Vaishakha…

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.

 

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41 thoughts on “Vaishakha…

  1. Such insightful background into Vaishakha, Raj. Interesting to hear that it is different for those in India and in Nepal, and to know that both the sun and the moon shine brightest this time of the year. Certainly symbolic of the brightness and fortune that shines over so many of us today, and a reminder of the stories and history behind this time of the year.

  2. Such a richly informative and erudite article, Raj, for which many thanks. Coming from the Orthodox (Theravadin) Buddhist tradition, I always acknowledge Wesak, the Full Moon in the month of May, as a day of special significance. For many years I would prepare a meal and offer it as Dana to the recluses at a nearby monastery.

    • A very thoughtful gesture yours is, Hariod. Do keep it going for as long and as much as you can. There is no charity more significant than feeding a deprived and hungry soul. ‘Anna Danam Mahadanam’ (Anna means food, and maha, great) state the scriptures, attesting to feeding people as the greatest form of charity. Be well and blessed my learned and esteemed friend.

  3. Hi Raj,
    As usual, your well-researched, highly loaded offering is superbly presented! I had to read it twice before I could arrive at this part of the page! Though I knew Baissakhi as a very significant day of celebrations, the knowledge was as minuscule as a grain of sand! Thank you for such an interesting and informative post dear friend. Stay blessed.

  4. A very insightful and informative article, Sir. The month of Vaisakha has so many implications. The first day is especially auspicious for us, the Bengalis and we start new businesses or work on this day traditionally. Also, 25th of Vaisakha is the birthday of Gurudeb Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore) ….

    • Thanks Mani. I am an ardent admirer of many things Bengali, including Tagore and Rabindra Sangeeth. One of my favourite places in Cal is Belur Math, which I first visited as an undergraduate, and thereafter at different stages later. I fervently hope Cal and the rest of Bengal bounce back to its erstwhile glory. May all good vibrations of vaisakha stay with you to enrich your endeavours…

  5. Raj I often feel when i visit your blog as though I know so very little about other beliefs and cultures. Thanks you for so eloquently explaining vaishakha. I smiled at the mention of May 21st which was our wedding anniversary. 🙂

  6. Well some of that makes sense to me but much of it is way over my head. I know so little! And I am really drawn. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

    The moon was particularly brilliant that night of the 21st. It was also an exceptionally still and serene night, so silent, so deep. I was quite entranced. It was also my birthday, so it felt very special to me.

    • Thanks Ali, and, though belated, happy birthday. Indeed, you are in exalted company of revered souls who strode the earth as creative and spiritual titans.

  7. Wow Raj, what a very interesting post.. I had never
    Heard the word Vaishakha before let alone knew of its meaning..
    So I was fully engaged in learning about this auspicious time of year. I have however heard of the Eightfold Path.. And for the most part try my best to follow much of what it teaches..
    Such wisdom held within its teachings.
    I also pray dear Raj that with Vaishakha’s arrival it heralds in the much needed awakening of “.. People towards Higher Realizations”.. It is sorely needed around the world right now my friend..
    Thank you for this most interesting post Raj.. I am always educated when I come here..
    Many thanks
    And Blessings to you and yours

    Sue 🙂

  8. What jumped out at me: “…just that he was *awake*” … aaaahhh. Yes. I think (too?) much emphasis in the West is put upon ‘enlightenment’ as being some sort of unattainable state. And yet simply being awake and mindful is enlightening, in and of itself.

    I love these stories, rich in timbre and vivid imagery, at least for me. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy we are connected! Aloha.

  9. Very insightful and enriching inputs on Vaishakha. I realize how rich and perfect our heritage is and many like me have missed out the gems. Thanks you Raj for sharing.

  10. This is loaded with information not just about vaisakha pournami – I would like to keep in memory and save! Thanks so much! ‘m really glad to be here!

    • Nice to hear from you after a long while, Maria. As for your love of gods, you will have an abundance of options to choose from, with over 330 million gods in Hinduism.

  11. I had no idea there were so many colorful & vivid stories connected to this season. This one makes for a post to be treasured and re-read. P.S- Why don’t you write guest posts in newspapers? Would love to read your daily columns there. 🙂

  12. Raj, a beautiful and inspiring article. I’m afraid I had to look up many things to fully appreciate the significance of the date and its observances, but it was well worth it. I did know about the four noble truths and the noble eight-fold path, and it was a great pleasure to be reminded of and reflect upon them again. May we be blessed with the coming into being of many evolved souls this year.

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