A Beginner's Guide to the Hindu Festival Krishna Janmashtami

Close-Up Of Baby Boy Dressed As Krishna
Krishnat Chandugade / EyeEm / Getty Images

Krishna Janmashtami, usually called Janmashtami, is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu world, paying homage to the birth of Krishna, who is one of the faith's most popular deities. It takes place over a 48-hour period in late summer, depending on when it falls on Hinduism's lunisolar calendar.

Who is Krishna?

Hinduism is a polytheistic faith that has hundreds, if not thousands of deities and incarnations of the faith's primary gods and goddesses. Blue-skinned Krishna is both an avatar of Vishnu, Hinduism's principal deity, and a god in his own right. He is associated with romance, music and the arts, and philosophy. 

Like other Hindu deities, Krishna was born to human parents of royal heritage. Fearful that the child would be slain by his uncle (who believed that the boy would one day depose him), Krishna's parents hid him with a family of cowherds in the country.

Krishna was a mischevious child who loved music and pranks. As an adult, Krishna drove the chariot of the warrior Arjuna, whose story is chronicled in the Hindu holy text the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna's philosophical discussions with Arjuna highlight the main tenets of the faith.

Hindus throughout India worship Krishna. Paintings, statues, and other images of him as a child or an adult are very common in homes, offices, and temples. Sometimes, he is depicted as a young man dancing and playing the flute, which Krishna used to charm young women. Other times, Krishna is shown as a child or with cows, reflecting his rural upbringing and celebrating family ties.

The Celebration

On the first day of the event, called Krishan Ashtami, Hindus rise before dawn to engage in song and prayer in Krishna's honor. Some Hindus also celebrate with dances and dramatic rituals that tell the story of Krishna's birth and life, and many of them will fast in his honor.

Vigils are held until midnight when it is believed that the deity was born. Sometimes, Hindu faithful will also bathe and dress statues of the baby Krishna to commemorate his birth. On the second day, called Janam Ashtami, Hindus will break their fast of the previous day with elaborate meals that often contain milk or cheese curds, said to be two of Krishna's favorite foods.

When Is It Observed?

Like other Hindu holy days and celebrations, Janmashtami's date is determined by the lunisolar cycle, rather than the Gregorian calendar used in the West. The holiday occurs on the eighth day of the Hindu month of Bhadra or Bhadrapada, which typically falls between August and September. Bhadrapada is the sixth month in the 12-month Hindu calendar. Based on the lunisolar cycle, each month begins on the day of the full moon. 

Here are the dates for Krishna Janmashtami for 2018 and beyond:

  • 2018: Monday, September 3
  • 2019: Friday, August 23
  • 2020: Wednesday, August 12
  • 2021: Sunday, August 29
  • 2022: Thursday, August 18
  • 2023: Wednesday, September 6
  • 2024: Monday, August 26
  • 2025: Friday, August 15
  • 2026: Thursday, September 3
  • 2027: Wednesday, August 25
  • 2028: Saturday, August 12
  • 2029: Friday, August 31
  • 2030: Wednesday, August 21