Janamashtami (also known as Krishnastami or Gokulastami) is the birthday of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, believed to have been born about five thousand years ago in Mathura in 'Dwapar Yuga'. It is celebrated in the August/September months, on the Ashtami of Krishna Paksh or the 8th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Bhadon and is celebrated over two days. The first day is Krishnashtami or Gokulashtami. The second day is called Kalastami or more popularly Janmashtami. This celebration is said to be revealed originally by the Sri Krishna himself to Yudhishthira, the eldest of Pandavas, as mentioned in the Bhavishyottara Puran.
He was born to Vasudev and Devki, who were imprisoned by Devki's evil brother Kansa and was brought up by Nand and Yashoda. The birth of Lod Krishna is believed to be symbolic of our imprisonment in worldly illusions, where He took birth with us and led us to salvation and peace, vanquishing all evils depicted by Kansa in the story.
People fast on this day, usually a waterless fast. They spend the day immersed in Shri Krishna's glory by reading, reciting and singing his divine leela especially in the evening in mandirs. Temples of Lord Krishna are decorated most beautifully and children are adorned as Lord Krishna and Radhika, his spiritual beloved. Krishna Leela or the plays depicting scenes from Krishna's life, especially childhood, are performed. At midnight, the Lord's birth hour, arti is performed. He is also installed in the form of 'Lalji' (child form) in a swing and devotionally offered many sumptuous food dishes. 'Makhan' (butter) is especially included since Shri Krishna loved this in childhood. The traditional prasad is 'Panchajiri' - made of five ingredients: powdered ginger, 'suva', coriander, sugar and ghee. Other ingredients include poppy seeds (khaskhas) and dessicated coconut shavings.The most popular ceremony of Dahi-handi (breaking a pot full of milk and its derivatives} takes place on the second day.
The Ceremony of Dahi-Handi:
During this ceremony a large earthenware pot is filled with milk, curds, butter, honey fruits etc. and is suspended from a height between 20 to 40 feet. Sporting young men and boys come forward to claim this prize. To do so they construct a human pyramid by standing over each other's shoulders till the pyramid is tall enough to enable the topmost person to reach the pot and claim the contents after breaking it. Normally, currency notes are tied to the rope by which the pot is suspended. This prize money is distributed among those who participate in the pyramid building.
This ceremony replicates Krishna's love for milk and butter. In his childhood, the Lord Krishna along with his mates used to raid the houses of his neighbors in search of milk and butter.