The event of Lord Krishna’s appearance took place over 5,000 years ago. One may therefore question the relevance of observing the occasion at present. From the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam we gain insight into the purpose of celebrating Janmashtami, even in the context of our modern time.
In the very beginning of the Tenth Canto, the advent of Lord Krishna is very nicely described. At the time of His appearance, all the affairs within the universe manifested signs of auspiciousness: the planets assumed perfect alignment, a light rainfall came from the sky, and the moon, although on the eighth day of its waning period, appeared full due to being very pleased that Krishna was appearing within his dynasty. After Krishna appeared in His full regalia, in His majestic feature as Lord Vishnu, Vasudeva began offering prayers in glorification of the Lord. Vasudeva addressed Krishna as Paramatma, the Supersoul, indicating the gloriousness of His position as the supreme controller and the emanating source of all things. The creation manifests from the Lord, and He enters into the creation in His Vishnu feature of Paramatma. The Supreme Lord is thus situated everywhere, within every atom and between every atom. Vasudeva indicated that the Supreme Lord was already present everywhere, including within the womb of Devaki; so what was the question of the Lord’s appearing? There was no question of Krishna entering into the womb of Devaki, or of His becoming born. Following her husband, Devaki also praised Krishna as being all pervading, throughout time. Prior to the creation the Supreme Lord exists; during the period of manifestation, the Supreme Lord exists; and, by the influence of the time factor, everything ultimately becomes destroyed, yet the Supreme Lord still exists.
As the soul is never created and destroyed, Krishna, along with His abode and pastimes are never created and destroyed; but sometimes they are manifest and sometimes they are not manifest. We can talk about the appearance of Krishna that took place 5,000 years ago in a tract of land known as Mathura, and we can discuss the childhood pastimes that He performed in Vrndavana. Although this event took place 5,000 years ago, there’s no question of it being outdated or unfashionable. Our modern way of life may distance us from that absolute reality, but that’s a matter of consciousness, not a matter of time. The relevance of observing Janmashtami is something that can be dated only when one is in the bodily concept of life. The features of time and space are relevant only in this material world.
The very same reason that Krishna appeared is the very same reason for us to observe His appearance annually, even 5,000 years later. In the beginning of the Tenth Canto, Sukadeva Goswami describes the situation that evoked Krishna’s appearance. Mother earth assumed the form of a cow and went before Lord Brahma with tears in her eyes. Being in such an important position, she had the right to come directly to the lord of creation and put forward her appeal regarding the burden that she was experiencing, due to the demoniac influences on the planet at the time. She petitioned Lord Brahma to please do something to relieve her burden. Lord Brahma gathered the other demigods and went to the shore of the milk ocean to offer prayers to Lord Vishnu. Upon receiving the reply to these prayers, they understood that the Lord was preparing to appear. They were directed to also take birth in the families of the Yadu and Vrsni dynasties. Why? To relieve the earth of the burden of demoniac influences.
Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge. The Lord appears to annihilate the miscreants, to give protection and shelter to the devotees, and to reestablish the principles of religion. But, being the controller of all, He can easily get rid of any amount of the population he likes, in so many ways: drought, pestilence, famine, disease, hurricane, flood, and so forth. The Supreme Lord can make these arrangements without any difficulty. So, not only for the annihilation of the demoniac population on the earth planet did Lord Krishna appear, or for giving shelter to the devotees. Actually, Krishna appeared to give pleasure to the devotees and to attract them with these wonderful pastimes, so that they would have subject matter with which to converse about Him. Krishna’s pastimes are so wonderful and glorious that simply by hearing and chanting about them, living entities, like ourselves, are reminded of the goal of life.
Maharaja Pariksit was fasting from all food and water, without rest, for seven days, simply hearing Sukadeva Goswami narrate Srimad-Bhagavatam. In great ecstasy, he expressed his appreciation to Sukadeva Goswami: “These topics of Krishna that you are describing are so completely full of wonder that all of my suffering condition is being driven far away. I am completely forgetting any bodily inconvenience by instead having the nectar of your words to hear.” This is the purpose of the Lord’s appearance: to provide these wonderful topics for Sukadeva Goswami to narrate and Maharaja Pariksit to hear, and for us to also do the same, even 5,000 years later.
Vasudeva and Devaki exclaimed: “You are that person who is beyond the realm of time. With great wonder You have come here, but You are not confined by this cell as we are, shackled by arms and legs to the prison house of Kamsa. You are free. You are the transcendental Lord, beyond the influence of material energy, time and the modes of material nature; and yet You have come. Why? To give pleasure to us, Your devotees, because we have desired to have You as our son.” The Lord is in this way submissive to the affection of His devotees, and simply hearing and remembering this feature of the Lord naturally awakens our condition of love of God.
The appearance of Krishna in the form of His holy name is non different from the appearance of Krishna 5,000 years ago. One who thinks otherwise does not correctly understand Krishna or the holy name. Just as Krishna’s appearance is to be appreciated in this transcendental light, for our own benefit, so also is the advent of this Hare Krishna movement and those who make it their life and soul to fix their consciousness upon the holy name. In order to attract Krishna to come and appear as their son, for 12,000 celestial years Vasudeva and Devaki observed great austerity in their lifetime as Prsni and Sutapa. In our case, simply taking the holy name of the Lord in glorification immediately brings us into the association of the Personality of Godhead, in this way awakening our natural love for God. This is actually the purpose of the Lord appearing, 5,000 years ago, and also the purpose of our observing Janmashtami today. It is the Lord’s benediction and blessing to reawaken in us the consciousness of the real purpose and real goal of life; to remind us not to make this temporary and miserable place our permanent residence, but to instead make our real occupation in life going back home, back to Godhead. Krishna is already in our heart, and love for Krishna is already in our heart. But, like the rising moon, that love of God rises within us by the very simple means of observing Krishna’s appearance, taking the chanting of His holy name, and hearing the wonderful topics of His activities that the Srimad-Bhagavatam provides for us to relish, appreciate and purify our lives with. Thus, we celebrate Janmashtami to let Krishna advent in our life. Hare Krishna!