Sep 1st is celebration of Sri Krishna Janmastami (dates might vary as per location) – A day commemorating the appearance of Krishna on earth. For majority of people, it would be just another day. For some, a day to offer respects to a great personality who spoke the Bhagavad-gita, one who enchanted the hearts of the people in his village of Vrindavan. For some, day when the “formless” brahman took “form”. For some, a day when people ignorant of the “real” God, celebrate His appearance on earth. For some, a day when the “less intelligent” celebrate an idea of God, afterall, Krishna is just a mythological figure presented to teach people the concept of good vs evil and how good will always overcome evil. The list could go on.
But what would the day really mean to a Krishna’s devotee, a spiritual seeker in the Vaishnava tradition?
To a devotee, Krishna is not just an ordinary person or just a great personality. The fourth chapter of Bhagavad-gita explains the details of Krishna’s appearance - how, why, when Krishna appears.
How does He appear? Like the sun that seems to take birth in the eastern sky, but in reality is merely appearing, Krishna appears, though it seems He has taken birth. He is “ajo’ – unborn; “avyaya” – His body does not deteriorate; “isvara” – He is the Lord to all living entities. Yet, He appears every Millenium in His original form according to His desire, by His own potency (sambhavami atma mayaya). Gita 4.6. We, on the other hand, don’t take birth out of our own choice, or our own potency. Our body transforms through the cycle of birth, oldage, disease, and death.
When does He appear? Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religion and a predominant rise of irreligion. Gita 4.7
Why does He appear? To give pleasure to His devotees, annihilate the miscreants (and the demoniac tendencies in the hearts of people), and reestablish the principles of religion. Gita 4.8. Prabhupada further explains that the primary among the three reasons is to give pleasure to His devotees and deliver them from the anxiety of His separation.
So a devotee does not consider Krishna as an ordinary person or even a great personality, but as the supreme absolute truth. In a prayer Brahma expresses a similar emotion (S.B. 3.9.11): “O my Lord, You always dwell in the vision and hearing of Your pure devotees. You also live in their lotuslike hearts, which are purified by devotional service. O my Lord, who are glorified by exalted prayers, You show special favor to Your devotees by manifesting Yourself in the eternal forms in which they welcome You.”
So what would the day mean to a devotee? His Holiness Varsana Swami gives a wonderful description: “So it is with the lovers of God, who live on this earth in a different world than people who don’t know God, or feel they have no relationship with Godhead. The lovers of God are the expectant watchers in the crowd of population on earth. At any moment in time, they look for His representatives, relatives, friends and God Himself with the same happy, nervous, hopeful, trusting yearning that people wait for beloved persons in earthly relationships. The devotees of God see certain places on earth differently, just as the lover sees the birthplace of the beloved as full of events and beauty that the stranger passing by the way is completely blind to.”
In Bhagavad-gita, it is further explained that such a meditation and consciousness based on loving realtionship with God purifies and perfects one that “upon leaving the body, one does not take his birth again in this material world, but attains His eternal abode”. Gita 4.9.
In fact, Krishna’s appearance and His childhood activities in this world about 5000 years ago is specifically meant for the purpose of attracting our hearts to Him. In the Krishna book, towards the end of Chapter 8, Prabhupada explains the prayer of Drona and Dhara (who later took birth as Nanda and Yasodha, (childhood) parents of Krishna). They prayed to Brahma that “when they would take birth again, the Supreme Lord Krishna in His most attractive feature of childhood would absorb their whole attention. Their dealings with Krishna would be so powerful that simply by hearing of Krishna’s childhood activities with them, anyone could very easily cross over the nescience of birth and death.”
Hence observing the festival of Janmastami, appearance of Krishna, is considered “mother of devotion”. Festival days give a special reason to focus our consciousness and activities on Krishna and develop our love and devotion to Him. And in doing so, purify ourselves and elevate our consciousness so that as Prabhupada explains, “while in the material world one can live very comfortably without anxiety and after finishing the present material body one can enter into the kingdom of God.” Janmastami is thus a festival of showing our gratitude for Krishna’s love and compassion, a festival of remembering and glorifying His appearance and His wonderful activities; a festival of reciprocating His Love for us.
I hope and pray that we all can utilize the festival as an opportunity to devote our time towards spiritual progress, in addition to our daily activities.
P.S. A special for those who know Tamil. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb3oCguhjtY.
Bhagavad-gita 4.6. Nature of God’s appearance.
Bhagavad-gita 4.7. When God appears.
Bhagavad-gita 4.8. Why God appears.
Bhagavad-gita 4.9. Attaining perfection in relationship with God.
Srimad Bhagavatam 3.9.11
Srimad Bhagavatam 10.8.49