Village woman in Bengal decorating her simple courtyard with Alpana.

Village woman in Bengal decorating her simple courtyard with Alpana. How exquisite!

Today is Lakshmi Puja in Bengal. And in many other parts in India. An auspicious, full-moon night.
We invoke and worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. But to many, she is actually the goddess who blesses us with fulfillment. And the fulfillment is not necessarily about wealth. It could be about anything you desire in your life: education, art, poetry, love, activism, movement for rights, justice, peace…
You desire something and you aspire something. And you work hard to achieve it. With your passion and hard work, Goddess Lakshmi is going to bless you with the final, divine touch, so that you can achieve it. That’s the idea. Nothing complicated.
At least, not complicated in my book. My religion is simple, sans the complexities.
Goddess Lakshmi and her companion the big white owl.

Goddess Lakshmi and her companion the big white owl.

It’s also called Kojagari Lakshmi Puja. The full moon day of Ashvin (sixth month of Bengali lunar calendar) is called Kojagari Purnima, a day when people stay up all night, observing fasts. The ceremony owes its origin to the Kojagari Purnima Vrat (hymns or slokas), dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Indra. I’m sharing a few photos I just stole from Facebook friends. They know who they are. I forgot.
Women fast more than men do. Women invoke Lakshmi with blowing conch shells and hulu-dhwani (ululation). Unlike the Durga or Kali puja, the worship of Lakshmi is a soft, subtle one. They beat the drum and beat the metal gong with the iron hammer, maybe, but perhaps only once or twice during the actual, peak hours of the puja ceremony, when the priest invites them to do it. Then, they read folk poetry, called Lakshmi Panchali, dedicated to the goddess and her divine deeds.
In Bengal, no religious ceremony is complete without a sumptuous food. But again, unlike Durga or Kali puja, the puja offering is totally vegetarian. Hand-made flour bread called Luchi, potato curry, and sweets dominate the after-puja meals for the devotees, and onlookers.
We used to organize community pujas when we were boys playing around on Calcutta streets way back when. We would go from door to door to collect small donations from neighbors. And then, we would stay up all night to celebrate, defying our parents not to catch a late-night, autumn cold.
Oh, was it fun! Especially the food part! Slurp, slurp, slurp…