The holidays in the Vedic tradition are calculated according to the Vedic calendar. This is a lunar based calendar. Holidays do not necessarily fall on a particular date, but rather are honored each year based on the lunar month and the phase of the month, according to Vedic astrology. Each lunar month is named according to the nakshatra or the lunar constellation in which the Moon will be full that month. At times, there is an extra month added to the calendar to balance the cycles. Such a month is known as adhik (ahh-dheek) mas (mahhs) and will be the next month this year in the Vedic calendar. This lunar month is the month of Shravan, in which the full Moon fell in the nakshatra of Shravana. While one important meaning traditionally associated with the month of Shravan is the worship of Lord Shiva, there is also the celebration of Lord Krishna’s birthday. That day is known as Krishna Janmashtami.
As we celebrate Krishna Janmashtami today, we are honoring the birth of beloved Krishna, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The sacred Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita is features a dialogue between Shri Krishna and his devoted disciple Arjuna, regarding proper dharma, or right moral conduct.
The word janma translates as “birth”. Ashtami is the 8th tithi (ti-thee) or phase of the Moon. Krishna Janmashatmi is celebrated on the 8th phase of the waning Moon or what is known as Krishna paksha (the dark phase of the Moon) in Vedic astrology.
The phase of the Moon is calculated each morning at sunrise in the Vedic calendar. Janmashatmi is celebrated at midnight following the day of tithi of ashtami. Krishna devotees traditionally fast during the day or refrain from eating grains and stay up till midnight celebrating Krishna’s life. There are plays depicting snippets of Krishna’s life and his glory. They adorn and worship statues of Lord Krishna. They chant bhajans or devotional songs to Shri Krishna and lose themselves in the bliss of ecstasy during the chants. They break their fast at midnight and enjoy a glorious feast to celebrate the birth of Krishna.
In North America, Krishna Janmashtami is today. Since India is approximately half a day ahead of North America, they do not see ashtami tithi until Friday morning. They will be celebrating Janmashtami on August 10.