In an old song in my native language, the lover describes the girl of his dreams to be as glitteringly beauteous as a fanciful celestial city beside a milky ocean at night hours, bathed in silvery light of vaishakha full moon. What is so special about a full moon night in vaishakha or vaishakha pournami, as it is called in Sanskrit (Vesakha in Pali)? The sun and moon assume extra brilliance in vaishakha, more than other times of the year. Corresponding to April-May in the Gregorian calendar, vaishakha is the second month of the year in the Indian almanac. In Nepal, and in the regional calendars of Punjab and West Bengal, where it is respectively called baisaakhi and boishaakh, it is the first month of the year and ushers in the arrival of summer. Considered to be one of the holiest months, it heralds the cyclic beginning of sathya yuga, or the pure age of truth in Vedic timescale, marks the birth of Karthikeya (Ganesha’s brother), features three avatars of Vishnu in addition to the births of Hanuman and Shani (Saturn); at lower end of the scale, an array of luminaries embarked on their earthly journeys in the month of vaishakha, from Shankara in the 8thc to Rabindranath Tagore and Chinmayananda Saraswati in the 19th and 20th centuries.
It is also considered to be the month in which holy river Ganges materialised, as a manifestation of goddess Ganga. The seventh day of vaishakha is known as ganga sapthami or gangotpatthi, the day holy Ganga flew out of sage Jahnu’s ear and thenceforth came to be known as Jahnavi, or Jahnu’s daughter. When Ganga descended to earth after being released from Shiva’s locks, her torrential waters inundated Jahnu’s fields and disturbed his penance. An enraged Jahnu, in retaliation, drank up all her waters. At this juncture, the gods pleaded with Jahnu to release Ganga so that she could continue on her mission to quench the thirsty land and release the souls of king Bhageeratha’s ancestors, as the king had earlier carried out a thousand years’ penance for transgressions of his ancestors; whereupon Jahnu relented and released Ganges through his ear.
It is by far the most auspicious time of the year, as Akshaya Tritiya, the birthday of Parasurama the sixth avatar of Vishnu, falls on the same day. On this day sage Vyasa is deemed to have commenced the writing of world’s largest epic ‘Mahabharata’, as a series of dictations to Ganesha, who documented it. It is the day of Ganga’s earthly descent, also signifying the cyclic beginning of Treta Yuga (treta means three, as the yuga or epoch accounted for three avatars of Vishnu, viz., Vamana, Parasurama and Rama), following Satya Yuga in the Vedic sequence of time. It was on this day Shankara composed and recited Kanaka Dhara (meaning shower of gold), hymn in praise of goddess Lakshmi, while he was seeking alms from an impoverished family who could only offer him a gooseberry. Lakshmi responded to Shankara’s hymn by profusely showering down golden gooseberries as a blessing on the poverty stricken family. It was on this day the penurious Sudama paid a visit to his childhood friend Krishna with compelling purpose of seeking aid but eventually returns after the meeting without disclosing his actual situation to an omniscient Krishna, only to find his modest dwelling transformed into a palace with all riches. The Sanskrit word akshaya means never diminishing; the day is thus considered auspicious for all ceremonies, acquisitions, and starting new ventures. I moved into Grale Haven, my newly constructed house, on Akshaya Tritiya day in the year 2004.
The sanctity and auspiciousness assigned to highly spiritual days of vaishakha is clearly attributable to it being the supremely favourite period of Vishnu, the presiding deity of the month, also known as Madhusoodana. The names Madhava and Madhusoodana appear in Vishnu Sahasranama, a hymn glorifying Vishnu in a thousand names. Madhava means one who is the consort of goddess Lakshmi and the giver of all knowledge and prosperity. Madhusoodana denotes the destroyer of demon Madhu, a preserver as sweet as honey, directing an individual towards performing good deeds guided by true knowledge, overcoming negative karma of the past and attaining ayu, or longevity, yash, or fame, pushti, or sustenance, moksha, or liberation from worldly bondage.
The lustre of Vaishakha turns all the more effulgent in abundant grace, afforded not only by luminosity of Rabindranath Tagore and Chinmayananda Saraswati but also by the divinity of Buddha and Shankara. While Tagore is renowned as the renaissance man of India, imparting a uniquely musical dimension to poetry, notably in Gitanjali, a collection of his poems invested with undertone of pantheism, and going on to become Asia’s first Nobel Laureate, Chinmayananda inspired audiences with Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of non-dualism propounded in the Upanishads, as a missionary, and teacher of Indian philosophy in universities across Asia and America. Chinmaya in Sanskrit stands for pure knowledge, and ananda, bliss; conjoined, chinmayananda is bliss attainable on realization of pure knowledge. Tagore’s vehicle was music, as he considered it to be the most euphonious expression of infinity. In the poet’s own words, “Last night, in the silence which pervaded the darkness, I stood alone and heard the voice of the singer of eternal melodies. When I went to sleep I closed my eyes with the last thought in my mind, that even when I remain unconscious in slumber the dance of life will still go on in the hushed arena of my sleeping body, keeping step with the stars. The heart will throb, the blood will leap in the veins, and the millions of living atoms of my body will vibrate in tune with the note of the harp-string that thrills at the touch of the master”. For Chinmayananda, pure knowledge resided in the Upanishads, and he went about propagating it as precepts pointing to desirable paths in the forward march of life, not as empty rituals and dogmatic principles of good and evil, god and satan, or heaven and hell designed to instill fear, with ulterior motive of increasing numbers through proselytization and directing societies towards narrow concerns of vested agendas.
Going back two thousand five hundred sixty years from today, the world experienced the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path, as clearly defined by the master who laid no claims to sainthood or godliness; just that he was awake, to sorrows and sufferings of worldly life born out of attachments to people and possessions, to the impermanence of all things, prompting the need to strive for liberation from the cycle, or misery-go-round, of birth and death by practicing right living based on dharma. Several centuries down the line, Shankara put it forth as tat-twam-asi, exhorting humanity to transcend ego to realize the divinity within.
As yet another vaishakha full moon makes her resplendent appearance in the night sky today, May 21, 2016, to watch the slumbering earth shackled in darkness, may it awaken people towards higher realizations, as a day memorializing the birth, enlightenment (nirvana) and passing away (parinirvana) of the master, as a month profoundly blessed by coming into being, inter alia, of evolved souls like Shankara, Tagore, and Chinmayananda.