The autumn festivity that had started with Durga Pujo, concludes with another much awaited Lakshmi pujo or more precisely Kojagari Lakshmi pujo for Bengali, that falls on Kojagari purnima or sharad purnima as known elsewhere in other parts of India.
But for Bengali’s, especially those who hails from erstwhile East Bengal (present day Bangladesh) this kojagari Lakshmi pujo was just more than religious observance. This was more about sticking onto one’s cultural heritage and traditions. Through which strive for cultural identity could be established amidst the natives, the stark differences in linguistic and cultural attributes had led to the “great ghoti-bangal divide”, and it would be interesting to know how the partition of Bengal, the refugee problems and economic marginalization has contributed to so much of this differences.
Fast forward to Seventy years later, this divide has become obsolete now almost and once popularized by East Bengal community, Kojagari Lakshmi puja is well adopted by everyone beyond the borders.
Interestingly, this is another time when the cultural attributes of each of the Bengali community is very much on display, while ghoti households worships Ma Lakshmi in form of idol, kojagari lakshmi pujo in bangal household altogether holds a different meaning.
Hailing from such family, I had heard stories from my Ma and grandma about elaborate preparations they used to do during Lakshmi puja in Dhaka. The preparation would be started a week before, guest would be invited, the entire clan would be assembled and this one day was much more than religious rituals. It was also the time for bonhomie, get together, music and time to get indulge in huge feast platter.
In our homes, usually Ma Lakshmi is worshiped in form of “shora” or “paut”, a red color clay disc on which images of goddess are painted by the artists. It would be interesting to note that Lakshmi shora usually has Ma Durga as central image and why it was so, I had no idea about it. May be because Lakshmi is considered as daughter of Ma Durga. Worshiping Lakshmi through the use of shoras entails a series of rituals that easily reveal its root link to an ancient agro-based culture. This tradition is still being followed in my home till the time my Ma used to do elaborate puja.
Nowadays, people had adopted the easier route and idols had replaced the shora in most of the homes. As a result this unique art of shora painting (only few artist are continuing this in Kalighat area) is dying and on the verge of extinction from West Bengal, however it is resurrected and revived as a traditional art form in Bangladesh.
Apart from Shora, there is another unique element to Bangal Lakshmi puja, the banana boat.
Banana boats are made of banana stems and its fibers, completed with mast and decked up with colorful flags. Unlike the rest of India, we worship goddess Lakshmi as “dhanya lakshmi”, for granary wealth and not as “dhan lakshmi” for monetary wealth. This difference in concept and ideologies are very much prominent between the two Bengali community even.
Though I am not a religious and ritualistic person, but I do Kojagari Lakshmi puja at home, purely because of this wonderful essence, the beautiful thought process underlying this tradition and secondly to continue with the cultural heritage and my quest for cultural identity amidst the melting pot of cosmopolitan culture. These are the way to connect back to your roots, to relive those soulful moments, that reminds us of our long lost ancestral homes.
In my home we usually do this puja as a Thanksgiving gesture. Thanking mother Earth for good harvest of paddy, bountiful of fishes and good trade.The banana boats are nothing but symbolic of trade ships as earlier people from eastern region were seafarers . Ships were loaded with paddy especially “Aush” that is harvested during this time, late – monsoon and is source of economic affluence of the people of this region. In kojagari pujo we fill the ships with paddy, five types of grains, cowrie shells (currencies in olden days) and coins, etc. These are symbolic of good fortune.
Alpona is another important aspect of any auspicious rituals in Bengali homes. Be it wedding, pujo and other such rituals, alpona must be drawn on altar, on floors or on chowkis or pidhi. The motifs are mostly floral designs and are drawn to welcome / or to invoke the goddess. For Lakshmi pujo, the motifs are usually ears of husk of paddy (dhan er chhora), lotus (icono-graphically associated with Lakshmi and symbolic of purity and beauty), feet of Lakshmi, owl and other floral motifs. Traditionally it is drawn with fingers (fingers are used as brush) and rice paste as paint. For pujo, one must bath and cleansed herself before drawing the alpona.
Now a days this dying art is still being practiced by few, for community puja and grand celebration it is being replaced by the acrylic paint. It may be convenient for some to use the acrylic stickers without going through the meditating process of drawing alpona and where everything matters nowadays on hashtgas of instant life, for insta generation, but for me I still love the traditional approach to it. You don’t have to be an artist to draw alpona, just unleash your creativity and follow your own thought process, the spontaneity that it brings is truly beautiful, in every essence of it.
Kojagari Lakshmi puja or any pujo in Bengali community is always followed by a lavish feast or “bhog” that is prepared in sattvic (without onions- garlic and other ingredients) manner and is offered to Goddess. The feasty divine platter usually consists of murir moa (puffed rice balls), til er naru (black sesame seeds laddoo), narkel naru (coconut jaggery laddoo), murki (candied popped rice) and bhoger khichuri, labra labdar tarkari (mix vegetable), tomato khejur (date) chutney and payesh or payasam. This is the usual fare without which Lakshmi puja bhog looks incomplete.
Luchi / poori, cholar dal/ chana dal, chanar dalna / paneer curry are additional entities to give a feasty look.
Basic rituals of Kojagari Lakshmi puja – Since I can not source many things required for typical Bengali Lakshmi puja, here are some of the rituals, I am including only those that makes sense to me and in modified version.
To appease the Goddess and to seek her blessings in your life, all you need is pure and clean heart and nothing else.
However, here are some of the rituals –
After drawing the alpona, follow these procedures.
Light a dhoop and lamp and the incense will purify the atmosphere around the house. Not only that, you will feel good about it.
Arrange the bhog specially black sesame ladoo, payasam and coconut laddoo on the left side of the Goddess. These three are considered as essential bhog prasad for Lakshmi puja. Arrange rest of the bhog on the left side only.
Apart from bhog, five types of whole fruits are also offered to Goddess, this usually include the seasonal varieties like apple, pomegranate, mausambi and pomello (batabi lebu). Do not include banana here.
One dozen banana on single bunch is also needed for the puja.
On a separate plate, a mound of popped rice (khoi in Bengali) and dry dates are also offered. Popped rice denotes prosperity.
Lakshmi ghot – ghot or brass / clay pot filled with water. First you need to mark the ghot with sindoor / vermilion and draw a swastik. Bengali swastik sign is different from commonly perceived image of swastik.
Place that ghot on mound of paddy or rice grains. Place mango leaves on the ghot (usually five mango leaves from a mango tree that bears fruit). Place shriphal usually coconut and banana are considered as shriphal. In Bengal it is usually green coconut or daab with stalks. Many also draw swastik on green coconut. Cover the fruit with red cloth or gamcha. You can place flowers or garland over it. It is believed that Ma Lakshmi resides in the ghot during puja.
Now on a pooja chowki / pidhi covered with a clean and decorative cloth, place Lakshmi idol or image there. Decorate with flowers, garlands etc. Place five betel leaves and nuts around it. Each betel leaves accompanied with a betel nut.
In a small container put sindoor and chandan /sandalwood powder. Apply that to goddess as bindi before starting the puja.
Other things that I follow –
Adhibas dala – a cane basket containing sindoor, alta, sugandhi / perfume, conch shell bangle, iron bangle, red abir, oil, turmeric, swastik pituli, yellow thread, flowers, rice, cowrie shells and coins.
Panchshashyae / or five grains- this mostly contains five ancient grains containing rice akshata (without broken grain), yellow mustard seeds, black sesame seeds, paddy grains, wheat / or mashkalai
Panchamrat – mixture of five foods used during puja and this is prepared with ghee, honey, jaggery (liquid), curd and milk
Madhuparka – practice of offering honey to the deity, this is prepared with ghee, honey, curd and milk.
Lakshmi Puja Mantra – for oblation and offerings made to goddess, place holy basil leaves on each and everything that is being offered to goddess. While doing the puja, chant this mantra –
” Namostestu Maha Maye, Shree padmeye, sura poojithe, Shanka, Chakra, Gadha hasthe, Maha Lakshmi Namostute II”
Pushpanjali mantra (Bengali version from panchali) –
“Om namosteh sarv devanam barodasi haripriye I
Ja gotistangm proponanam sa meh bhurvartah darchnaat II”
Pranam mantra (Bengali version from panchali) –
“Om vishwarupasye bharjaysi padme (padde) paddalaya shubhe I
Sarvatah pahimaan devi mahalakshmi namostute II”
Arti with panchapradip – This aarti ritual literally purifies the atmospheric air. It symbolizes our dedication and oneness with the goddess. It also symbolizes removal of darkness by true spiritual enlightenment.
At the end of aarti, burn a camphor or karpur and offer it to deity. Camphor when burns itself out, it leaves no residue and spread sweet fragrances in the air. It symbolizes the act of devoting yourself to the divine power and like camphor, free your mind of arrogance, ego and other negativity that surrounds you and spread goodness around you and light of knowledge to other’s lives that touches theirs.
The heady scent of dhoop and incense, the melodious chant of mantras, pushpanjali, the divine sound of conch shell, the sparkle of lamps, perfume of camphor, bright flowers, holy basil and the feasty platter ushered a spiritual moment in our daily mundane life and filled us with hopes, peace, love and positivity.
Hope you have loved this article on Bengali version of Kojagari Lakshmi Puja
Stay blessed awlays