Varalakshmi Vratam, propitiating the Goddess of plenty and prosperity, was observed and celebrated with devotional fervour in Prasanthi Nilayam on 31st July 2009. One thousand five hundred women from all over the world participated in the function held in Sai Kulwant Hall in the immediate Divine Presence of Bhagawan.
One of the most auspicious days dots in the Hindu almanac, Varalakshmi Vratam had its trails to Prasanthi Nilayam in the year 2000 when the festivity was celebrated for the first time in the Divine Presence. Ever since, the festivity has grown in stature earning a permanent place in the Prasanthi Calendar with thousands of women participating, propitiating blessings from Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth.
Popularly known as “Varalakshmi Vrata”, it is performed by married Hindu women on friday before the full moon day during the month of Sravana. The Vrata is performed more in the Southern part of India, especially in the states Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and also in some parts of Orissa and Maharashtra. Legend has it that this Vrata was suggested to Mother Parvati by Lord Shiva for wealth and prosperity.
On the scheduled day, the auspicious friday morning, Sai Kulwant was a scene of plenty and prosperity as 1500 housewives, shining in coloured uniform attire, assembled in the vast Sai Kulwant Hall awaiting to take part in the ritual. Assembled as early as at 7 am, it was a ‘perfect assembly’ wherein women participants joined the allotted lines with utmost discipline anticipating the Lord to come and bless the occasion.
The dais had a perfect setting with a mini temple of Goddess Varalakshmi having two idols forming the backdrop. A riot of flowers of various hues with buntings hanging from the top was heralding grandeur and auspiciousness of the occasion. Ashta Lakshmi, the symbolic representation of Goddess Mahalakshmi’s eight forces were also on display in front of the dais adding splendor to the impressive artistic decor enhancing the spiritual ambience at the venue.
Earlier the proceedings in the morning started with the regular Veda Chanting. Bhagawan who came at 9:40 and received with Poornakumbham to the accompaniment of Nadaswaram, took a detour to come on stage. The Veda chanting continued till 10 a.m. when Bhagawan nodded to start the proceedings of the ritual. The proceeding began with Bhagawan lighting the ceremonial lamp.
The items for the ritual includes Kalasha covered with mango and betel leaves filled with water symbolizing prosperity; coconut smeared with vermillion and turmeric powder will be placed on the Kalasha; a new cloth covered conically is placed on the coconut.
The ritual starts with the invocation of Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Next to invoke is Goddess Varalakshmi and proceed according to 'Sree Sukta Vidhana' with 'Shodasha Upachara' or 16 forms of ceremonial offerings to Goddess Varalakshmi while reciting verses from the Sree Suktam. Then they chant Lakshmi Ashtottara Shatanamam. Nine types of sweets as well as savories are offered to the Goddess. Hymns are sung in praise of the deity. Another woman is invited; who is considered to be Goddess Varalakshmi and sweets as well savories are offered. In Prasanthi Nilayam, in the Divine Presence, it is Sai Mahalakshmi who is adored and invocated as Varalakshmi during the rituals.
Commencing the proceedings with Ganesha invocation the Chief Priest gave a scintillating display of anchoring, detailing the procedures interspersed with commentary on the greater significance of the ritual in the Divine Presence. Propitiating Sai Mahalakshmi, praying for world peace as a universal common goal, he continued the proceedings breaking into a poem singing the glory of the attributelss Lord Shiva. Calling Prasanthi Nilayam verily the Kailasa, the Chief Priest commented that Lord Shiva with His consort and all the ganas are very much in Prasanthi Nilayam and it was our great good fortune to celebrate the auspicious occasion in the Divine Presence.
The ritual for the day commenced at 10:00 am lasted for forty-five minutes. The Chief Priest went on narrating the greater significance coupled with step by step instructions for the participants to proceed with the ritual. Bhagawan is the Silent Witness who confers His Blessings in most subtle way. Throughout the ritual He was onstage watching the proceedings silently. Upon the end of the forty-five minute long ritual Bhagawan went for a complete round of the ‘disciplined assembly’ blessing the participants.
At the end of the puja, the Chief Priest narrated the story of how the 'Varalakshmi Vrata' came in to practice: In Kailasa, Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva as to whether there was any form of worship that women could perform for fulfillment of all their desires. Then Lord Shiva suggested that by performing the Varalakshmi Vratam on the first friday of the Hindu month of Shraavana, a women could attain all her desires such as a long & happy married life, being blessed with children and grandchildren, leading a healthy & prosperous life dedicated to right living and spiritual growth.
After attaining these instructions, the ever compassionate mother appeaed in a dream of a pious lady by the name of Charumathi, instructed and guided her to perform the Varalakshmi Vratam. Upon waking up, she narrated the dream to her husband and her in-laws and they encouraged her to perform it. So Charumathi performs the vratam along with many other married women and they were blessed with all auspiciousness and prosperity.
After the story session, the ladies tied sacred thread on the right hand wrist of each other and exchanged prasadam and other articles of worship. The session concluded with Arati around 11am.
A sumptuous feast was arranged for all the participants in the South Indian Canteen.
Musical Concert by Anuradha Sriram
The evening was turned into a musical twilight with a scintillating classical rendering by well known carnatic vocalist cum playback singer Anuradha Sriram taking the stage, enthralling the Divine and the capacity audience with her touch of mesmerizing devotional numbers. Invoking Bhagawan addressibng Him as Father, acknowledging His omnipresence in her life as a guiding force, the singer said that it was a homecoming for her and it was her great good fortune to be in His presence singing her heart out for Him.
Matching the perfect ambience set up by the hallowed presence of Bhagawan, the celebrated singer matched her class with elan rendering a diverse collection of devotional numbers that lasted for seventy minutes. Singing both Carnatic and Hindustani, Mrs. Anuradha often crossed the language barrier rendering pieces from Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and even from Marati.
Starting with “Vatabhi Ganapathim” in Hamsadhwani, she moved on to “Marugelara…” followed by a special song on the occasion titled, “Ye Bhagyatha Lakshmi Bhagyatha…” invoking the presiding deity for the auspicious day with passionate calling… While M.S.Subalakshmi’s famous number on Bhagawan Sri Krishna “Kurai Onrum Illai Maraimurthi Kanna…” would have taken the Divine to the wonderful days of the illustrious singer singing in His presence, another number, Lataji’s original piece on Shirdi Sai, “Mere Sai Teri Murat Rahe Man Mein…” was a touching experience for the audience as the singer went ecstatic with Sai in physical listening to her passionate plea…She sang…”Tumhi Mere Maatha… Tumhi Pitha Hamare….” These numbers were received rounds of applause. A Thukkaram Abhang describing the beauty of Vittala in Pandarpur, a composition in Rudrapriya Raga on Mother Divine were the other numbers before signing off with the famous meera bhajan "Payoji Maine Ram Ratan Dhan"! The singer was accompanied by Sudheendra on the Mridangam Mrs. Nalina Mohan on Violin, Rajendra on Tabla and Puranik on Harmonium.
Bhagawan blessed the artiste with a chain and followed it up with sarees. Accompanists were also blessed with sarees and safari pieces. This was followed by a short stint of Bhajans by students before Manga Arathi was offered.