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Sarada Prithipal's Kitchen
-- Sarada Prithipal

Varalakshmi Vratham - In Honour of the Goddess

07 Aug 03

The goddess, variously called Devi, Ambal, Lakshmi, Shakthi, is one of the most important figures in the Hindu pantheon. Tradition tells us to pray to the Goddess first, because with her kind and benevolent heart, she will intercede with the Lord for the granting of any boon. While the goddess represents everything from power to prosperity, in the form of Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu, she is a symbol of wealth.

Visitors to the hill shrine of Tirupati, after offering worship at the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Srinivasa, circumambulate the shrine and then come to the figurine of Goddess Lakshmi set high up in the wall. She is in standing posture with gold coins pouring out of her hand. They reach up and touch her feet. Even children too small to reach the image are lifted up and the ritual is gone through.

In Chennai, one of the most popular shrines is the Ashtalakshmi Temple in Besant Nagar. Located close to the sea, the winding steps take one to one manifestation of Lakshmi after the other. It is said that Lakshmi will enter the house of anyone who thinks of her and bless them. There are many festivals in the year dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi. Among them, Varalakshmi Vratham is unique because it is marked by strict observance of certain practices and austerities. It is also called Varalakshmi Nonbu. The puja falls on the Friday before the full moon in the Tamil month of Aadi. This year, it occurs on August 8.

The name Varalakshmi itself can be interpreted in two ways. In one sense, Varalakshmi is one who grants boons. In another, she is the Goddess who is invited into the home and honoured. The different types of benefits that will accrue thanks to performing the Varalakshmi puja are "dhan" (money), "dhanyam" (grains or food), "arogyam" (health), "sampath" (property), "sathsanthanam" (virtuous offspring) and "dheerga saumangalyam" (longevity of the husband).

Performing the Varalakshmi puja is said to be equivalent to worshipping all the different forms of Lakshmi. The evening before the day of the puja, the area for its performance is cleaned and decorated. A bronze or silver kalasam (special pot) is filled with rice or water and coins, a whole lime, five types of leaves and betel leaves and betel nut. The kalasam is smeared with sandal paste and covered with a new cloth up to the neck. A coconut applied with turmeric paste is placed on top with mango leaves around. An image of the Goddess made of different materials, including cloth, is affixed to this. The kalasam is deemed to be the Goddess herself. Offerings of pongal are made and arathi is performed.

The next morning, before rahu kalam, the kalasam is placed on a bed of rice. This signifies that Lakshmi has entered the house. After the installation, a puja beginning with an invocation to Lord Vinayaka begins. During the puja, the Lakshmi Sahasranamam and other slokas dedicated to Varalakshmi are chanted. Different types of sweets are offered to the Goddess.

The women and girls of the house tie yellow coloured saradu or thread around their wrists. Thamboolam is given to other "sumangalis" (married women) who are invited to the house that evening. The woman who has performed the puja observes a fast on that day, eating only certain things. The following day the holy water in the kalasam is sprinkled throughout the house. If rice has been used in the place of water then it is mixed with the rice stored in the house.

The legend behind the Varalakshmi puja and vratam is fascinating. It was a game of dice which caused a small tiff between Lord Shiva and Parvati as to who was the victor. An honest gana, Chitranemi, was asked to arbitrate and he decided in Shiva's favour. An angry Parvati cursed him to suffer from leprosy. When Shiva pleaded with her, she gave in and said the day women in the world observed Varalakshmi puja, Chitranemi would get deliverance. Chitranemi got relief when he observed some women performing the puja. Ever since then, this vratham has been observed.


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