Janmashtami is an important day in the Hindu calendar because it marks the birth of Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu gods.
Most Hindus believe that Krishna is the avatar, or incarnation, of Vishnu, one of the five primary forms of God. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of the universe. Vishnu usually appears in a human body, with blue-coloured skin and four arms. Krishna, on the other hand, has a variety of forms. Most popular forms are Krishna as a blue god-child, as a divine hero, or as a model lover.
Krishna is always the centre of Janmashatami, but the day is celebrated differently across India. Around Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra, it’s common to celebrate with a sport called Dahi Handi. In Dahi Handi, a handi, a clay pot filled with buttermilk, is first hung to a high location. A group of men then forms a human pyramid beneath the handi, and the topmost person in the pyramid tries to break the claypot. As buttermilk from the broken handi drips down the human pyramid it symbolizes unity. Stories say that Dahi Handi first started in the 18th century, in the community of Pathare Prabhu. Originally, in Pathare Prabhu all male members of the community, rich and poor, masters and servants alike, would join into to making of the pyramid. In the pyramid, everybody (literally, every body) was equal. No one was a servant, no one was a master, but everyone was an equal worshipper of Krishna. Hence, the symbol of equity and unity.
Today, for some Hindus, the religious significance behind Dahi Handi has diminished and the human pyramid is simply a fun sport. According to some sources, Dahi Handi has even been proposed to become an official Olympic sport.
Janmashatami is usually celebrated for two days. Some Hindus choose to fast the first day and eat only after the midnight celebrations. During the Janmashtami celebrations it is common for most Hindus to go without sleep for 48 hours.
Happy Janmashtami for everyone!
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