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Janmashtami in Jammu, A Visual Treat

Mothers in Duggar Pradesh, and other parts of India, dress up their children fondly as Lord Krishna on the occasion of Janmashtami. This is my artistic tribute to this wonderful custom.

Shri Krishna Janmashtami is a festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. This festival is celebrated with great pomp and show by devotees in India as well as in other countries. Referred to as ‘thogren da bart‘ in Duggar Pradesh (Jammu), Janmashtami is celebrated here with great grandeur.

Ahead of Janmashtami, markets in Duggar Pradesh (Jammu) are packed with colorful kites and magnificent idols of Lord Krishna. Vibrant crowns (mukuts), beautiful garments with ‘gota-patti‘ work, attractive peacock feathers (mor-pankh), flutes, beaded garlands, and swings for ‘Laddoo-Gopal’ are a common sight. People love decorating Lord Krishna’s swing with beautiful ‘bistar‘, ‘chowki‘, ‘gaddi‘, and flowers.

People bathe Lord Krishna’s idol with five things (panchamrit): milk, butter, ghee, honey and curd. Then they adorn him with beautiful vibrant clothes, flowers, flutes murli and peacock feathers morpankh, often followed by sprinkling fragrant ‘ittra‘. At midnight, idols of Lord Krishna are affectionately offered bhog of ‘sund-panjeeri‘, which is a Duggar delicacy made from ‘sund‘, which is dry ginger powder, combined with desi ghee, sugar, and a variety of rich dry fruits. This delectable sweet is cherished by everyone. The next day this sacred ‘sund-panjeeri‘ is offered to people as prasaad‘.

Sund Panjeeri

Krishna’s baal-leela is presented through tableaus, and swing set-ups, often made even more beautiful with little children dressed up as Krishna and Radha. Temples are adorned with flowers and lights. Because of the Amarnath Yatra that takes place in the Shravan months of July-August, the installations in temples often have ‘jhankis‘ and sculptures of ‘Baba Barfani’, lofty mountains covered in snow and the holy ‘Shiva-Linga’.

You can also find pandals that serve aloo, kheer, dreu-pakodas (made with puttu atta), fruit chat, etc. at different places. People wear traditional costumes and cook delicious ‘falwaar‘ such as baingan-pakode, bhajar-bhang kheer, khatte-aloo, dreu ke chillae, and sabudane ki kheer

Baingan ke Pakode

Girls and women apply teera on their hands with great ardor. Teera is made out of the leaves of an indigenous plant that is abundant in Duggar Pradesh. Skies are dotted with resplendent kites. Children and their families, cousins and friends, all gather on their rooftops and take part in these festivities. It is a delight to watch kids run enthusiastically roaring ‘chal geyi yaa‘, their eyes fixated on those multi-colored tokens of joy falling from the sky.

Indeed, this is a festival of joy! Krishna devotees from ISKCON temples have regular scheduled devotional activities throughout the day, all day kirtan & arati, abhishek, dances, feasts, and so on. They remember Krishna with great affection on this day and dance in enchantment.

There are many different rituals associated with this festival in Duggar Pradesh. In some areas people keep cereal grains in the name of the family members to pray for their prosperity and well being. This practice is called ‘deyaa parna‘. Some wheat is also kept in the name of God and ‘Kul Devatas’. This wheat is then prepared and offered to the wood of a holy tree called ‘Jand’.

This setup is decorated with branches of trees to look like a small garden of abundance. The wood is covered in sacred cloth called shoaath. Clay sculptures of a couple and their children are placed on the cloth, and are worshipped. They are offered kheer (without sugar or salt) and maakhan. This is followed by offering chapatis to cows. Called dropde, these chapatis are prepared in a way that one side remains raw while the other is cooked. This practice is called ‘dropde mansnaa‘.

Janmashtami Bhojan Thaali

In olden times, people used to put up huge swings peengan on trees, and feel extremely blessed to get on them. Swings have been associated with Lord Krishna from time immemorial. Various childhood leelas of Lord Krishna portray him on a swing, with Yashodha Mata and Nand Baba spell-bound at their son’s heavenly sheen while swinging high into the skies. Lord Krishna as the archetypal lover of Radha, as much as the supreme teacher, uses a swing as a metaphor for love, joy, and prosperity.

Painting of Krishna by Medhavi Sharma

This Janmashtami too as always, I celebrated it in this typical Duggar style, but in my own unique way owing to the pandemic situation! After my morning yoga and bath, I entered the place of worship we have at home. I bathed the bronze idols of Ladoo-Krishna in panchamrit. Then I enrobed the holy murtis in beautiful garments that my mother had already purchased from the market.

I had a lovely time decorating them with mor-pankh, mukut, garlands, flowers, and ornaments. This was followed by pooja, and chanting of some bhajans. I had the traditional falwaar (phalaahaar) for breakfast. Freshly cooked aloo, kheer, chillae, and baingan ke pakode. I paid great attention to how my mother performed all the religious ceremonies, and helped her with them wherever I could. This is how I am able to learn our customs, so that I may practice them, and pass them on to future generations.

Krishna’s dress

I was taken back in time to my childhood days when my mother would dress up as Radha, and I would dance about in joy, I actually believed that I was Radha herself! Now that I am old enough, I view this festival and its festivities in a totally different light. I spent the whole day of Janmashtami contemplating on the life and teachings of Lord Krishna, while I painted an illustration of Yashoda maa with her Ladoo Gopal, wearing the Dogra attire. This was my own special way of worship, my offering of gratitude to HIM. Going out to the temples which are usually the custom, to have a peek at the jhaankis wasn’t a prudent choice this time hence the call from within to express my love and devotion through my art.

Basohli painting by Medhavi Sharma

Painting of Krishna by Medhavi Sharma

In the evening I joined my little brother in kite-flying. Our spirits too soared high into the heavens with them. The weather at dusk was so pleasant, and the sky speckled with vibrant colored kites coming from different roofs, that it was as though a painting by the Lord Himself. We concluded our celebration with prayers for the well being of the whole world and wished for the coronavirus pandemic to end soon.

Featured image by Medhavi Sharma


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