Along the lines of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated with pomp and show after the Maratha-Mughal Wars, which was revived with modern fanfare by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1893, Janmashtami, the occasion of the birth of Lord Krishna, must be observed in a manner that plays a more significant role in bringing together people of the community from north to south and east to western parts of the country. The avatar, whose lessons are the most relevant for this day and age, deserves a longer duration in our festive calendar. Vaishnavas being arguably the largest sect of Hindus — coupled with the fact that Shaivas and Shaktas revere the Premavatara too — will ensure a considerable period of positive fervour nationwide.
While Kashi observes a Shravana month-long celebration of Lord Shiva — in Ujjain and further down south, it stretches up to a month-and-a-half — and while we have just ensured Lord Rama’s reinstatement in His capital Ayodhya, the deity that commands a large following across states and regions has unfortunately stayed neglected.
Tilak, who had endeavoured to unite Indians for mass political action throughout his life, has been proven right in posterity in believing that Hindu activism was required to fight against the British imperial power. Much after the colonial power left India, a Maharashtra that is otherwise divided along multiple lines of caste and creed speaks one language during Ganesh Chaturthi. But that one festival wasn’t all that Tilak had wanted in order to revive Hindu consciousness among the people. He would equally stress that our struggles of this era be shaped in accordance with the life of Lord Rama in Ramayana and teachings of Lord Krishna in Srimadbhagavadgita.
Calling this activism “karma yoga”, Tilak exhorted fellows in the community to fight the enemies as a greater duty — along the lines of Bhagawan’s guidance to His friend Arjuna in a battlefield. Just as Tilak’s view was in conflict with the mainstream exegesis, today Hindus will be questioned, resisted and ridiculed by the Chrislamo-Communist cabal. But then, Lord Krishna’s incarnation gives us another lesson. From war to peace, from outdoors to indoors, from the nation to your family, you need to don a different mantle for the situation you find yourself in. Realising this, if Tilak reinterpreted relevant passages of the Gita, supported by Jnanadeva’s commentary on the holy text, Ramanuja’s critical commentary and his own translation of the 18 chapters from Kurukshetra, the renunciation in sannyasa that the ancient and mediaeval seers saw in the Gita did not serve the purpose of patriotism in the late 19th and early 20th century when Tilak lived. In a changed scenario that has hardly changed in nature even in the 21st century due to the enemies within, we must see karma, dharma, yoga as well as the very concept of renunciation in a new light.
When we do so, not only non-Hindus but also dhimmis will come in the way. That will, however, hardly be a anything new. As seen already in the activism of the present years, Muslims will ally with communists and the international press as they had with the British during Tilak’s epoch.
Janmashtami in northern and western India
So, how do we do it? Along the lines of Ram Lila in north India, the Rasa Lila of Mathura, Rajasthan and Gujarat need wider arenas. The Bhagawata Purana and Bhagavadkatha recited in temples to narrate the entire life of Lord Krishna must reach every household of the community. There will be businessmen willing to sponsor the Dahi Handi observed in cities and towns of Maharashtra like Mumbai, Pune, Latur and Nagpur in other parts of the country as well. Gujarat and Rajasthan see the Makhan Handi version of it already.
In Delhi, Uttarakhand and areas in Uttar Pradesh beyond Mathura, Janmashtami needs to be made more attractive, replacing cacophonous singers on the microphones with professionals.
Dravida, Utkala, Banga
Not much known in other parts of the nation is the revival of Krishna festivities by Sankaradeva and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the east. Performing arts such as Borgeet, Ankia Naat, Sattriya and bhakti yoga are already popular in West Bengal and Assam but closeted. The stretch between Manipur, where Sattriya is performed, Tripura’s gaudiya mutts and Jagannath Puri in Odisha, where exist several institutions created by Vaishnavas, must shed their inhibitions to let Janmashtami leave a deeper register in the minds of the proletariat.
Of all these places, of course, the part that needs to be jolted with Krishna consciousness the most is Bengal, in a vice-like grip of centuries of iconoclasm and irreverence induced stage-by-stage by Buddhism of the Pala era, Brahmo Samaj of the early modern period, the legacy of passivism Rabindranath Tagore left behind, 34 years of communist rule and 10 years of Mamata Banerjee’s anarchy. With hundreds of Hari Sabhas dotting the landscape — no fewer than the Kali Baris Bengal is known for — Sri Jayanti and Nanda Utsav should not be difficult to be turned into cultural phenomena as big as the Durga Puja. Nabadvip can emerge as the hub of the eastern chapter of nationwide Janmashtami.
Slipping out of our hands no less are Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, much as the familiarity with the Bangla language makes northern Indians take note of Mamata’s misrule more often. From Maoism (albeit receding) among the Telugu speakers to hale and hearty MIM that rules the roost in and around Hyderabad, from the hyperactive conversion brigade to Tamil-speaking Periyarites, the activists of Dravida region throw up multiple challenges to Bharatavarsha. As in Bengal, the Hindus of south — who are not communist — are religious only in observing rituals but the identity of the community is suppressed when it comes to making a political statement out of it.
The community needs to magnify Gokula Ashtami, the version of Janmashtami in Tamil Nadu, turning Gītha Govindam recital and savouring of seedai, sweet seedai and verkadalai urundai into greater festivals.
From the relative north, devotees of Lord Venkateshwara, and from the relative west, those who throng the Guruvayur Temple, must pitch in. To make Janmashtami a nonpareil, the importance of Rajagopalaswamy Temple in Mannargudi in the Tiruvarur district, Pandavadhoothar temple in Kanchipuram and Sri Krishna temple in Udupi cannot be overemphasised. The Padmanabhaswamy Temple has been freed from the clutches of the Kerala state already. Tirupati calls for a more urgent ‘freedom movement’, given the sacrilege the Jaganmohan Reddy government commits on the hills of the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams.
Finally, of course, our Lord is still in capitivity in His birthplace Mathura, overshadowed by a monstrosity of the Jama Masjid built by Aurangzeb in a bid to bully and subdue the local populace — the very idea that dictated the Mughal king’s order to demolish the original Kashi Vishwanath Temple to make way for the Gyanvapi Mosque.
Krishna does not need our help. But His avatar makes us do what needs to be done. Turning Janmashtami bigger into a fortnightly, nationwide event would be the first step towards arousing that consciousness.
The writer is a member of a Hindu organisation, who has contributed the article on the condition of anonymity