Today, as we know, and as we all
must know, is Teachers’ Day – that is on birth anniversary of former President
Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan (and former Vice-chancellor of Banaras Hindu
University, my alma mater), and is also the death anniversary of great
human-saint Mother Teresa.
Therefore, September 5 is always
a special day.
But this year, the day has become
even more special because the country is celebrating Janmashtami 2015 on this
Time changes things and the way
we carry out many activities – even if the perspectives and the concepts behind
those perspectives remain the same.
The same holds true about how we
celebrate our festivals.
In our childhood, and even in
teens, Janmashtami happened to be a community celebration where almost each
household participated. Jhankis (tableaus) were created in almost every house
in our locality. We would start preparing the day well in advance. Everyone in
the family would be given or would take some responsibility.
Krishna is a mystical God but
then it takes precedence of spiritual elements over ritual practices of
religion to feel so, which the ordinary, worldly people seldom realize. Anyway,
Krishna Janmashtami, that is celebrated as Krishna’s birthday is never heavy on
ritual and is quite flexible.
Krishna is born in every household
at midnight - as our scriptures say. And the rituals that we perform during
birth of a child in our house are performed then. This part was for family’s
elders, especially my mother and father.
But every step leading to
celebration of the day was my favourite, topped by creation of different
jhankis – depicting Krishna’s birth, Vasudev taking him to Yashoda’s house,
various stages in life of Krishna with Kansa and his demons and various other
tableaus to depict what my childhood would think about then.
I loved making mountain from
black stones that I collected from factories in Varanasi’s industrial area. Krishna’s
idol is placed inside a large-sized cucumber and after his birth at midnight
and the ritual bath; he is placed in a cradle, adorned with new jewellery and
clothes. Then, when we used to spend at least a week preparing to celebrate the
birth, we would place branches of Carissa (Karonda), with plenty of leaves and
fruits all around then mountain (created from stones) and around the cradle.
We would also run from this saw
mill to that saw mill to collect sawdust and wood filings. We would then colour
the same in different shades and use them in different tableaus – as the base
(or the ground). Normally, one tableau would be separated from the next with
small wooden blocks and colour of the sawdust. Sometimes, in some homes, coloured sand was
also used, though I never used it.
Many small tableaus of different
colours and with different themes together formed the grand ‘jhanki’ of every
family. Sometimes, it took two days to start and complete the final decoration
with all tableaus conceived and created.
On the day of Janmashtami, in the
evening, we would go to every house to see how the other fellow has done – that
how his jhanki was better or dull than ours – that what he had done that we
also could have done – that what was his scale relative to ours – a childhood
mind primarily thinks in these terms after all.
But we would always come back in
time for Krishna’s birth – that was the main attraction – with all the rituals
in place and with all the ‘prasads’ that would follow. Krishna’s birth, like
any child’s birth, has celebrations with lavish food preparations.
The ‘ritual part’ and ‘prasads’
that follow are still there but the part (or the parts) and took many days of preparation,
in creating many tableaus for a grand ‘jhanki’, slowly and gradually went out
of individual families. I don’t remember when we stopped doing it, but I know
that probably no house in my locality does it so. I have heard similar echoes
while conversing with people on similar lines.
Janmashtami is still a community
celebration and is still worshipped individually in almost every Hindu house,
but the community nature of its celebration through individual houses, through
jhankis, slowly and gradually, stopped being there.