi and ghee is suspended high above the ground. Inside it is usually some money donated by people of the locality. Groups of men will then make a human pyramid and attempt to break the pot to get to its contents. The winnings are distributed amongst the entire team.
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