A Snippet Of Janmashtami Celebrations In Assam And Odisha

A Snippet Of Janmashtami Celebrations In Assam And OdishaLord Balabhdra, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Gagannath - Jagannath mandir
Snapshot
  • Krishna Janmashtami is the most important festival for the Vaishnavites of Assam.

    Janmashtami celebrations start the night before the birth of Shree Krishna in Odisha and continue for a week.

    Here's how Janmashtami is celebrated in Assam and Odisha.

Assam:

The month of ‘Bhado’ (Bhadra in Hindi) is the most auspicious month for the Assamese. Primarily because Krishna Janmashtami falls in this month, and that is the most important festival for the Vaishnavites of Assam.

The Bhagavatic movement--Ekasarana Dharma—in Assam was started by the fifteenth-century saint scholar Srimanta Sankardev. People folk to namghars—Vaishnavite prayer halls that are found in every locality and are the seats of religion and culture in Assam—for special prayers every day of this month.

On Janmashtami, devotees folk to the namghars from morning with sarais—traditional shallow bowl with a dome-like cover made of bell metal—containing soaked grams, soaked moong dal and fruits—which are offered at the namghar.

The deity worshipped at the namghar is formless. The formless deity is said to sit atop a stepped throne known as manikut, and devotees bow down and pray before the manikut.

Naam-kirtans, or prayers involving the singing of devotional songs in praise of Bhagwan Krishna and other deities, continue throughout the day. While the namghariyas (servitors who take care of the namghars) lead the prayers and the naam to the accompaniment of cymbals and other traditional instruments like the mridanga, khol and nagara, devotees too join in.

The Janmashtami prayers and naam is held at midnight when Krishna was born. The naam continues till the early hours of the next day.

Devotees consume only vegetarian food on Janmashtami and do not have rice after dusk. Many people consume only fruits.

Odisha:

Janmashtami is a major festival in Odisha. Like in other parts of the country, Hindus either fast or consume only fruits on Janmashtami and do not eat anything after dusk.

The main puja of Shree Krishna starts a couple of hours before midnight and involves recitation of the Vishnu puran, the Bhagavad Gita and other religious texts. Devotees celebrate the birth of Shree Krishna at midnight through kirtans, blowing of conch shells and the beating of drums.

At the Jagannath mandir at Puri, Janmashtami celebrations start the night before the birth of Shree Krishna (i.e. the celebrations started on Sunday night [29 August] this year). A special bhog (offering) called the jeuda bhog is prepared. Some of the dishes in this elaborate bhog comprising many lentils, rice and vegetable preparations are sour since consuming sour food is believed to ease the pain during childbirth.

While the main deities at the mandir—Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra—are decked with finery and gold ornaments, a cradle decorated with flowers is set in front of the deities where a murti of infant Krishna is kept.

As midnight approaches, the recitation of mantras, signing of kirtans and other rituals reaches a crescendo. Verses from the Bhagavad Gita are recited and processions are taken out in the mandir premises.

Janmashtami celebrations in Odisha continue for a week. From the second day after Janmashtami, the day after is celebrated as Nandotsav, where an infant Krishna is showered with goodies, including sweets and toys.

The celebrations over the next few days involve the reenactment of various major events in the life of Krishna are re-enacted amidst colourful celebrations. The deities are adorned with clothes befitting the occasions.

The first is the Banabhoji, when the deities are dressed as cowherds. Next comes Kaliyadalan when an adolescent Krishna defeats Kaliya, the venomous serpent. Bhagwan Shree Jagannath is dressed as Krishna battling and defeating the serpent.

The next is the reenactment of Pralamba badh or the killing of Pralamba, a demon, by Krishna’s elder brother Balabhadra. The following day is a celebration of the deep bonds between Krishna and Balabhadra.

Other events like Kolibika, Bakasur badh (slaying of the demon Bakasur by Bhim) Aghasur badh (killing of demon Aghasur by Krishna) and Dhenuka badh (killing of demon Dhenuka by Balaram) form part of the Janmashtami celebrations at Shree Jagannath dham and, in fact, all of Odisha.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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