Today is Varalakshmi Pooja - 20th August 2010
The Hindu festival going by the name 'Vara Lakshmi Vratha'
is celebrated on the Friday before the full moon in the Tamil Month 'Aadi'
which corresponds to the English months of July-August. It is a festival to
propitiate the goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, one of the Hindu
Trinity. Varalakshmi is one who grants boons (Varam).
Lakshmi is symbolic of eight forces - wealth (shrI),
earth (bhU), learning (sarasvati), love (prIti), fame (kIrti), peace (shAnti),
pleasure (tuShTi), and strength (puShTi). Each of these forces is called a
Lakshmi, and collectively they are known as ashTa lakshmi. Worship of
Varalakshmi is rendered equivalent to the pUja for ashTalakshmi. Since She
is ever ready to grant boons to her true devotees, she is usually referred
to as "vara lakshmi".
The rituals of worship during the Varalakshmi Vratam differ from region to region in south India, but they all have the same basic format. The performer begins the day with a holy purification bath, and wears clean clothes. The arena is decorated with kolam (rangoli). A geometrical design known as mandalam is then drawn on the clean surface of the floor (with the picture of a lotus upon it). A sacred pot (kalasham) is filled with pure water and rice (akshata), topped with a bunch fresh mango leaves, and a coconut (unbroken, with its kudimi on) smeared with turmeric powder is placed atop. Also, sandal paste and kumkumam are applied to the kalasham, and a cloth is tied around it before placing it on the mandalam. Some people further beautify the kalasham with a picture of Varalakshmi drawn on it and decorated with jewels. Then, Goddess Lakshmi is invoked. Fresh flowers and grains are used in the worship, indicating growth and prosperity.
After performing the initial worship of Lord Ganesha (seeking removal all obstacles), prayers are offered to the kalasham. A toram (which consists of nine threads and nine knots) is tied to the Goddess. Then they worship the thread (raksha). Now the main worship of Lakshmi begins, with a second worship of the sacred Thread. Finally, it is tied around the right hand of the performer. Prayers in the form of Lakshmi Ashtottara shatanAma and sahasranAma are then chanted. Another sumangali is then chosen, and she is offered auspicious articles as gifts and food. The function concludes with the singing of several hymns and songs in praise of Varalakshmi.
There are several varied legends associated with this festival. Goddess Parvathi once asked Lord Shiva to recommend her a vratam, which would be beneficial for the womenfolk on earth who seek prosperity. Then, Lord Shiva preached her about Varalakshmi Vratam (as mentioned in Skanda Puranam). To illustrate the sanctity of this vratam, Lord Shiva then narrated the story of one Charumati (of Kuntinapura in the Maratha desham). Charumati was a true pativrata (devoted to husband in all sincerity). Pleased with her true and undivided devotion to her husband, Goddess Lakshmi appeared in her dream and advised her to undertake the Varalakshmi Vratam on the auspicious day of shrAvana shukLa shukRa vAram. Charumati performed this pUja with utmost devotion, the same day, in the dream itself (mAnasIka pUja). The next day she narrated this dream to her husband, and with his full consent, to all other women folk in town. On the auspicious day, she did not fail to perform Varalakshmi vratam as prescribed to her by Goddess Parvathi. Then some miracles took place. As the womenfolk stepped out of the house, they saw all houses decked with riches and gold, and a golden chariot awaiting them outside Charumati's house. Everything seemed bountiful! Ever since, this Vratam has been regularly performed in households.
Another legend is that a person by name Chitranemi was once cursed (to become a leper) by Parvati for showing partiality toward Lord Shiva in a game, in which he was the judge. Chitranemi got shApa vimochanam (relief from this curse) when he watched with great attention, the Varalakshmi Vratam performed by some pious ladies.
Legend also says that this Vratam was later conveyed by sage Suka to Shaunaka and other sages. There are numerous varying legends too.
Courtesy: Inputs from Ganesh L