English meaning of the festival
Krishna refers to the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and Ashtami means eight. Krishna Ashtami refers to the eighth day in the month of Bhadrapada when the appearance of Lord Krishna is celebrated.
How the date is decided annually
Krishna Ashtami falls on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha, or dark phase of the moon, in the lunar month of Bhadrapada.
Significance of the festival to Hinduism
Krishna takes birth on earth by his own will, when Adharma (unrighteousness) rules over Dharma (righteousness). The objective of Krishna assuming human form was to free the earth of evil. Shri Krishna himself says in chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita: “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear millennium after millennium”.
How to observe/practice
It is considered auspicious to undertake a fast on the Krishna Ashtami day in the name of Lord Krishna. The more devout fast for eight days. The objective of the fast is to seek perfection as a human being. Devotees perform elaborate pujas and chant the name of Lord Krishna. Temples of Krishna have special services and bhajan sessions through the day. At exactly 12 midnight, the birth of Shri Krishna is celebrated with great fanfare. The image of Shri Krishna is bathed and Pooja is performed. Thereafter, Shri Krishna is placed in a decorated cradle and the assembled devotees rock the cradle by turn. The temples are decorated with colourful balloons, flowers and toys to please Shri Krishna. Finally, varieties of Prasad (sathwik) are distributed to all devotees.