Odisha, a state in India, worships Goddess Laxmi during the lunar month of Margasira. This occasion is related to cultivation and harvesting, as these, both are the main profession of the people of the countryside. In this month farmers who have worked hard in the fields for the few months, fill their barns with freshly harvested paddy. These farmers consider this festival as the grace and blessing of Goddess Laxmi and worship Mana filled with freshly harvested paddy as her icon. Mana is defined as a pot made of bamboo canes that are used in the old days for measuring paddy. Their belief is that Goddess Laxmi visits every house during Manabasa Gurubar and hence, the female members of the house perform this puja with devotion. For performing this ritual, Hindu Odia married women perform this, usually. Though the procedure for Manabasa Gurubar is similar to that of the Varlakshmi Pooja and Deepavali Lakshmi Pooja, their observance and the story are different. Women also observe wrath on this day called ‘Margashira Lakshmi Vratham’. This is also known as ‘Manabasa Gurubar Vrata.’
Legend of the festival
The legend of this festival is based on the ancient scripture named as ‘Laxmi Puran’. The untouchables were not allowed to pray, worship, and do rituals to God during ancient times. It was at that time, Shriya who is a scavenger low caste woman, dared to pray and worship and appease the Goddess, who visits her then. The performance of this act angers Balaram, who is the elder brother of Jagannath, and she turned out of Jagannath Temple, Puri. This happened because he was angry with Laxmi. It was declared that she had been contaminated by him and ordered his younger brother to not let her in.
She was evicted from the temple, therefore. The Temple of Puri is one of the four most sacred places of pilgrimage (Dham) for the Hindus. By encouraging the untouchables too, for conducting rituals and worships, the Goddess is shown the door for ending discrimination on earth. When she leaves the temple, she curses her husband and elder brother in law, by saying that they would have to go through a prolonged ordeal without food, water and shelter. These brothers trace the catastrophe to the rejection and disrespect of Laxmi. This curse of Laxmi has a severe impact on both the brothers for twelve years and they had a tough time.
During that time, they learned the concepts of contamination, and impurity made no sense to the Goddess of wealth. Food would satisfy without discrimination for the hunger of all, let it be a sweeper, a king, or a God. They realize soon enough, her importance, and Laxmi agrees to return on one condition that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed on earth. The Purana raised voice against the evil practice of the untouchability in society. It stressed on the importance of feminism and empowered the females to resist the male hegemony.
The main features for Manabasa Gurubar are
- A clean house: According to beliefs, it is said that Goddess Laxmi loves a clean house. So, all women have to clean their houses before performing the puja.
- Jhoti Chita: The women make a beautiful Jhoti Chita after the house is cleaned. Made from rice paste, a piece of cloth is surrounded with a stick that is used to create beautiful Jhotis. Using these Jhotis, different shapes such as flowers, mainly lotus flower, and the feet of Goddess Laxmi are done by the women.
- Manda Pitha: It is a rice dumpling. Also known as a steamed pancake, this dish is prepared during some of the main festivals, which include Manabasa Gurubar.
- Khatuli: It is a low table. It is usually used by the women to spread the newly harvested paddy grains for the puja. After this, the Mana is filled with these grains and is placed on the low table.
- Maha Laxmi Purana: Most of the women read the Maha Laxmi Purana, which was written by the ancient poet, Balaram Das while performing the puja. The puja is incomplete without reading Maha Laxmi Purana.
- Red and white combination saree: New sarees in the combination of red and white are worn by the women, for the puja.
The rituals happen in the following order
- Washing the floor and decorating it with Jhoti painting of rice paste.
- Spreading some newly harvested paddy grains of white color on the Khatuli.
- Filling Mana with these grains and placing it on the Khatuli.
- Washing three betel nuts in turmeric water and placing them on the Mana dhana.
- Decorating the place with vegetables, flowers, and colored cloth.
- Invoking Mahalaxmi with the lamp and incense and offering three meals in the puja.
- Reading out Maha Laxmi Purana while performing the puja.
During the earlier times, when people used to live in kutcha houses, the women cleaned their houses and smeared these walls with cow dung, as it is believed that Goddess Laxmi never visits a house which is untidy. The practice is regarded as the ritual of purity though it has a scientific significance- by smearing cow dung, it keeps harmful and deadly insects, reptiles and germs away from houses. This is based on religious beliefs also. The theory is relevant to Chita, also. But, the practice of this ritual is gradually losing its importance by the increase of rapid urbanization and the changing of the modern lifestyle.
Varieties of Odia delicious food items are prepared during Manabasa Gurubar. Some of them which are included in this are Kanika, Manda Pitha, Saga Bhaja, Chaula Kheeri, Chakuli Pitha, Chitau Pitha, Kakara Pitha and Dalma. These are the traditional cuisines which are served as the three time offerings to the Goddess Laxmi.
In the Purana, it touches three very important issues of the society namely casteism, cleanliness and feminism or women empowerment. This gives the guideline for the women to perform their duties and responsibilities, sincerely. The Purana also describes the social structure and gender inequality persisting in society, raising their voice against the evil practices of untouchability and stresses the importance on female power to resist male hegemony. We should recognize our women have their choices and should not be tied down by patriarchal beliefs and traditions that sim to keep women enslaved to the authority of men. All of us should take this opportunity to look within ourselves by delving deeper and realize their real spirit and it would actually mean keeping up our great Indian tradition, by not following the mere rituals