With Janmashtami around the corner, I asked my neighbors 10 year old (who I love to chat with) what was she going to do on that special day. Her remark, “Aunty, what is so special about Krishna’s birth anyway? I don’t even celebrate my birthday anymore, well except for a cake and a sleep over.” I sighed, took a deep breath and asked if she was willing to discuss about it. It is important for us as adults to not sweep topics like these under the carpet. It is important that we educate children and make them understand the significance and celebrate every festival in the right mood and spirit and in doing so; it puts our intent in perspective too. So, with her approval we had a discussion and this is what transpired.
Me: OK tell me what does Janamashtami mean to you?
Her: The day Krishna was born or maybe the day He was taken by Vasudev to Gokul?
Me: Yes, both are correct. And?
Her: He was born in the month of Shravan (a 10 year old knows that word even?), at midnight, in the jail and when He was born the atmosphere was divine, peacocks were dancing everywhere and all the residents were cheerful. First He appeared as four handed Visnu and then upon mother Devaki’s request he assumed the form of a cute little baby with two hands.
I must confess I was expecting her to twiddle her thumbs, roll her eyes, shrug her shoulders and exclaim “I don’t know!” But she chose to pleasantly surprise me. I was thinking what next, is this 10 year old going to explain the Gita to me? I stared at her, then into oblivion and back at her and probed further,
Me: What else?
Her: Aunty what do you mean what else?
Me: What else is unique about Krishna’s birth?
Her: Ummm….We get to stay up till midnight? Oh, He arranged for the prison doors to open and all the guards slept off so Vasudev could carry him to Gokul.
She was now thinking, harder. I was amazed by how much she knew. She’s a reader, you know. And that’s what happens; you somehow have an answer for everything. This game of “what else” did not go too far and now the ball was in my court. She wanted to know more about the significance of Janamashtami and what was so special about Krishna’s birth. I went on to tell her all that I had read and learnt from various books and spiritual teachers.
The uniqueness of Krishna’s birth is that not only did he choose His time and place of birth (exactly at midnight in a prison in Mathura) but also chose His parents. We don’t have that privilege. Even if the doctor may predict that we will be born on a certain date, the time or place can never be predicted. He even chose the complexion of his skin; that of a rain filled cloud. Again, we pretty much come color co-ordinated. He carefully pre planned His arrival and made all the necessary arrangements for being carried to Gokul. Miraculously the prison cell doors opened wide, the guards fell into the deepest slumber. The river Yamuna gave way to Vasudev so that he could easily cross the river, just like the Indian Ocean that gave way to Lord Rama. Ananta Shesha, the serpent, opened his hoods like a huge umbrella protecting them both from the torrential rains. These incidents did not happen by chance. Lord arranged for them to happen so. That is why His birth is not ordinary, rather extraordinary and special.
And the reason we celebrate Janamashtami is that, just as Krishna appeared to kill Kamsa and free the residents of Mathura from his atrocities, likewise, on Janamashtami, we must come together and pray for the Lord to appear in our heart and remove all the bad qualities and make us happy and joyful. Staying up till midnight,(even if you have school the next day) and getting to dress like the Gopis or Krishna is a bonus 🙂
She seemed to nod in agreement and sprang up with enthusiasm, hardly willing to wait, and said, “Thank you aunty, I am going down to tell all my friends about this.”
Recalling what I had learnt, with her, made me realize how sometimes, rather oftentimes we forget the real purpose behind a festival and how important it is to understand its true essence.