Akṣaya Trītīyā and Candana-yātrā
[April 23, 2023 is Akṣaya Trītīyā in Vṛndāvana, India. It is also the first day of Candana Yātrā. The following is an excerpt from a bhāva anuvāda of the kathā given by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on the same tithi on April 25, 2013 and April 4, 2015. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Today is Akṣaya Trītīyā, a very special tithi. It marks the beginning of Satya-yuga. In other words, Bhagavān created the universe on this tithi.
EARLY MEMORIES OF AKṢAYA TRĪTĪYĀ
In my pūrva-āśrama (life before joining the maṭha), there were three very beautiful stone temples [where I stayed] dedicated to the service of śāligrāmas. There were no deities in those temples, only śāligrāmas.
From the first day of Vaiśākha month, which is four days prior to Akṣaya Trītīyā, the śāligrāmas used to be placed underneath a constant stream of water. How? A brass vessel with a tiny hole was placed above the śāligrāmas and arranged in such a way that the water would fall directly onto the śāligrāmas drop by drop all through the day. This water (caraṇāmṛta) would eventually collect in a big pot (25-30 liter capacity) placed below and would then be mixed with camphor and distributed to everyone in the evening. Bael fruit (wood apple) mixed with milk, paneer and jaggery, not sugar, would be distributed as prasāda along with roasted or fried chickpeas.
And from today, the first day of Candana-yātrā, there used to be special prasāda. Varieties of laḍḍus made from chickpeas, groundnuts, coconut, and milk solids (khoyā) would be prepared, offered to Bhagavān and then distributed. As it is a scriptural injunction to offer bhoga prepared from jau sattu (roasted barley flour) to Bhagavān on this day, this sattu was mixed with milk and jaggery and made into balls, then offered and distributed in leaf cups to whoever came for darśana.
GENERAL CONCEPTION OF AKṢAYA TRĪTĪYĀ
People with faith in karma-kāṇḍa (ritualistic fruitive activities) offer sattu made from jau (barley) as bhoga to Bhagavān. There is also a custom to offer water in charity (jala-dāna) on this tithi. I have witnessed this around Bengal, in Kolkata, Vṛndāvana and even Hyderabad. Especially the merchant community arranges for big earthen pots full of water to offer water to any passersby, and they also donate earthen pots along with a ladle for serving water and a cloth to filter it. In Bengal, they offer a water pot and a fan in the temple. On this tithi, even the Ādivāsīs (tribal community) who are not so well-versed in the scriptures offer mangoes to Bhagavān first and only then consume them. Even though mangoes may be widely available before this tithi, they will not consume them, being aware of the glories of this tithi.
The belief of the general masses is that whatever auspicious ritualistic activities one performs on this tithi bears inexhaustible fruit. [By Vedic standards, any activity is to be performed with the consideration of an appropriate time in order to yield the best result. Hence by referring to an almanac, an auspicious time is identified to perform the activity because there are also inauspicious times during the day. However on Akṣaya Trītīyā, no such thing is applicable because the entire day is auspicious.]
IS THE FRUIT OF ACTIVITIES DONE ON THIS DAY EVERLASTING?
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: What does it mean when they say anything done on Akṣaya Trītīyā becomes inexhaustible or everlasting? Do activities performed by fruitive workers (karmīs), impersonalists (jñānīs), and pseudo devotees become inexhaustible?
Śrīla Mahārāja: If one seeks wealth and performs charity on this tithi [with this motivation], one will never experience any deficiency of wealth in his whole life. His wealth will become inexhaustible; but it does not mean he will attain Vaikuṇṭha. With respect to the example above, the term ‘akṣaya’ implies that such an individual will never experience any deficit of wealth in this life.
But in reality, is there anything eternal or everlasting in this material world? In other words, since our lifespans are short, we cannot possibly experience all the results of our actions in one lifetime, and for this reason, many believe that the fruit they receive as a result of performing pious activities on Akṣaya Trītīyā is inexhaustible. But nothing in this material world is factually everlasting.
[One may think that he will eternally remain ‘wealthy’ due to the notion that anyone who performs charity on Akṣaya Trītīyā accrues everlasting benefit. However, since nothing in this material world is eternal, the word ‘akṣaya’ too in regards to anything material can’t be taken as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ in the ultimate sense. Bhagavān is eternal, and hence, only any activity performed in connection to Him (bhakti) is truly eternal. Acts of charity, austerity or penance performed without any connection to Bhagavān, are simply temporary in themselves and bear only temporary results.]
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: So in reality, it is not everlasting?
Śrīla Mahārāja: No. And that is applicable to the jñānīs and yogis as well. Nowhere has it been mentioned that they will attain hari-bhakti, Goloka or Vaikuṇṭha by performing pious activities on Akṣaya Trītīyā.
AKṢAYA TRĪTĪYĀ FOR DEVOTEES
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: What should a devotee do on this tithi?
Śrīla Mahārāja: A devotee should do hari-bhakti – any activity that is pleasing to Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas.
laukikī vaidikī vāpi yā kriyā kriyate mune hari-sevānukūlaiva sā kāryā bhaktim icchatā
["A devotee may act as an ordinary human being or as a strict follower of Vedic injunctions. In either case, everything he does is favorable for the advancement of devotional service because he is in Kṛṣṇa consciousness."]
Any activity which is favorable for hari-sevā is called bhakti. And what does one achieve by performing bhakti? By performing bhakti one achieves the fruit of bhakti, i.e. one attains Bhagavān!
It has been said in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.14.20):
na sādhayati māṁ yogo
na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo
yathā bhaktir mamorjitā
[My dear Uddhava, the unalloyed devotional service rendered to Me by My devotees brings Me under their control. I cannot be thus controlled by those engaged in mystic yoga, Sāṅkhya philosophy, pious work, Vedic study, austerity or renunciation.]
Only by performing bhakti one will get bhakti. Nowhere is it mentioned that bhakti can be attained as an outcome of performing other activities, unrelated to bhakti.
Mādhavapriyā Prabhu: Today is Candana-yātrā. This festival of Candana-yātrā has been celebrated since Satya-yuga for Lord Jagannātha and…?
Śrīla Mahārāja: The actual context is that Bhagavān invents an excuse to give service to His devotees. What is the excuse? “Due to severe summer heat, My body is burning, so please smear Me with sandalwood paste.” Bhagavān only accepts service from His devotees, not from just anyone. He told His devotee, Indradyumna Mahārāja that starting from this tithi smear candana on My body for twenty-one days. This is the reason why Candana-yātrā is celebrated in Purī.
In another instance, once Kṛṣṇa appeared to His devotee, Mādhavendra Purī, in a dream and told him how His previous servitor had fled after hiding Him in a grove, fearing an attack from the yavanas. The Lord could have also asked so many wealthy people for this sevā. Instead he chose Mādhavendra Purī, who didn’t even possess a fixed place of residence. Why? It was because of Mādhavendra Purī’s unprecedented love for Gopāla. When Gopāla instructed Mādhavendra Purī to fetch malaya-candana, he never thought, "How can I perform this service in my old age? Even my vision and ability to walk is impaired.” Instead, upon receiving the order, Mādhavendra Purī left immediately, without a second thought. As a rule, sannyāsīs are prohibited from meeting any king. Yet, for the service of Bhagavān, he met the King and begged one and quarter maund* of candana and twenty tolā** of camphor from him.
He then brought the candana with him and on the way back to Vṛndāvana, Gopāla instructed him to smear the candana on Gopīnātha’s body (in Remunā) itself, assuring him that this would, in turn, make His body feel cool. So Mādhavendra Purī arranged to smear the candana on Gopīnātha’s body and after twenty-one days the supply was exhausted. He left his body there in Remunā where his samādhi can still be found.
* maund - a unit of weight in India varying greatly according to locality, approximately from 11 to 37 kilograms
** tolā - a unit of weight in India that equals 11.7 grams