Akshaya Tritiya falls on the third day (hence, tritiya) of the bright half (Shukla paksha) of the month of Vaishaka, this being the second month in the Indian calendar. This corresponds to late-April, early-May.
The Indian calendar follows the phases of the moon, unlike the Gregorian calendar that is based the earth’s path around the sun. That is why Indian festivals fall on different days each year, with respect to the Gregorian calendar. Last year, Akshaya Tritiya fell on May 2. This year, it is on May 9th.
There are innumerable reasons why this particular date is considered so holy. This date marks the beginning of Tretayuga, just as Yugadi marks the beginning of Kaliyuga. Tretayuga is the second yuga in a cycle of four yugas. In each yuga, the balance between Good and Evil shifts, and with each Yuga, Evil gains dominance. In Kaliyuga, Evil attains totality, until finally, the Divine Element incarnates on this earth to restore Good.
We are currently at the beginning of Kaliyuga. Krishna’s death, that occurred on Yugadi, marks the end of Dwapara Yuga and the beginning of Kaliyuga.
It is not hard to believe that Evil has begun its reign upon the earth! Unfortunately, Kaliyuga still has about 420,000 years to go, before Vishnu’s tenth avatar, Kalki, is scheduled to make his appearance.
Akshay Tritiya is the birthdate of Parasurama, Vishnu’s sixth, and His most violent incarnation. Even Narasimha avatar, terrifying though he is, does not compare with the vehemence with which Parasurama went about his earthly mission. The era of Treta saw the earth being brutalised by Kshatriyas. According to the Puranas, the earth took the form of Bhoodevi and prayed to Vishnu for deliverance from the Kshatriyas. Vishnu descended on the earth as Rama, the son of Rishi Jamadagni and Renuka.
Rama was unlike other Brahmins of his time. He was exceptionally strong, and from a very young age, showed unusual prowess in weaponry and martial arts. After severe penance to Shiva, he was given a mighty axe as a boon, and came to be known as Parasurama, Rama of the Axe.
The enmity between the Brahmins and Kshatriyas of that era has been well recorded in our Puranic texts, including the Mahabharata. This enmity led to the brutal decapitation of Parasurama’s father at the hands of Sahasra Arjuna, also known as Kartivirya Arjuna, a powerful Kshatriya king. Kartivirya Arjuna was a mighty warrior, who had subdued Raavana himself in direct combat. Seeing her husband’s beheaded corpse, Parasurama’s mother Renuka beat her chest twenty one times in her grief. Enraged beyond endurance, Parasurama vowed to circle the earth twenty one times and slay every Kshatriya he could find.
Armed with his axe, Parasurama slew thousands of Kshatriyas. Merciless as he was, Parasurama had a strong sense of ethics. He would not slay righteous Kshatriya kings like Dashratha and Janaka. His axe was only meant for Kshatriyas who misused their powers.
Parasurama is one of the seven Chiranjivis (immortals). He coincides with two other incarnations of Vishnu, i.e. Rama and Krishna. Parasurama clashed with Rama after he broke Shiva’s bow during Sita’s swayamvar ceremony and won her hand. Furious that Shiva’s bow was broken by a Kshatriya, Parasurama rushed to the ceremony, determined to kill Rama. However, Sita greeted him at the door and sought his blessings first. Without thinking, Parasurama blessed her saying, “Deergha sumangali bhava”.
And that of course, made it impossible for him to raise a hand on Rama!
Once he realised who Rama was, Parasurama was mollified and gracefully withdrew. Parasurama also features prominently in the Mahabharata, as the guru of Bhishma and Karna, and as the avatar who gifts Krishna with his deadliest weapon, the Sudarshan chakra.
The Puranas state that Parasurama beat back the sea and saved large parts of the west coast from inundation. He is therefore worshipped in Kerala and Konkan, as the creator of those fertile lands. According to our scriptures, he created Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala, from which modern martial arts like Kung-fu and karate originate.
After he fulfilled his earthly mission, Parasurama retired to Mahendra Parbat, believed to be in the eastern ghats, in north east India. There, he meditates and awaits the arrival of Kalki, the last avatar of Vishnu, before he will finally take leave of his body.
Indian mythology is rich and fascinating, isn’t it? Whether these tales from our past are entirely true or not, I believe they are based on events and people that really existed. Deep inside our legends, I am convinced, there is a kernel of truth.
By the way, the belief that one must buy gold on this particular day, has no basis in the scriptures. It is entirely a marketing gimmick that goes back to ancient times!
Cheers … Srini