When the Sun is in Kataka (Cancer in the Zodiac), in the month of Shravana, on the Friday of Shukla Paksha (Bright fortnight) the Varalakshmi or VaraMahalakshmi vratha is performed.
Lakshmi and Varalakshmi: Lakshmi is the goddess of not just fortune. She is श्री, “Shri” “Sri” or “Siri” the consort of Vishnu and source of his power and preservative function. She is the repository of all virtue, excellence, dignity, intellect, beauty, grace, splendour, prosperity, majesty, royalty, and wealth.
Lakshmi is described and depicted as enchantingly beautiful, sitting or standing on a lotus and holding two lotuses, one in each hand. Her other two hands are usually in “Abhaya-Hastha” and “Varada-Hastha” poses. The Abhaya-Hastha pose, where the palm of the right hand is seen with the fingers pointing upwards represents “protection” and the Varada-Hastha pose, where the palm of the Left hand is seen with the fingers pointing downwards represents “boon-conferring”
Her four hands by themselves symbolically signify her divine power to grant the four पुरुषार्थ (Purusharthas) of human life – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.
The different hues in which she is depicted are also deeply symbolic. If her complexion is dark then she is Vishnu’s consort, when she is golden-yellow, she is the supreme source of all wealth, prosperity, and happiness, when she is white and pristine, she is prakriti the all pervasive nature herself – that prakriti from which springs the universe with its animate and inanimate beings. When she is rose-coloured or peach in complexion she is the compassionate mother of the Universe.
She is also the “power of multiplicity” depicted as the one supreme goddess manifesting in different forms with eight of these aspects being most popular and depicted in popular iconography:
- Aadi-Lakshmi (The Primeval Goddess) or Maha Lakshmi (The Great Goddess)
- Dhana-Lakshmi or Aishwarya Lakshmi (The Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth)
- Dhaanya-Lakshmi (Goddess of Food Grains)
- Gaja-Lakshmi (The Goddess flanked by two elephants; the provider of “cattle wealth”)
- Santana-Lakshmi (The Goddess of Progeny)
- Veera-Lakshmi or Dhairya Lakshmi (The Goddess of Valor and Courage)
- Vidya-Lakshmi (The Goddess of Knowledge)
- Vijaya-Lakshmi or Jaya Lakshmi (The Goddess of Victory)
Varalakshmi specifically is the compassionate, wish-fulfilling mother of the universe. Two of her hands hold a lotus each and her other two hands are in the “Abhaya-Hastha” and “Varada-Hastha” poses.
Varalakshmi Vratha: There are several stories that talk about the origins, the significance and importance of the Varalakshmi Vratha:
Story-1: Shyama Bala was the beautiful daughter of King Bhadrashravas and his wife Surachandrika. Shyama Bala was married to emperor Maladhara. Once Goddess Lakshmi visited Shyama Bala’s mother Surachandrika in the guise of a poor old woman and tried to explain the procedure and importance of the Varalakshmi vratha. Surachandrika insulted Lakshmi (who was in the guise of an old woman) and Lakshmi walked away and with her so did all the riches of the household of Surachandrika and Bhadrashravas.
Lakshmi then went to Surachandrika’s daughter Shyama Bala’s house who received Lakshmi (in the guise of an old woman) with great regard and heard from her with devotion the methodology and significance of the Vratha and derived the benefits of the Vratha. When she learnt of the poverty stricken state of her parents, she sent them a pot of gold but even that did nothing to alleviate her parents poverty – It is perhaps (my conjecture) this that has given birth to the practice of invoking the goddess in a “Kalasha” or pot. Finally Surachandrika accepted her mistake and started the annual Varalakshmi vratha and regained her lost prosperity and happiness.
Story-2: Once Lord Shiva and Parvati were playing a game of dice. When the last dice was thrown, Pravati claimed victory. Shiva disputed her claim and asked Chitranemi one of the “Shiva-Ganas” to be the arbiter. Chitranemi was partial to Shiva and therefore declared Shiva the winner although in reality Parvati had won. An infuriated Parvati cursed Chitranemi declaring that he would lose his place amongst the Shiva-Ganas and live a lifetime as a leper. Shiva, interceded on Chitranemi’s behalf and requested that Parvati forgive Chitranemi as this was the first time he had uttered a lie and that too on Shiva’s behalf. Parvati relented and told Chitranemi that he would be released from the curse the day he witnessed the “divine damsels” observing the Varalakshmi vratha. Chitranemi suffered from leprosy for long. He started living on the banks of the Tungabhadra, waiting for the day of his liberation. One day he saw a few divine damsels come to the banks of the Tungabhadra and asked them who they were and when he learnt that they were “divine damsels” who had come to the Tungabhadra to observe the Varalakshmi vratha. Chitranemi requested that he be allowed to watch the Vratha. As prophesied by Parvathi, Chitranemi was cured of his leprosy.
The Vratha: When the Sun is in Kataka (Cancer in the Zodiac), in the month of Shravana, on the Friday of Shukla Paksha (Bright fortnight) the Varalakshmi or VaraMahalakshmi vratha is performed. The goddess is invoked typically in a Kalasha or pot (silver, copper, brass). A mango leaf-bunch is placed around the mouth of the pot and a coconut smeared with turmeric is inserted into the mouth of the pot. Over this an icon/image of the goddess made of silver is placed. This is followed by the Shodasha-upachara (16 steps) and Ashtottara-shatanamavali (108 names) puja. There are several videos and books that detail the puja procedure.
- Hindu Gods and Godesses; Swami Harshananda; Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai
- Sampradaya Vratha Puja Vidhi; A.R. Parthasarathi, Dr. Kethu Ramachandrashekar; GIRI Trading Agency Private Limited.