Omanand Koul

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Janama Ashtami: Zanam Ashtami-Zarama Satam

The birthday of Bhagwan Krishna is on the eighth day of the dark-fortnight of the lunar month of Bhadra. Some sources record this as his 5,236th birthday. Others add a few thousand years. Either way, this places Krishna in the time of the Dvapara Yuga, the second of the four yugas in Hindu cosmological reckoning of time.

Krishna 's birth is full of miracles and intrigue. He was born inside a prison cell in the Indian city of Mathura to the imprisoned mother Devaki and father Vasudeva of the Yadava clan. Vasudeva hid the newborn Krishna in a basket and stealthily carried him out of the prison and across the miraculously parted turbulent waters of the river Yamuna. He left him in the care of the cowherd Nanda and his wife Yasoda (Jasoda). Vasudeva did it to save the child from death at the hands of Kansa, the brother of Devaki and the then ruler of Mathura .

Kansa had the routine of killing each of his sister's sons because his death was foretold to occur at the hands of Devaki's eighth son. Not taking any chances, Kansa imprisoned his sister and Vasudeva so none of their children would escape his wrath. Vasudeva was able to save Krishna only because at the time of his birth, miraculously, the guards lay asleep and the prison doors flung open.

Living with Nanda and Yasoda, Krishna , along with other cowboys and cowgirls (gopis), tended cows and enjoyed a happy and normal development. Tales of those childhood and youthful days are replete with his pranks, transgressions and miracles in the company of various gopis. This part of his life story is affectionately described as Krishna baala leela and the young Krishna is described as Baala Gopaala. Krishna seemed to have lived in a relatively liberated society that allowed gender equality at work and play. We need to cherish that heritage: a Glorious India long before Gloria Steinem. 

The adult Krishna played and enjoyed life's pleasures to the fullest and gathered a few consorts. He became a friend and teacher of Arjuna, the warrior-prince of the Pandu clan. Krishna 's message of the Bhagavat Gita was delivered to Arjuna in the battlefield. Krishna helped his friends in need, and once rescued the Pandu princess Draupadi from the atrocities of the Kuru clan. He acted as wise counsel during times of war and peace. Much later, when Kansa was eventually killed, the revengeful father-in-law of Kansa invaded Mathura to drive Yadavas and Krishna out, and thus the kingdom of Krishna was established in Dwarka on the western coast of India . Krishna thus lived a life of a very complex personality. Since historic Krishna was born, lived, fought, enjoyed life, and finally died as a human, he is an example to emulate- an Avatar come to this earth.

Later, Krishna was recognized as the Avatar of Vishnu. In the Avatar story, the esoteric Krishna is the eternal Atman, Arjuna the individual Jiva inside the body represented by Arjuna's chariot (used in the Mahabharata). Arjuna is the individual that has to face the daily battle between good and evil and needs the message of the Bhagavat Gita. Thus each soul has to surrender to the eternal Atman for guidance and direction although we are responsible for our own Karma.

This much expanded personality has allowed Hindus a versatile icon of Krishna for Bhakti that is worthy of adoration in the form of an innocent venerated child, a friend, a lover playing raasa leela with gopis, or mentor; and a vehicle to attain the state of Vishnu. Thus we get the Krishna of Mirabai, or the bala gopala for a mother's adoration. A poignant example is presented in this line from a Kashmiri leela, "Jasada Nandagooris koon chhi wanan, wanan chhi Radha Krishan au." Which translated is,"Yasoda, longing to meet Krishna , tells  Nanda that Krishna and his consort Radha are rumored to have arrived". This is supplication to and arriving into the state of Vishnu through Krishna Baala Gopala as expressed through a mother's longing.

Just to add to the complexity of the Avatar story, the number of Krishna 's consorts increases and equals the number 16,108--or roughly the number of breaths we take in a 24 hour period.

In Kashmir , Krishna 's birthday is celebrated on the 7th of Bhadra, since that precedes the midnight when Krishna was born. This is why we have Zanama Satam, which is actually called Zarama Satam, and not Janam Ashtami. The day is celebrated with a fast during which one is allowed to drink water, tea, coffee, milk, and fried dumplings made from water-chestnut flour. After moon rise, the fast concludes with a meal of fruit and halwa. May this year's moon rise bring rich blessings from Krishna !

Omanand Koul, Burlington, MA  

Zaram satam, 2009



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