Rajatapeethapura, a.k.a our beloved Udupi, is famous world over for a score of things. One outstanding attraction, of course, is the little Krishna who stands as the epicenter of all activities – in our temple town and the cosmos alike!
Sri Krishna Matha is the supreme authority on Madhwa Parampara and Dwaita Siddhanta. The temples of Udupi constitute a major religious and philosophical center in the world with millions of followers. However, the lord guiding all this is but a young cowherd who is known to take special delight in playing pranks on his loved ones. Thus our Krishna’s birthday celebrations reflect the gleeful and fun-filled activities he would love and enjoy. Well, he’s busy running the world without a break, the least we can do is throw him a rad birthday party!
To begin with the deets: Krishna was born on a rainy night, the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha of Shravana month. Hence the term ‘Janmashtami’. The day usually falls in the month of August and is celebrated all over the world with a lot of pomp and show. However, since he was born at night, the celebrations at Udupi pour over to the following day ‘Vittal Pindi‘.
Lakhs of people throng the streets of Udupi, especially Ratha Beedi or Car Street where all the festivities take place. Devotees wait in long serpinginous queues just to get a glimpse of the lord decked in gold, gemstones and flowers. The Utsava murti is taken out for a procession on the Navaratna Ratha (car decked with gemstones) which is pulled by devotees.
Tall pillars with pulleys are erected all around Ratha Beedi to which earthen pots filled with curd and other snacks are hung. Troupes are assigned different pillars. As the ratha goes around, these troupes form human pyramids and burst the earthen pots- recreating Krishna’s famous childhood prank. A desi pinata if you may!
Inside the temple classical musicians perform all day, including vocal and instrumental renditions of bhajans. Pancha Veena orchestra, Nagaswara and Mridangam duos are the show stoppers among the Deva vadyas. Outside, on the streets the Asura vadyas will be vibrating the ground below with their thundering Chande melas, maddale, tala and drum bands.
Children dress up as little Krishna and Radha and wander all around the city. It is considered good luck to give them money – something like a trick or treat fest. Teenagers and older people don the traditional Huli Vesha (tiger costume). People invite Huli Vesha troupes to dance in front of commercial establishments and homes. This forms the most fun part of the Vittal Pindi customs. These Huli Vesha troupes also dance in front of the ratha and take part in the procession. The organizers also host fancy dress, Huli Vesha, and milk churning competitions.
Food and Props
All streets leading to the temple are decked with food stalls selling a range of traditional Kannada and Tulu savories. Small vendors from as far as Rajasthan set up stalls selling bangles, earrings, necklaces, clothes, accessories, toys, etc.
Krishna’s elephant, horses, and bulls also take part in the parade and are the biggest celebrities at the party. The paparazzi give them the attention they waited a year for, and they bask in the limelight. The chief pontiffs of all the 8 mathas take part in the procession with the Paryaya Matha leading the organization. They give out prasadam to the devotees and hold special sermons and bhajan sessions.
The festivities go on till late in the evening with huge crowds transiting, exploring and engaging in the glam and glory of the day. They say that the Gods in heaven descend down to Udupi on Vittal Pindi to play with our little Krishna. When we are throwing such a divine party, they might as well attend- indulging in an earthly pursuit of eternal bliss!
-Written by Vinay Reddy
-Photographs by Dhruv Pandey, Akshat Chaurasia, Nithin Davuluri and Farah Khan