FESTIVAL SEASON

Happy birthday Krishna, the sensual, free-willed god

Quartz india
Quartz india

The master prankster is waltzing his way across bylanes and households in India today (Aug. 25).

Marking the beginning of the country’s biggest festival season, millions of Hindu households and hundreds of neighbourhoods across the country are in a frenzy, celebrating the birthday of dark-skinned Krishna, the playful, sensuous, and perhaps, the most political of Hindu gods.

Many will stay abuzz until well past midnight, partaking in celebrations or just praying. Young men and children are usually dressed up as the lord himself—complete with flowing robes and bejewelled crowns pecked with peacock feathers. The lord’s favourite musical instrument, the flute, is always at hand.

Krishna is believed to have been born at around midnight during the eighth phase of the moon, known as ashtami tithi, in a prison cell in Mathura city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). His birth anniversary is commonly called Janamashtmi.

Besides his skin colour, often likened to that of heavy nimbus, there are several traits that set Krishna apart from others in the Hindu pantheon. It could be his strong advocacy of free-will, romantic association with his multiple consorts, the shunning of anxiety over righteous violence, or simply his realpolitik.

One of the most enduring and endearing symbols of the idea of Krishna is raas leela, or the “dance of passion.”

Brought up among cowherds, Krishna would at times play the flute, mesmerising the belles of Vrindavan, another UP town. The charmed women would follow him into the forest, where they would dance in exhilaration.

“In the Raas Lila, Krishna plays the flute and the milkmaids dance around him. But the scene takes place at night, outside the village, in the forest. Forest evokes fear. Night evokes fear. The milkmaids are away from the security of the village and family, and yet they feel safe and secure. They sing and dance around Krishna, who is neither their brother nor son nor husband. Neither law nor custom binds them,” Indian mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik said. “There is no duty or responsibility that binds them around Krishna. They do so of their own free will.”

The celebration of Janmashtami often recreates the scenes from such lore, with the youth forming human pyramids to break earthen pots and men and women dancing to traditional folk music.

Here are some images of the preparations for Janmashtami:

A student participates in celebrations ahead of the Janmashtami festival, which marks the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna in Mumbai, India, August 23, 2016.
A student participates in Janmashtami celebrations in Mumbai. (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)
Girls dressed up as Radha, consort of Hindu Lord Krishna, pray inside a classroom as they celebrate Janmashtami festival marking the birth anniversary of Krishna, at a school in Ahmedabad, India August 24, 2016.
Girls dressed up as Radha, Krishna’s consort, inside a classroom in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. (Reuters/Amit Dave)
Indian students get their faces painted in blue color as they prepare for Janmashtami celebrations at a college in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. Janmashtami, is an annual celebration of the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna.
Students get their faces painted in blue ahead of the Janmashtami celebrations in Mumbai. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Children dressed up as Hindu Lord Krishna pose during Janmashtami festival celebrations marking the birth anniversary of Krishna in Agartala, India August 24, 2016.   TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX2MU6F
Children dressed up as Krishna in Agartala, Tripura. (Reuters/Jayanta Dey)
Indian students who got their faces painted in blue color take a selfie ahead of Janmashtami celebrations at a college in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. Janmashtami, is an annual celebration of the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna.
A selfie ahead of celebrations in Mumbai. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
A schoolboy dressed as Lord Krishna waits for his performance to start inside a classroom during Janmashtami celebrations in New Delhi Aug. 27, 2013.
A schoolboy awaits his turn to perform in New Delhi. (Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)
Schoolchildren dressed as Lord Krishna wait to perform during celebrations on the eve of the Janmashtami festival in Chandigarh, India, September 4, 2015.
School children on the eve of Janmashtami festival in Chandigarh. (Reuters/Ajay Verma)
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