Janmastami: Inside India's Festivals

Head to Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna, during the Indian lunar month of Bhadra to see the mass pilgrimage take place.

A boat near bank of Mathura at Vishram Ghat Photo © Getty Images/Himanshu Khagta

Location

Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India

Dates

Indian lunar month of Bhadra (August/September)

Description

Held on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight), when the moon is waning, this mass pilgrimage kicks off an intense season of festivities, even by Hindu standards. It’s a birthday party for Lord Krishna, the blue-skinned incarnation of Vishnu.

The anniversary is celebrated throughout India, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Mathura, Krishna’s birthplace. The pilgrims who come to the northern city, 85mi (140km) south of Delhi, fast all day and cram into temples at night. They chant Sanskrit hymns, ring bells, blow conch shells (a symbol of Vishnu) and read from the Bhagavad Gita, which is narrated by Krishna. Flames flicker during the Aarthi ritual, in which lighted wicks, soaked in camphor or ghee (golden butterfat), are offered to statues of the deity. Cradles and statues of Balgopal, the boy Krishna, decorate the temples. The ceremonies, intended to relive the famous birth, conclude around midnight, by which time the flute-playing god would have been born.

In southern India, residents paint a trail of tiny footprints, using flour and water, leading from their front door to the inner meditation chamber. This creates a sense that Krishna has paid a visit.

Level of Participation

3 – offer puja (prayer) with the pilgrims.

Other Local Attractions

See the slab of rock in Kesava Deo Temple where, Hindus believe, Krishna was born 3500 years ago.

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