posted on 29 April 2017
On the auspicious third day of the waxing moon in the month of Vaishaka, the festival of akshay tritiya, which is said to bestow all auspiciousness on any undertaking being started on this day, is observed all over India, to commemorate various pastimes of the lord. This day also marks the beginning of Chandan yatra, in which the lord is smeared with sandalwood paste due to the scorching heat of the summer season. This Chandan yatra festival is celebrated over a period of 21 days in which the devotees make different arrangements to cool the lord down and want to give him relief from the intense heat. Although the lord is self sufficient and does not require anything, but the devotees taking Krishna to be their life and soul and most beloved friend, they cannot bear the thought of him having to experience the burning sun of the summer, they always want him to be pleased and hence they take care of him with so much affection.
In Shrikshetra or puri dham, this festival is celebrated elaborately, in which the Utsav murti of the Jagannathtemple, Madanmohan, along with other deities of the temple and five Shiv lingas know as Pancha Pandavas are taken in a procession to Narendra sarovar, where they are taken for a boat ride. During this festival the big deities of jagannath, baladev and subhadra devi are smeared with chandan and in this way the festival is celebrated for 21 days in narendra sarovar and for another 21 days in the inner chambers of lord Jagannath.
In South India near Vishakapatnam, at the famous Sri Simhachalam temple of Narsimha dev, chandan yatra has special significance, as this is said to be the place where lord Narasimha dev, being infuriated with Hiranyakashipu for his mistreatment and torture of Prahlad, appeared to protect his devotee and kill his demoniac father Hiranyakashipu. The lord displayed so much anger that his devotees applied chandan to cool him down and the practice is still followed till date, with the deity being smeared with sandalwood paste everyday of the year, because of which his actual form is not visible for the whole year, being covered in layers of chandan. On Akshaya tritiya, the lump is broken open and the Lord’s original form can be seen for one day, after which again the pujaris start applying more chandan on him. The sandalwood pieces from the lump that is broken are then distributed as Prasad.
For the gaudiya vaishnavas however the most prominent pastime about chandan yatra is that of Srila Madhavendra Puri. After having installed Gopal on the hill of Govardhan with a great festival, one night Gopal came to Madhavendra Puri in his dream and told him to bring chandan from the Malaya province and apply it on his transcendental form to relieve him of the scorching heat that he felt due to being hidden in the bushes for such a long time. Being a pure devotee of the lord and desiring only to please him, Madhavendra Puri set off immediately for Jagannathpuri. On the way he took darshan of Gopinath and the pastime of Gopinath stealing sweetrice for him took place, after which the deity became famous as Ksheerchor Gopinath. From there Madhavendra Puri went to Jagannathpuri and there with the assistance of the king, he got a huge quantity of chandan for Gopal. On the way back to Govardhan when he was passing by the temple of Gopinath again he had a dream and Gopal instructed him to apply the chandan on Gopinath instead of bringing it all the way back to Govardhan, as there is no difference between Gopal and Gopinath.Madhavendra Puri then grinded the chandan and applied on to the form of Gopinath which gave immense pleasure to both Gopal and Gopinath.
Following in the footsteps of Madhavendra Puri, all the main temples in Vrindavan, like Radha Damodar, Radha Shyamsundar, Radha Raman and many others, celebrate this festival of chandan yatra by smearing the lords with sandalwood paste and making intricate designs on them or by dressing them with a special dress covered in chandan.
In the Krishna Balaram temple, the preparation for the festival starts many days prior to Akshay tritiya, when the devotees start grinding chandan with rose water, mixed with camphor so as to make it even more cooling and pleasing for the lords, in the temple courtyard, while simultaneously singing the holy names of the lord. Each morning and evening the devotees take turns to grind chandan on stone slabs sitting on the marble floor of the temple. The scene of the devotees sitting there and engaging in this service is truly very beautiful and inspiring, as it instills within the heart an image of how it must be in the spiritual world where everyone is constantly engaged in the service of Krishna. In the time span of a few days, the devotees manage to accumulate enough sandalwood paste to smear on all the deities, big and small.
When the auspicious day arrives, their lordships are dressed in a flower outfit in the morning, prepared by the mataji’s who stay up all night engaged in the service of making an exquisitely beautiful flower dress to please the lords with the cooling effect of the sweet scented and colorful blossoms. In the afternoon the deities are covered with chandan, incorporated with the love and devotion of the devotees who ground it, from head to toe and detailed designs are drawn to decorate their most attractive forms. The devotees are extremely overjoyed on this day to see the lords, as their beautiful three bending forms are very visible. Seeing the lord smeared with chandan and decorated with flowers cools the eyes of the devotees and they feel tremendous joy in their hearts. This application of sandalwood paste on the Utsav murtis of the lords continues for 21 days and on the last day the big deities are once again covered in chandan. In this way by observing the chandan yatra festival and making arrangements for cooling the lord from the scorching heat we too can drown in the ocean of transcendental bliss and be freed from the scorching heat of this material existence.