On the auspicious third day of the waxing moon in the month of Vaishaka, the festival of Aksaya-tritiya takes place. It is said that this day bestows all auspiciousness to any undertaking started on this day. It is observed all over India, to commemorate various pastimes of the Lord.
It is on this day that Lord Rshabhadeva broke his one year fast of subsisting only on sugar cane juice.
Also, it is said that when the Pandavas were in exile with Draupadi, having lost the unfair gambling match with the wicked Duryodhana, they had an Aksaya-patra (a pot, the contents of which were inexhaustible until Draupadi ate from it). That aksaya-patra was given to them on this auspicious day.
5000 years ago, when Srila Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of Krsna, wanted to start writing the fifth Veda, the great epic Mahabharata, he implored Ganesa to be the scribe. Ganesa agreed to do as asked on one condition. He informed Vyasadeva that he wanted him to speak continuously without stopping. As soon as Vyasadeva stopped speaking, Ganesa would stop writing. Vyasadeva agreed, but in return, he too put up the condition that Ganesa should not write anything he does not understand. Upon reaching this agreement, they chose the auspicious day of Aksaya-tritya to start recording this great literature.
Sudama Vipra was a great devotee and friend of Sri Krishna. He had been in Sandipani Muni’s gurukula with the Sri Krsna, On this day, he visited Dwarakadhisa and offered Krishna some mere chipped rice, as he was a poor brahmana. And yet he saturated that offering of chipped rice with pure love and devotion. Although the offering of His friend was very meagre, Krsna disregarded that and only saw the pure feelings with which Sudama had offered him the rice. Being merciful, He bestowed upon his friend all that one could possibly desire. This pastime depicts how Krishna is actually bhava-grahi Janardhan, meaning that He accepts the bhava, or feelings, of the devotees, without considering whether the offering is opulent or just something simple. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna says,
patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam
” If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. “
Sri Syamasundara is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is full of all opulences. All the riches a person may have in this material world comes from him, then what can one possibly offer him? Everything in the whole universe belongs to Him. The only thing that we can offer at His lotus feet is our heart, and He, in turn, is also only eager for our love and devotion. Following in the footsteps of the great devotee Sudama, we can also offer our hearts to the Lord and he will certainly accept us and bestow upon us loving service to His divine lotus feet.
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 and in this time, the devotees make different arrangements to cool the Lord down and try to relieve Him of any discomfort caused by the intense heat. Although the Lord is self-sufficient and does not require anything, the devotees taking Him to be their life and soul, their most beloved friend. They cannot bear the thought of His having to experience the burning sun of the summer, they always want Him to be pleased, and for this reason, they take care of Him with so much affection.
In Sri Ksetra, or Sri Puri dhama, this festival is celebrated for 42 days. In this period, the Utsav murti of the Jagannathtemple, Madanmohan, along with other deities of the temple and five Shiva lingas known as Panca Pandava are taken in a procession to Narendra Sarovara. There, they are taken for a boat ride.
There is a pastime pertaining to this boat festival. In Dvarapara-yuga, when Maharaj Virat realized that the Pandavas had been living incognito in his palace for one year in accordance with the condition of the gambling match that the Pandavas lost, he informed Maharaja Yudhisthira that he wanted to have darshan of Lord Kisna. Yudhishthira Maharaja instructed Maharaja Virat to arrange for a nice boat festival for the pleasure of Krsna when he arrived. His heart overflowing with joy upon thinking of his good fortune, the king arranged for a beautiful festival, and Lord Krishna along with Balarama blessed him and his kingdom with Their divine presence. At that time, the king served them with a splendid boat festival and applied chandan to Their soft forms, for Their pleasure. In lieu of this pastime the deities in the Puri mandira of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra devi are also smeared with candana. In this way, the festival is celebrated elaborately for 21 days in Narendra Sarovara and for another 21 days in Lord Jagannatha’s inner chambers.
In South India near Vishakapatnam, at the famous Sri Simhachalam temple of Narsimhadeva, chandan yatra has special significance. Lord Narasimhadeva had become infuriated with Hiranyakashipu for his mistreatment and torture of Prahlada, who was a sincere devotee of the Lord and who had unwavering faith Him. His faith was so unwavering that in spite of all the dangerous circumstances his father inflicted upon him, he never became perturbed and always just chanted the holy names of the Lord. Lord Narasimha appeared to protect his devotee Prahlada and kill Prahlada’s demoniac father Hiranyakashipu. The Lord displayed so much anger that his devotees applied chandan to cool him down, and this practice is followed to date. ,The deity is smeared with sandalwood paste every day of the year. As a result, His actual form is not visible for the whole year, being covered in layers of chandan. On Aksaya-tritiya, the lump of sandalwood covering His form is broken open and His original form can be seen for one day. After this, the pujaris again start applying more chandan on him. The sandalwood pieces from the lump that is broken are then distributed as prasada.
For the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, the most prominent pastime about chandan yatra is that of Srila Madhavendra Puri. After he had installed Gopal on the hill of Govardhan with a great festival, one night Gopal came to Madhavendra Puri in a dream. He told him to bring chandan from the Malaya province and apply it to 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.
Sri Caitanya-cCaritamrita (Madhya-lila (4.106) says,
“Gopala kahe, puri amara tapa nahi yaya malayaja-candana lepa’, tabe se judaya – In his dream, Mädhavendra Puri saw Gopala, who said, “My bodily temperature still has not decreased. Please bring sandalwood from the Malaya province and smear the pulp over My body to cool Me.
Being a pure devotee of the Lord and desiring only to please him, Madhavendra Puri set off immediately for Jagannath Puri. On the way he took darsana of Sri Gopinatha and the pastime of Gopinath stealing sweet rice for him took place. After this, the deity became famous as Ksira-cora Gopinath. From there Madhavendra Puri went to Jagannatha Puri and with the assistance of the king, he procured a huge quantity of chandan for Sri 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 it onto 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 Damodara, Radha Syamasundara, and Radha Ramana, 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 Balarama temple, Iskcon Vrindavana, the preparation for the festival starts many days prior to Aksaya-tritiya. In the temple courtyard, while singing the holy names of the Lord, devotees start grinding chandan with rose water, mixed with camphor, to make it even more cooling and pleasing for the Lords. . Each morning and evening the devotees take turns to grind chandan on stone slabs sitting on the marble floor of the temple. This scene is truly very beautiful and inspiring, reminding us of the spiritual world, where everyone is constantly engaged in the service of Krsna. In the 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 mataji’s who have stayed up all night to make it. The sweet smelling and colorful blossoms make it beautifully cooling. In the afternoon this lovingly ground chandan is placed on the deities bodies 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 festival deities 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 to cool the Lord in the scorching heat, we too can drown in the ocean of transcendental bliss and be freed from the scorching heat of this material existence.