“Nand ghar anand bhayo, jai Kanhaiya lal ki,
Hathi ghoda palki, jai Kanhaiya lal ki!
As little kids, my cousins and I would skip along in a train formation, singing the above song, building the excitement for Janmashtami a couple of days in advance.
I grew up in a joint family of Vasihanavas. My aunts and uncles, being ardent Bhakts of “Krishna” and ‘Ram’. An idol of ‘Bal Gopal’ adorned our temple. Now, to truly understand the significance of Janmashtami for us, one must understand what having a baby Kanha in one’s home implies . It’s like having a permanent baby in our home for whom we lovingly do ‘seva’ everyday and fulfill all responsibilities that one would normally do for a child. ‘Kanha’ is bathed and dressed every morning before doing puja and ‘bhog’ is offered thrice a day since a baby should never remain hungry. Hence for every meal in our house, at least one dish is cooked without onions which can be offered as ‘bhog’. Also, when the entire family, goes out on a holiday, Kanha can never be left alone at home, so we send him to a loving relative’s or friend’s home who are willing to take care of him, just the way we do. Till date, our family, even the one I got married into, maintains this tradition.
Evidently then, Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, has always been a huge day of festivities for us with decorations, good food, songs, bhajans and dancing. There are several activities with everyone engaged in something. Kanha would be given a very special bath (Abhisek) with milk, curd, turmeric and saffron, and dressed up in brand new dress ‘poshak’ and matching jewellery, specially bought for the occasion. Mom and aunts would be busy in the kitchen cooking a lavish, mouthwatering ‘chappan bhog’ for Kanhaiya – makhan-mishri, panchamrit, dhaniya panjiri, coconut barfis, peda, gud Sandesh, Kuttu (fafad) barfi with almonds and gond, kuttu puris, dahi -aloo, home made chips, nuts, dry fruits and fruits….. the list is endless. Uncles or older cousins would visit the flower market to buy flowers for the ‘jhoola decoration’, and kids would be responsible for the most important of tasks – the decoration. Janmashtami decoration was not a ‘mean’ feat. Apart from decorating a beautiful flower laden jhoola , which everyone in the family took turns to swing, various scenes from Krishna’s life right from his birth in the prison, to him being carried across the Yamuna by Vasudeva, him holding the Govardhan hill and so many more, were all recreated with clay toys and colourful sand . Every year, the decorations grow bigger and grander as our collection of toys grows. Everyone fasts during the day, and then in the evening, everyone dresses up, sings songs and bhajans, dances around Kanha, and waits to bring in Kanha’s birthday at midnight. That is when Aarti is perfomed and bhog is offered. After this, everyone breaks their fast with the delicious food, which trust me, is worth fasting for.
Over the years, living in a smaller family, our excitement and scale of celebration has definitely toned down, but all traditions are still maintained. There aren’t enough excited kids recreating scenes from Krishna’s life any more, but we started a tradition of buying a few silver toys for Kanha as ‘birthday gift’ every year. And now he has a fairly large collection, amassed over the years, which we now use for decoration."