Janmashtami Celebrations in Nepal
In Nepal, Janmashtami is celebrated with great fervor, much like in India. Though the country has a strong Buddhist tradition what with it being the birthplace of Lord Buddha, Hinduism is the main religion of Nepal and most of its festivals are Hindu. On Krishna Janmashtami, the people of Nepal welcome Lord Krishna in a grand way. The celebrations are most notable in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, where Lord Krishna is worshipped very much. The festival sees thousands of devotees flocking to the ancient Krishna temple in old Patan Durbar Square to commemorate the birth of the God. Nepali women chant the many names of the Lord like "Hare Krishna", "Gopal Gopal" or "Narayan Narayan". The Janmashtami pooja(worship service to Lord Krishna) is performed elaborately with bhajans (devotional songs) and aartis(prayer services). To perform the aarti in honour of Lord Krishna, many devotees sing and chant ancient hymns and shlokas'(sacred verses) believed to be associated to him. Offerings of food, flower and coins are also made during the occassion. The Nepali Brahmins specially prepare the ‘prasada' or food offering for God. Once the puja process is over, they distribute this food among all present there. A harmonious environment and a feeling of brotherhood among people pervades the mood of the festival.
Janmashtami Celebrations in USA
In USA, the Janmashtami celebrations began in earnest with the efforts of Srila Prabhupada(aka A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder of the ISKCON, an offshoot of Hinduism that rejects materialism and teaches devotion to Lord Krishna). Srila Prabhupada traveled extensively to all the countries, states and cities to spread the message of the teachings of Lord Krishna, as found in the Bhagvad-Gita. And America was not left out. With the initiation of the ‘Hare Krishna’ movement in USA, Lord Krishna began to be worshipped in a big way in the country and many Americans began to follow Hinduism and tried their bit to spread the Krishna consciousness. This led to the Janmashtami celebrations in USA.
The festival is a grand affair in the USA and begins early in the morning. A large number of Americans, Europeans and Asians who are part of the Hare Krishna troupes organize colourful events and cultural programs commemorating the birth of Lord Krishna. All over USA, from California to Orlando to Massachusetts to New York, it is the day for family gatherings, feasting, enjoyment and offering of prayers to Lord Krishna, the absolute God. Pious devotees gather the necessary items for worship from beforehand, take holy bath and prepare for the midnight Janmashtami puja. Thereafter they visit the temples (some of which are dedicated solely to Shri Krishna) in their nearby locality to offer prayers and chant mantras. The worship service symbolizes the birth of Shri Krishna. An idol of Baby Krishna is put in a cradle and conches are blown at the midnight hour. The deity is invoked and offered varied milk products to eat. On this day, some people also keep a fast and break it only at the puja time. The day infact, begins and ends with the name of Lord Krishna.
Janmashtami Celebration in Canada (Toronto)
In Canada, Janmashtami is observed with great enthusiasm and gaiety mainly by the large Indian community present in the country. The day is celebrated with family gatherings, feasting and elaborate worship services that consist of visit to nearby Radha-Krishna temples, chanting of ‘shlokas' and hymns and offering of food, flowers and coins. The Richmond Hill Hindu temple organizes various functions to celebrate the occassion. To promote Janmashtami the temple society holds special musical concerts which are attended by most Indians in and around the region. Performances include the singing of devotional songs related to the festival. Many people, especially the ladies, observe a fast and break it only after the midnight puja in the temples are complete. Some people also prefer to celebrate the festival at home in a grand way. An idol of Baby Krishna is put in a cradle which is decorated with jewels and precious stones. Conches are blown at the midnight hour to symbolize the hour of the Lord's birth about 5,000 years ago. The deity is invoked and offered varied milk products to eat. Petals of flowers are also showered on the idol. The festival stands for a unison of the human with the divine and is an important day for Indians residing in Canada to meet and interact.
Janmashtami Celebration in Montreal
Janmashtami celebrations in Montreal came to be celebrated on a grand scale with the ISKCON movement. It was here where Swami Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON and Bhaktivinoda Thakur extended to people the teachings and message of Lord Krishna for the first time in the history of the nation. Today, Janmashtami is a popular occassion in Montreal and the celebration sees special programs being organized in memory of these two holy men, especially in the Sri Sri Radha Damodara ISKCON temple which is flocked by thousands of devotees on the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna.
The temple is infact, the hub of annual Krishnashtami celebrations in Montreal where followers of Lord Krishna offer their prayers and keep a fast till the "puja" is over. Other religious organizations also organize discourses on the teachings of Lord Krishna, stage dramas and hold "naam sankirtans" (chanting of the names of SriKrishna) during the festival.
Janmashtami Celebration in France (Paris)
Come September and France shines with the festive aura of Janmashtami. The preparations for the puja begins two-three days prior to actual day. A month earlier to the event, local markets are flooded with various decorating items that are used to adorn the temples. The festivities start in the evening and continue till the wee hours of the next morning. On the big day, people visit numerous temples and offer prayers to the lord. A large number of Indians residing in Paris, the capital of France enjoy the occassion with much enthusiasm and gaiety. It is a sacred time for the Hindus to meditate, offer prayers and thank the Lord for his benevolence. They flock the temples nearby to worship. The evening of celebration starts with the singing of devotional songs and chanting of hymns that continue till late night. At midnight, the idols of baby Krishna and his consort Radha is bathed with 'Gangajal' (pure water of the River Ganga that is specially transported from India in large bottles for the festival) and is smeared with milk, honey and roli. Thereafter, the worship service is completed and the Lord is offered delicious food to eat. This is later distributed among the devotees who take this as ‘prasada’ and return to their respective homes. Some people also keep a fast on this day and break it only after they have performed the puja. Many also decorate their homes to perform puja.
Janmashtami Celebration in Singapore
A prosperous land of diverse cultures, Singapore has people of various nationalities living together in harmony. The presence of a large Indian community in Singapore ensures that Janmashtami is celebrated here in a big way. The festival sees the famous 'Little India' (an ethnic neighbourhood found in Singapore that has Indian cultural elements) located on Seragoon Road come alive with lot of decorations; religious processions and selling of sweets, baby Krishna idols and other janmashtami pooja accessories. The Shri Lakshmi Narayan temple that is situated on Chander Road celebrates the festival with a day long programme. Other local temples also organize cultural programmes to observe this auspicious time when Lord Krishna is supposed to have been born. A unique feature of such celebrations is the "Krishna chanting competition". Indians all over Singapore wait for this time to mark the birth anniversary of their favourite god and have a fun-filled time with each other.
Janmashtami Celebration in Malaysia
Malaysia is predominantly a muslim country with Islam being the official religion of the country. But that doesn't mean Janmashtami is celebrated with any less grandeur in the country. Having a migrant population of nearly 2 million South Indians, most of whom are Krishna devotees, Malaysia annually witnesses a festivity that is on a par with the celebrations of the event in other parts of the world. Each year, nearly 5000 people line up to see the worship of Lord Krishna in the temples of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The festival is observed as a day-long affair by the Indian community with dances, dramas, bhajans and spiritual discourses forming the main part of the celebrations. A number of ceremonies are held, that consist of the usual bathing of Lord's Krishna's idol at midnight, followed by darshan(beholding of the idol of the deity) and distribution of 'prasads' (food offerings made to the Lord that consists of fruits, sweetmeats and other specially made items). Temples resound with continuous chanting and hymns. Those who wish to worship the Lord at home do so with great devotion and often Indians visit each other's homes on the occassion to watch the worship service in progress. The day, apart from its sacred connotations, is also the time to foster harmony and brotherhood as curious members of other communities also come to know about the customs and traditions of the festival.
Janmashtami Celebrations in New Zealand
In New Zealand, Janmashtami came to be observed on a grand scale with the initiation of the ISKCON movement across the world. The festival is celebrated with great fanfare in Auckland in the Sri Sri Radha-Giridhari Mandir (which is held as the finest example of an ISKCON temple). Here the midnight puja(worship) is performed following the tradition set by Srila Prabhupada. Once the puja process is over, the ‘Krishna-prasadam’ (the food offered to Lord Krishna) is distributed among devotees. This has become a standard practice all over the world.
Celebration is also held in the BAPS (Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan) Swaminarayan Mandir which was founded by Bhagwan Swaminarayan on 31 December, 1801. It belongs to the Vaishnav tradition which is said to be the purest form of the Hindu religion. More than five hundred devotees attend the annual Janmashtami celebrations held here. The celebration starts here at around 9.30 pm in the evening. The whole temple resounds with the sound of chants, devotional songs and speeches dealing with the teachings of Lord Krishna. Scenes from Mahabharata called ‘Drashta’ are also enacted by young boys. At midnight, Janmashtami arti is performed to celebrate Lord Krishna’s birth. Thereupon, the idol of the Lord as a baby is bathed in holy waters and put in a beautifully decorated cradle which is rocked from time to time. Many devotees also keep a 'Nirambu Upabas' (waterless fast) that day and break it with elaborate puja and chanting of Sanskrit mantras.
Today, annual Janmashtami celebration in New Zealand is enjoyed enormously and is the center of attraction for Indians as well as for other Asians. The festival also draws in a large number of non-Asians who join in the festivities finding peace in their heart listening to the divine message of peace embedded in the immortal preaching of Lord Krishna.