The festival of Sharad Pournima is celebrated with great joy and excitement all over India in varied forms and names such as Kojagiri, KoumudiMahotsava, NavannaPournima, Rasa Pournima and Kumar Pournima. Traditionally, it is considered as the birthday of Goddess Lakshmi in all parts of India. Alternatively, the celebration of the end of rainy season, newly harvested crops, and the brightness of the full moon light are the main highlights of this festival.
When is it celebrated?
SharadPournima is celebrated on the full moon day of the Ashwin (Asvij) month. According to Gregorian calendar it comes in the month of September or October. On the full moon day of the Ashwin month, the celebration of the festival starts from morning and it continues till mid night. But most of the celebrations begin after sunset.
Name of the festival
In the Hindu calendar, ‘Sharad’ is the name of a season. In the Indian subcontinent,‘Sharad’ is the transitional period between October heat and winter. On the other hand, full moon day is locally known as ‘Pournima’ which is the second part of the title. Hence, the name of the festival is quite apt as it includes the period (Sharad) and the day (Pournima) when it is celebrated.
Legend and Worship of Goddess Lakshmi
Sharad Pournima is considered as the birthday of goddess Lakshmi. Hence, the day is of prime importance in Hindu religion, where worshipping Lakshmi bears a special significance. The festival is mainly prevalent in Bengal, Orissa and Maharashtra.
The legend has it that, once a king fell on evil days and was in great financial disaster. His queen observed the situation and worshipped the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, being awake all night. Consequently, the king was blessed by the goddess and they regained their prosperity. Thereafter, the worship of Lakshmi became very popular on this day. On the day, goddess Lakshmi should be worshiped by reciting following verse from Dharmasindhu 150.4
yagatistvatprapannanamsa me bhuyattvadarchanat
Along with Lakshmi, God Indra should also be worshiped by reciting the following verse, also from Dharmasindhu 150.7
Poulomya lingitangaya sahasrakshaya tenamah
In the Indian state of West Bengal, worshipping Lakshmi on SharadPournima is believed to be extremely auspicious. In the regional language i.e. Bengali, the festival is known as ‘LokkhiPujo’ where ‘Lokkhi’ means goddess Lakshmi and ‘Pujo’ means Puja or worship. On the occasion, all Bengalis worship the goddess after the sunset - as evening is considered the time of arrival of goddess Lakshmi.
Some people worship the goddess at their home sanctum; while others perform their ‘Pujo’ in public places such as Lakshmi pandals and Lakshmi temples. In pandals, the terracotta image of Lakshmi is worshiped along with her vehicle owl. Owl is known as the elder sister of Lakshmi i.e. Alakshmi. Alakshmi is a well-known goddess in Puranic mythology as goddess of poverty, opposite to the nature of Lakshmi (Padma P. 6.118.4). People who worship Lakshmi at home perform symbolic ritual of worshipping Alakshmi. Mostly ShreeSutkta, hymn of goddess Shree Lakshmi from Rig-Vedais recited during the worship. It gives the citation about the exit of Alakshmi and welcoming of Lakshmi.
abhutimasamruddhim cha sarvamnirnuda me gruhat
(O Alakshmi, squalid with hunger and thirst, the elder sister of fortune, I repel you. Take away from my dwelling all sorts of poverty and misery.)
During the moonlit night of SharadPournima people remain awake and wait for goddess Laksmi to arrive and bless them with prosperity. Paayas (a sweet dish made up of milk, cooked rice and sugar) is the main offering to goddess Lakshmi. In Orissa, the neighboring state of Bengal, a similar idea of worshipping Lakshmi exists. In Maharashtra, the same festival is known as Kojagiri.
In Maharashtra, the celebration of Kojagiri festival is based on a famous legend. It is believed that on this night goddess Lakshmi visits from place to place asking “KoJagarti?” (Who is awake?), and showers prosperity only on those who are found awake. Hence people don’t sleep during the night and spend the night playing indoor games, singing and doing all amusing activities.
In Maharashtra, Lakshmi is worshiped during the midnight. On the same day, the moon is also worshiped. Masala milk (thickened milk with dry fruits), poha (rice flakes) mixed with milk are the main offerings of Lakshmi and the moon. Masala milk is prepared at night under moon light. In Maharashtra, the trend of honoring the eldest child is practiced on this day.
The festival period comes immediately after the rainy season. The rituals are performed to celebrate the end of monsoon and augmentation of a new season marked by the bright light of the full moon. Hence, Koumudi festival is also celebrated on the same day. The meaning of Koumudi is moon light. Mainly, it is for enjoyment of the dazzling moonlight. Therefore, the festival is celebrated by the people at night, in open courtyards of the houses, where direct moonlight is accessible. Mainly, they boil milk outside - in the moonlight - and offer it to the moon. A similar practice is noticed in Maharashtra which is mentioned above.
Again, during the KoumudiMahotsava, many people avoid seeing the full moon with their naked eyes; instead the reflection of moon is seen by them in a vessel filled with boiled milk. The most common practice is of keeping the prepared kheera (rice pudding), poha (Rice flakes) or sweets under moonlight throughout the night, distributing those as Prasad on the next day.
(Nirnayasindhu 285. 10)
(One should be awake in the night of the full moon day of Ashwin month.)
(Nirnayasindhu 285. 11)
(This day is also known as Kaumudi. One should celebrate it for prosperity.)
(Nirnayasindhu 285. 12)
(On the day of Koumudi, goddess Lakshmi, and godIndra, who is seated on the elephant, should be worshipped.)
(Nirnayasindhu 285. 12)
(Making fragrant the atmosphere, one should gamble to win.)
The day is also known as NavannaPournima. ‘Nava’ is ‘new’ and ‘anna’ is ‘food’ or ‘grains’. During the Sharad season, in the month of Ashwin, crops are newly reaped and fresh grains are available. Hence, tender grains are cooked and offered to god for the first time on the day of Pournima. These grains are cooked with milk in the form of kheera (rice pudding).
Hindus believe that Lord Krishna began his Raas Leela or Rasalila with Radha and the gopis on the night of SharadPurnima.
Lord Krishna performed Rasalila, a type of graceful dance, with Radha and Gopis in Vrundavana on the night of SharadPournima. Rasa Pournima is celebrated in memory of this mythical incident of Rasalila, especially by Vaishnavs. It is mostly celebrated in Gujarat due to the prevalence of Vaishnava cult in and around this region.
The season during this time of the festival is quite favorable; it is the end of the rain and all the agricultural work, there is good weather and cool atmosphere. The night is celebrated by performing Rasa-Garba (folk dance forms). People from Rajasthan deck themselves up with white clothes and silver ornaments on this day.
SharadPournima is well-known as Kumar Pournima in Orissa. Kumar who is also known as Kartikeya, the handsome son of Shiva, was born on this day. He also became the god of war and bravery. As young girls always wish for a handsome husband, they appease Kumar who is most handsome amongst the Hindu gods. But instead of Kumar, the sun and the moon are worshiped on this day. This is because of the curse of Kartikeya to his mother Parvati that he would never see the face of any woman for good.
The festival is predominantly celebrated by females. Married women fast for the wellbeing and prosperity of their family while unmarried women observe fast for getting blessed with a good looking and caring husband. In the early morning, the girls after their purificatory bath wear new garments and make food-offerings to the sun. They fast for the entire day. In the evening when the moon rises they again make food offerings of a special variety and take it after the rituals are over. All of them sing, dance and play a kind of game known as Puchi.
Worship of Goddess Pournima
In north India, on the day of SharadPournima, goddess Pournima is also worshiped. The goddess Pournima is the deity of the full moon day. She is worshipped by observing a fast. It is for the wellbeing of the family; husband and children. The legend narrates the story of two sisters.
There were two sisters who used to keep the Pournima (full moon) fast. The elder sister used to observe the entire fast while the younger sister used to observe it only in part. Because of this, the younger sister’s children used to die as soon as they were born. Following the advice of Brahmins, the younger sister observed the Pournima fast and followed it completely.
After some time, a son was born to her but he also did not survive. The younger sister put the body of the son on a stool, covered it with a cloth and invited her sister to sit on it. Unknowingly, the sister lowered herself on to the stool. As soon as she touched the body, the child came to life and started crying. Startled, the elder sister accosted the younger sister for making her commit a sin of killing the boy. The younger sister explained to her that it was because of the elder sister’s virtues obtained by worshipping goddess Pournima, the boy had been brought back to life.
It is considered that the moon and the earth are at a closer distance on the night of Sharad Pournima. The rays of the moon have several curative properties. It is believed that having food, which is kept in the moonlight, nourishes the body and soul. Hence food that is cooked is kept under moonlight on Sharad Pournima. It could also be due to this that the festival is celebrated at night - in open courtyards.
There is also a therapeutic reason behind consuming rice flakes with cool milk on this night. The Sharad period consists of two months of overlapping seasons when the summer is about to end and the winter begins. During the period, the days are warm and nights start to become cooler. This fluctuation in the temperature affects the body. According to Ayurveda, this is a perfect season for Pitta prakopa i.e. increase in the acidity level which causes several diseases. Having cool milk is the best remedy suggested for the Pitta prakopa in Ayurvedic treatises. Hence, people consume rice flakes with milk, masala milk and kheer, during night-time, during the festival.
Even tender grains are cool by nature and hence an effective remedy for the Pitta prakopa. Thus, the celebration has curative overtones.
India is the land of farmers. After the rainy season, this is the period of harvesting. The farmers have to protect their crops day and night. This practical reason is traced for the religious belief that whosoever is awake till late night is blessed by Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.
Eventually, celebrating the harvesting season by consuming tender grains also became an important part of this festival. Simultaneously, the concept of ‘get-togethers’ also began on Sharad Pournima to bring human beings closer to the society.
Thus, the day brings together two major aspects to the lives of farmers – prosperity promised by good harvests, and spiritual blessings from a divine power which oversees all human achievement and endeavour.
On SharadPurnima, girls wake up early, take a bath, wear new garments and offer food to the sun. They observe fast throughout the day and in the evening, when the moon rises, they again make special offerings, this time to the moon. They consume this offered food after the rituals are over. For girls, it is a festival to rejoice, dance and sing special songs.