Gokulashtami marks the celebration of the birth of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Lord Sri Krishna was born on the 'Rohini' nakshatram (star) on Ashtami day. This festival is also known as Sri Krishna Jayanti and Janmashtami. The actual day of celebration can be on two different days as the star 'Rohini' and Ashtami may not be on the same day. This occurs between August and September on the Christian calendar.
Krishna Jayanthi is also called as Janma Ashtami day, Gokula Ashtami and Sri Jayanthi.The birthday of Krishna, who was born to King Vasudeva and Devaki Devi is celebrated as a festival on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Sravana, which corresponds to the English month of August-September. Therefore Gokuashtami means Gokul - Krishna and Ashtami - eight.
Sri Krishna is Lord Vishnu's eighth avatar (incarnation) on earth. He is considered to be the Lord's most glorious incarnations. Even saying and remembering His name brings joy because Sri Krishna himself was a manifestation of joy at all levels and in all walks of life. No other God in the Hindu pantheon, or for that matter in any other religion, is associated with so many romantic tales and so fully radiating with all the divine attributes as Sri Krishna.
Since Sri Krishna lived in luxury throughout his life, Sri Krishna Jayanti is celebrated with pomp and splendor. Plenty of sweets are made. Among these are laddus (yellu oonde), chakli, cheedai, payasam (kheer), and so on. In addition, plenty of milk products especially butter, which was Sri Krishna's favorite childhood food, are given in offerings. A wide variety of fruits are also offered. The most common sweets made laddus and payasam.
Great indeed are his many Leelas and the way in which he charms one and all. Several sages and seers have paid homage to him. Narada, Sri Kulashekara Azhwar, Andal, Tirumangai Azhawar, Nammazhwar have sung glorious verses in praise of Lord Krishna who embodies Shudda Satvam. The Bhagavad Gita coming from the Lord is the absolute truth which has withstood the test of time and has formed the basis and inspiration for many Acharyas and Azhwars.
The life and message of Sri Krishna is the most stirring saga of one of the greatest saviours and propounders of Dharma. Born in the dungeons of Kansa who was out to kill him at the very moment of his birth, Sri Krishna's life is replete with many such mortal dangers which he successfully triumphs over. He was the unchallenged hero of his times both in terms of his bodily prowess and his intellectual brilliance.
Sri Krishna Jayanti, therefore, signifies not merely the birth of a great and Divine Teacher of mankind in some distant past but the lighting of the spark of the Divine Power in every one of us, which spurs us on to play our dynamic part in this world of practical and hard realities with a sense of high spiritual purpose. Krishna represents the total power of attraction (Aakarshna Shakti) like a magnet of infinite rise. Hence Krishna is the source of joy.
The cultural aspects are represented by the traditionally dressed devotees. The raas or dance is also done with devotees taking part with spiritual fervor. Sri Krishna who manifests all levels of joy, is also the source of spiritual joy, which overrides mental or emotional joy, just as emotional joy overrides physical joy. If all the three are integrated and interdependent, then the observance of the festival takes on the full meaning of Sri Krishnaarpanamastu - let everything be offered to Sri Krishna.