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Janmashtami is celebrated throughout the country with immense zeal and fervor in order to commemorate the birth of Lord Krishna. It is also known as Gokulashtami or Krishnaashtami or Sri Jayanti.. The celebration of Janmashtami is at its apex in Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna. This year Sri Krishna Jayanti is marked on August 21 in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and is some parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. In North India, it is marked on August 22. The Smarta Tradition observes the festival on August 21 and the Vaishnava Tradition on August 22.

The festival, which falls on the eighth day (Ashtami) of Savan month, marks the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu- one of the Hindu trinity. He was born under extraordinary circumstances on the day.He is widely revered and most popular of all Hindu Gods. He, unlike other Gods, can be regarded as a lover, friend, Divine Guru or one’s own child. It is commonly believed that he took birth for killing Kansa, the unreligious demon king of Mathura and other demons, to establish a kingdom of peace, prosperity and religion on earth and to spread the message of brotherhood and humanity. He was the ever smiling god and that smile continues to conquer millions of hearts. Throughout, his life there was music and just before getting killed by the hunter’s bow he was playing the flute. Music and that immortal smile were present in his death.

People enjoy in the merrymaking at the midnight of a Ashtami, by singing devotional songs and dancing to the tune of bhajans. Apart from honoring the day with a special puja, people relish on lip smacking delicacies that are prepared especially for the festival. Cultural programs are also part of the celebrations.

It is said that it was one of the midnights of a Sharvan day, when Lord Krishna was born in the Rohini Nakshatra as the savior of humanity. He is considered to be the Lord's most glorious incarnations (purna avatar). Historians calculate that the birth of Lord Krishna goes back to the Dwapar Yug. It is in the year of Visvavasu around 3227 BC (i.e. 5237 years before) Lord Krishna was born in the prison of the Demon King Kansa in Mathura. However, the holy land of Mathura still commemorates this pious and fortunate incident by grand celebration on this occasion.

The grand celebration at Mathura takes place at the actual birth place of Lord Krishna, which has now been rechristened into a grand temple known as Krishna Janma Bhoomi Mandir.The celebration goes on for two days, in which they celebrate their first day by keeping day-long fast and celebrations and feast at midnight after the birth time of  Lord Krishna. The second day is also the day of celebrations and feasting. The entire city of Mathura is immersed in the devotion of Lord Krishna by singing, dancing and chanting in the names of Lord Krishna. Small children are dressed like the young Krishna and his playmate Radha. Every year about 8 lakhs devotees turn up in Mathura on this occasion and the number is increasing year after year.

Great indeed are his many Leelas and the way in which he charms one and all. Several sages and seers have paid homage to him. Narada, Sri Kulashekara Azhwar, Andal, Tirumangai Azhawar, Nammazhwar have sung glorious verses in praise of Lord Krishna who embodies Shudda Satvam. The Bhagavad Gita coming from the Lord is the absolute truth which has withstood the test of time and has formed the basis and inspiration for many Acharyas and Azhwars. The Bhagavad Gita is translated into many world languages. It is also chanted daily by millions and millions of pious Hindus.

According to the legends, Kansa was a mighty and discourteous prince of Mathura. His father Ugrasen had chosen Vasudev, one of the highly ranked officials in his army, as the groom for his daughter - Devki (Kansa's sister). Agreeing to the decision, Kansa arranged a lavish wedding for his only sister. When Kansa was riding on a chariot along with the newly wed couple - Devki and Vasudev - a heavenly voice interrupted the journey. It predicted that Devki's eighth son would kill Kansa. Upon hearing the prophesy, the self-centered Kansa imprisoned the newly married couple.

Apart from imprisoning Devki and Vasudev, Kansa also put his own father (the King of Mathura) behind bars. Consequently, Kansa took over as the King of Mathura. He waited until the arrival of the Devki's first child. The moment Kansa heard the news of the birth of Devki's first child; he headed towards the prison ferociously, got hold of the newborn and killed the child. The following six newborns of Devki were killed by Kansa in similar manner. When she was about to give birth to her eighth child, a heavenly voice commanded Vasudev to take the newborn to Gokul and exchange it with the newborn girl child of Nanda and Yashoda.

The guards of the prison had fallen into deep slumber. They were unable to inform their master about the birth of Devki's eighth child. The shackles and the prison gate opened miraculously and Vasudev stepped out of the prison with the newborn, carried in a small basket. In the midnight, Vasudev carried the newborn in the basket and traveled through the waters of stormy Yamuna River. Since it was raining heavily, a huge snake known as Adisesha with its 2000 hoods, glided behind the father and the newborn, in order to act as a protective canopy for the divine child. When Vasudev returned from Gokul, the shackles fastened automatically, the doors of the prison closed and the guards woke up.

Upon hearing the news of the birth of Devki's eighth child, Kansa went to the cell and got hold of the newborn. Ironically, the child slipped out of his stranglehold and appeared as Goddess, laughing at him. She vanished after telling that the eighth son of Devki (Lord Krishna) had already born and was safe elsewhere. Lord Krishna grew up at Gokul as a mischievous prankster who was the heartbeat of Gokul and the favorite of Gopikas. He grew up as a lovable brat, who played around mischievously and looted fresh Makhan (homemade butter) from every household of Gokul. Year by year, people in Mathura, Gokul and elsewhere in India celebrate the birth of the favorite deity - Lord Krishna on the eighth day (asthami) of Shavan month and name it as Janmashtami or Krishnashtami.

Lord Krishna temples situated at Vrindhavan, Mathura, Dwaraka are the most popular for the celebrations of Janmashtami, as it is believed that Lord Krishna lived there. In some part of the North India, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated for three days. The first two days are celebrated in a colorful manner. Dance drama, known as Raslila, is performed. Incidents from Sri Krishna's life, especially his childhood, are depicted in the drama.

On the second day of the festival, a popular ceremony known as 'Dahi Handi' takes place wherein the pot containing curd or butter or milk is broken by the youth. The ritual of Dahi Handi is carried out with religious observance, in the northern parts of India. Maharashtra is especially popular for the ritual, wherein human pyramid tries to break the Handi (earthen pot filled with buttermilk) that is suspended from top, with the help of a rope. Onlookers throw water on the pyramid of boys in order to stop them from reaching the earthen pot. The process involves a lot of excitement. During Janmashtami, every other street of Mumbai organizes the Dahi Handi, as a part of the celebrations of the festival.

The midnight celebration is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna. It comprises of Pooja and other rituals. During the Pooja, the idol of Lord Krishna is bathed with milk and curd (panchamrit) and then rocked in the cradle. It is said that if you make any holy wish while cradling Lord Krishna with full heart, it is certain to be fulfilled. The entire Mathura city of Mathura gets immersed in the devotion of Krishna and the echoes of Krishna bhajan and bells. Lord is here fed with prasad of ‘Chhapan Bhog’ (Fifty six dishes). Later the devotees break their fast with these ‘bhog’ and panchamrit.

Performance of Rasleelas:
The entire city of Mathura is then flooded with performance of the Rasleelas of Krishna by professional and amateur artists. Some of them are so mesmerizing that the devotees get overwhelmed with their devotion for Lord Krishna.

Jhanki (Tableau):
A Jhanki is a series of scenes depicting the various phases of one’s life. In a Krishna Jhanki, the different stages of the life of Lord Krishna are shown all over the Mathura. They include interesting incidents like - Janmlila, Shankarlila, Putanalila and Naglila.

It is only in the Mathura City that during Jhulanotsav, the swings are hanged in courtyard of temples and all the houses to welcome baby Lord Krishna. The swings are decorated with beautiful flowers and bells to give a festive look.

The celebration of Sri Krishna's birth in Mathura is incomplete without Ghatas. It is a month-long exclusive feature, wherein all the temples of Mathura are adorned with the same color as per the selected theme. Even the idol of Lord Krishna is decorated with the same color.

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M’s Fourth visit:

The next day, too, was a holiday for M. He arrived at Dakshineswar at three o'clock in the afternoon.  Sri Ramakrishna was in his room; Narendra, Bhavanath, and a few other devotees were sitting on a mat spread on the floor.  They were all young men of nineteen or twenty.  Seated on the small couch, Sri Ramakrishna was talking with them and smiling. 

No sooner had M. entered the room than the Master laughed aloud and said to the boys, "There! He has come again." They all joined in the laughter.  M. bowed low before him and took a seat.  Before this he had saluted the Master with folded hands, like one with an English education.  But that day he learnt to fall down at his feet in orthodox Hindu fashion. 

The peacock and the opium
Presently the Master explained the cause of his laughter to the devotees, He said: "A man once fed a peacock with a pill of opium at four o'clock in the afternoon.  The next day, exactly at that time, the peacock came back.  It had felt the intoxication of the drug and returned just in time to have another dose."(All laugh.)

M. thought this a very apt illustration.  Even at home he had been unable to banish the thought of Sri Ramakrishna for a moment.  His mind was constantly at Dakshineswar and he had counted the minutes until he should go again. 

In the mean time the Master was having great fun with the boys, treating them as if they were his most intimate friends.  Peals of side-splitting laughter filled the room, as if it were a mart of joy.  The whole thing was a revelation to M. He thought: "Didn't I see him only yesterday intoxicated with God? Wasn't he swimming then in the Ocean of Divine Love - a sight I had never seen before? And today the same person is behaving like an ordinary man! Wasn't it he who scolded me on the first day of my coming here? Didn't he admonish me, saying, 'And you are a man of knowledge!'? Wasn't it he who said to me that God with form is as true as God without form? Didn't he tell me that God alone is real and all else illusory? Wasn't it he who advised me to live in the world unattached, like a maidservant in a rich man's house?"

Sri Ramakrishna was having great fun with the young devotees; now and then he glanced at M. He noticed that M. sat in silence.  The Master said to Ramlal: "You see, he is a little advanced in years, and therefore somewhat serious.  He sits quiet while the youngsters are making merry." M. was then about twenty-eight years old. 

Hanuman's devotion to Rāma
The conversation drifted to Hanuman, whose picture hung on the wall in the Master's room. 
Sri Ramakrishna said: "Just imagine Hanuman's state of mind.  He didn't care for money, honour, creature comforts, or anything else.  He longed only for God.  When he was running away with the heavenly weapon that had been secreted in the crystal pillar, Mandodari began to tempt him with various fruits so that he might come down and drop the weapon.5 But he couldn't be tricked so easily.  In reply to her persuasions he sang this song:

Am I in need of fruit? 
I have the Fruit that makes this life
Fruitful indeed.  Within my heart
The Tree of Rāma grows,
Bearing salvation for its fruit. 
Under the Wish-fulfilling Tree
Of Rāma do I sit at ease,
Plucking whatever fruit I will.
But if you speak of fruit -
No beggar, I, for common fruit. 
Behold, I go,
Leaving a bitter fruit for you."

As Sri Ramakrishna was singing the song he went into samadhi.  Again the half-closed eyes and motionless body that one sees in his photograph.  Just a minute before, the devotees had been making merry in his company.  Now all eyes were riveted on him.  Thus for the second time M. saw the Master in samadhi. 

After a long time the Master came back to ordinary consciousness.  His face lighted up with a smile, and his body relaxed; his senses began to function in a normal way.  He shed tears of joy as he repeated the holy name of Rāma.  M. wondered whether this very saint was the person who a few minutes earlier had been behaving like a child of five. 

The Master said to Narendra and M., "I should like to hear you speak and argue in English." They both laughed.  But they continued to talk in their mother tongue.  It was impossible for M. to argue any more before the Master.  Though Ramakrishna insisted, they did not talk in English. 

At five o'clock in the afternoon all the devotees except Narendra and M. took leave of  the Master.  As M. was walking in the temple garden, he suddenly came upon the Master talking to Narendra on the bank of the goose-pond.  Sri Ramakrishna said to Narendra: "Look here.  Come a little more often.  You are a new-comer.  On first acquaintance people visit each other quite often, as is the case with a lover and his sweetheart.  (Narendra and M. laugh.) So please come, won't you?"

Narendra, a member of the Brahmo Samaj, was very particular about his promises.  He said with a smile, "Yes, sir, I shall try."

As they were returning to the Master's room, Sri Ramakrishna said to M.: "When peasants go to market to buy bullocks for their ploughs, they can easily tell the good from the bad by touching their tails.  On being touched there, some meekly lie down on the ground.  The peasants recognize that these are without mettle and so reject them.  They select only those bullocks that frisk about and show spirit when their tails are touched.  Narendra is like a bullock of this latter class.  He is full of spirit within."

The Master smiled as he said this, and continued: "There are some people who have no grit whatever.  They are like flattened rice soaked in milk - soft and mushy.  No inner strength!"
It was dusk.  The Master was meditating on God.  He said to M.: "Go and talk to Narendra.  Then tell me what you think of him."

Evening worship was over in the temples.  M. met Narendra on the bank of the Ganges and they began to converse.  Narendra told M. about his studying in college, his being a member of the Brahmo Samaj, and so on. 

It was now late in the evening and time for M.'s departure; but he felt reluctant to go and instead went in search of Sri Ramakrishna.  He had been fascinated by the Master's singing and wanted to hear more.  At last he found the Master pacing alone in the natmandir in front of the Kali temple.  A lamp was burning in the temple on either side of the image of the Divine Mother.  The single lamp in the spacious natmandir blended light and darkness into a kind of mystic twilight, in which the figure of the Master could be dimly seen. 

M. had been enchanted by the Master's sweet music.  With some hesitation he asked him whether there would be any more singing that evening.  "No, not tonight", said Sri Ramakrishna after a little reflection.  Then, as if remembering something, he added: "But I'm going soon to Balarām Bose's house in Calcutta.  Come there and you'll hear me sing."   M. agreed to go. 

MASTER.  "Do you know Balarām Bose?"
M: "No, sir.  I don't."
MASTER: "He lives in Bosepara."
M: "Well, sir, I shall find him."

As Sri Ramakrishna walked up and down the hall with M., he said to him: "Let me ask you something.  What do you think of me?"

M. remained silent.  Again Sri Ramakrishna asked: "What do you think of me? How many annas of knowledge of God have I?"

M: "I don't understand what you mean by 'annas'.  But of this I am sure: I have never before seen such knowledge, ecstatic love, faith in God, renunciation, and catholicity anywhere."
The Master laughed. 

M. bowed low before him and took his leave.  He had gone as far as the main gate of the temple garden when he suddenly remembered something and came back to Sri Ramakrishna, who was still in the natmandir.  In the dim light the Master, all alone, was pacing the hall, rejoicing in the Self as the lion lives and roams alone in the forest. 

In silent wonder M. surveyed that great soul. 
MASTER (to M.): "What makes you come back?"

M: "Perhaps the house you asked me to go to belongs to a rich man.  They may not let me in.  I think I had better not go.  I would rather meet you here."

MASTER: "Oh, no! Why should you think that? Just mention my name.  Say that you want to see me; then someone will take you to me."

M. nodded his assent and, after saluting the Master, took his leave. 

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SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: "This is a story from one of the books of India, called "Lives of Saints". There was a young man, a Brahmin by birth, in a certain village. The man fell in love with a bad woman in another village. There was a big river between the two villages, and this man, every day, used to go to that girl, crossing this river in a ferry boat. Now, one day he had to perform the obsequies of his father, and so, although he was longing, almost dying to go to the girl, he could not. The ceremonies had to be performed, and all those things had to be undergone; it is absolutely necessary in Hindu society. He was fretting and fuming and all that, but could not help it. At last the ceremony ended, and night came, and with the night, a tremendous howling storm arose. The rain was pouring down, and the river was lashed into gigantic waves. It was very dangerous to cross. Yet he went to the bank of the river. There was no ferry boat. The ferrymen were afraid to cross, but he would go; his heart was becoming mad with love for the girl, so he would go. There was a log floating down, and he got that, and with the help of it, crossed the river, and getting to the other side dragged the log up, threw it on the bank, and went to the house. The doors were closed. He knocked at the door, but the wind was howling, and nobody heard him. So he went round the walls and at last found what he thought to be a rope, hanging from the wall. He clutched at it, saying to himself, "Oh, my love has left a rope for me to climb." By the help of that rope he climbed over the wall, got to the other side, missed his footing, and fell, and noise aroused the inmates of the house, and came out and found the man there in a faint. She revived him, and noticing that he was smelling very unpleasantly, she said, "What is the matter with you? Why this stench on your body? How did you come into the house?" He said, "Why, did not my love put that rope there?" She smiled, and said, "What love? We are for money, and do you think that I let down a rope for you, fool that you are? How did you cross the river?" "Why, I got hold of a log of wood." "Let us go and see," said the girl. The rope was a cobra, a tremendously poisonous serpent, whose least touch is death. It had its head in a hole, and was getting in when the man caught hold of its tail, and he thought it was a rope. The madness of love made him do it. When the serpent has its head in its hole, and its body out, and you catch hold of it, it will not let its head come out; so the man climbed up by it, but the force of the pull killed the serpent. "Where did you get the log?" "It was floating down the river." It was a festering dead body; the stream had washed it down and that he took for a log, which explained why he had such an unpleasant odour. The woman looked at him and said, "I never believed in love; we never do; but, if this is not love, the Lord have mercy on me. We do not know what love is. But, my friend, why do you give that heart to a woman like me? Why do you not give it to God? You will be perfect." It was a thunderbolt to the man's brain. He got a glimpse of the beyond for a moment. "Is there a God?" "Yes, yes, my friend, there is," said the woman. And the man walked on, went into a forest, began to weep and pray. "I want Thee, Oh Lord! This tide of my love cannot find a receptacle in little human beings. I want to love where this mighty river of my love can go, the ocean of love; this rushing tremendous river of my love cannot enter into little pools, it wants the infinite ocean. Thou art there; come Thou to me." So he remained there for years.
After years he thought he had succeeded, he became a Sannyasin and he came into the cities. One day he was sitting on the bank of a river, at one of the bathing places, and a beautiful young girl, the wife of a merchant of the city, with her servant, came and passed the place. The old man was again up in him, the beautiful face again attracted him. The Yogi looked and looked, stood up and followed the girl to her home. Presently the husband came by, and seeing the Sannyasin in the yellow garb he said to him, "Come in, sir, what can I do for you?" The Yogi said, "I will ask you a terrible thing." "Ask anything, sir, I am a Grihastha (householder), and anything that one asks I am ready to give." "I want to see your wife." The man said, "Lord, what is this! Well, I am pure, and my wife is pure, and the Lord is a protection to all. Welcome; come in sir." He came in, and the husband introduced him to his wife. "What can I do for you?" asked the lady. He looked and looked, and then said, "Mother, will you give me two pins from your hair?" "Here they are." He thrust them into his two eyes saying "Get away, you rascals! Henceforth no fleshy things for you. If you are to see, see the Shepherd of the groves of Vrindaban with the eyes of the soul. Those are all the eyes you have." So he went back into the forest. There again he wept and wept and wept. It was all that great flow of love in the man that was struggling to get at the truth, and at last he succeeded; he gave his soul, the river of his love, the right direction, and it came to the Shepherd. The story goes that he saw God in the form of Krishna. Then, for once, he was sorry that he had lost his eyes, and that he could only have the internal vision. He wrote some beautiful poems of love. In all Sanskrit books, the writers first of all salute their Gurus. So he saluted that girl as his first Guru.
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