Mahalakshmi Pooja

The morning after establishing Mahalakshmi and her children in our home, the panditji (priest) came to lead the ceremony to invoke the spirit of the Goddess into the idols. My husband and I performed the pooja (prayer) wearing the same outfits we wore for our wedding ceremony, with the house full of family, friends, food and flowers.

mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival panditThis festival is a really special one for my family and only celebrated in east Maharashtra. I have heard so much about it since meeting my husband, I knew it was really special for everyone.

Just as we did for Lord Ganesh, we invoked Goddess Mahalakshmi with mantras, sacred leaves and flowers. We touched their hearts and with our own breathe, blew life into the beautiful idols.

mahalaxmi love saree paithani ceremony marathi

Strings of mogra (jasmine) buds in my hair, aren’t they beautiful?

heart touching hinduism Goddess Meanwhile, during this long pooja, forty-eight dishes (yes, forty-eight!!!) were being prepared by the other women of the house, There will be a point when I have to learn to cook these dishes to carry on the tradition, I should start taking notes next year!

The mountain of food was placed before the Goddesses and their children, this made the food prasad, prasad is food which is blessed. It wasn’t long before guests arrived to eat a blessed lunch and take the darshan (seeing the auspicious image of God) of Mahalakshmi. 

mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival mahalaksmi pooja foreigner festival purple sareeVisiting Lakshmi’s from other families (eldest daughter-in-laws) were celebrated and given gifts. As the Lakshmi of our family, I performed the special gift giving ceremony which involves applying haldi (tumeric) and kum kum (sindoor) to their foreheads followed by pouring four hand fulls of rice and a coconut into their laps. Some brought gifts to give to the Mahalakshmi and performed the same ceremony infront of the idols.

8 mahalaxmi

The traditional Marathi look!

7 mahalaxmi

Real lotus flowers, absolutely gorgeous

The next day, sadly Mahalakshmi had to go home, with another pooja her spirit departed. I put my right hand to each of their chests and held my heart with my left hand as Grandma chanted Sanskrit mantras. She was gone, with a heavy heart, the idols were dismantled and put into the wardrobe where they would wait until next year.

Grandma separated yellow strings which had been placed with Mahalakshmi during the pooja. They were tied around our wrists (on the left hand of women and right hand of men). The sofa which had been sitting on our terrace to make room for Mahalaksmi, had to be put back and the house looked and felt normal again.

 

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Mahalakshmi Festival Begins…

On the first day of this three day Maharastrian festival, Mahalakshmi in the form of two sisters (Goddess Jyeshtha and Kanishtha Gauri) and their children, are welcomed into the home. Being the Lakshmi of the family (eldest daughter-in-law, bahurani) it was me who carried them in, this was really nervewracking as they were heavy, and the only thing I could think was, ‘for goodness sake, don’t drop them!’.

mahalaxmi mahalakshmi festival faces

Don’t drop them!

mahalaxmi mahalakshmi festival marathi

Welcoming the Goddesses and their children into our home

I carried the faces (mukhotas) into every room of the house to invoke the Goddesses presence into the home, except for the bathrooms, she didn’t really fancy going there. The Goddesses and their children stood on the carpet I brought back from Morocco, dressed in two of my mother-in-laws most expensive sarees, and all the jewelry I own. But, like Indian women everywhere, less is not more, more is more, so the also wore every piece of jewelry everyone else owned too. Plus the bangles we bought for her especially.

dressing mahalaxmi festival mahalakshi marathi

necklace on mahalakshmi white and red saree silk

Once the sisters and their children were beautifully dressed, we wound string around their bodies for protection, and poured grain around them to create their own sacred space, described to me as their house. This grain house had a small doorway which I also poured grain over, oops, I quickly removed the grain apologetically, no one likes being locked in their house. I managed to get locked in my house once, it wasn’t pleasant, I kept thinking something would spontaneously combust and I wouldn’t be able to escape.

string around mahalaksmi

String for protection

mahalaksmi

I then made a complete mess of the symbolic footsteps, showing Mahalakshmi entering. After making the disastrous rangoli foots steps, which made it look like a mutant bird was walking into the house instead of the divine, grandma produced a nice foot step stencil. Oh darn, I’ll use that next year.

Please don’t laugh…

mahalaksmi

“footsteps”

foot steps rangoliOnce they were all dressed and settled in, we decorated them with flowers, lights and little lamps. I made sure there were some of my favourite, orange marigolds. They were now ready for the second day of the festival, where my husband and I invoked the spirit of Mahalakshmi into the idols. 

orange marigolds rose orange marigolds

mahalakshmi ready

festival selfie

My favourite saree, a gift from my husband

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Bangles for Goddess Lakshmi

Bangles are very important to Indian women, ‘married women should never have bare wrists’, my friend told me after seeing me bangleless. The next time I saw her she had sweetly bought me a beautiful set, which I have worn every day since.

Glass bangles are traditionally worn and even though it is very inauspicious to admit, I have accidentally smashed a couple, wearing two gold ones at either end usually protects the fragile glass ones.

You want to avoid breaking a bangle as it is seen as a bad omen, oh darn.

These glass bangles are difficult and painful to put on, there is a special knack to it. I thought it would be preferable to buy a bigger size but there is a traditional belief that the smaller, the happier the marriage. I wonder if that means women with big hands have unhappy marriages? Should we perhaps test this theory with a survey?

During weddings and festivals, lots of bangles are worn. It was quite the scandal when I didn’t wear many bangles during my wedding, so this festival season I will make sure I will not commit the same faux pas.

bangle shop in India

After getting a new head for Goddess Lakshmi for the upcoming Mahalakshmi festival, we had to buy her some new bangles. Bangle shopping is great in India, so many to choose from. So many styles and colours to choose from, each with their own meaning. Green bangles have a special significance in Maharashtra (fertility and prosperity), we bought some itty bitty glass ones with a couple of pearl bangles to separate them. They will look very beautiful, I am now extremely excited for this festival to arrive!

There was a small man sat in the bangle shop, who looked to be in his eighties. He had dark lined skin and wore a crisp cream shirt; his facial expression was very solemn, pensive and weary from a long life’s work. What struck me about this old man selling bangles was that his serious face was completely covered in multicoloured glitter, more glitter than a cabaret drag queen. I guess it’s an occupational hazard.

Lakshmi’s New Head

The Mahalaxmi, otherwise known as Goddess Lakshmi, festival is a festival the within Ganesh Chathurthi festival (the ten day celebration of elephant headed God’s birthday). Mahalaxmi is celebrated in Maharashtra, celebrating the Goddess and Maharashtrian women.

Our recent marriage meant that it was necessary to buy new heads for the idols involved in this festival. Sounds strange right? When the eldest boy of the youngest generation gets married, his wife becomes the Mahalaxmi of the family, bringing the family wealth and prosperity. She also performs the Mahalaxmi pooja (prayer), my husband is the eldest boy, so that wife is me…

Before me, my mother-in-law took charge of the festival and has done for twenty seven years (because she is the eldest daughter in law of that generation). When she was a newly wed, new heads were purchased and now, twenty seven years later, Mahalaxmi will get another new face. These new heads will be used every year until our eldest son marries (this is the tradition in our family, I am sure there are many variations among other families who celebrate). So, I expect these new heads will be used for many many… many many years to come. I wanted to make sure they were perfect.

Ganesh beautiful ghost white

To get to the ‘Mahalaxmi head shop’, we  had to walk into a maze of Ganesh ghosts. Narrow alleys of workshops, craftsmen hard at work preparing for Ganesh Chathurthi. It was a surreal and beautiful experience, I had never seen so many pot bellies in one place. I am excited to return next week, once the painting starts (this time I will bring my camera, these photos were taken with my phone).Ganesh festival in Nagpurganesh no ears

I couldn’t help but smile when we arrived at one of the several Mahalaxmi head shops, which were hidden behind the huge Ganesh workshops. The heads sitting in rows look creepy at first, but then become comical. Anyone with a phobia of porcelain dolls (I do actually know of someone with pediophobia), would run a mile.

Goddess Lakshmi's HeadWe needed four heads in total, two large ones and two smaller ones. Mahalaxmi enters the house as two sisters, elder and younger, accompanied by a daughter and a son. My mother-in-law will dress the elder Mahalaxmi and I will dress the younger one and we will wear sarees to match our respective Mahalaxmi sister.

mahalaxmi heads in a row

ganesh ganesh

The shop also had loads of gorgeous Ganesh statues

modern and traditional Ganesh

Modern (very cute!) and traditional styles

There are so many outfit choices for the idols, you can also get lots of jewelry including mini bangles, nose rings, necklaces and mangalsutras. The little girl in me is really excited about this.

lakshmi head party

The idols have a metal base, acting as a body, which will be filled with grain as a symbol of fertility and prosperity (mice have been known to make Mahalaxmi their temporary home because of this). The top half of her body is placed on top and finally the head is balanced on top of that.

lakshmi finished orange saree

A fully put together Mahalaxmi, next to a metal base body which will contain grains

body clothes lakshmi

Choosing a new face for Mahalaxmi was not difficult, even though they all looked quite similar. The one I chose looked exactly how I imagine Mahalaxmi would look, a soft face with big dark eyes. She kind of ‘spoke’ to me.

What do you think of her (on the right)?

old and new head of lakshmi

The old face on the left (27 years old) and the new face on the right.

mahalaxmi sisters marathi pooja

Here is last years Mahalaxmi celebration, I was still living in England at this point…

There will be lots of rituals, traditions and food during the Mahalaxmi festival. I am excited to learn more about this festival, especially as I will be playing a big part in it as the eldest daughter-in-law. The three day festival starts early next month, wish me luck!