India has many languages. In fact it has 23 official languages, which doesn’t include the dialects and language variations spoken across the country.
It is also home to many of the world’s Hindus, and today marks the beginning of annual celebrations for Krishna Janmashtami – a Hindu festival marking the birth of the beloved Lord Sri Krishna.
Lord Krishna is an earthly incarnation of Lord Vishnu – one of the three major Hindu Gods – and his birth is celebrated by members of the Hindu faith in various languages over two days, and the celebrations reach their peak at midnight between these two days.
According to Hindu histories told in different languages, Lord Krishna was born to Devaki, the sister of a wicked king called Kansa.
Krishna was destined to kill Kansa and so the latter ordered for all the male children of Devaki to be killed and imprisoned Devaki and her husband Vasudeva. Vasudeva was miraculously able to escape the prison and take Krishna to safety by switching him with the daughter of a king and queen who had just been born in the nearby kingdom of Gokul. Krishna grew up to become a hero and a leader of his people, and this is what Hindus celebrate on Janmashtami.
These festivities vary with location, however some of the main focuses are singing traditional Hindu songs called bhajans, and blowing a Śaṇkha (a conch shell), which is the sacred emblem of the Lord Vishnu.
An idol of Krishna is bathed in a mixture of milk, curd, honey, ghee and Gangajal; this is called Panchamarit. This mixture is then shared out amongst devotees along with other sweets that are made on this occasion to celebrate the luxury to which Sri Krishna was accustomed in his life. These are traditional sweets from Indian culture such as Uddina Unde – delicious treats made from almonds, cashew nuts, uddinabele, sesame seeds, cardamon and ghee. Another popular treat is Ksheeram (the Northern Indian term – this varies between languages), a rice pudding traditionally flavoured with cardamom or other ingredients.
Other ceremonies that take place are popular ones such as Dahi Handi – a re-enactment of Lord Krishna’s attempts to reach butter (a favourite childhood food of his) from a Matka, an earthen pot, suspended from the ceiling. This ceremony usually takes place on the second day of celebrations and young men form a human pyramid to reach the pot and attempt to break it. Other people taking part in the ceremony throw water at the men to deter them. Once the Matka is broken, silver coins are distributed as prizes.
Along with the bhajans, hymns and mantras are chanted in various Indian languages and poojas – traditional devotional rituals – are performed. These include the bathing of the idol of Lord Krishna in the Panchamrit followed by redressing in new clothes and offerings are made. After this, devotees who have been fasting break their fast with the Panchamrit, though some continue fasting into the next day.
Festivals are an important part of any culture and this one, like others, brings together those of the Hindu faith to celebrate what is important to them. Faith varies in meaning from one person to the next, however these celebrations mark a true belief in a Hindu God who represents heroism and leadership and can be just as important to a country as its languages or perhaps its politics, if not more so!
What cultural festivities are celebrated in your country? Do you know of any traditional songs or phrases that are used to celebrate these events? We’d love to hear from you.
For more information on the languages we work with here at Lingua Translations, please visit our languages page.