Art & Culture, Lifestyle

Janmasthami in Udupi

Udupi is popularly known as “The Temple City” and is one of the most famous centers of pilgrimage in the state of Karnataka due to the presence of the renowned Krishna Temple, the Udupi Shri Krishna Matha. Udupi hosts a massive Janmasthami festival, with people from all over the country coming together to celebrate the birthday of Lord Krishna.

Before delving into the details of the festivities, I would love to share a story of why Lord Krishna is such a prominent figure in Udupi. The love for Shri Krishna in this temple town of Udupi can be attributed to a fascinating Mahabharata story related to this sleepy town.

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The story revolves around the Kurukshetra War between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, where every king, hundreds of them aligned either on the side of the Pandavas or the Kauravas, nobody stayed neutral other than one King, the King of Udupi. Being the only King who was neutral, he spoke to Krishna, “Those who fight battles have to eat. I will be the caterer for this battle”.

Lord Krishna agreed to this and gave the King his blessings for being the cook during the war. So the 18-day battle where approximately 5,00,000 soldiers took part begins. Every day thousands die, the King of Udupi has the tough job of cooking food for both the armies, minus the soldiers who died during the battle every day.  Amazingly, he manages to prepare the exact amount of food the soldiers needed, everyone was well fed, and absolutely no food went waste.

Since the caterers couldn’t know how many people are going to die that day, this astonishing accomplishment of the King of Udupi did not go unnoticed by the other kings.  They approached the King of Udupi to learn how he manages to cook precisely the amount needed for that particular night. The King of Udupi reveals his secret; thus, “I visit Lord Krishna’s tent every day. He is particularly fond of having boiled groundnuts, and I place some in his bowl every night. Lord Krishna has some and leaves the rest in the container. So, every night, I would count the number of groundnuts left in the bowl and that amount multiplied by a thousand would be the number of people who died that day in the battle.”

This story shows that Lord Krishna knew what was going to happen in the future and also tells us why the people of Udupi love Lord Krishna so much. Even now, the majority of people living in Udupi are caterers.

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The easiest and cheapest way to reach Udupi for a Manipal student is taking a bus from Tiger Circle towards Udupi; there are plenty of such buses leaving at intervals of ten minutes. The bus journey itself takes around 15 minutes, and upon getting down, it’s a further 10-minute walk to reach the Shri Krishna Matha. You can save some time by getting down at Kalsanka.

Describing the festivities of Janmashtami at Udupi

Tiger Dance artists on the back of a van
Greeted by a procession of the tiger dancers in a truck just while entering the Matha || Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

From the moment you enter, you will be welcomed by a massive fair with a lot of food stalls, most of them selling local snacks. There are various other stalls too, to cater to the kids, selling balloons, bubble blowers, and small toys. A little in from the fairground, the actual temple area starts, which you’ve to enter through a gate. Due to Janmasthami, the crowd was insanely high, so entering the gate itself took around 5 minutes, but usually, it’s an immediate process.

A Tiger Mask at Udupi
Tiger Dance is an integral part of the culture here | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

Right, upon entering, you will be greeted by a plethora of people, half of who are present there just for visiting the temple area, shop, and revel in the atmosphere of the vast Shri Krishna Matha, while a few are going into the temple for the main puja and the Prasada.

Man in rakshasa garb at Udupi
The Vesha – Many people wear the garbs of rakshasas hunting for the newborn Sri Krishna | Picture by Aishwarya Sharma

One of the biggest non-religious crowd-pullers for the event apart from the curiosity that all MAHE students possess is the Matka breaking event and the ‘Tiger Dance’ that takes place in a separate area of the Matha.

Another monster costume – This one for a noble cause | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

A lot of people were dressed up in various forms of demons, devils, or animals. Majority of them doing so for a good cause like collecting money for orphanages or charia ties. Many kids were dressed up as Lord Krishna, accompanied by their parents, who were carrying them on their shoulders in most cases.

The Matka breaking (Dahi Handi in Maharashtra)  happens at multiple places around the Krishna Temple or the Rathabheedi area, each one being placed 50 meters from the previous one, circling the entire Shri Krishna Matha.

Child dressed as Krishna at Udupi
A child dressed as Krishna for the ‘Muddu Krishna’ competition | Photo: Sitanshu Sah

There were various competitions held in and around the place, like the famous “Muddu Krishna” competition which is a child Krishna dress competition for kids, along with the “Pilli Vesha” (Tiger Dance)  competition, essay writing competition, and violin duets, that kept the people of Udupi enthralled, with age not being a bar due to the nature of the competitions.

Muddu Krishna at Udupi
The “Muddu Krishna” competition attracted a lot of children and their parents! | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

Before the Matka breaking starts, one can roam around the entire place that is assigned for this ceremony. There are a plethora of attractions, including people dressed up as monsters, statues of leadders, groups of people doing the Tiger dance and even an authentic Kerala style dance.

Udupi temple elephant
The decked up Udupi temple elephant | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

People were also queuing up to be blessed by the Krishna matha Elephant as well! A lot of people who have their home in the same area are lucky since they can see the entire event taking place from the comfort of their veranda, as all the house verandas were crammed with people.

A traditional drummer immersed in his art
Devotion runs deep among most of the people who came to visit the holy place on the sacred day | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

A few minutes before the matka breaking finally takes place, the police take charge. They push the crowds back to clear up the center of the rathabeedi for the massive ceremonial possession to go through. The procession consists of the elephant, the statues of the Gods (in the Nava Ratna chariot and palanquins) being paraded around the place accompanied by the temple priests amongst great cheers and devotion by the crowds.

The Krishna navaratna chariot procession
The temple priests along with the statue of Krishna taking part in the parade | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

The procession itself goes on for around fifteen minutes where all the members of the ceremony complete a full circle, dancing and showing off their various skills during the entire duration of the process.

Revellers in the Udupi Janmashthami
The parade had a lot of enthusiastic dressed up people  | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

 

Sadly, not all the Matka breaking takes places in the traditional way of people forming a human pyramid until the person at the extreme top finally breaks the matka. In most of the cases here, the matkas that were hanging high were broken by huge sticks by the people in the parade.

Dahi handi at Udupi Temple
The final Matka breaking | Picture by Sitanshu Sah

The breaking of the matka ended the biggest event of the day, as the people started to leave the temple square through the multiple narrow exits around the place.

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Most Terrifying Experience of My Life

Leaving the temple square was a terrifying experience. Even though I was accompanied by a senior (I had lost the remainder of my team in the crowd before the parade began), it was the scariest experience of my life.

Pro tip: You do not have to walk to get out of the place; the massive crowd pushes you out.

But the problem was that a lot of people were streaming into the area, so people were getting pushed back and forth. I distinctly remember asking the senior again and again if we are going to get out of this alive, but him being experienced in this just told me that it’d be okay. So the 40-meter walk to the end of the place where the crowd thinned out took around 15 minutes.

Crowd at Krishna Janmashtami Udupi
The crowd here can certainly get overwhelming | Photo: Aishwarya Sharma

 

It is recommended that no matter how big your group is, always stick together because it is very likely you will lose someone from the group in the massive crowds that never stops moving and then start panicking. Calling out for the missing person is not a viable option due to the noisy crowd and loud music. It is also not advisable to take your phone out from your pockets lest you drop it and lose it forever. (Speaking from very personal experience here).

It is always beneficial to have someone in your group who can speak the local language of the place, which is Kannada and Tulu. It will be helpful if you get lost or need to know more about the area and the chances are the locals will be more comfortable talking to you if you speak in their tongue.

The team finally got reunited an hour later as the others who were scattered throughout finally reached the required space for taking a call, and we finally came up with a decent meeting point. It took around ten more minutes to leave the place behind from a different path that exits next to the famous Jamia Masjid of Udupi.

I am not a big fan of crowds or a religious person in general. However, this 5-hour visit to one of the holiest places of Karnataka on the most sacred day of the year at the Udupi Sri Krishna temple was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life. An experience that will remain forever embedded in my heart.

Manipal is not just College – It is an Experience of a Lifetime

There is a lot more to Manipal than just a great place to pursue higher education, enjoy at pubs, have fantastic food, and seek thrill rides with high-speed auto drivers who usually never follow the meter though they are equipped with one.

Manipal is a massive fusion of cultures, faiths, and people from all economic backgrounds. You have to seize the opportunity for the moments that will stay on in your memory forever, and it is not at all necessary to spend money to gain actual knowledge over here.

This is what makes Manipal the place it is. Go out, enjoy the place in your holidays instead of just staying in your room and lazing around the entire day (This was my plan before coming here) and nobody can stop you from having a great time where you learn about things that matter in life.

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Second year Media and Communication student in Manipal Institute of Communication, Head of Operations at ManipalBlog, Ex-Associate Editor of Manipal Digest. Hit me up on roy.hrishit99@gmail.com or Instagram @thebullroy for queries or collabs.

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