For many families in Nagpur and elsewhere in Maharashtra, Hyderabad, Goa and even Karnataka, the highlight of the Ganesh festival is Gauri-Ganpati when the ‘Mahalaxmis’ come home for three days. (In Hindu mythology, any ‘married’ Goddess is referred to as ‘Mahalaxmi – as apart from ‘Laxmi’ – Goddess of wealth.)While Lord Ganesha is installed on ‘Chaturthi’ the Mahalaxmis arrive on ‘Ashtami’ are feasted on ‘navami’ and bid farewell on ‘ashtami’. In 2016, Gauri Avahan in on September 8, 2016. Gowri Puja is on September 9 and Gouri Visarjan is on September 10, 2016. But one significant difference is that idols of Gauris are never immersed – they are preserved for years together; some in Nagpur are over 150 years old and are handed down from generation to generation to family heirs. After the festival is over, they are wrapped carefully and stored away.
And no, unlike what many believe, the two idols are NOT Ganpati’s two wives Ridhi and Sidhi! Fable has it that two sisters of Ganesha, Jyestha ( elder one) and Kanishka ( younger one) come for a visit to mother’s place. Like all married daughters visiting parents, they are feasted and well fed. Though they are called Mahalaxmis, the idols are considered that of Goddess Gauri or Gowri. Another name for Goddess Parvati, the mother of Ganesha. But in Gauri Puja during Vinayaka Chaturthi in certain parts ofMaharashtra, Goddess Gauri is the sister of Ganapati. Arrival of Goddess Gauri in homes is said to bring health, wealth. So typically a Mahalaxmi feast – at least in Vidarbha – consists of 16 vegetables, 16 salads, many chutneys, wadas, kadhi and to eat all this with – puranpolis dripping with ghee! It is by far the most lavish ‘prasad’ of any festival in India.
To add to the meal, there is ‘Fulora’. Delicacies like Karanji, Anarasa and 3 other ‘mithais’ are hung in a circular ‘hanger’ in front of the idols.
It certainly gives a chance for ladies of the house to buy two new fancy sarees every year – to dress up the idols with, and then keep for themselves!
Many families in Nagpur, like Justice Bobde, Puraniks, Somalwars, Ashok Mankar etc. have had Mahalaxmi puja for over 100 years now. The continuity is not to be broken in any eventuality. All close relatives and friends are invited to partake of the feast on ‘Navami’. For the guests too, it is considered an ill omen to miss any such invitation that you have been attending.
As Sanjay Dahiwade, a resident of Raj Nagar says ” historically, Mahalaxmis were kept as a ‘navas’ – when something desirable happened due to worship – and that is why they are very significant. We have been doing this puja in our Dahiwade family for over 160 years now…”
The three-day festivity of Mahalaxmi, part of 10-Day Ganesh Utsav, commenced on Thursday with religious fervour. Households welcome Goddess Kanishta and Jyeshtha Gauri along with their children as one would welcome a daughter on a visit to her maiden home. The beautiful idols are installed at the house of Samrat Naresh Chavan in Ganeshpeth. The Chavan family is celebrating the festivity since the past 121 years.