Men at the Vishnu Temple in Bangkok celebrate the birth of Krishna during Janmashtami.
Saturday was Janmashtami, the birthday of Krishna, a holy day celebrated by Hindus around the world. I was introduced to Janmashtami while we were still living in Phoenix. I was at an Indian restaurant and saw a poster advertising Janmashtami at a local Hindu temple. I went to the temple the day before the service to see if it would possible to photograph the celebration and was told that of course it would be okay. I've been photographing Janmashtami ever since.
Hinduism is polytheistic with lots deities and gods. Precisely how many depends on who you ask. I've seen estimates of anywhere from 330 Million to a more manageable 33 to one, a single god who assumes multiple personas and avatars (in the theistic sense, not in the overblown movie sense).
A man dances in the aisle of the temple during the service.
With so many deities to worship, there are lots of opportunities for holy days. Krishna is a principal avatar of Vishnu, one of the most important Hindu gods. Lord Krishna is the embodiment of love and divine joy and he destroys pain and sin. All of which make Krishna's birthday, celebrated as Janmashtami, one of the most important, and happiest, Hindu holy days.
People pray to Krishna, who is in the cradle. Typically devotees will offer a brief prayer and make an offering of money or marigolds and then gently rock the cradle for a few seconds.
It feels to me like a combination of Christmas and New Year's. It celebrates the birth of god, like Christmas, and is a time of renewal, like New Year's. It is an unabashedly happy holiday. Every Janmashtami celebration I've been to was filled with call and response singing and dancing. Some have featured children's pageants, when the kids dress as Lord Krishna and parade through the temple. (The Vishnu Temple in Bangkok doesn't do this.)
Sometimes it feels like I go from religious celebration to religious celebration in Bangkok. That's not really the case, but the diversity of spiritual life and the number of holy days does mean that I spend a lot of time in places of worship.
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