Varalakshmi Vratam is an important pooja performed by many women in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and some parts of Tamil Nadu.The Hindu festival going by the name 'Vara Lakshmi Vrata' is celebrated on the last Friday of the bright fortnight in the month of Ashadha, also called Adi, which corresponds to the English months of July-August.
Eight forces or energies are recognised and they are known as Sri (Wealth), Bhu (Earth), Sarasvati (learning), Priti (love), Kirti (Fame), Santi (Peace), Tushti(Pleasure) and Pushti(Strength). Each one of these forces is called a Lakshmi and all the eight forces are called the Ashta Lakshmis or the eight Lakshmis of the Hindus. Vishnu is also called Ashta Lakshmi Padhi which is equivalent to saying that he is the asylum for the eight-Lakshmis or forces. In fact, Vishnu representing the preservative aspect of the universe, radiates these forces from him. These forces are personified and worshipped as Lakshmis, since abstract force is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary people. As health, wealth and prosperity depend upon the rythmic play of these forces, the worship of Lakshmi is said to be to obtain these three. Only a woman can sympathise with women. Lakshmi is a woman. So she will more readily sympathise with women. Hence this festival is observed largely by women, invoking the blessings of Lakshmi on them, their husbands and their children.
As the legend goes, this is a pooja that was pronounced by no other than Lord Parameswara to be performed by his consort Parvathi to seek prosperity and happiness for the family. Thus it came to be emulated by married women who sought boons (varam) for the health, wealth and knowledge for the entire family. In some cases, women prayed for being blessed with children. The prescribed day for the pooja is the Friday of the month of Sravan in the fortnight known as Sukla paksha, preceding the full moon day.
This pooja can be done with no restriction to caste or creed. To this day, the faithful of modern times observe this tradition.
Similar pooja is done by South Indian Iyengars, called Karadaiyan nonbu/ Vrat sometime during the month of March. I am writing about Karadaiyan Nonbu for we are Iyengars.
Karadaiyan Nonbu is observed in remembrance of the Satyvan – Savitri legend. A princess, Savitri through her unparalleled devotion saved her husband, Satyvan, from the clutches of death. This legend is very popular in India and there are several other observances based on this legend like the Vrat Savitri Puja.
Savitri Nonbu Vritham is observed at the exact time when Masi month ends and the Panguni begins
On the Vratam day married women fast and break the fast by eating the Karadai preparation with butter. The preparation is known as Karadai nombu adai - the festival takes its name from the unique Kara Adai dish. It is believed that Savitri cooked such a dish and offered it to Lord Yama along with unmelted butter as a sort of thanksgiving for sparing her husband’s life.
Another important ritual is the wearing of the Kaaradai nombu saradu, which is a yellow thread, around the neck.
"Uruqadha Vennayam oru adayam vaithu nonbu notren oru nallum en kanavar piriyamal iruka vendum" Meaning I partake this prasad and tie the yellow thread, around my neck with the wish that I am never separated from my husband even for a day. Even young girls should wear this thread on that day to get the blessings of God.
I must mention, that we end up celebrating the various festivals because of my maid Mary. She is a Christian, married to a Hindu. She is a wonderful person who follows the festivals of both religions with great devotion and enthusiasm. She has lived in the Convent and has been adequately trained by the sisters, and, we feel we are blessed to have her working for us.
She is always pleasant, freely going about her work, sometimes bossing us, (which we don't mind), leaving no room for complaint, very trustworthy and honest. People who come to our house also like her very much.
We hardly celebrated any festivals, for us all days used to be the same, and even now it is the same, but for her sake we celebrate festivals.
Happy Varalakshmi Pooja to all!!
All other images are by Rama Ananth.