Editor’s note: We are delighted to feature this soulful account of the first Lakshmi Puja at Sri Aurobindo Ashram by Priti Dasgupta. Excerpted from her book titled ‘Moments Eternal‘ the description below is intertwined with her childhood memories of celebrating Lakshmi Puja in Bengal, making the narrative richer and more delightful for the reader.
The first Lakshmi-puja, like the Durga-puja, took place in the Ashram in 1944. This first Lakshmi-puja was most significant. For this puja too, the Meditation Hall and the staircase were decorated with all kinds of flowers. There was an abundance of Harmony flowers. All the walls were covered with these lacelike flowers. One couldn’t take one’s eyes off from the two halls. These were my favourite flowers in childhood as I was always greatly attracted to their delicate beauty. It was only after coming to the Ashram that I found out that the Mother had called this flower ‘Harmony’. These pink, white and red flowers would fill my heart with joy.
When I was a child I used to leave for school very early in order to pluck these flowers along my way. The garden in the S.D.O’s house was fenced with these flower-vines. This property was beyond that well-known tank called the Naveen Sen tank. Sitting in a boat on this tank Naveen Sen had written his famous book Amar Jeevan. He had come to Feni as the S.D.O. and got this tank excavated and deepened. Its surroundings were most beautiful. On one side stood two houses: the munsif ’s and a tribunal. On the other side were the S.D.O’s house and another tribunal in front.
There were all kinds of tall trees and flowers on this property. We felt we were in a dream-world here. Big Patience trees lined the boundary wall. Early in the morning the girls from the neighbourhood used to collect flowers from under these trees beside the Treasury house that was guarded by the police.
Gathering these flowers required indeed infinite patience and so I was surprised when I learnt on coming to the Ashram that the Mother had named this flower ‘Patience’. The neighbourhood girls made garlands of Patience and offered some to Lord Sri Ram and left some in Babaji Gambhirnath’s puja-room. I used to make garlands for my father’s deity. We knew that this deity was Sri Aurobindo but we did not know then who he actually was.
[. . .]
In Bengal on Lakshmi-puja day especially, the women covered the floors of their house, the puja-area, all the rooms and even the courtyard, with their exquisite alpana. Every house in every locality was adorned with alpana in order to welcome Ma Lakshmi. How could we invite her to stay in a place that had the slightest ugliness?
Sri Aurobindo has written in The Mother:
But all that is ugly and mean and base, all that is poor and sordid and squalid, all that is brutal and coarse repels her advent. Where love and beauty are not or are reluctant to be born, she does not come.…~ CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 21
We had heard from our elders right from our childhood never to close the door loudly because Ma Lakshmi would be displeased. Our things were to be properly kept, neatly washed or cleaned. Otherwise Lakshmi would leave the house and go away. We always had to be measured and harmonious in our actions, thoughts and feelings, true worshippers of beauty, otherwise Ma Lakshmi would not stay.
What sort of goddess was she, I used to wonder in amazement. How quickly she gets offended!
It was only when I read Sri Aurobindo’s description of Mahalakshmi in The Mother that I understood how much truth there was in what the elders said. My mother and grandmother and all the elderly ladies of the neighbourhood always said: “Don’t laugh loudly, especially at night, don’t walk with long, noisy strides. Do everything with beauty and measure.” Their nagging advice used to irritate me very much then. Now I feel: amazing! How did they know and understand the hold Mahalakshmi had over us?
Ranga-didima [maternal grandmother], mother’s jethima [elder aunt], was in charge of the provisions for the enormous Niyogi household. She herself stocked the rice, pulses, vegetables, spices, etc. required for the family. She would meticulously clean the pulses and cereals herself and store them properly. Though very young then, I used to help Ranga-didima. I enjoyed listening to her. While cleaning pulses or spices nothing that had fallen on the floor was thrown away but put back into the canisters carefully. I was quite astonished:
“Why are you picking this up? The canisters are full to the brim already!”
She always replied with a laugh:
“Do not waste even a single grain! Mahalakshmi doesn’t allow it. She abhors any sort of waste.”
These elderly ladies remembered the Mother quite unknowingly in different ways as they lived their lives. Probably this too is the Mother’s divine Grace.
Ranga-didima came to the Ashram two or three times. She even had the Mother’s darshan in Her room. She was very keen on getting the Mother’s charanamrita and so I told Nolini-da about it. As soon as Nolini-da told the Mother about it She touched some water with Her Feet and sent it to her. Naturally Ranga-didima was thrilled and with all her devotion drank this blessed charanamrita and shared it with all of us. In this way a long-cherished desire of mine too was fulfilled.
Once when this didima was coming away after the Mother’s darshan, the Mother gestured to her to come back. She held her by the arms and looked into her eyes for a long time. Then She gave her flower-blessing a second time. This was to be Ranga-didima’s last darshan of the Mother.
About a year after leaving Pondicherry she passed away. Probably that was why the Mother had called her back to give her a second flowerblessing. She had worshipped Ma Lakshmi all her life. How people follow the Mother’s guidance without even knowing it! And thus it was at Ma Lakshmi’s feet that she finally found refuge!
It is amazing how these ladies of those times, right from their childhood, were so detached from the world even though they respected all the rites and rituals of a Hindu family. She had understood at the very first glimpse of the Mother during the darshan that She was Mother Aditi herself. The Mother had heard her call.
The same thing happened in the life of my Mejo-mashima [second maternal aunt]. In 1972 she came with the ‘Pathmandir’ group and went to the Mother’s room for Her darshan and blessing. Everyone slowly filed past the Mother in a line. When our mashima (Naresh-da’s mother) got up to leave after the Mother’s darshan, the Mother bent down slightly and held her hand and pressed it gently.
It was quite an unexpected sight as the Mother had practically ceased all activity then. That is why this little gesture from the Mother was for her a sublime gift. How many times has she recounted with tearfilled, happy eyes this gesture of the Mother’s compassion!
I am always wonder-struck by the devotion, faith and love that these women had for the Mother although they had taken up the worldly life from their infancy itself. Their worship was not in vain as the Mother always remained very close to them in Her form of Ma Lakshmi. They always tried to incarnate Her in all their life’s activities by doing everything with beauty and grace.
Here is Sri Aurobindo’s description of this aspect of Mahalakshmi in his book The Mother:
Harmony and beauty of the mind and soul, harmony and beauty of the thoughts and feelings, harmony and beauty in every outward act and movement, harmony and beauty of the life and surroundings, this is the demand of Mahalakshmi.…
If she finds herself in men’s hearts surrounded with selfishness and hatred and jealousy and malignance and envy and strife, if treachery and greed and ingratitude are mixed in the sacred chalice, if grossness of passion and unrefined desire degrade devotion, in such hearts the gracious and beautiful Goddess will not linger.~ CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 21
Here the question of knowledge, wealth or riches does not arise at all. In Mahalakshmi’s vision even a very rich man might appear terribly destitute just as an extremely poor person might be in Mahalakshmi’s eyes very beautiful and rich provided inwardly he is generous and large-hearted.
Lakshmi-puja was celebrated with a lot of festivity in my mama’s [uncle’s] house (Pattagram Niyogi House). Each and every room of this huge house and the inner courtyard was decorated with such exquisite alpanas! Marvellous really! All of us, mashimas [aunts], mamimas [aunts] and we little ones participated in this. The ingredients were rice powder and sindoor. The little ones used to dot the flower-alpanas with red sindoor on directions from the elders. Sometimes we were fortunate enough to be allowed to draw the Feet of Ma Lakshmi. . . .
[. . .]
In 1944 on the occasion of the first Lakshmi-puja, the Mother came down in the evening to bless us. Milli-di, Bibha, Minnie-di and Gauri had beautifully drawn Ma Lakshmi’s feet right from the bottom of the staircase up to the Mother’s chair. Then Milli-di lit some earthen lamps and covered these with a terracotta shade that had a hole in the middle. All the electric lights were switched off.
In the soft muted light of the oil-lamps, the Meditation Hall had a marvellous, celestial glow. The Mother came down the staircase wearing a gorgeous, green Benarasi silk sari. Seeing the Mother in the midst of all those vines of Harmony my heart sang in delight!
The Mother had come down in Her aspect of Mahalakshmi. The Mother stepped on the alpana-drawn feet of Lakshmi and slowly came and sat in the chair. On seeing the Mother in this form, my mind flashed back to the time of my childhood when in radiant joy Ma Lakshmi’s feet were drawn out in alpana. It was beyond my wildest imagination then that one day I would have a vision of Ma Lakshmi Herself to my heart’s content!
Had I ever imagined that one day Mother Mahalakshmi Herself would step on the alpana-drawn feet of Ma Lakshmi?
Sri Aurobindo has written:
Magnetic is the touch of her hands and their occult and delicate influence refines mind and life and body and where she presses her feet course miraculous streams of an entrancing Ananda.~ CWSA, Vol. 32, p. 21
The memory of that divine moment still makes my heart dance. That is why the first Lakshmi-puja of 1944 was so significant for me. After 1944 on every Lakshmi-puja the Mother would come down but Her walking over the alpana-drawn feet of Ma Lakshmi happened only the first time. The Mother revealed Herself in Her Mahalakshmi aspect: what an incredible event that was on this beautiful earth of ours! And we were its blessed witnesses!
~ Design: Beloo Mehra