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Krishna Janmashtami: The history and significance of the festival

Khokun Acharjee Hridoy

Published: 02:12, 6 September 2023

Krishna Janmashtami: The history and significance of the festival

The Hindu community is celebrating Krishna Janmashtami -- the birth of Lord Krishna -- today. The deity is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is revered as the supreme being in the Vaishnavism denomination.
Lord Krishna is believed to have been born in Mathura around 3,228 BCE to Devaki, the sister of King Kansa, and her husband Vasudeva.
It was prophesised that the couple's eighth child would kill Kansa, putting an end to his reign of evil. To stop it from coming true, Kansa imprisoned them. He killed six children they had in prison.
Devaki and Vasudev's seventh child Balram was saved as god transferred him to the womb of Rohini, Vasudev's second wife. Balram was the incarnation of Shesh Nag, the 10-headed serpent on whom Lord Vishnu rested.
Their eighth child Krishna, who would kill his evil uncle, had to be saved. The night he was born, his father found himself magically freed of prison  chains.
Braving a storm and a swelling Yamuna, he carried the baby to his brother and sister-in-law Nanda and Yashoda in Gokul, with the help of divine intervention.
Krishna grew up as a  cowherd in Gokul. He eventually returned to Mathura to kill the evil king Kansa.
In Hindu scriptures, Krishna is portrayed in various shades-- a miracle child, an ideal lover and a divine hero. He is an important presence in in Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavata Purana. 
Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna by fasting, singing and praying. Baby Krishna idols are bathed and put in cradles on Janmashtami.
Lord Krishna is important to Hindus as he is considered to be the eight incarnation of Lord Vishnu – the supreme god.
And because Lord Krishna was the eighth, it is believed this makes him the destroyer of evil (Krishna means ‘dark’) and one of the most powerful incarnations. For this reason Janmashtami is all about celebrating the presence of good, the destruction of all things evil and the prevalence of goodwill. The idea being that this will lead to unity.
Princess Devaki, who was the sister of King Kansa, was married to Vasudeva in a grand ceremony but when the King learned of a prophesy that their ‘eighth son’ would cause his death, he threw the pair in prison.
The merciless King then wreaked havoc on the city, causing great misery and peril.
He killed six babies that his sister Princess Devaki had, but legend has it that a seventh child was magically transferred to the womb of Princess Rohini in Vrindavan, while they told the King she had miscarried. This child grew up to become Balram – the eldest brother of Lord Krishna. 
When Lord Krishna, the eighth son was born, his father took him away to be raised instead by his father’s friend Nanda.
It is said that the Gods guided Vasudeva as he carried the baby Lord Krishna in a basket on his head through a frightening thunderstorm and heavy rainfall. Devotees believe the snake god, Shesh Nag, helped protect the father and son during this journey.
When he arrived, he exchanged the baby for Nanda’s own child, a baby girl, who the family hoped the king wouldn’t kill as the prophesy stated his death would be at the hand of the ‘eighth son’.
But the king did try to kill the girl, tossing her against some rocks but she is said to have risen up into the air afterwards and taken the form of Goddess Durga where she delivered another warning about his death.
Meanwhile, Lord Krishna grew up in Gokul, living with Nanda and his wife Yashoda until he was fully grown. At this time he returned to the city and killed the king.
Big celebrations will take part in Mathura as this is believed to be where Lord Krishna was born on a dark and windy night.
Legend has it that he lived there as well as in Kurukshetra, Vrindavan and Dwarka for 5,000 years with dozens of stories written about his time in those places.
The writer is a physician and civil society leader