Krishna Janmaashtami

Krishna Janmaashtami is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Krishna, the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. It is also known as ‘Krishna Ashtami’, Shri Gokulaashtami’, ‘Shrikrishna Jayanti’, or sometimes merely as ‘Janmaashtami’.
Krishna Janmaashtami is observed on the eighth day of the dark half (Krishna Paksha) of themonth of Bhadrapada in the Hindu calendar.  At that time the Rohini Nakshatra is ascendant.  The Hindu calendar being lunar, these two events [the day being the eighth of the waning moon (Krishna-paksha Ashtami) and the Rohini Nakshatra being ascendant] may overlap for only a few hours. Depending local or tradition, it is celebrated within a difference of a day by certain people.
The festival falls sometime in the months of August/September of the Grogorian calendar.
In 2006, Krishnaashtami was celebrated on August 15 or August 16.

Celebrations

The pious begin the festival by fasting on the previous day (Saptami).  This is followed by a nightlong vigil. It commemorates the birth of Krishna at night, when his father took him away was to a foster-home for safe-keeping.  At midnight, the deity of the infant Krishna is bathed, placed in a cradle and worshipped.  In the early morning, ladies draw patterns of little children’s feet outside the house with rice-flour past, walking towards the house.
This symbolises the entry of the infant Krishna into his foster-home.  This custom is popular in many Hindu communities of south India.  After ablutions, morning prayers ad worship,the devout break their fast with Prasad, food that has first been offered to God. During the forenoon hours, the “Dahi-Handi” custom is celebrated in some parts of the Deccan.  Sumptuous mid-day feasts follow.  In this feast, extended families customarily get together.  Sweets made of milk and other dairy products, especially butter, are traditionally prepared on this occasion.
The festival is celebrated differently in North India.  The temples at Vrindavan and Mathura witness a colourful, even boisterous celebration on this occasion.  The festivities at these places may extend for several days.  Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration.  The Rasa Lila is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and commemorate his love for Radha.
Care is taken among certain circles not to imitate the Rasa Lila in a Mundane way.  It is said that one should not imitate the Rasa Lila in a mundane way.  It is said that one should not imitate the Ras Lila even in dreams.  The idea is that Krishna, or God’s pastimes, cannot be understood by the mundane mind-set.  Discussing them should therefore be avoided altogether.  Materialistic minded people can never understand the relation of Krishna with Radha. They are transcendental and great care should be taken to present them in such manner.
While the Rasa Lila recreates the youthful Krishna’s dalliance with the milkmaids of his native land, the ‘Dahi-Handi” tradition of Maharashtra re-enacts his childhood pranks.  Krishna and his young friends helped themselves to butter and other goodies in the houses of their neighbours.  Clay pots called ‘Dahi-Handi”, filled with curd and butter, are suspended high above the ground.  To a constant chorus of “Govinda, Govinda” from all those present, teams of young men form human pyramids to each the pot.  They break it, to the merriment of the youths and of the assembly.

Celebrations in Maharashtra

In Mumbai, people also call Janmaashtami as Dahi Handi festival.  It is celebrated with enormous zeal and enthusiasm.  Various Handis are set u locally in almost every nook and corner of the city.  Groups of youngsters, called Govinda Pathaks (English: Troupes of Lord Krishna) travel around in trucks.  They try to break as many handis (pitchers) as possible during the day.  Many such Govinda pathaks compete with each other, especially for the handis that dole out hefty rewards.
The event, in recent times, has gathered a political flavour.  It is uncommon for political parties, and rich community groups, to offer prizes amounting to lakhs of rupees.  Some of the most famous handis are at Dadar, Mazgaon, lalbaug and some in Thane a neighbouring district of Mumbai.