Janmashtami Festival  (copy)

Hindus decorate temples and shrines to honor Krishna Janmashtami, as seen in a past celebration at the Hare Krishna Center in  New Orleans.

The Hindu celebration of Krishna’s birth will be celebrated Aug. 23-24. Krishna is the eighth avatar, or incarnation, of Lord Vishnu, a Hindu god.

The day’s name, Krishna Janmashtami or Krishna Jayanti, comes from janma, which means birth, and astami, which means eighth, representing the day of the lunar month Shravan, the month the holiday falls, as well as Krishna’s being the eighth avatar.

On modern calendars, the day can fall during August or September, determined by the arrangement of the stars, so the festival is celebrated on slightly different days by various people.

Many people fast and keep a vigil the day before. The fasting varies. Some eat no food or drink. Others eat only dairy products. Others eat no salt.

The devoted gather in the temples, which have cradles and special lighting for the festival. Some people believe that rocking one of the cradles while making a wish will bring fulfillment of that wish.

Leaves and flowers decorate temples and shrines in homes. Krishna is depicted in sculptures and wall hangings.

Many people chant the 108 names of Lord Krishna.

At midnight, the hour Krishna was born, the celebration starts.

At some point in the morning, images of Krishna are bathed in five sacred liquids. The images are dressed in royal clothes and worshipped. Dramas reenact Krishna’s birth, and group singing and dancing is common.

Pilgrims journey to his birthplace and childhood town where large celebrations are held.

Krishna was born with divine love, beauty and a spirit of play for the sake of play. This avatar had a glorious and luxurious life, so the day is celebrated with sweets and rich foods including butter, milk and cheese. Butter was Krishna’s favorite food.

Some people celebrate Dahi Handi. Milk, curds, butter, honey and fruits are put into a large earthenware pot. The pot is hung between 20 and 40 feet high, and men and boys form pyramids to try to reach the pot and break it open.

The people watching will try to distract the climbers by throwing water on them.

Ganesh's day

Hindus will also mark Ganesh Chaturthi, which is Sept. 2 this year.

This annual event honors Ganesh, the elephant-faced son of Shiva and Parvati. People call on Ganesh, who is the overcomer of obstacles and bringer of success, for support in new endeavors. Ganesh can be spelled several ways and is known by other names.

Ganesh is remembered on the chaturthi, or fourth day, of every month but mostly on his birthday, which falls in August or September.

Milk is offered to statues of Ganesh. Craftsmen make many different sizes and types of Ganesh images that people pray to and keep in their homes for 10 days. Then they form a procession, carrying the images to a nearby river or well and immerse them. People visit temples to make offerings to Ganesh.

SOURCES: The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Johnathan Z. Smith, editor; The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Crim, editor; Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions, Wendy Doniger, editor; sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Culture/Festivals/Raksha.html; krishnajanmashtami.com; astroyogi.com/festival/janmashtami; britannica.com; fnp.com/article/janmashtami

Facets of Faith runs every other Saturday in Living. Reach Leila Pitchford-English at lenglish@theadvocate.com.