Odisha is known for its rich tradition, cultural grandeur, architectural excellence, scrumptious cuisines and of course for its unique festivities. People from foreign countries usually associate Odisha with Rath Yatra although Odisha hosts as many as 13 festivals in a year. Festivity not only works as mood booster, it characterises the culture and ethnicity of a society.
In this context, Manabasa Gurubar deserves special mention. With some of the special rituals attached to the festival, this festivity adds bright colours to the landscape of Odisha’s cultural heritage. Though women irrespective of caste and creed do this puja every Thursday of Margasira month, many of them are unaware of the fact that it is a festival of women empowerment, social harmony, and caste equality. With the beginning of the first Manabasa Gurubar, OTV sneaks a peek into the essence and significance of the festival...
Manabasa Gurubar festival is held on every Gurubara (Thursday) in the month of Margasira which is the 8th month of the Odia calendar. The first Manabasa Gurubar falls just right after Kartika Purnima. It is believed that Goddess Lakhmi only visits clean houses. On those days, women wake up early and clean up their houses, removing dirt to keep their house spick and span. The homemakers decorate their houses with jhoti chita which is created with a liquid paste of raw rice. They usually draw Lakhmi pada (feet of Goddess Lakmi) and lotus flowers on floors, walls and doorsteps of houses to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.
Then women invoke Goddess Lakhmi. Earlier when people used to live in mud houses, womenfolk used to clean their houses and smeared the walls with cow dung. Nowadays, women have stopped using cow dung thanks to rapid urbanization. The Goddess is offered different kinds of bhogs on every Thursday of Margasira month. The Goddess is offered bhogs such as Kanika, Dalma, Saga Bhaja, Kheeri, Dahi Pakhala, Budha Chakuli, Kakara, Matha Kakara, Bara, Chhunchi Patra Pitha and Khechudi. On the last Thursday of Manabasa Gurubar, the Goddess is offered Manda Pitha and Kheeri. However, women doing this puja are advised not to share bhog of Goddess Lakhmi with outsiders.
Going by the legend, on one fine day Manabasa Gurubar Goddess Lakhmi visited the home of a scavenger woman named Sriya Chandaluni after being pleased with her devotion. However, Goddess Lakhmi made Lord Balaram angry due to her visit to Sriya’s house. She was later asked to leave the Sri Jagannath Temple. Before leaving Jagannath temple, the Goddess cursed her husband lord Jagannath and his brother Lord Balaram to suffer without food and water. Both Lord Jagannath and his brother had to suffer for 12 years due to Maa Lakhmi’s curse.
They realised their mistake and brought Maa Lakhmi back to their home. However, the Goddess Lakhmi returned to Jagannath’s abode on one condition that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed on earth. The 15th-century text Lakhmi Purana written by Balaram Das is the first text against the practice of untouchability and caste discrimination while speaking about women empowerment.
What NRI women say...
Living out of India, it’s hard for women settled in foreign countries to follow such traditions. Though it’s still difficult to find several authentic ingredients and items that are inevitable for the puja, women keep up with our customs which is the hallmark of Odisha.
Odish-born Pabitra Mallick who resides in Singapore said, “As an Odia woman, I love preserving our cultural legacy. It is also imperative for us to look beyond, to find out and understand its real essence. I do Gurubar Manabasa so that my children will stay connected with our culture and tradition. By doing this, I just want to pass on these values to our next generations and the society at large. Though all sort of ingredients are not available here, I manage doing puja with whatever stuff available here.”
Born and brought up in Bhadrak, software engineer Amrita Sahu is now settled in California. Despite being a busy bee, she never feels tired of doing Manabasa Gurubar. “Being an Odia, I am proud of our culture and tradition. No matter where I am, I always make sure to do my bit for my culture. And when it comes to Manabasa Gurubar, it always brings back all the sweet memories of home, especially of the times when I was young. I used to draw footprints of Goddess Lakhmi everywhere despite being scolded by my mother. I eagerly wait to welcome Goddess Lakhmi. Following my culture always gives a sense of pleasure and satisfaction.”
Neelam Meher, who is settled in Australia, said, “It’s a matter of pride for me to take birth in a state like Odisha which is the abode of Lord Jagannath. Many times my fellow Odia neighbours laughed at me for doing Manabasa Gurubar puja in a foreign land. But I did not pay heed to their comments. Because I truly believe in the lines ‘Matrubhumi Matrubhasa re mamata ja hrude janami nahin..... Taku jadi gyani ganare ganiba agyani rahibe nahin’ penned by renowned poet Gangadhar Meher. So I never feel bad about following my culture and tradition no matter where I am. After all, my culture and tradition are sources of my existence.”