People of eastern Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Orissa worship Goddess Laksmi on Kojagori Purnima night — the full moon night in the month of Ashwin of Bengali calendar, just four days after Vijaya Dashami or Dusshera — the last day of the Durga puja in the month of October.
Incidentally Kojagori Lakshmi Puja or Kojagori Purnima coincides with the harvesting season which commences from this day when the harvested grains are consumed in households. It is also a part of harvest festival in the eastern India.
Kojagori Purnima also known as Sharad Poornima. It is basically a harvest festival that marks the end of the monsoon season and the onset of the winter season. Worshiping the Moon on this day is called the Kaumudi celebration. It is believed that on this day the moon showers elixir or Amrit on Earth through its beams. According to mythological stories, Kojagiri Purnima is a combination of 16 kalas — 1. Amrita 2. Maanda 3. Pusha 4. Pushti 5. Tushti 6. Rati 7. Dhriti 8. Shashani 9. Chandrika 10. Kaanti 11. Jyotsna 12. Shree 13. Priti 14. Angada 15. Poorna 16. Poornamrita. On the night of Sharad Purnima it is believed that the moonlight has magical healing properties and that is why it is known to shower ‘Amrit Varsha’ (Elixir shower).
It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth, and prosperity, visits every household on this full moon night and blesses them with sheer promise of wealth, fortune and good luck. It is also a common belief that in order to guide goddess Lakshmi to the households, residents lit up deep, earthen lamps on the terraces or balconies especially to show the path inside the house.
According to legends, once a king was in need of money and was facing financial problems. His wife observed fast and worshiped Goddess Lakshmi. In return, the goddess blessed the couple and they soon regained their lost prosperity and happiness.
Since it is said to be mandatory to worship Goddess Kali or Lakshmi after Durga Puja, most community puja organizers worship Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Purnima night to seek blessings and prosperity for the entire year and coming year as well. Houses and pandals are brightly lit and alpana (i.e. a paste of powder rice) is painted with designs and motifs or imprints of Goddess Lakshmi’s footsteps and her accessories as well are painted, a few items like her basket overflowing with grains, a lotus, her jewellery and other items. In several households, where idols are not available, residents worship a ‘’Paut ‘’ an earthen mould where images of Lakshmi is painted. Lakshmi is accompanied by her companion, the white owl, which is also considered auspicious.
Alpana is another important aspect of any auspicious rituals in Bengali homes. Be it wedding, puja and other such rituals, alpana must be drawn on altar, on floors or on chowkis or pidhi. Alpana refers to colorful motifs, sacred art or painting done on a horizontal surface on auspicious occasions in Bengal. The art typically has some religious significance. The motifs are mostly floral designs and are drawn to welcome/or to invoke the goddess.
This type of art is found on the Indian subcontinent. This practice of Alpana is believed to be coming down since the era of Indus valley civilisation; similar motifs are seen in pots and vases of Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
The word Alpana is derived from the Sanskrit alimpana, which means ‘to plaster’ or ‘to coat with’. Traditionally in Bengal, alpana is strictly white since the liquid paste used is rice powder mixed in water. It is drawn using the right finger of the right hand and only a specific set of motifs are drawn. There is no restriction on size, shape or measurement. The artist can display his/her creativity in drawing alpana with various combinations of motifs with varying shapes, sizes and placements.
For Lakshmi puja, the motifs are usually ears of husk of paddy (dhan-er chhora), lotus (iconographically 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.
In an effort to usher her in, outlines of her little feet are painted on the floor from the entrance to the altar. It is believed that meticulous aesthetic preparations make the goddess happy. Legend is, goddess flies over the earth, on the back of her white owl on this moonlit night and showers her blessings for prosperity and peace.
It is also a common belief that in order to guide goddess Lakshmi to the households, residents lit up diyas, candles, earthen or electric lamps on the terraces or balconies especially to show the path. Lamps are also lit to ward off evil spirits and devotional songs are sung in praise of Goddess Lakshmi.
It’s customary at our house to perform Lakshmi puja every Thursday and also on Kojagori purnima. After several years, all of us are at home on this day. It was nice that we all together performed the puja at our house. Judhajit drew alpana and outlines of the feet of the goddess with rice powder paste, while I made all other arrangements and performed the puja. Jagrata prepared the bhog.
Different items are offered to the goddess like a variety of seasonal fruits, raisins, grains, rice, naivedya prepared from milk products, homemade sweetmeats like murir moa (puffed rice balls), til-er naru (black sesame seeds laddoo), narkel naru (coconut jaggery laddoo), murki (candied popped rice) and khichuri-bhog with leaves of tulsi (holy basil) along with labra (mix vegetable), tomato khejur (date) chutney and payesh (rice pudding). Luchi (poori), cholar (chana) dal, chanar dalna (paneer curry), suji halwa are additional entities in the bhog.
I was reminiscing our earlier days. This puja used to be a grand affair at our house with lots of friends coming to our house to celebrate this puja and eat prasad at our house. Jaya & my mother used to prepare prasad and bhog for whole day.
After the puja is over, we had prasad — the offerings given to the Goddess. Then we went to our Maitraee Club in Ranchi for attending the Sarbojonin Lakshmi Puja at the club premises.
॥ श्री महालक्ष्म्यष्टकम् ॥
नमस्तेस्तू महामाये श्रीपिठे सूरपुजिते ।
शंख चक्र गदा हस्ते महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ १ ॥
नमस्ते गरूडारूढे कोलासूर भयंकरी ।
सर्व पाप हरे देवी महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ २ ॥
सर्वज्ञे सर्ववरदे सर्वदुष्ट भयंकरी ।
सर्व दुःख हरे देवी महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥३ ॥
सिद्धीबुद्धूीप्रदे देवी भुक्तिमुक्ति प्रदायिनी ।
मंत्रमूर्ते सदा देवी महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ ४ ॥
आद्यंतरहिते देवी आद्यशक्ती महेश्वरी ।
योगजे योगसंभूते महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ ५ ॥
स्थूल सूक्ष्म महारौद्रे महाशक्ती महोदरे ।
महापाप हरे देवी महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ ६ ॥
पद्मासनस्थिते देवी परब्रम्हस्वरूपिणी ।
परमेशि जगन्मातर्र महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ ७ ॥
श्वेतांबरधरे देवी नानालंकार भूषिते ।
जगत्स्थिते जगन्मार्त महालक्ष्मी नमोस्तूते ॥ ८ ॥
महालक्ष्म्यष्टकस्तोत्रं यः पठेत् भक्तिमान्नरः ।
सर्वसिद्धीमवाप्नोति राज्यं प्राप्नोति सर्वदा ॥ ९ ॥
एककाले पठेन्नित्यं महापापविनाशनं ।
द्विकालं यः पठेन्नित्यं धनधान्य समन्वितः ॥१०॥
त्रिकालं यः पठेन्नित्यं महाशत्रूविनाशनं ।
महालक्ष्मीर्भवेन्नित्यं प्रसन्ना वरदा शुभा ॥११॥
॥इतिंद्रकृत श्रीमहालक्ष्म्यष्टकस्तवः संपूर्णः ॥