What is it?
Janmashtami is the celebration of the birth of lord Krishna. Krishna is the absolute representation of god to Hindus.
When is it?
It falls on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (the dark lunar fortnight or waning moon in the Hindu calendar) in the month of Bhadra (a month of the Hindu calendar that corresponds with August/September in the Gregorian calendar). In 2016 this is Thursday 25th of August.
When Devaki’s brother, Kansa, was taking Devaki to her husband’s (Vasudeva’s) place after her marriage, an oracle from the skies announced that Devaki’s eighth child would cause Kansa’s death.
According to legend, lord Krishna was the eighth avatar of lord Vishnu (one of the three main deities in Hinduism) and the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. On the birth of the eighth child the prison doors opened themselves and the guards fell asleep. Vasudeva took the new born child to Gokul. Here he was brought up by Nanda (or Nanda Gopa or Nanda Baba) and Yashoda (or Yasoda). Nanda was the head of the Gopas, a tribe of cowherds referred as Holy Gwals
Later, Krishna became the killer of Kansa. Kansa was the tyrant ruler of the Vrishni kingdom with its capital at Mathura.
How is it celebrated?
It is celebrated with much devotion, fervour and gaiety in the northern states of India, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Temples are decorated with tableaus/ images depicting scenes of Krishna’s birth and the various events in his life. Images are also placed in cradles and swings in homes and temples.
Hindus fast and stay up until midnight offering prayers at a special time – when Krishna is believed to have been born. At midnight devotees gather round for devotional songs, dance and exchange gifts.