By Padma Ramachandran Varalakshmi pooja, which falls tomorrow, is observed with rituals, music, and a delicious spread of eats,Varalakshmi pooja falls on Friday, August 12. Hindus believe that Goddess Lakshmi comes visiting on that day. The pooja is generally on the last Friday in the Tamil month of Aadi or Shravan. Many married women fast on that day and in many a home, it is a tradition that is handed down from mother-in-law to daughter-in law. Many married women in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka observe this ritual. Several eats are made, the chief among them being ‘kozhakattai’(also known as ‘modakam’), which has a rice flour coating, and a variety of fillings such as jaggery and coconut, jaggery and ground chana dal, powdered gingelly and gud, or steamed urad dal and coconut – a savoury filling. Athirasam, idli, vada and payasams are also made. The goddess is offered a variety of fruits and flowers. Decorating the courtyard Early in the morning, the courtyard of the house is decorated with kolam and a kalasam containing rice, betelnut and leaves, a couple of lemons, and coins (usually one preserves the same coins year after year).The kalasam is decorated with haldi-kumkum, a coconut and mango leaves. A ‘face’ in silver (representing the Goddess) is affixed to this. This symbol of Goddess Lakshmi is brought into the house along with a lamp, to the accompaniment of a song – ‘Lakshmi, rave ma intiki….shri rabdiputri varalakshmi, rave ma intiki, bhagyalakshmi, rave ma intiki’ – a Telugu invocation inviting the goddess inside the home. The kalasam is placed (on a banana leaf which has rice spread on it) in a makeshift ‘mantapam.’ The pooja involves the chanting of ‘Lakshmi ashtothram’ and shlokas in praise of Lord Ganesh. After the poojas are done, a yellow thread is tied on the woman’s hand by her husband or other women. The evening is joyous with music and women visiting the house for haldi-kumkum. Next day a small pooja called punar poojai is done to bring the rituals to a close. But you have to wait till Sunday morning to lift the Goddess with the kalasam and place her in a rice bin, to be kept safe for next year’s Varalakshmi pooja.
KOJAGARI PUJA Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped today, the Sharat poornima day, the full moon day of autumn. Mother Lakshmi visits the houses of those who are awake late in the night and blesses them. She comes asking,”Ko Jagrati – who is awake?”and that is why the puja is known as “Kojagari puja”. This puja is widely performed in Bengal and in all branch centres of Ramakrishna Math. In the life of Chandramani devi, mother of Sri Ramakrishna we have an incident relating to this puja. That happened before the birth of Sri Sri Thakur. Once, Ramkumar, the eldest son of Chandramani, went to perform this Kojagari puja in a neighbouring village Bhursuo as a priest in a house. It was very late night and as he didn’t return, Chandramani came out of the house and was waiting for his return. Then a small girl with many ornaments came from the direction of the village. Chandramani asked her,’ Did you see my son, he has gone to that village for doing today’s puja? The child replied,” Yes mother, I am coming from that very house where your son has done the puja and he is also coming.” Then Chandramani invited the girl to her house,” In this dead of night, where are you going alone with these precious ornaments? Stay in my house night and leave in the morning?” The girl replied,” No, no, this time I will not be able to stay. I have to go different places. I shall come next time.” Saying so she went towards the house of Lahas. Chandramani seeing from the distance that the girl was not going in the regular path, chased her to guide her the right path but the girl soon disappeared. Then Chandramani realised it was “Mother Lakshmi Herself who had come in the form of young girl.” Returning home she narrated the incident to her husband Kshudiram and later her son Ramkumar and they also had confirmed it was Mother Lakshmi Herself. “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is filled with His oft repeated teaching that one should should be free from greed and lust. He Himself practised the sadhana of taking earth in one hand and a coin on the other and threw them both in the Ganga water so as to mentally imbibe the idea that both the things are of the same. When his chosen disciple tested Him by placing a coin beneath his bed, He sprang up as if stung by a scorpion. Then why this worship of Goddess of wealth? Goddess Lakshmi is the mother of all wealth. Scriptures allow men to have 4 types of wealth, viz. the wealth of dharma, the wealth of sensory pleasures, the wealth of pleasures of flesh and the spiritual wealth. But unfortunately, we identify Goddess Mother with 2nd and 3rd wealth (artha and kama) only and pray Her for those 2 types of wealth. Sometimes men resort to unrighteous means to have those 2 types of wealth though the scriptures permit only through dharmic means. But many do not know that Goddess Lakshmi is also the Mother of the wealth of spiritual knowledge. In fact the vehicle of Mother Lakshmi denotes the same. Owl is the carrier vehicle of Mother. Owl is seen as an ugly bird, known as partially blind and considered as inauspicious. But why the Mother who is beauty personified selected that bird as Her vehicle? Is it to indicate that man if he chooses only those two types of wealth, it will drain away all his physical and mental energies and he will look ugly, fit for nothing either of this world or the other? Is it to teach the man that those pleasures that are enjoyed in darkness will lead man to darkness only and he will be blind to the light of knowledge? Is it to warn him that if he is confining himself only to those dark room pleasures then inauspicious future moments are awaiting him? We shall have to think for a while as to the answers. In case if we choose to pray Mother to bestow Her spiritual wealth, then how to view the owl? In such cases, does Mother wishes to say that Her vehicle Owl is the symbolic message of Gita sloka no.69 of 2nd chapter, wherein Lord Krishna says the quality of a man of steady wisdom. The sloka says that for a man of steady wisdom, that which is darkness of night for men of ignorance, for a man of steady wisdom it will be daylight and that hectic day time wherein men exert for wealth for senses will be night for a man of knowledge? Choice is ours to pray the Mother either for the secular wealth or for the spiritual.