MANABASA GURUBARA AND PRATHAMA ASTAMI

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(Lightly it is said: Odisha is a State  where there are thirteen religious festival in twelve months.)

Today (December 3rd 2015) is  the first Gurubara of lunar month Margasira. It is also the krushna pakshya (dark fortnight) astami (eighth day) known as Prathama  astami. Thus, the day has dual significance. The entire countryside is  celebrating them in worshipping goddess Lakshmi and also idolising the eldest  child in the family Alongside the Prathama astami, another ritual is also  observed on the following day i.e. on the novami (ninth day). It is called Kanji aonlaosa.

Manabasa  gurubara: While  goddess Lakshmi is worshipped throughout the year, she is worshipped with  utmost devotion during Margasira month particularly on the Gurubaras known as  Manabasa or Dhana-manakia gurubara. The worship derives its name from mana1; an ancient measuring  device in the State. It has association with cultivation and harvesting which  were once the main profession of the people.

Worship of Manas
Worship of Manas
  Courtesy: Ms. Bijoylakshmi Sarangi

By the month Margasira, the farmers  toiling hard in the fields for the past few months fill their reeks and barns  with freshly harvested paddy. They consider it as the grace and blessing of  goddess Lakshmi and worship mana filled with freshly harvested paddy as her icon. It is further believed that  the goddess visits the houses of her devotees on all Gurubaras of the month to  ascertain how she is worshipped and to bestow her blessings. Therefore, on all  Gurubaras of the month Lakshmi is worshipped.

It is said  that the goddess does not enter a dirty or untidy house. Therefore, on the eve  of Gurubaras, the ladies of the household clean the house and decorate the  walls and floors with artistic chitas or jhotis in rice paste or solution. The following day, they get up early  in the morning and after purification bath wear alata (red dye) on their feet and sindura (vermilion) on the parting of their hairs in their  foreheads. Some wear new saris. They  keep upabasha (fast). Towards the midday, they worship goddess  Lakshmiand break the upabasha.

The procedure  is more elaborate on the last Gurubara of the month. The entire house is  cleaned. Since many of the houses in rural areas are of mud construction, the  walls and floors are mopped in cow dung solution. In case of pucca cement houses, cow dung solution  is sprinkled. It believed that cow dung solution sanctifies the place. Elaborate  designs of chittas and jhotis are drawn on the floors and walls  of the room for worship. The entrance door is decorated with a pair of banana  sapling and a pair of kalasha is  placed. They are considered auspicious and are placed on any important event. Miniature  foot marks from the entrance door to the room for worship are drawn on the  floor; symbolic of welcome the goddess. In short, the house is made ready to  worship the goddess.

Two, manas (one large and the other small) decorated with jhotis are filled up to the brim (often heaped above it) with  freshly harvested dhana (paddy) and muga (green gram) respectively. A pair  of red bangles, three betel nuts washed in turmeric water, few cowries2 (molluscs), vermilion  and flowers or flower garlands are placed on them. They are then kept on a pidha (small wooden pedestal) over the  central jhoti. It is usual to cover  the pidha with a piece of red cloth. A  bundle of freshly harvested paddy stock known in local dialect Dhana menta is hung over the manasor placed by their side. Many place an idol or image of goddess  Lakshmi by the side of manas.

Towards midday, the manas representing the goddess are worshiped with panchaupachara (dipa, dhupa, argha, puspha and naibedya).  Varieties of pithas (homemade cakes), khiri (sweet puddings) and seasonal fruits  are offered as naibedya (food  offerings to god). After all these are over, an elderly lady recites Mahlakshmi  purana (written by ancient poet saint Balaram Das) or Manabasa gurubara katha  and the family members listen attentively. The puranaor, the katha describes  the story of lord Jagannatha and his concert goddess Lakshmi and how Jagannatha  faced many misfortunes when he discarded Lakshmi after she entered the house of  a chandaluni (low caste women) Shreya  to accept her worship. The function then ends and the upabasha is broken. Worshippers partake naibedya.  Later, the dhana and muga in the manas are  threshed into chaula (rice)and jai (dal) and gheuti or jau (overcooked khechidi or salted porridge) is made  out of them. It is eaten by the family members as Lakshmi prasada/bhoga.

As it is believed that the goddess  visits the houses of her worshippers during the night, the worshippers keep  awake the whole night to welcome and worshiper. They spend the pre-winter night  reading and reciting Lakshmi purana and other scriptures. This is known as  Kojagari puja.

Prathama  astami: Prathama  astami is one of the popular festivals and is observed throughout the State.  Prathama in Odiya language means first or first born. On this occasion, the eldest  child is idolised and honoured. It is also called Podhua astami since in local  dialect the eldest child is called podhua.

Sathi mata (goddess protecting children  from all kinds of evils) is worshipped for the longevity and welfare of the eldest  child and he/she is blessed by elders of the family. The child is provided with  new clothes (usually by the maternal uncle) and sits before a kalasha and dipa (lighted lamp);usually on a wooden pidha (pedestal). Sandal paste and vermilion are applied on his/her  forehead. The mother or an elderly lady (grandmother, aunt etc.) performs the  worship and blesses the child wishing long life performing arati and sprinkling akshyata (rice grains) on him/her. A special type of pitha (cake) known as Enduri pitha (also known  as Haladi patra pitha) is prepared and offered to Sathi mata. The pithasare made from rice and gram batter  are wrapped in turmeric leafs and steam cooked. Often it is stuffed with  sweetened coconut gratings. The turmeric leaf gives a special flavour. Enduri pitha is a speciality of the  occasion and is not made in other time of the year. Besides Enduri pitha, khiri (rice pudding) is also offered. They are first given to the  eldest child and then taken by other members of the family.

Prathama astami is a jubilant occasion  in the famous Lingaraj temple3in Bhubaneswar. Chandrashekar, the bije pratima (representative idol) of Shiva,  is taken out in a procession in a vimana (palanquin)  to the Papanasini tank by the side of the temple for the ritual bath. Thousands  of devotees take part in it.

The significance of idolising the eldest  child is to motivate and make him/her conscious of carrying the family responsibility  (after the death of the father) from a tender age. He/she is also made an  important personality amongst other siblings who respect and obey him.

Kanji aonla osa: - The following day i.e. navami is observed as Kanji aonlaosa. Kanji is some sort of a local soup made  out of fermented peja (rice gruel  kept overnights till it becomes little sour) and aonla (Indian goose berry). Often vegetable like mula (radish) is added.  It is offered to Sathi Mata to invoke her  blessings by women who are either unable to conceive or whose child does not  survive.

The author is a retired Colonel from the Indian Army and author of "Saga of Jagannatha and  Badadeula at Puri". It is published by Vij Books (India) P Ltd. The book  is all about the established god Jagannatha and his temple.

References
1. In olden days, when measuring scales  were not introduced, paddy and grains were measured in bamboo or cane baskets  called manas. Some used brass or  bronze manas. Mana is a prized possession in a family and in partition it becomes  an important item of settlement.
2.Used as coins in ancient Odisha.
3. Ancient Shiva temple in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) built in  11th century CE by Somavamsi king Jajati Keshari where the deity is worshipped in the form of Linga and is known as Harihara.

Also see pictures of
1. Sun Temple Konarak
2. Mukteshwar Mandir Bhubaneshwar