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VARAMAHALAKSHMI VRITHA
By Mohan Shenoy

Varamahalakshmi Vrita festival is mainly observed to promote married women's interests. Being the wife of Lord Vishnu, Varamahalakshmi assumes powers to bless the married woman with the boons she wishes for, such as long life for her husband, fertility and prosperity.

Many men and women these days do not give importance to any one particular deity but worship all deities equally. Therefore in the houses where Lakshmi Puja is held, there is Gowri Puja is also held.Vaina Puja (worship of Vaina). The main item is the Vaina. Vaina consists of a coconut cleaned of its outer husk and fibers and then the shell polished to make it shiny. There is one Kumbha Kalasha, which is set up for goddess Lakshmi and another for god Vishnu. Kumbha and Kalasha are pots made of either copper or silver and containing sacred water. The water becomes sacred as soon as it is poured into the pot. When a coconut is placed on the pot's opening, Kumbha Kalasha becomes complete. These coconuts have to have their stalk fibres intact. The stalk fibres are situated at one pole of the coconut shell, like a shendi. Shendi is the tuft of hair on the top of head worn by Brahmins of yore.  Kumbha Kalasha adds beauty to the ceremony. There are many idols of different deities also arranged on the altar. The altar is a wooden platform or a low wooden bench. Lots of flowers and garlands are draped to the idols. Idols of Vishnu, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Shiva, Parvathi, Sharada, etc., are all worshipped together. In India the Varamahalakshmi Vrita is observed separately.

Puja consists of waving the lighted aarathi in the face of the deities. There are also Vaina coconuts that have to be shown the aarathi. Banana leaves form an important part of all Puja(s) at any home. Only the end pieces of the banana leaves are used. Each end piece is about 2 ft. in length. Such pieces of Banana leaves are used for keeping Puja implements on them.The banana leaf pieces are spread on the floor and then heaps of raw rice are arranged on them. The Vaina coconuts are placed on the heaps of raw rice. One Vaina coconut is placed on each heap. The rice heap stabilizes the coconut from rolling. On the top of the coconut a terracotta oil lamp is placed. Lamp is oiled and a cotton wick is placed in the oil with one end sticking out, which is lighted using a matchstick. About 30 such coconuts with lighted lamps are arranged on the floor over the banana leaf pieces, in front of the goddess Lakshmi's portrait. A priest, or a man in the house, or a married woman may perform the Puja. The Puja begins with Sankalpa. Sankalpa is literally determination. Here, determination to worship goddess Lakshmi and Vishnu. Next Achman is made. Achman is to clear the throat with a sip of water. Water is taken in the palm of the hand and sucked in the mouth, without regard to any sound that accompanies such sucking. The sucking might sound like drawing the last drops of the drink with a straw from a bottle.

The third item is wearing the Pavithra. Pavithra is a ring of the Darba grass. One end of the grass sticks out from the knot. Darba grass gives authority to the Pujari (one who performs the Puja) to perform the Puja. After this the twelve Gana(s) are remembered and invoked. Gana(s) are the chieftains of the universe. Ganesha is the chieftains of the Gana(s). By paying respects to the Gana(s) and the god Ganesha, the worshippers pray for protection from obstacles in the Puja that is yet to be performed. All these steps in the Puja are executed while the Vedic or Puranic Manthras (verses) are chanted. Only the priests know how to chant the Manthras. On the other hand any one who learns how to chant the Manthras can officiate as a priest. Only the priests and priest-likes can therefore perform the steps such as Sankalpa, Achman, wearing Pavithra and invoking the Gana(s). If the service of a priest or a priest-like is not available then these steps are omitted.

Now the goddess Lakshmi is invoked by reciting her names. There is a long list of names of Lakshmi, which have to be recited at the Puja.
VAINA PUJA SET-UP AT HOME
KALASHA AND ONE VAINA
VAINA COCONUTS READY
VAINA COCONUT WITH LAMP
VAINA PUJA PICTURES
VAINA COCONUTS AND DAARA
Puja performers other than the priest can recite these names by reading the book of procedure of Puja that is available in the Vedic bookstores. Vedic book stores are book stores that stock religious books. If the priest is attending to the Puja then he will recite these names for us.

In some homes a Homa (fire in which offerings are tendered) called Gana Homa is set up. The Homa adds value to the Puja. A priest can help set up the Homa. During the Puja, goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu are offered Naivedya (food prepared for the feast) by placing small quantities of every item prepared for the feast in small containers in front of the altar. The priest offers the Naivedya to the gods by waving a flower or a Tulasi leaf to the god and then dropping it in the container. This is done with every container.

A thread known as Vaina Daara (Daara=thread) with twelve knots is also worshipped along-side goddess Lakshmi. The Puja of the thread consecrates it. The married women put on the thread around their neck or they might tie it to their right wrists. At last, the Mangalaarathi (Mangal=final auspicious) is waved. To play music at the time of aarathi, someone will play the Jagate (a brass plate beaten by a drum stick.) and another person will blow the conch to produce the appropriate music. The Mangalaarathi is the final act in the Puja.

Always more than one coconut Vaina is to be worshipped so that there is at least one coconut to distribute to a married woman-relative friend. The Vaina coconuts are to be distributed immediately after the Mangalaarathi to those married women-relatives and friends who attend the Puja. By presenting the pujaised Vaina, to the older married women, a married woman will seek their blessings. To the younger women she herself gives blessings at the time of presenting the Vaina. The practice of blessing some one younger is a tradition in Hinduism. It is also a tradition to seek blessings of an older person. These are good traditions but a large number of young people do not think that giving and receiving blessings helps them in their life in any manner.

The expectation is that all the women will let her keep her married status intact and all will remain happily married without any jealousy or ill will. The receiving woman will respond by giving back a pujaised Vaina at a later date. She has to give a Vaina coconut that has been pujaised in her home. By returning a Vaina the woman confirms the mutual hopes and aspirations. There are some families that do not practice the Vaina Puja as a tradition. Women from such families can receive the Vaina coconut but need not return the gift.

The Tamboola or the betel leaves and nuts play an important part in giving and receiving gifts. Every Vaina is to be presented along with Tamboola (a pair of betel leaves and a few cut pieces of areca nuts). An article of gift is to be accompanied by Tamboola. (Continued in the next column).
Continued.
A gift given with the Tamboola gets separated permanently from the giver. The same gift item cannot be given back. If the receiver wishes to return a Vaina, then she cannot return the same Vaina coconut back. She shall reciprocate with a newly pujaised Vaina and Tamboola. However there is no rule that a Vaina gift has to be reciprocated.Some of the invited guests wish to perform Archana prayer to the goddess Lakshmi. They bring their own offerings such as the coconut, banana phonno, flowers, incense sticks etc. Banana phonno is a cluster of 5 banana fingers.

The priest will perform the Archana on their behalf to the deities. He will break the coconuts into halves, break the tips of the banana fingers, mount the flowers on the deities, and light the incense sticks. He will also pray the deities to grant the wishes of the Archana aspirant.

After the Puja it is time for a grand feast which is served to all the guests.

Names Lakshmi and Mahalakshmi refer to the same Goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi or Mahalakshmi has a definite character that differs from that of Gowri. Gowri does not indulge in financial affairs. Lakshmi on the other hand is the goddess of wealth. Lakshmi is the favourite goddess of merchants and she is worshipped specially in the shops and establishments on the day after Mahanavami festival during the Dassera.

(Concluded)
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