Festivals of India: Kojagari Pournnima

Also known as Sharad Purnima, Kumara Purnima and Navanna Purnima, the festival of Kojagiri Purnima will take place tomorrow. Kojagiri Purnima is a harvest festival celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu lunar month of Ashwin which is around September to October, marking the end of the monsoon season. It is said that Kojagiri Purnima is the day when the moon is seen with all the sixteen kalas, which are the different phases of the moon. It is also called Kojagiri Lakshmi Purnima as the day is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi.

On this auspicious day, many divine pairs like Radha Krishna, Shiva Parvati, and Lakshmi Narayan are worshipped along with the moon and are offered flowers and kheer, a sweet dish made of rice and milk. Deities in temples are usually dressed in white signifying the brightness of the moon and many observe a full day of fasting on this day.

Kojagari Purnima is all about the observance of the Kojagara Vrata or fast. People perform this Vrata under the moonlight after fasting for the day. Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, is worshipped on this day as it is believed to be her birthday. Lord Indra, the God of Rains, along with his elephant Airavata is also worshipped. It is believed that on the night of Sharad Purnima, the raas which is a form of dance of Radha Krishna also takes place along with their gopis or attendants. To participate in this divine raas, Lord Shiva takes the form of Gopeshwar Mahadev. Vivid descriptions of this night are given in the Brahma Purana, the Skanda Purana, and the Linga Purana. It is also believed that, on this full moon night, Goddess Lakshmi descends on the earth to watch the actions of human beings.

People usually stay awake at night to celebrate the festival and special pujas are offered to goddess Lakshmi and it is believed that the moon is close to earth on this day. Many sages believe that the moonlight on this night have healing power and is beneficial for mind and soul. As the rays of the moon are said to have curative properties, people come out of their house at night to soak in the moonlight. In many regions, sweets like kheer are prepared on this day and are left under the rays of the moon. These sweets are consumed and distributed later as prasad. In some regions, people do not see the moon directly on this night. A vessel is filled with boiling milk and the reflection of the moon in that vessel is seen. This is also the day to begin the Purnimasi fasting for the year. This fasting is observed by newly-wed women.

This day is celebrated differently in different parts of the country. In Odisha, on this day which is celebrated as Kumar Lakshmi or Lakshmi Puja, unmarried women keep fast with the popular belief of getting their suitable groom. This festival starts with maidens welcoming the Sun God at sunrise with a coconut-leaf-made-vessel called kula filled with fried paddy containing 7 fruits including coconut, banana, cucumber, betel nut, sugar-cane and guava followed by an aarti. In the evening they break their fast by preparing a dish containing the fried paddy of the morning along with the fruits, yoghurt and jaggery to offer to the Moon God in front of the tulsi plant. After this maidens play games and sing songs under the light of the full moon. It is one of the most important festivals of the state and is dedicated to Kumar or Lord Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva. According to legend, this was the day when Lord Kartikeya engaged in battle against a demon called Tarakasur. Although the day is dedicated to Kartikeya or Kumar, there are no specific puja or rituals for him. Some people light 108 lamps for the puja. Traditionally, cool milk and rice flakes are consumed on this night.

In Bengali households, the festival is widely celebrated as Lokkhi Pujo. On this day, devotees of Goddess Laxmi observe a fast to please the deity by waking up early, preparing delicious bhog or offering filled with fruits and the delicious payesh and offer these delights in the grand puja conducted in the evening. The ritual of drawing beautiful alpnanas which is a special type of rangoli and paduka or the feet of Goddess Lakshmi is also common in several Bengali households. It is believed that Goddess Laxmi loves these artful decorations and enters the homes of devotees which are clean and beautifully maintained. The alpana and the Goddess’ feet are drawn using a special type of paste made of powdered rice. In Hindu mythology, Goddess Lakshmi is said to symbolise wealth and prosperity and her feet are always shown coming into the house, symbolising Goddess Lakshmi’s entry and presence inside the house.

In Mithila, an offering of paan or the betal leaf, makhana or fox nut, batasha or sugar crystals and kheer or payas which is a milk sweet is made specially for the diety. These delicacies are kept out in the open overnight so that they are bathed in the pious Sharad Purnima moonlight also known as Amrit Barkha or the nectar rain. The occasion is also believed to hold immense significance for a newly wedded couple. People clean the courtyard and decorate it by drawing elaborate rangolis using rice flour paste and the household Gods are place in the courtyard and worshipped. It is an important festival for the newly-weds where the house is decorated by the new bride and the newly-wed couple spend the night playing games with other family members. The new bride’s family sends new clothes for the couple and the in-laws along with a big basket filled with items like silver pennies or tortoise or fishes, cardamom, threads, sweets and Mithila paintings. Another ritual followed is that people keep spicy food out along with a small amount of a sweet dish with a larger serving of the sweet dish kept inside. This practice is based on the belief that the Alakshmi brings bad luck and she likes spicy food, whereas her twin sister, Lakshmi brings good luck and likes sweet dishes. So the people keep spicy food outside for Alakshmi to have her fill and go away without entering the house. A small portion of the sweet dish is kept outside the house to invite Lakshmi to invite her in for a larger serving and stay inside. Goddess Kali is also worshipped in some parts of the Mithila region.

In Maharashtra, the family’s eldest child is honoured on this day. In many parts of the Gujarat, garba, a form of dance with many people takes place in the presence of the moon light.

There are several stories and legends associated with Sharad Purnima or Kojagari Purnima. According to legend, Goddess Lakshmi pays a visit to homes and showers blessing on those she finds awake. The word Kojagiri means one who is awake.  In one legend, there was once a King in the eastern part of the country, who promised his artisans that he would buy any object that remained unsold. One artisan made an idol of Alakshmi or the Goddess of Poverty. Keeping his promise the king had to buy the idol and soon misery struck his kingdom. The erstwhile prosperous kingdom was in deep peril, when someone advised the queen to observe the Kojagari Lakshmi vrat on the full moon night of Ashwin, and do the Lakshmi puja as per the rituals. Soon, the kingdom won back its lost glory and established itself once again.

The festival is also known as the Kaumudi celebration where Kaumudi means moonlight and it celebrates the divine Ras Leela of Lord Krishna with gopis. According to another popular legend, the divine ras leela was performed by Krishna along with his consort Radha and the gopis of Vrindavan on Sharad purnima. It sis said that the gopis were woken up by the sweet music from Krishna’s flute. They sneaked out of their homes and came to the forest where they danced with Krishna on the night of Sharad Purnima. Krishna replicated himself to dance with each one of them. On this night Krishna showered bhakti raas on Radha and the gopis. The day is also celebrated by lovers. Couples express their love for each other on this night of full moon.

While they fast, the people also sing devotional songs praising the deity asking her to take shelter in their homes. The devotees break the fast at night by taking some parched rice or chiwda and milk. One can consume milk, coconut water, kheer, dry fruits and fresh fruits while fasting.

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