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The inner meaning of Janmasthami

By Radhanath Swami Maharaj

Janmasthami is a well-known festival in the Indian subcontinent commemorating the appearance of Lord Krishna. Puja and arati are performed to the deity of Krishna. Sweetmeats and savouries are offered to the deity and the divine remnants are distributed to everyone. Bhajans glorifying Krishna and His pastimes are sung and the verses from Bhagavat Purana are recited. Dahi handis are organized in several parts of Maharashtra commemorating the pastime of stealing of butter. At several places, toddlers are dressed as little Gopal – the cynosure of all eyes in Vrindavan.

Lord Krishna descended on this planet earth on the request of Lord Brahma, devatas and Bhumi devi. Bhumi devi, the goddess of earth, was afflicted by the atrocities of demoniac kings like Kamsa and Jarasandha. Lord Krishna descended as the son of Devaki and Vasudev to annihilate the miscreants and restore law and order as He promised in Bhagavad Gita 4.8. He instilled spiritual focus and harmony in the rulers and the citizens. In this way, He ushered peace and prosperity for one and all.

More importantly, He descended to attract us back into His loving pastimes. We are all searching for love in this world. This is the deepest need of every human being – to love and to be loved. This is the way to true and everlasting happiness and fulfilment. Greatly ignorant of this, the world is distracted to find happiness from matter. We are investing a great deal of time, energy and money through entrepreneurship and technology to extract happiness from matter in form of entertainment. We are also constantly investing limitless resources and talent in exploring new forms of entertainment like metaverse and virtual gaming (BG 16.10). Despite all the progress, the world including the developed nations is still plagued by war, corruption, depression, stress and suicide. With the progress of technology and economics, the problems in the world too are becoming multiplied and complicated like cancer and climate change (BG 16.11).

The problem is that we are looking for happiness in the wrong place. Matter is limited by space, time and circumstance. It can only offer limited happiness. The limited happiness is also coupled with pain and problems. The relationships based on matter i.e. bodily relationships and social relationships can only offer limited happiness and is tainted by selfishness. It is impure love i.e. tainted with lust which is evident in increasing divorce rate and homicides. Then, where to find the real happiness? It is possible to find true and lasting happiness only in the relationship with God. God is all-loving, all-attractive, all-knowing, all-powerful and all-compassionate. In this way, our loving relationship with God is beyond the influence of space, time and circumstance. We can express our love to Lord Krishna and experience His love at any time, any place and any circumstance. Then if Krishna is all-loving, why are we not experiencing His love? Love is reciprocal. Krishna is waiting for us to turn towards him since time immemorial, ever-eager to   reciprocate with our love. Krishna descends to this world along with eternal loving associates like the cowherds and the milkmaids of Vrindavan. He performs various loving pastimes with them to attract us back into His loving fold. His loving pastimes are recorded in the Bhakti texts like Srimad Bhagavatam and these are recited and propagated by loving devotees of Krishna throughout ages. This is the inner meaning of Janmastami i.e we turn towards Krishna and Krishna reciprocates with us. Krishna appears again in our consciousness and remembrance. In this way, He can inundate our existence with His all-pervasive and ever-increasing love. This is real Janmasthami. Krishna also gives detailed instructions in Bhagavad Gita delineating the process of turning back to him i.e. Bhakti-yoga. The process is simple. It does not have any pre-requisites and can be practiced by anyone at any time and any place (BG 9.32). It is the process of cultivating meditation, worship and respect to the all-attractive God-Krishna (BG 9.34).

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