Celebrating Janmashtami

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How one family brought a little bit of extra excitement to this auspicious day, writes VISHMA MISTRY

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Many of us like to celebrate our birthdays in special ways, whether it is by throwing an extravagant party or by planning a simple day with the family. Birthdays tend to be very special and we make every effort to make sure it goes without a glitch. I know I most certainly do.

And just like birthdays, Janmashtami brings with it the same heart racing excitement and zeal for celebration. Only this time, it is extra special! Janmashtami marks the birth of Lord Krishna (the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu). Krishna was the eighth son of Devki and Vasudev, and according to scriptures and astrological calculations, the date of Krishna’s birth is July 19, 3228 BCE. The festival is celebrated on the eighth day in the month of shraavan in the Hindu calendar.

Janmashtami is celebrated with great dhoom dham, not only across India but across the world with raas leela to celebrate Krishna’s youthful, flirtatious nature and the Dahi-Handi in which teams of young men form a sky-high human tower by climbing on to each other’s shoulders to reach a pot of butter which is hanging high up and break it.

Families also celebrate this auspicious day at home by holding bhajans and decorating the temple. When I was back home in England, I remember how my father used to wake up early and clean the temple and my mother would make Maal pura, which we used to take to the temple in the evening as Prasad. The function used to start off with bhajans and at midnight (according to the time in India) a specially chosen baby, dressed as Krishna would be bought in, carried in a woven basket as everyone chanted haathi gora paalki, jai kanhaiya lal ki; re-enacting the scene of when Vasudev carried Krishna in the basket and crossed the river Yamuna. We would then all line up eagerly to rock the cradle and seek blessings. The highlight of Janmashtami, however, were the little babies and toddlers dressed up as baby Krishna looking absolutely adorable!

Halfway across the world, here in Brisbane, Janmashtami is celebrated with the same enthusiasm and fervour. This year one family celebrated it in an extra special way.

Sankalp Khanna’s in-laws visited from India this year, and for his father in-law this was the first time he was spending Janmashtami away from home in 73 years. Sankalp’s in-laws both hail from Chandametta, a small mining town on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Janmashtami has traditionally been their biggest celebration of the year and his wife Awanika’s dad has been an integral part of the preparation and celebration since his childhood. So to make the celebrations special, Sankalp, his wife Awanika, and their two daughters, decided to recreate the celebrations at home in Brisbane.

They used everyday materials to create an animated display, much like the window displays you see at the Myer, to recreate a scene from the story of Lord Krishna. Converting the garage into a puja room, a stage was erected using filing cabinets, the sides of a single bed, and cardboard packing boxes. The steel columns from a trampoline were used to build the walls. A variety of drawings, stencils and craft paper were use to paint the scene. Statues of Radha Krishna and the Gopis were created using Ken and Barbie dolls, but they didn’t stop there. In order to bring their creation to life, they used electronic circuits and hobby motors, used for helicopter wings, to make Krishna raise his hand as if to throw a stone, and bring his hand back down without throwing the stone. Radha also turned her head to look at him.

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“What surprised my father in law the most, was how all our friends came together to make things happen,” Sankalp said. “Every weekend, friends would come over and spend time to help build the display. Some would take work home to finish it. The circuit was actually built with the help from a colleague of one of my friends. The flowers for the decoration and everyday puja were donated by another friend who owns a flower farm”.

As the festivities commenced in the Khanna household, friends and family joined them for Arti and Prashad over five days. That night they held a dinner, including a performance by their nine-year-old daughter Khushi, which was attended by 50 people,.

“What Awanika’s parents, our friends and I will cherish the most from this celebration is the experience we were able to provide for the kids,” Sankalp said. “They were able to be a part of how it is traditionally celebrated in India. They stayed up with us at night for the Aarti. We even varied some Aarti times to suit their school times. My elder daughter, Khushi, also did a presentation to her school friends describing the significance of the festival and took Prasad for all her friends”.

As the festivities came to an end for this year, the Khanna family gained some very special memories, which will stay with them forever.