Rituals and Customs of Janmashtami
Janmashtami festival witnesses many interesting customs and rituals in various states and cities of India. While some rituals are common to all, others are unique and restricted to a particular region or city. These customs and rituals are followed religiously by all the Lord Krishna devotees year after year.
Rituals and Customs Observed during JanmashtamiFasting: The most common ritual observed all over during Janmashtami is fasting by devotees on the day of the festival. Devotees fast for the entire day and break it after the birth of Lord Krishna at midnight. People prefer to have only milk and milk products as they were the favourite of Lord Krishna. Some devotees of Lord Krishna go to the extent of keeping 'Nirjal' fast- It involves fasting without having a single drop of water. There are other ardent followers , who keep the fast for two days in the honour of Lord Krishna.
Chanting: Devotees indulge in continuous chanting all day long. They chant mantras and shlokas to please the lord. Religious atmosphere prevails everywhere. Devotees highlight his feats and his divine characteristics. Chanting of 108 names of Lord Krishna is another ritual that takes place in various temples. Chanting of names is accompanied by showering of flowers on the idol of Lord Krishna.
Devotional Songs and dancesAnother popular ritual is singing of songs (bhajans) in the praise of Lord Krishna. Bhajans are an important custom of the midnight celebration during the festival. Dances are also performed by devotees depicting the various events of Lord Krishna.
Staging of Plays or Dramas of Lord KrishnaPlays depicting various events and accomplishments of Lord Krishna during his lifetime is another important custom during the festival. Both professional artists as well as amateurs stage plays at various places that are widely attended by devotees.
Preparation of SweetsAccording to legend, Lord Krishna was very fond of milk and milk products like butter and buttermilk. He was also fond of Sweets like Kheer, Pedhas etc. Therefore devotees all over make sweets during the festival to please the Lord.
Rituals in South India during JanmashtamiThe houses in South India are beautifully decorated by women on Janmashtami. Various sweet meals are prepared and offered to the Lord. Butter, one of the favourite dishes of Lord Krishna is offered to please him in almost every house. The entire house right from the door to the temple is marked with the footprints of a child. Mixture of water and flour is used to make footprints. This custom creates a feeling of joy among the people as they feel Lord himself has blessed them by entering their homes. The day is marked with the ritual of chanting of the holy Bhagavatam, accompanied by singing of devotional songs and dances.
Ritual in GujaratGujarat witnesses a very peculiar as well as an interesting ritual by the womenfolk during Janmashtami. Women give up all the household chores like cooking and cleaning etc. to play cards. This is an age old tradition. Women doing mind placing bets during the card session. The exact history of this peculiar tradition during Janmashtami is unknown but according to sociologists, this custom may have begun as a pass-time for women in the joint family system. Fasting all day long, the women played cards to kill time as well as keep them awake the entire night. It is said that women eat cold food prepared two days in advance.