Today marks the birthday of Lord Krishna, known in the Hindu calendar as Krishna Janmashtami. A highly significant and widely celebrated Hindu deity, Krishna appears, via stories of his childhood, teen years, and adulthood, throughout sacred texts and the epic poems of ancient India. He's one of the many incarnations of Vishnu, another Hindu god, and is often associated with humor, love, divinity, and heroism — thus, this day brings with it plenty of jubilant celebrating.
G. Padmanabhan, public relations officer of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, tells Refinery29 that observances begin on a solemn note; worshippers spend the day and night praying, fasting, bathing and dressing their own statues of baby Krishna, and watching the clock.
It's believed that Krishna was born at midnight, so people will stay up and wait to celebrate the very moment of his birth. Padmanabhan says it's customary to turn out all the lights at midnight, to signify the prison cell in which Krishna is said to have been born, then turn them back on and begin the more joyful part of the holiday.
Either immediately following midnight or early the next day, worshippers will break their fast with sweets and meals featuring Krishna's favorite foods, milk and cheese. Padmanabhan adds that it's common for temples to host performances of songs, dances, and dramas reenacting important events from Krishna's childhood (known as Krishna-Lilas). Children will even be dressed as Krishna, in traditional attire and often with face paint.
One of the most popular stories these plays tell is that of Krishna defeating the demon Kamsa, who had imprisoned Krishna's mother at the moment of his birth. Not only does this tale reflect Krishna's power in the Hindu pantheon, it also serves as a reminder that good always triumphs over evil, Padmanabhan explains.
As one of the biggest Hindu festivals, Krishna Janmashtami is simultaneously lighthearted and deeply significant. It gives people a chance to welcome Krishna and his divine presence into their lives — and to pass down the stories and lessons of his life to their children.