“When Krishna grew up a little more, He began to turn Himself backside up; He did not merely lie down on His back. And another function was observed by Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja: Krishna’s first birthday. They arranged for Krishna’s birthday ceremony, which is still observed by all followers of the Vedic principles.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 7)
“This day in history” is a line that appears more frequently as more years pass that allow for the recorded history to increase. In a professional sport the particular day can be the anniversary of a championship or a noteworthy achievement by an athlete. In our personal lives, the day in history could relate to a wedding, the first meeting with our significant other, or when we first entered this world. All of these are important to the people involved, but one day in particular is important to every single living entity. That is because on this day the Supreme Lord, the origin of everything living and nonliving, came within the vision of two splendid people for the first time. That occasion has since been celebrated each year as Janmashtami.
Isn’t that a sectarian holiday? Isn’t it only significant for the Hindus?
Actually, there can be no such thing as a “Hindu” God. The personality referenced has a position rooted in scientific understanding. There is no such thing as a Spanish sun or a Russian sun. The sun shining in the sky in a different country is the same one I see above me right now. I may call it something different, but this doesn’t mean that the sun is different. It is a singular object. Some people may not even know what it is; they may only know of it indirectly, through the sunshine entering their room through the windows. Others may even know less of it, seeing just an overcast sky, which is still illuminated by the sun, but whose covering is thicker.
So God is the same for everyone. Janmashtami celebrates His appearance on earth in His original form of Krishna.
Why do we say that this is the original? How can we proclaim this with ontological certitude? How can we make such an assertion without doubts?
Krishna is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive.” So how can that word not apply to God in His original form? We accept the importance of Janmashtami on the authority of the Vedas. Anyone can write anything in a book and pass it on to future generations, but we can test the claims through further study. By hearing more about Krishna, we see that He indeed cannot be anyone else except God.
The people seeing Him witnessed firsthand His divine nature. When Krishna appeared as an infant to mother Devaki and her husband Vasudeva, He showed them His majestic form of Narayana, which has four hands and is opulently adorned. This gave the parents the proof necessary for knowing that their son was God Himself. When transformed back into His childhood form, Krishna did so many amazing things. He thwarted all the attacks of the evil King Kamsa. He protected the residents of Gokula. Most importantly, He gave everyone transcendental bliss. Even His enemies achieved salvation, for they thought of Him at the time of death.
“Krishna is so merciful that because the demon Putana came to offer her breast-milk to Him, He fulfilled her desire and accepted her activity as motherly. But to stop her from further nefarious activities, He immediately killed her. And because the demon was killed by Krishna, she got liberation.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)
So these things can only happen with God. It would make sense to celebrate the day that He first entered our lives. Actually, we are never apart from Him. These hands and legs of mine don’t identify me. Through an accident, I can quickly lose the use of them. If I sleep on the wrong side during the night, I might wake up with a dead arm, where I don’t have any feeling in it. I still remain who I am, though. The “I” here refers to something besides the body. That which transcends the shifts of matter is spirit. My true identity is spirit.
Accompanying the travels of the individual spirit is the Supreme Spirit. He is always with me, though I can’t see Him. He must be there; otherwise the laws of nature wouldn’t operate. He gives sanction to all results. When He doesn’t sanction something, it can’t happen. That’s why actions don’t always yield the same results. I can practice tennis from today until I am ninety years old, but this is no guarantee for making me the best player in the world. The same goes for acquiring money or finding an attractive spouse.
When Krishna appears before us, it is the visual manifestation of the same Supreme Spirit who always accompanies us. The first time seeing His personal form is like the first time recognizing Him. And the first time recognizing Him is the beginning to endless bliss known only to genuine spiritual life. Therefore it would make sense to celebrate this day.
In order to bring together all the fortunate souls who have seen the beautiful vision of Krishna, there is the celebration of Janmashtami. This was inaugurated in the earthly realm by the foster parents Yashoda and Nanda. When their bundle of joy turned one year old, they held a grand ceremony in His honor. This celebrated the moment He first entered their lives. They were pure of heart, so they deserved God’s intimate association. Though appearing as an innocent child who required protection, it was actually Krishna who protected everyone. He was the center of the universe in the small village of Vrindavana.
That same Vrindavana exists in smaller replica forms throughout the world today due to the efforts of Vaishnavas, devotees of the Supreme Lord’s personal form. And so on Janmashtami the Vaishnavas unite to remember the day that the beautiful Lord first entered their lives, the moment that they realized that the meaning to this journey from boyhood to youth to old age is for always remembering that darling of Vrindavana, whose lotus feet forever remain the supreme shelter for all.
Never forget the day He came,
That darling going by Krishna the name.
Finally the bigger picture to see,
No more in loss for direction to be.
In Gokula parents first celebrated,
Janmashtami occasion thus inaugurated.
Personal vision for eyes most wonderful sight,
Occasion for Vaishnavas of the world to unite.