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LF’s Ultimate Guide to Janmashtami

From Lord Krishna’s favourite recipes to traditions, here’s everything you need to know about Janmashtami

Every year, on Janmashtami (August 24, 2019), Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, with much fervour. The word Janmashtami is a combination of two Sanskrit words, ‘janma’ which means ‘birth’ and ‘ashtami’, which is the ‘eighth day’. Conforming to the Hindu calendar, this festival is observed on the eighth day of the fortnight with the waning moon during the month of Bhadra (Shravan). And as per the Gregorian calendar, Janmashtami is celebrated somewhere between August and September. Let’s delve deeper and get to know the festival better.

History and Significance of Janmashtami
Like every other Indian festival, the origin of Janmashtami is a famous legend. According to Hindu mythology, the goddess of earth Bhumi Devi prayed to Lord Vishnu to help get rid of tyrant rulers. Vishnu promised her that he would come to earth as a human to bring an end to those inflicting pain upon her. King Kansa was one of them.

On the day of Kansa’s cousin Devaki and Vasudev’s wedding, a divine prophecy warned him that the eighth son of this couple would be the reason for his death. Angered and equally frightened by the prophecy, he imprisoned Devaki and Vasudev and killed six of their children. The seventh child got saved due to a divine intervention.

When the eighth child – Krishna – was born, Vasudev managed to save the child and took him to Nanda and Yashoda, who raised the boy as their own in Gokul. While Krishna grew up in Gokul as a cow herder, Kansa and his demon allies made several attempts to cause him harm. But, the inevitable happened; Kansa and several other tyrant rulers were defeated by Krishna.

The significance of Janmashtami is to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Also, to promote goodwill among people while suppressing bad intention. This belief finds its roots in the seventh verse of the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita: “Yada yada hi dharmasya, glanirva bhavathi bharatha, abhyuthanam adharmaysya, tadatmanam srijami aham”. Basically, Lord Vishnu says whenever there will be a dominance of evil, he will reincarnate for its destruction and the protection of good. Janmashtami also celebrates the joy of togetherness. The festival brings together families and loved ones.

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Janmashtami celebrations across India
Janmashtami is celebrated across India and is known by several names: Krishnashtami, Gokulashtami, Shri Krishna Jayanti, and Shree Jayanti. The festivities in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are particularly grander than other states. It takes place over two days as the deity was born at midnight.

Devotees gather at Krishna temples and make the most of the occasion by revisiting stories of his birth and Krishna Leela, dance-dramas based on his childhood and early youth. These get togethers also have a recitation of Bhagavad Purana and Bhagavad Gita. In most parts of the country, devotees take an idol of baby Krishna and bathe it in a mixture of milk, honey, and water, either at home or at temples. Once done, they dress the idol in new clothes, place it in a cradle, and sing devotional songs. A few people also observe a day-long fast on Janmashtami and break it on navami, the ninth day, which is the next day. They get through the day with the help of water and fruits i.e. phalahar.

Over the years, different regions have come up with their own unique way of celebrating. The best of all celebration is held in Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, where Krishna is believed to have been born and grown up, respectively. Here, the celebrations begin about 10 days before Janmashtami and the entire town is decorated.

The next day, popularly known as Nandostav, a feast of 56 food items, known as chappan bhog, is prepared as an offering to the new born deity. This feast comprises cereals, fruits, dry fruits, sweets, drinks, snacks, curries, rice preparations, and pickle.

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In the western parts of India—Maharashtra and Gujarat, to be specific—people mark the occasion of Janmashtami by the ‘dahi handi’ ritual. As a tribute to Lord Krishna and his love for makhkhan (white butter), they recreate the scene where he steals makhkhan from his mother’s handi (pot). For the uninitiated, legends reveal that Krishna loved makhkhan so much that he would sneak into his own house, while Yashoda was away, and steal it with the help of his friends. This habit earned him the tag of makhan chor (butter thief) and this remains one of the most popular stories from Hindu mythology. In fact, it has been a popular subject for several hymns, bhajans and dance-dramas. Read more about the connection between makhkhan and Janmashtami.

Coming back to the ‘dahi handi’ ritual, here, an earthern pot filled with plain makhkhan or makhkhan misri (sweetened white butter) is suspended high in the air. A group of young men and women called govindas form a human pyramid to reach the pot, crack it, and relish the makhan. In Mumbai and a few other parts of Maharashtra, this has become an annual sport and events are held where local teams compete to reach the pot and the one that manages to crack it is rewarded.

The celebrations in south India differ from those in the north and west. In Tamil Nadu, beautiful kolam, drawing made with rice flour, is drawn in temple courtyards and at the entrances of people’s homes. While in Andhra Pradesh, young boys dress up as Krishna and visit the homes in the neighbourhood. 

In the east, Odisha and West Bengal celebrate Janmashtami by fasting and reciting the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita until midnight. The morning after the deity’s birth is dedicated to Krishna’s foster parents. Just like Gujarat, these states also arrange for a chappan bhog, after which devotees break their fast.

Apart from India, Janmashtami is also celebrated in foreign lands such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore, and a few other places.

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Traditional offerings during Janmashtami
Nope, makhkhan isn’t the only food item that’s offered to Lord Krishna on Janmashtami. Just like most other festivals in the country, Janmashtami and food share a unique relationship. Let’s look at a few signature preparations that the deity is treated to.

Barfi Churmu
A special dessert, barfi churmu is one of the most important offering in parts of Gujarat, especially Kathiyawad. It is traditionally prepared a day before Janmashtami. Barfi churmu can be described as a desi fudge made by mixing wheat flour, ghee, and water and dipped in sugar syrup.

Panchamrit
Also known as charnamrit, this prasad (offering) is a mixture of five ingredients – curd, honey, holy water from River Ganga, milk, and ghee. A few leaves of holy basil are also added to this. Simply put, charnamrit is a combination of two words, charan and amrit. The first half of the word means feet (god’s feet in this case) and the amrit, meaning nectar that can make one immortal. Together, it means nectar from god’s feet. Another variation of this prasad also includes phool makhana or lotus seeds.

Panjiri
Another important prasad during Janmashtami is panjiri. It is served in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Punjab. Good for the gut, it is made with coriander seed powder, powdered sugar, desi ghee, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachios, mishri, and raisins.

Just in case this desi offering doesn’t impress you enough, you can treat yourself to these gond and dry fruit panjiri tarts. Watch the video below to learn how to make this dessert at home:

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Kheer
One of the easiest offerings on this list is the kheer. It can be prepared in a jiffy and that too, using minimal ingredients. Check out this sous vide kheer recipe! Plus, its deliciousness and aromas will make its way through the house and warm your soul. Milk, green cardamom (powdered), rice, castor sugar, and a bunch of nuts is all you need to make kheer at home. If you’re a beginner, don’t forget to check out our rookies’ guide to making kheer.

The simple recipe aside, if you want something fancy to impress your guests, LF chefs can help you on your way. From besan, sugarcane to mango and wheat, here are a few delicious kheer recipes to experiment with.

Laddus
These sweet spherical desserts are common at most celebratory feasts in India. In fact, we can safely say that there’s no other sweetmeat that rings in festivities with its vibrant and mouthwatering appearance than the irresistible laddus. Almost every region in the country has its own variant of this humble and versatile dessert. Motichoor laddu is one of the few laddus that is known across the country. It is a round sweetmeat that’s made with deep-fried gram flour balls soaked in sugar syrup. This melt-in-mouth dessert’s name translates to crushed pearls, which is apt considering its mesmerizing appearance. Learn how to make motichoor laddu at home
.

Also try: Besan laddu by Gurdip Kohli Punj

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Fasting and feasting during Janmashtami

Tips to keep in mind while fasting
Fasting is a great way to naturally detox your body and give the digestive system a break. However, it can have the opposite effects if you go about it the wrong way. Read LF’s guide to fasting where nutritionists and health experts share with you a list of dos and don’ts to remember before, during, and after observing a fast.

Yogurt-based dishes
Lord Krishna loves dairy products and hence Janmashtami gives you a great reason to try out these yogurt-based recipe ideas. From beetroot and yogurt kebab to broccoli tandoori, and aloe vera panch phoran, make these dishes and win brownie points at home. Oh, there’s this delectable tropical fruit and yogurt salad too that you can’t miss. After all, what’s better than a beautiful combination of fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, pineapples, and chikoo with yogurt. What’s more interesting is that Chef Gautam Mehrishi spices it up with a dash of crushed black pepper. Check out the full recipe of this fruit salad below:

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Vrat recipes FTW!
We all understand that cereals and pulses are a no-no during the period of fasting. In such a situation, switching to alternatives such as sabudana (sago), rajgira (amaranth), and shinghara is a great option. For fans of rajgira, which is high in protein, dietary fibre, and calcium, we’ve compiled a list of quick and easy recipes. Think rajgira paratha, halwa, porridge, thalipeeth, and poori with jeera aloo.

If rajgira isn’t your thing, don’t worry, we’ve still got you covered. Take your fasting menu beyond the usual sabudana khichdi and vadas with our list of vrat-friendly recipes. Keep hunger pangs at bay with aloo makhana, a tasty lotus seed and potatoes dish. Chef Vicky Kumar of Indore Marriot Hotel spices it up with red chilli, cumin seeds, rock salt, and turmeric powder. There’s also dahi arbi, which makes for a great side dish alongside with parathas, and kuttu ka paratha, a vegan-friendly option.

What we particularly love is the sprouted moong khichdi, another option for vegans, which is made with moong beans and vrat ke chawal. End your fasting meal with a gulkand gulab jamun. The recipe for this gulab jamun is the same as the regular except for the addition of gulkand, a sweet preserve of rose petals. It lends the dessert floral, fruity, and caramelly flavours.

Oh, wait a minute! What meal is complete without a couple of drinks? Quench your thirst with these fun and refreshing beverages that will give you an instant burst of energy on the day of the fast.

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