Krishna Ashtami - birthday of Krishna
and Upakarma - an example of re-interpretation of what we celebrate
This Thursday (9 Aug) is Krishna Ashtami.
The birthday of Shri Krishna.
Krishna Ashtami (aka Janmashtami) is
observed on the Ashtami (eighth) Tithi
of the Krishna paksha (waning moon)
in the Chandramana month of
Shravana / Bhadrapada.
Shravana and Bhadrapada are names
of two consecutive months.
Like Jan and Feb.
So, how does one decide which
month to celebrate it ?
One doesn't decide the month.
Depending the tradition followed
one calculates the month as
Shravana or Bhadrapada.
The difference is based on the
different definition of
when does a Chandramana month
start ? Just after Purnima (full moon)
or just after Amavasya (new moon) ?
If the month starts just after Amavasya,
this month is Shravana. If its after
Purnima this is Bhadrapada.
For traditions south of Narmada
the Chandramana month starts
just after Amavasya. And for
traditions north of Narmada
it is just after Purnima.
However, in both traditions it is
the same day. So, we have works like
Vishnudharmottara Purana saying
Krishna Ashtami is
in the Bhadrapada month.
And Skanda Purana stating that it
falls in the month of Shravana.
But that doesn't mean it is celebrated
on different days. It is the same day.
It only shows that these ancient works
have come to us through different traditions.
Shri Krishna was born in Rohini Nakshatra.
Now Nakshatra and Tithi are two different
parameters. Both these parameters don't
always happen on the same day.
So, some traditions define the day based
on Tithi. And some traditions base it on
Due to this divergence, we are in with
a situation where,
one would have a neighbour on right
observing it one day and the one on
the left on another and you on yet
another day !
I guess, it is never easy to be part of
an ancient tradition ! Each generation
is tagging its own interpretation to the
It sure is better than the other extreme -
"Hey! do it this only way or you die !"
Last Wednesday (1 Aug), we observed
Upakarma at the Veda Paathshaalaa.
It is the counterpart to Utsarjana.
In the case of Krishna Ashtami,
the interpretation that we are
celebrating Krishna's birthday has not changed.
However, for the Upakarma we can see
at least three phases of interpretation on
why it is observed.
The original phase was a semester system
of Vedic learning. Half the year to by-heart
the Veda and the other half to understand it.
So, Upakarma / Utsarjana were days to
mark the beginning of each semester.
Upakarma was the start of the 'by-heart'
half and Utsarjana the 'understand' half.
In the next phase, a few centuries ago,
the semester system got chucked.
The thinking was probably -
"We will do the by-heart part first and
then handle the understand part later."
So, Upakarma then became an annual marker
to renew ones resolve to keep
learning/teaching. The Utsarjana was
no longer observed.
In the current phase with Vedic studies
going out of fashion, Upakarma
is now (at least in popular perception)
a function to "change the sacred thread".
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