Published On : Sat, Sep 10th, 2016

Mahalaxmi Puja – a celebration of Vidarbha’s prosperity. Where did we lose it?

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It was due to a loyal reader’s love that I, as Associate Editor of Nagpur Today was invited
by the Jahagirdar family of Nagpur to take ‘blessings’ of their Mahalaxmi and partake of the Prasad.
At 300+ years, it has to be one of the oldest Mahalxmi pujas of the city, carried on as an unbroken celebration by subsequent generations of the family. As the family recalls, their ancestor Rangrao Jahagirdar, who was ‘headman’ of town called Lapali near Hinghanghat began installing Mahalaxmis at home. Vidarbha was so prosperous then that families like his had Mahalaxmi ‘Mukhawatas’ (faces) made of pure, solid gold! Today, it is held in great great grandson Jayant’s place with all siblings attending.

These gold mukhawatas, were once stolen by marauding gang of robbers, but were given such a chase by villagers that they dropped the loot in some well and made good their escape. Since then the family began keeping mukhawatas formed in mitti. But beautiful, none the less!

” Gauri puja is done during Ganpati by many people all over the state, but it was only in Vidarbha that such lavish feasts were given for relatives and neighbors. We were agriculturally very rich, our soils fertile, our rivers perennially flowing and people generally well off. And so very hospitable and generous” says 90 years old Vijaya Jahagirdar, the senior most living member of the family. Prosperity may be no more but this Vidarbha tradition still continues. Why would they invite a complete stranger for prasad and feed her so lovingly?

Vijaya told me that this puja is really a story of two sisters – Jyeshtha, who is quite poor and Kanistha, who is married into a wealthy family. Kanistha visits her elder sister nonetheless to celebrate Ganesh Utsav with her. Jyestha can afford only a gruel of pounded jowar as prasad which she has cooked. But Kanistha’s arrival brings prosperity to the elder sister also and then the two sisters feast on a meal made of 16 salads, 16 vegetables, puran poli and wada bhat! But the pouded jowar, called ‘ambit’ to this day remains the main prasad.

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(Among the 16 vegetables cooked on this day 5 types of greens, main one being ‘Sepu’ and many types of gourds, including karela are cooked. Only brinjals are not made since this is chaturmas, and onions are avoided too).

The story of the two sisters has ironic symbolism for us in Vidarbha today.

We were the rich and affluent ‘Kanishkas’ – we brought prosperity to the rest of Maharashtra too by sharing generously of our wealth, our minerals ( coal) and our talented manpower. We made Jyeshta rich but lost everything in the process.

Will we ever recover our lost glory and prosperity?

Sunita Mudaliar
Associate Editor