Maha Vishnu took various avatars to protect the mortal world
from the evildoers and sinners. One such incarnation was his birth as the
child of King Vasudeva and Queen Devaki Devi. Gokul Ashtami is the
birthday of Lord Krishna. It falls on the 8th day of the dark half of the
month of 'Bhadrapada' (August-September) and is one of the greatest of all
Hindu festivals. Lord Krishna was born at midnight.
A twenty-four hour fast is observed on this day, which is broken at midnight. The festival is called in different names as "Krishna Jayanti", "Janma Ashtami", "Krishnaashtami" , "Gokul Ashtami", and as "Sri Jayanti".
The myth connected to the birth of Lord Vishnu is as
follows. Vasudeva was the chief of 'Shooras' and married Devaki one of the
seven daughters of Devaka. They were very happy, for none had ever seen so
fine a man and a wife matched in such perfect harmony.
'Kansa' (also known as 'Kamsa') was the son of Ugrasena. Though his father Ugrasena was the King, Kansa himself ruled the kingdom. He was more wicked and had no respect for law, human or divine. The divine Sage Narada once, came to Kansa and advised him not to disregard the law of 'Dharma' and foretold, that the eighth child of Devaki would slay him, if he continued to be wicked and revengeful.
Frightened at the prophecy of Narada, Kansa confined the newly married Vasudeva and Devaki in Gajaraja palace with a condition that every child of Devaki, as it was born, should be handed over to him. In obedience of the promise Vasudeva handed over six of his children one after one whom the cruel Kansa killed mercilessly. Devaki again became pregnant, and she gave birth to a boy.
With the help of 'Ganga Charya' and 'Akura' he was saved by showing a dead body of a new-born girl beside Devaki. Kansa did not take it seriously, as this was seventh child of Devaki. The seventh child of Devaki was stealthily sent to Gokul and was growing under the great care and affection of Rohini, the elder wife of Vasudeva. Rohini was living as a guest of Nanda at Gokhul. They named the boy as "Balarama". During the course of their nine years confinement, Vasudeva and Devaki never failed in their devotion and always talked of the Lord and his Grace. Devaki was expecting her eighth child. Surely, the prophecy of sage Narada and the promise of Veda Vyasa began to show the signs of coming true. It was the eighth day of the dark half of the month of 'Sravana' (also spelt as Shravan) and there was a thunder and lightning pouring torrential rains and the roads were blocked with water.
Devaki tingling with ecstasy gave birth to a child when the moon entered the house of 'Vrishabha' at the constellation of the star Rohini on Wednesday the 8th day of the second fortnight of the month of Sravana, which corresponds to the month of "Bhadrapada Krishnapaksha" according to the "Barhaspatyamana", in the year of 'Visvavasu', 5,I72 years ago (from I945), which means 3227 BC.
In the pitched darkness, Vasudeva wrapped the child in a woollen garment, kept it in a basket and lifting the basket on his shoulder crossed the river Yamuna and handed over the child, with the basket to Ganga Charya, the family priest and Nanda, the chief of Gokul Yadavas waiting on the opposite bank. In return, Ganga Charya gave another basket of a new born daughter of Nanda to Vasudeva who carried back the baby to the place of his confinement, as was pre-planned.
Kansa was unable to sleep the whole night due to the anxiety to have a look at the eighth child of Devaki and drove to the palace where Vasudeva and Devaki were in prison. After assuming that the eighth child of them being a daughter, the prophecy of Narada proved incorrect and Kansa was very happy.
Nanda's wife Yashoda who had fainted at the time of her delivery never knew, what all has happened in the night and when she came to her senses, Rohini handed over the child to her. Since Nanda and Yashoda were not having any children, quite for some time, the birth of the boy made the people of Gokul with wild delight and joy and the boy was named as Krishna with appropriate rituals.
Kansa was constantly haunted by the fear that some child might have overlooked by 'Putana', a close confidant of Kansa. He came to know the belated birth of a boy to Nanda and Yashoda and summoned Putana to kill him. But Putana could not succeed in her deed and was later killed by Krishna. Kansa therefore summoned 'Trinavrit', a bird catcher to kidnap Krishna.
When, Trinavrit reached Gokul, there was a storm of sand and it was very difficult to anybody to withstand. Taking advantage of the storm, Trinavrit caught hold of Krishna. Krishna too held him tightly leaving him dead. Various brave acts during the childhood days of Krishna are depicted in the holy books.
The eighth Avatara, Krishna, who has become the Beloved of India and the world at large, had a threefold objective: to destroy the wicked demons to play the leading role in the great war fought on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (where he delivered His wonderful message of the Gita) and to become the centre of a marvellous development of the Bhakti schools of India.
On the holy day of Gokul Ashtami, the ladies in South India decorate their houses beautifully, ready to welcome the Lord. They prepare various sweetmeats and offer them to the Lord. Butter was Krishna's favourite, and this is also offered. Shrikhand is specially prepared on the occasion of Gokulashtami festival. From the doorway to the inner meditation room of the house the door is marked with a child's footprints, using some dour mixed with water. This creates the feeling in them that the Lord's own Feet have made the mark.
People treat this day as one of very great rejoicing. There
is recitation of the "Bhagavatam", singing and praying
everywhere. Temples are decorated for the occasion, Kirtans are sung,
bells are rung, the conch is blown, and Sanskrit hymns are recited in
praise of Lord Krishna. At Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna,
special spiritual gatherings are organised at this time. Pilgrims from all
over India attend these festive gatherings.
People observe a daylong fast, which is broken only at midnight, the time when Krishna is believed to have been born. The festival is a community celebration, and people visit Krishna temples, which are specially decorated and lit for the occasion. On the occasion of 'Gokulashtami', we can find kids forming a human pyramid to reach the pot full of curds (dahi-handi) and break it.
A little before midnight, devotees pour into temples to participate in the special 'Arati' and to relive the birth of Krishna. Till midnight, devotional songs are sung in anticipation of the holy birth. Special cradles are installed at temples and a small statue of the "Balgopal" is placed in them.