Janmashtami commemorates the earthly appearance of Krishna, who is described in India’s sacred writings as God Himself. One of the biggest religious festivals in the world, it is celebrated by nine hundred and thirty million people around the world–and two million in the US alone. To devotees, it’s Christmas and New Year’s in one, a day of deep spiritual renewal and celebration that effectively finishes an old year and begins a fresh one.
But why Janmashtami, you may ask? What’s so special about Krishna, as opposed to any other form of God? It’s His personable-ness. He reciprocates in unique, personal ways with every devotee who offers Him love—He is the most adorable, mischievous son, the most romantic lover, the most compassionate friend. And on Janmashtami, devotees celebrate Krishna in all of these aspects. For just as Krishna reciprocates individually with His relatives and confidantes, he responds to the distinct feelings and desires held most deeply in the heart of every single worshipper.
So remember that whatever way you worship Krishna on Janmashtami, He will reciprocate with you accordingly. It’s a meditation that makes for an extremely rewarding devotional experience.
The Birth of Lord Krishna
As stated in the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord says that His appearance, birth, and activities, are all transcendental, and one who understands them factually becomes immediately eligible to be transferred to the spiritual world. The Lord’s appearance or birth is not like that of an ordinary man who is forced to accept a material body according to his past deeds. The Lord’s appearance is explained in the Second Chapter: He appears out of His own sweet pleasure. When the time was mature for the appearance of the Lord, the constellations became very auspicious. The astrological influence of the star known as Rohini was also predominant because this star is considered to be very auspicious. Rohini is under the direct supervision of Brahma. According to the astrological conclusion, besides the proper situation of the stars, there are auspicious and inauspicious moments due to the different situations of the different planetary systems. At the time of Krsna’s birth, the planetary systems were automatically adjusted so that everything became auspicious.
At that time, in all directions, east, west, south, north, everywhere, there was an atmosphere of peace and prosperity. There were auspicious stars visible in the sky, and on the surface in all towns and villages or pasturing grounds and within the minds of everyone there were signs of good fortune. The rivers were flowing full of waters, and lakes were beautifully decorated with lotus flowers. The forests were full with beautiful birds and peacocks. All the birds within the forests began to sing with sweet voices, and the peacocks began to dance along with their consorts. The wind blew very pleasantly, carrying the aroma of different flowers, and the sensation of bodily touch was very pleasing. At home, the brahmanas, who were accustomed to offer sacrifices in the fire, found their homes very pleasant for offerings. Due to disturbances created by the demoniac kings, the sacrificial fire alter had been almost stopped in the houses of brahmanas, but now they could find the opportunity to start the fire peacefully. Being forbidden to offer sacrifices, the brahmanas were very distressed in mind, intelligence and activities, but just on the point of Krsna’s appearance, automatically their minds became full of joy because they could hear loud vibrations in the sky of transcendental sounds proclaiming the appearance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The denizens of the Gandharva and Kinnara planets began to sing, and the denizens of Siddhaloka and the planets of the Caranas began to offer prayers in the service of the Personality of Godhead. In the heavenly planets, the angels along with their wives, accompanied by the Apsaras, began to dance.
The great sages and the demigods, being pleased, began to shower flowers. At the seashore, there was the sound of mild waves, and above the sea there were clouds in the sky which began to thunder very pleasingly.
When things were adjusted like this, Lord Visnu, who is residing within the heart of every living entity, appeared in the darkness of night as the Supreme Personality of Godhead before Devaki, who also appeared as one of the demigoddesses. The appearance of Lord Visnu at that time could be compared with the full moon in the sky as it rises on the eastern horizon. The objection may be raised that, since Lord Krsna appeared on the eighth day of the waning moon, there could be no rising of the full moon. In answer to this it may be said that Lord Krsna appeared in the dynasty which is in the hierarchy of the moon; therefore, although the moon was incomplete on that night, because of the Lord’s appearance in the dynasty wherein the moon is himself the original person, the moon was in an overjoyous condition, so by the grace of Krsna he could appear just as a full moon.
In an astronomical treatise by the name Khamanikya, the constellations at the time of the appearance of Lord Krsna are very nicely described. It is confirmed that the child born at that auspicious moment was the Supreme Brahman or the Absolute Truth.
Vasudeva saw that wonderful child born as a baby with four hands, holding conchshell, club, disc, and lotus flower, decorated with the mark of Srivatsa, wearing the jeweled necklace of kaustubha stone, dressed in yellow silk, appearing dazzling like a bright blackish cloud, wearing a helmet bedecked with the vaidurya stone, valuable bracelets, earrings and similar other ornaments all over His body and an abundance of hair on His head. Due to the extraordinary features of the child, Vasudeva was struck with wonder. How could a newly born child be so decorated? He could therefore understand that Lord Krsna had now appeared, and he became overpowered by the occasion. Vasudeva very humbly wondered that although he was an ordinary living entity conditioned by material nature and was externally imprisoned by Kamsa, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, Visnu or Krsna, was appearing as a child in his home, exactly in His original position. No earthly child is born with four hands decorated with ornaments and nice clothing, fully equipped with all the signs of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Over and over again, Vasudeva glanced at his child, and he considered how to celebrate this auspicious moment: “Generally, when a male child is born,” he thought, “people observe the occasion with jubilant celebrations, and in my home, although I am imprisoned, the Supreme Personality of Godhead has taken birth. How many millions of millions of times should I be prepared to observe this auspicious ceremony!”
When Vasudeva, who is also called Anakadundubhi, was looking at his newborn baby, he was so happy that he wanted to give many thousands of cows in charity to the brahmanas. According to the Vedic system, whenever there is an auspicious ceremony in the ksatriya king’s palace, the king gives many things in charity. Cows decorated with golden ornaments are delivered to the brahmanas and sages. Vasudeva wanted to perform a charitable ceremony to celebrate Krsna’s appearance, but because he was shackled within the walls of Kamsa’s prison, this was not possible. Instead, within his mind he gave thousands of cows to the brahmanas.
When Vasudeva was convinced that the newborn child was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, he bowed down with folded hands and began to offer Him prayers. At that time Vasudeva was in the transcendental position, and he became completely free from all fear of Kamsa. The newborn baby was also flashing His effulgence within the room in which He appeared.
Vasudeva then began to offer his prayers. “My dear Lord, I can understand who You are. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul of all living entities and the Absolute Truth. You have appeared in Your own eternal form which is directly perceived by us. I understand that because I am afraid of Kamsa, You have appeared just to deliver me from that fear. You do not belong to this material world; You are the same person who brings about the cosmic manifestation simply by glancing over material nature.”
One may argue that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who creates the whole cosmic manifestation simply by His glance, cannot come within the womb of Devaki, the wife of Vasudeva. To eradicate this argument, Vasudeva said, “My dear Lord, it is not a very wonderful thing that You appear within the womb of Devaki because the creation was also made in that way. You were lying in the Causal Ocean as Maha-Visnu, and by Your breathing process, innumerable universes came into existence. Then You entered into each of the universes as Garbhodakasayi Visnu. Then again You expanded Yourself as Ksirodakasayi Visnu and entered into the hearts of all living entities and entered even within the atoms. Therefore Your entrance in the womb of Devaki is understandable in the same way. You appear to have entered, but You are simultaneously all-pervading. We can understand Your entrance and nonentrance from material examples. The total material energy remains intact even after being divided into sixteen elements. The material body is nothing but the combination of the five gross elements–namely earth, water, fire, air and ether. Whenever there is a material body, it appears that such elements are newly created, but actually the elements are always existing outside of the body. Similarly, although You appear as a child in the womb of Devaki, You are also existing outside. You are always in Your abode, but still You can simultaneously expand Yourself into millions of forms.
“One has to understand Your appearance with great intelligence because the material energy is also emanating from You. You are the original source of the material energy, just as the sun is the source of the sunshine. The sunshine cannot cover the sun globe, nor can the material energy–being an emanation from You–cover You. You appear to be in the three modes of material energy, but actually the three modes of material energy cannot cover You. This is understood by the highly intellectual philosophers. In other words, although You appear to be within the material energy, You are never covered by it.”
We hear from the Vedic version that the Supreme Brahman exhibits His effulgence, and therefore everything becomes illuminated. We can understand from Brahma-samhita that the brahmajyoti, or the Brahman effulgence, emanates from the body of the Supreme Lord. And from the Brahman effulgence, all creation takes place. It is further stated in the Bhagavad-gita that the Lord is also the support of the Brahman effulgence. Originally He is the root cause of everything. But persons who are less intelligent think that when the Supreme Personality of Godhead comes within this material world, He accepts the material qualities. Such conclusions are not very mature, but are made by the less intelligent.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is directly and indirectly existing everywhere; He is outside this material creation, and He is also within it. He is within this material creation not only as Garbhodakasayi Visnu; He is also within the atom. Existence is due to His presence. Nothing can be separated from His existence. In the Vedic injunction we find that the Supreme Soul or the root cause of everything has to be searched out because nothing exists independent of the Supreme Soul. Therefore the material manifestation is also a transformation of His potency. Both inert matter and the living force–soul–are emanations from Him. Only the foolish conclude that when the Supreme Lord appears He accepts the conditions of matter. Even if He appears to have accepted the material body, He is still not subjected to any material condition. Krsna has therefore appeared and defeated all imperfect conclusions about the appearance and disappearance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“My Lord, Your appearance, existence and disappearance are beyond the influence of the material qualities. Because Your Lordship is the controller of everything and the resting place of the Supreme Brahman, there is nothing inconceivable or contradictory in You. As You have said, material nature works under Your superintendence. It is just like government officers working under the orders of the chief executive. The influence of subordinate activities cannot affect You. The Supreme Brahman and all phenomena are existing within You, and all the activities of material nature are controlled by Your Lordship.
“You are called suklam. Suklam, or ‘whiteness’ is the symbolic representation of the Absolute Truth because it is unaffected by the material qualities. Lord Brahma is called rakta, or red, because Brahma represents the qualities of passion for creation. Darkness is entrusted to Lord Siva because he annihilates the cosmos. The creation, annihilation and maintenance of this cosmic manifestation is conducted by Your potencies, yet You are always unaffected by those qualities. As confirmed in the Vedas, harir hi nirgunah saksat: the Supreme Personality of Godhead is always free from all material qualities. It is also said that the qualities of passion and ignorance are nonexistent in the person of the Supreme Lord.
“My Lord, You are the supreme controller, the Personality of Godhead, the supreme great, maintaining the order of this cosmic manifestation. And in spite of Your being the supreme controller, You have so kindly appeared in my home. The purpose of Your appearance is to kill the followers of the demoniac rulers of the world who are in the dress of royal princes but are actually demons. I am sure that You will kill all of them and their followers and soldiers.
“I understand that You have appeared to kill the uncivilized Kamsa and his followers. But knowing that You were to appear to kill him and his followers, he has already killed so many of Your predecessors, elder brothers. Now he is simply awaiting the news of Your birth. As soon as he hears about it, he will immediately appear with all kinds of weapons to kill You.”
After this prayer of Vasudeva, Devaki, the mother of Krsna, offered her prayers. She was very frightened because of her brother’s atrocities. Devaki said, “My dear Lord, Your eternal forms, like Narayana, Lord Rama, Sesa, Varaha, Nrsimha, Vamana, Baladeva, and millions of similar incarnations emanating from Visnu, are described in the Vedic literature as original. You are original because all Your forms as incarnations are outside of this material creation. Your form was existing before this cosmic manifestation was created. Your forms are eternal and all-pervading. They are self-effulgent, changeless and uncontaminated by the material qualities. Such eternal forms are ever-cognizant and full of bliss; they are situated in transcendental goodness and are always engaged in different pastimes. You are not limited to a particular form only; all such transcendental eternal forms are self-sufficient. I can understand that You are the Supreme Lord Visnu.
“After many millions of years, when Lord Brahma comes to the end of his life, the annihilation of the cosmic manifestation takes place. At that time the five elements–namely earth, water, fire, air and ether–enter into the mahat-tattva. The mahat-tattva again enters, by the force of time, into the nonmanifested total material energy; the total material energy enters into the energetic pradhana, and the pradhana enters into You. Therefore after the annihilation of the whole cosmic manifestation, You alone remain with Your transcendental name, form, quality and paraphernalia.
“My Lord, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You because You are the director of the unmanifested total energy, and the ultimate reservoir of the material nature. My Lord, the whole cosmic manifestation is under the influence of time, beginning from the moment up to the duration of the year. All act under Your direction. You are the original director of everything and the reservoir of all potent energies.
“Therefore my Lord, I request You to save me from the cruel hands of the son of Ugrasena, Kamsa. I am praying to Your Lordship to please rescue me from this fearful condition because You are always ready to give protection to Your servitors.” The Lord has confirmed this statement in the Bhagavad-gita by assuring Arjuna, “You may declare to the world, My devotee shall never be vanquished.”
While thus praying to the Lord for rescue, mother Devaki expressed her motherly affection: “I understand that this transcendental form is generally perceived in meditation by the great sages, but I am still afraid because as soon as Kamsa understands that You have appeared, he might harm You. So I request that for the time being You become invisible to our material eyes.” In other words, she requested the Lord to assume the form of an ordinary child. “My only cause of fear from my brother Kamsa is due to Your appearance. My Lord Madhusudana, Kamsa may know that You are already born. Therefore I request You to conceal this four-armed form of Your Lordship which holds the four symbols of Visnu–namely the conchshell, the disc, the club and the lotus flower. My dear Lord, at the end of the annihilation of the cosmic manifestation, You put the whole universe within Your abdomen; still by Your unalloyed mercy You have appeared in my womb. I am surprised that You imitate the activities of ordinary human beings just to please Your devotee.”
On hearing the prayers of Devaki, the Lord replied, “My dear mother, in the millennium of Svayambhuva Manu, My father Vasudeva was living as one of the Prajapatis, and his name at that time was Sutapa, and you were his wife named Prsni. At that time, when Lord Brahma was desiring to increase the population, he requested you to generate offspring. You controlled your senses and performed severe austerities. By practicing the breathing exercise of the yoga system, both you and your husband could tolerate all the influences of the material laws: the rainy season, the onslaught of the wind, and the scorching heat of the sunshine. You also executed all religious principles. In this way you were able to cleanse your heart and control the influence of material law. In executing your austerity, you used to eat only the leaves of the trees which fell to the ground. Then with steady mind and controlled sex drive, you worshiped Me, desiring some wonderful benediction from Me. Both of you practiced severe austerities for twelve thousand years, by the calculation of the demigods. During that time, your mind was always absorbed in Me. When you were executing devotional service and always thinking of Me within your heart, I was very much pleased with you. O sinless mother, your heart is therefore always pure. At that time also I appeared before you in this form just to fulfill your desire, and I asked you to ask whatever you desired. At that time you wished to have Me born as your son. Although you saw Me personally, instead of asking for your complete liberation from the material bondage, under the influence of My energy, you asked Me to become your son.”
In other words, the Lord selected His mother and father–namely Prsni and Sutapa–specifically to appear in the material world. Whenever the Lord comes as a human being, He must have someone as a mother and father, so He selected Prsni and Sutapa perpetually as His mother and father. And on account of this, both Prsni and Sutapa could not ask the Lord for liberation. Liberation is not so important as the transcendental loving service of the Lord. The Lord could have awarded Prsni and Sutapa immediate liberation, but He preferred to keep them within this material world for His different appearances, as will be explained in the following verses. On receiving the benediction from the Lord to become His father and mother, both Prsni and Sutapa returned from the activities of austerity and lived as husband and wife in order to beget a child who was the Supreme Lord Himself.
In due course of time Prsni became pregnant and gave birth to the child. The Lord spoke to Devaki and Vasudeva: “At that time My name was Prsnigarbha. In the next millennium also you took birth as Aditi and Kasyapa, and I became your child of the name Upendra. At that time My form was just like a dwarf, and for this reason I was known as Vamanadeva. I gave you the benediction that I would take birth as your son three times. The first time I was known as Prsnigarbha, born of Prsni and Sutapa, the next birth I was Upendra born of Aditi and Kasyapa, and now for the third time I am born as Krsna from you, Devaki and Vasudeva. I appeared in this Visnu form just to convince you that I am the same Supreme Personality of Godhead again taken birth. I could have appeared just like an ordinary child, but in that way you would not believe that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, have taken birth in your womb. My dear father and mother, you have therefore raised Me many times as your child, with great affection and love, and I am therefore very pleased and obliged to you. And I assure you that this time you shall go back to home, back to Godhead, on account of your perfection in your mission. I know you are very concerned about Me and afraid of Kamsa. Therefore I order you to take Me immediately to Gokula and replace Me with the daughter who has just been born to Yasoda.”
Having spoken thus in the presence of His father and mother, the Lord turned Himself into an ordinary child and remained silent.
Being ordered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva attempted to take his son from the delivery room, and exactly at that time, a daughter was born of Nanda and Yasoda. She was Yogamaya, the internal potency of the Lord. By the influence of this internal potency, Yogamaya, all the residents of Kamsa’s palace, especially the doorkeepers, were overwhelmed with deep sleep, and all the palace doors opened, although they were barred and shackled with iron chains. The night was very dark, but as soon as Vasudeva took Krsna on his lap and went out, he could see everything just as in the sunlight.
In the Caitanya-caritamrta it is said that Krsna is just like sunlight, and wherever there is Krsna, the illusory energy, which is compared to darkness, cannot remain. When Vasudeva was carrying Krsna, the darkness of the night disappeared. All the prison doors automatically opened. At the same time there was a thunder in the sky and severe rainfall. While Vasudeva was carrying his son Krsna in the falling rain, Lord Sesa in the shape of a serpent spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva so that he would not be hampered by the rainfall. Vasudeva came onto the bank of the Yamuna and saw that the water of the Yamuna was roaring with waves and that the whole span was full of foam. Still, in that furious feature, the river gave passage to Vasudeva to cross, just as the great Indian Ocean gave a path to Lord Rama when He was bridging over the gulf. In this way Vasudeva crossed the river Yamuna. On the other side, he went to the place of Nanda Maharaja situated in Gokula, where he saw that all the cowherd men were fast asleep. He took the opportunity of silently entering into the house of Yasoda, and without difficulty he replaced his son, taking away the baby girl newly born in the house of Yasoda. Then, after entering the house very silently and exchanging the boy with the girl, he again returned to the prison of Kamsa and silently put the girl on the lap of Devaki. He again clamped the shackles on himself so that Kamsa could not recognize that so many things had happened.
Mother Yasoda understood that a child was born of her, but because she was very tired from the labor of childbirth, she was fast asleep. When she awoke, she could not remember whether she had given birth to a male or a female child.
Thus ends the Bhaktivedanta purport of the Third Chapter of Krsna, “Birth of Lord Krsna.”