Goddess Lakshmi and Bengal Art

The Rig Veda says that Lakshmi is the goddess of ‘Sri’- grace and ‘Aishwarya’ – affluence. But ‘Tittiriya’ mentions that the king Aditya had two wives – Goddess Sri and Goddess Lakshmi. And Sri was born from a butterfly, which is mentioned in ‘Shtapoth’. Goddess Lakshmi is the wife of Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha and the mother of Kamadeva. In some other ‘Shastra’ or mythology, she is Sita – the wife of Rama and the wife of Krishna in the form of Rukmini. When Lord Vishnu was born as Aditya, Lakshmi was in the form of the lotus. Devi Lakshmi took  the form of earth when Lord Vishnu assumed the incarnation of Parasurama. On the other hand, according to the Puranas, Lakshmi was born in the womb of ‘Khyati’, the wife of Maharshi Bhrigu. According to another, the goddess is born from the left side of the body of Paramatma. After birth she divided herself into two parts at the command of the Paramatman; left part is known as Sri Radha.

Lakshmi Sara

It is said that once Sage Durbhasha gave a garland of Parijat flowers to Indra. But at that time, Devaraja was engrossed in the beauty of Rambha and did not show enough respect and put the garland on the head of his elephant Oirabat. And Oirabat, while playing with it, tore the garland. Immediately Durbasa Muni got angry and cursed Devraj Indra that Indrapuri would become Lakshmi-less i.e., it would lose the grace. Goddess Lakshmi had to leave heaven after this. Heaven lost the grace and affluence. The goddess was then born as the daughter of the Sea. The gods realized that heaven would become impassable if it continued like this. After much discussion, arrangements were made to churn the sea. The gods on the one side and the demons on the other. While churning the sea, Goddess Lakshmi came up from the sea with lotus in her hand. But trouble started again. A quarrel broke out between the gods and the asuras to get Lakshmi on their side. At that time, with much relief of Indra, Lord Vishnu took Goddess Lakshmi as his wife under the guise of Maya. Heaven again became graceful and affluent.

Goddess Lakshmi has come to this mortal world in many forms, as ‘Tulsi’ – the holy Basil, once a mare and once as ‘Vedabati’- the woman who knows Veda. Once, Lord Vishnu’s head fell off due to the curse of Lakshmi.

There is the mention of another goddess – Lankalakshmi, but we are not sure if this is another name of Goddess Lakshmi. But it is a known myth, that A Goddess, named Vijayalakshmi used to protect Brahma’s treasury in Swargapuri. But once seeing the negligence in her duty, Brahma Dev cursed her that she should spend her life as the guardian of Ravan’s Lanka. On hearing this, Vijayalakshmi begged and apologized. Brahma calmed down and pardoned her. He suggested a way to shed off the curse, that when Hanuman, the son of Pawan Deva, would come to Lanka in search of Goddess Sita, Vijayalakshmi should help him. Then she would be freed from this curse. When the right time came, she helped Hanuman and returned to Swargapuri in the form of Vijayalakshmi.

The veneration of Goddess Lakshmi on the full moon night of the month of Ashwin is called Kojagari Lakshmi Puja.

“Lakshmi becomes angry if one sleeps, one has to wake up to get her blessings,Otherwise, why does one stay aweke during Kojagar night?

Kojagar, meaning ‘ko’-‘ke’ – who, ‘jagor’ – Awake. It is said that one has to stay awake the whole night to worship the goddess. And one is not supposed to drink coconut water on this day. I don’t know why or what would happen otherwise.

The rituals of Kojagari Lakshmi Puja has a close connection with Bengal art. That is the Lakshmi of the ‘PAT’ painted on the earthen ‘Sora’ (Terracotta plate). This image of Goddess is painted perfectly, using earth colours. Artisans now a days use watercolors or other synthetic colors. These artisans are known as ‘Patua’. They continue to learn this technique of art through lineage. In Dhaka’s Lakshmi Bazar in Bangladesh, pottery was painted on clay and sold as ‘Lakshi Sora’. The artists were mainly residents of Jessore and Faridpur districts. ‘Patuas’ still make such pottery in Panihati in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. It is known that they came from Jessore mainly during the partition. This type of ‘sora’ is found in Kalighat, Lake Market, Golaghata and even Kumartuli in Kolkata. The ‘sora’ that the artists sell in the ‘Natun Bazar’ of Chitpur is called ‘Ganki sora’. Those who count fortunes, they worship this ‘sora’. The specialty of this ‘sora’ is that the image of the goddess is painted on a red background. Although it is not known much about the period of painted terracotta in the social life of Bengal, it has been in vogue for a long time before ‘Kalighat Patachitra’.

Associated with Lakshmi Puja is another wonderful painting of Bengal called ‘Alpana’. On this day, everyone at home, especially the ladies, put ‘alpana’ on the floor of house. Where did they learn Alpana? This tradition is usually learnt from the elders of the house. The artist Jamini Roy has used Alpana extensively in his paintings. This domestic art of Bengal has repeatedly appeared in his pictures. The use of Alpana in the paintings of artist Nandalal Basu is also noticeable. There is a trend of teaching Alpana in Visva-Bharati founded by Rabindranath Tagore even today.

Besides the above, ‘Sapta Dinga’ (Seven Boats) made with banana stem is also an example of creating wonderful art. This hand-made trade boat can be said to be the symbol of rich Bengal. Grain in the boat hut; The goddess is worshiped mainly adorned with paddy, barley, kalai pulses, conch shells etc. ‘ Banijye basate lakshmi’- Lakshmi to sit in business. Grain was more important than money in the life of the citizens of Bengal. Ancient Bengal, especially in the Sen era, had very close trade relations with various countries of Southeast Asia, formerly Java and Sumatra. Even today in Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, the use of such boats made with banana stem in various festivals is eye-catching. So it is very difficult to say exactly whether its origin is in Bengal or in greater India outside Bengal. This is how the history of its ancient heritage is hidden behind the folklore of ‘Sonar Bangla’. We are still searching for it.

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