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. It is on this day that Lord Rishabh dev broke his one year fast, that he had been observing, by drinking sugar cane juice. Also it is said that when the Pandavas were in exile with Draupadi, after having lost in the unfair gambling match with the wicked duryodhana, they had an Akshay patra( a pot, the contents of which were inexhaustible till draupadi ate) and this was bestowed upon them on this auspicious day. 5000 years ago, when Srila Vyas dev, the literary incarnation of Krishna, wanted to start writing the fifth veda, the great epic Mahabharat, he implored Ganesh to be the scribe upon which Ganesh agreed to do as asked on the fulfillment of one condition. He informed Vyas dev that he wanted him to speak continuously without stopping or else he would leave writing. Vyas dev agreed to this but in return he too put up a condition that Ganesh should not write anything till he understands. When they reached an agreement, the auspicious day of Akshay tritya was chosen to start writing this great literature. The great devotee and friend of Lord Krishna, Sudama Vipra, who was in Rishi Sandipani muni’s gurukul with the lord, visited Dwarkadheesh on this day and offered Krishna some chipped rice, as he was a poor brahmana, but he saturated it with pure love and devotion and although the offering of his friend was very meager, the lord disregarded this and only saw the pure feelings with which Sudama had offered him the rice and being merciful the lord bestowed upon his friend all that one could possibly desire for. This pastime depicts how Krishna is actually Bhavagrahi Janardhan, meaning that he accepts the bhava or feelings of the devotees without considering whether the offering is opulent or just something simple. In bhagwat gita lord Krishna 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. “
Shyamsundar 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 this universe belongs to him, the only thing that we can offer at the lotus feet of the lord are our hearts and the lord is also only eager for our love and devotion. So 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 two 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 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 for 42 days, 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. There is a pastime pertaining to this boat festival. In dwapar yuga, when maharaj Virat realized that the Pandavas where living incognito in his palace for one year in accordance with the condition of the gambling match that the pandavas lost, he requested maharaj Yudhisthir that he wanted to have darshan of lord Krishna, upon which Yudhishthir instructed him to arrange for a nice boat festival for the pleasure of Krishna when he comes. His heart overflowing with joy upon thinking of his good fortune, the king arranged for a beautiful festival and lord Krishna along with Balaram blessed him with their divine presence in his kingdom. At that time, the king served them with a splendid boat festival and applied chandan on their soft forms for their pleasure. In lieu of this pastime the big deities of jagannath, baladev and subhadra devi are also smeared with chandan and in this way the festival is celebrated elaborately 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, who was a sincere devotee of the lord and who had unwavering faith in the lord, so much so that inspite of all the danger that his father inflicted upon him, he never became perturbed and always just chanted the holy names of the lord, appeared to protect his devotee Prahlad 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.
Sri Caitanya Caritamrita: Madhya Lila (4.106) says,
Gopala kahe, puri amara tapa nahi yaya malayaja-candana lepa’, tabe se judaya.
“In his dream, Mädhavendra Puri saw Gopäla, 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 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.