Janamashtami


“India has as many gods as people”, a rather confused anthropologist once noted. While this might be a slight exaggeration, there is some truth in it: here, it seems to be a matter of taste which god to worship depending on which virtues one values and wants to bring forward in oneself. There is Ganesh, the elephant god of good fortune, there is Hanuman, the monkey god of loyalty or bravery, there is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, there is Saraswati, the goddess of learning and so on. This indulgent polytheism is certainly one of the reasons for the peaceful coexistence of so many religions and cultures in this country. But that is for a later chapter.
One of the principal gods though is Krishna, often depicted as a blue-skinned cowherd and starring in a great variety of myths. One is the legend of his birth: the evil king Kansa was warned that he will be conquered by the eighth child of a certain woman. He imprisoned her and slaughtered her new born babies. But a storm was coming when the eighth child was born, the doors burst open, the guards fell asleep and Krishnas father walked out with the baby. This event gives reason for one of the major religious celebrations all over India: Janamashtami. Richly decorated temples host theatre and music groups for several days, devotees observe a twenty-four hours fast, and the whole country is afoot to worship the birth at midnight.
I was strolling around in a comparatively quiet region with my friends from the guesthouse, Durkapanda and Sunil: people praying in the temples, pushing little swings with money and ringing bells, while the priests supplied milk and sweets. At midnight, only a group of about fifteen women was left in front of the temple, chanting and dancing. The red tilak on my forehead lasted for several days.