It was great to have people over after two years
Every year, August is special because it brings with it the Varamahalakshmi festival. It is my favoritest festival. Why? Because mom and dad used to celebrate it in a very grand way. I’ve grown up being super involved in this festival and having streams of friends and relatives coming home in the evening. Naturally, I have to keep the legacy alive!
The last couple of years were a bit sad because we couldn’t have anyone over due to the pandemic. Grateful that we got some respite this year.
For me, festivals are not so much about the rituals but about gathering together with friends and family. My mom used to say that in the olden days, social activities were disguised as festivals so that people could visit each other, prepare and eat yummy food, and generally make merry. She may have been right. It feels right to me. I enjoy having people over and filling my home with all the love and laughter that groups of people bring. My home feels warmer and there is a lot more positive energy all over after the Varamahalakshmi festival.
Varamahalakshmi Vrata is a festival that is celebrated in several parts of south India during the auspicious month of Sharavana. This usually falls in August per the Gregorian calendar. It is always on a Friday because Friday is the auspicious day for Goddess Lakshmi. The puja or worship is typically done by the woman of the house.
The day begins early with an oil bath (oiling the hair and washing it as part of the regular bath). Ideally, one is not supposed to eat anything until the puja is over. But there are some concessions :). For example, I drink a glass of coffee to make sure my stomach doesn’t complain much. No fun praying to God while the stomach is constantly clamoring for attention!
A lot of the prep work is done the previous night. The face of the goddess is usually made of silver and decorated with necklaces. People with more patience and enthusiasm go to great lengths to make the goddess look resplendent. I guess I am a bit of a minimalist, relatively speaking.
Goddess Lakshmi is placed on a silver kalasha or pot and held in place with coconut and mango leaves. The kalasha is placed on a bed of raw rice. After the festival is over, the rice is used to make a sweet dish (sweet pongal).
In the morning, after the ritual bath, more decorations are added and the actual puja begins. We got super lucky and two brahmakamala flowers bloomed the previous night. We managed to preserve it and place it on either side of Lakshmi. It was amazing to celebrate the festival accompanied by the heady perfume of home-grown brahmakamala.
In the good old days, when I was a little kid, and mom and dad took care of everything, a pujari or priest would come home at the appointed time to help us conduct the puja. There is a window of time during the day when it is best to invoke any of the Gods. Many nails were lost as we chewed on them waiting for the pujari to show up within the window to help with the festivities.
Nowadays, pujaris are a rare breed. Apparently, several of them have migrated to prosperous temples in the US. So we make do with recordings available on YouTube. God bless YouTube.
After all the prep work, we found the recording on YouTube and started the actual puja. It takes about an hour from start to finish. During this time, one of the rituals involves offering freshly made food to the goddess. Each God has their favorite food items. Lord Ganesh, for example, loves kadubus and modakas. Lakshmi is not that much of a foodie. I made badam milk and ambode (crispy fried lentil balls with added spices).
This was followed by yummy lunch on plantain leaves.
Soon after lunch, it was time to get ready to welcome the guests we had invited over. One of the customs during our festivals is that we invite women over and give them arishna (turmeric) and kumkuma (vermillion) to apply on their forehead. This is considered very auspicious. In addition, we usually give something called tambula — a coconut, 2 betel leaves, betel nuts, and some flowers. My tambula also had a packet each of a sweet (jangir) and a savory (boondi) item. I call it my festival goodie bag!
I barely had enough time to drape my saree and comb my hair when the guests started arriving.
From that point on till about 10 pm, the house was crawling with people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There were relatives, school friends, college friends, work colleagues, and people from the apartment complex where I live. It felt like a true festival. All the lights were shining bright, there was animated conversation everywhere, and a billion photos were clicked. This!
This is the best part of the entire festival for me. People. Laughter. Love. Food. Fun. I feel the true meaning of the festival when the house is abuzz with the people I love and I see them smiling and having a good time. That is what a festival is all about!
So much detail and no photo of mine? Not done. So here it is 🙂