If you happen to be in Bengal five days after Dashami and find the markets flocked by Bengali fathers and grandfathers, accompanied by their children, searching for the best ‘Lokhi Thakurer Murti / Sora’ (The best idol of Goddess Lakhsmi) and various puja utilities such as the ‘Sheesh Daab’(green coconut with palm stem), you are witnessing the Bengali fervor of ‘Kojagori Lokhi Pujo’.
Bengal is land of many festivities, the largest one being Durga Puja, followed by Lakhsmi Puja, and then Kali Puja. In a land where a popular saying ‘Baro Maashe Tero Parbon’ (13 festivals in 12 months) stands true, and each festival is celebrated with great pomp and show, there Lakhsmi Puja is no exception. Lakhsmi Puja is celebrated by the Hindu community to worship the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Goddess Lakhsmi, wife and consort of Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi Puja is observed by different communities on different dates or tithis as per their calendar. In Northern India, the goddess is honored on Deepavali or Deewali. In Southern India, people celebrate Vara MahaLakhsmi puja. In Eastern India, Lakhsmi Puja is celebrated on Sharad Purnima, also called Kojagori Purnima, Nabanna Purnima, or Kaumudi Purnima. Hence, the festival is popularly known as ‘Kojagori Lakhsmi Puja’.
When it happens
Bengal celebrates Kojagori Lakhsmi Puja with great zest and enthusiasm on the first ‘Purnima‘ (full moon day) in the lunar month of ‘Ashwin‘ (mid-September to mid-October). This day falls exactly five days after Vijaya Dashami or Dussehra, the day which marks the end of Durga Puja or Navratri. This festival is not as commercialized as Durga Puja, and is celebrated privately in Bengali household.
Story behind the puja
There are many legends behind the origin of this puja, out of which the most famous one is of a king in Bengal who bought an idol of Goddess Alakshmi – the goddess of poverty, which was unsold for obvious reasons, to ensure that all goods produced by his subject craftsmen were sold in the market, else the king would buy the unsold items. Since, Goddess Lakshmi and Alaksmi cannot live together, and the king was no ready to throw the idol of Goddess Alakhsmi as it would be an insult to craftsman who made it, he placed the goddess of poverty in another room, separate from the goddess of fortune. But, eventually all gods and goddess abandoned the king and his kingdom which led to poverty and destitution. Thus, the hapless king sought advice from the Lord of Dharma, who was also planning to leave the king. The Lord advised the queen to perform Kojagori Lakshmi Puja Vrat. The queen obeyed the Lord’s advice and performed the puja on the full moon day in the Ashwin month. She meditated the entire night without sleeping. Her piety and worship was so powerful that the idol of Goddess Alakhsmi melted and the kingdom regained its prosperity.
The word ‘Kojagori’ means ‘the night of awakening’ and is derived from the question ‘Ko Jagorti?’ or ‘Ke Jege Ache?’ in Bengali which translates to who is awake? It is a common belief within the Bengali folklore that Goddess Lakhsmi descends on Earth on this day and goes around asking this question. Those who stay awake all night and worship the goddess pleases her and she bestows her blessings upon them. Thus, to attain the blessing from the goddess of fortune, this puja is always performed at night.
What happens on Kojagori Lakshmi Puja
The idol of Goddess Lakhsmi is made to sit on a decorated ‘aasan’(seat) and is adorned by flowers. Women and children of the Bengali household prepare ‘Prasad’ (a devotional offering made to the goddess). The prasad includes ‘luchi‘(hand-made flour bread), potato curry, ‘sooji halwa‘(semolina pudding), ‘semai‘ or ‘sewai‘(vermicelli pudding), homemade sweets such as kheer (rice pudding), narkel naru(coconut laddoo) gurer naru (jaggery laddoo), cooked and uncooked rice and pulses, fruits, and many more delicacies. The house is decorated with ‘alpona’ (hand-painted motifs created using a paste of rice and flour).On this day, the ‘paduka‘ (feet of Goddess Lakshmi) are painted which are drawn coming into the house and never leaving it. The symbolism of this ‘alpona’ is that Goddess Lakshmi or in other words prosperity must never leave the house. The priest who comes brings ‘Narayana Thakur’, the consort of Goddess Lakhsmi, and is welcomed by the pious sound of ‘shankh’(conch-shell), ‘kasor’(gong), and ‘ulu dhwani’ (ululation). The puja and ‘anjali‘ (ovation with flowers) is performed by reading the ‘Lakshmi Panchali‘(folk poetry dedicated to the goddess and her deeds), after which the priest is offered food and ‘dakhina’ (monetary and materialistic offering). The puja concludes after the priest leaves the house, and then the ‘Prasad’ is distributed among the people. Women observe ‘Kojagori Vrat’(fast) and breaks the fast with the prasad.
The Kojagori Purnima or Nabanaa Purnima also marks the commencement of the harvest season. Soon after monsoon, the fields flourish with ‘Naba-Anna’ (new harvest of crops) which symbolizes the harbinger of wealth and fortune. Thus, it is truly the time to thank, pray and worship Maa Lakhsmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity, and fortune.
So, prepare some good delicacies and hone your drawing skills to seek the blessings from Maa Lakshmi.