Lakshmi or the Goddess of wealth or corn , the Indian version of Ceres or Demeter, is widely worshipped in hindu households of India. In our childhood, soon after the big Durga Puja, Lakshmi puja always came with another bout of joy and mirth. Usually after the immersion of Durga, there had been an overwhelming sense of gloom hanging over us. The ‘para’ which had remained illuminated during Durga puja, suddenly looked pensive and a bit off colour. We had to go back to our studies which had so far been kept off our daily charts because of Durga puja. Devi Lakshmi would arrive then with a renewed energy of fun and togetherness. We had a grand ceremony of series of rituals in our ancestral house where my uncles and aunts and all brothers and sisters stayed. Mother and aunts would become busy at least two or three days before the actual day of the puja in making ‘ narus’ of various flavour and color. Some were made of coconut while there were others made of puffed rice. The process of making triangle shaped ‘namkins’ was also very interesting. On plates they were cut in shapes usually with the help of knives. Then they were fried. We used to roam around the kitchen and as soon as they were thrown into cane baskets for straining , we would manage to ‘steal’ a few straight from those baskets. We would get some ‘narus’ too and run to a nearby garden. Aunts and mother would yell behind us. Uncles would show mock anger and guffaw. We however would gather at the garden and savour those delicacies. The afternoon sun peeping through the leaves of trees would fall on us gently. The eldest amongst us would then tell us a story of adventure. We would sit and listen to that with avid ears.
The evening would allow all of us to gather at the verandah. While father and uncles would be having discussions upon various issues- from political scenario to football, aunts would be busy making arrangements for the puja. Copper utensils were scrubbed. Banana leaves were washed and cleaned and cut into proper sizes. Fruits were cut and chopped. ‘Khichuri’ was made. The smell of incense and camphor would fill the hall. Mother and aunts and sisters would dip cotton balls into rice paste and draw special decorative motifs or ‘ alpona’ on the floor of the house. Little foot marks were also drawn which were believed to be marks of Devi Lakshmi’s footsteps. The full moon which would surely rise on the occasion would lend an aura of silvery beauty around. We would wait for the priest or ‘purohit’ to arrive. While the holy man would chant his prayers, we would be waiting with all eagerness for the ‘puja’ to be over. For only after the puja we would be given the ‘prasad’ and then the ‘khichuri’ . After ‘dashami’ , Lakshmi puja would provide us with another opportunity to go to neighbouring houses and have sweets and ‘prasad’ there. The locality would remain abuzz with laughter of children, loud chants of prayers and ringing of bells and blowing of conch shells. Most importantly Lakshmi puja would weave a strong bond of togetherness amongst us.
And that surely was the greatest of all wealth.