Sorha Laxmi Puja of Newars
What is wealth?
What is wealth? How much wealth is required for someone to be represented as wealthy?
Money was not considered wealth rather various everyday commodities were collected and used in barter system in earlier times. Such items were preserved for as long as possible for later uses. Money was simply a medium to make purchases of anything. That’s why money is referred to as bills in foreign nations.
Nepalese note/bill has engrave “if you come to ask for payment of guarantee, the government will remunerate amount promptly”. This indicates that the bills we carry are significant to a voucher which is used only for making transactions.
Newa Buddhists Worship Maha Laxmi
Newa Buddhists or Newar Buddhists worship Maha Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) as Katipunhi on Kojagrat Purnima, the last night of Dashain. Also known as Ashwin Shukla Purnima, the day of Kojagrat, is officially the last day of Dashain when a 15-day long festival concludes. Dashain or Vijaya Dashami is the most important festival of the year for Nepali Hindus.
It is believed that on this full moon of the Nepali Month Ashwin (Sept/October), Maha Lakshmi visits every house on earth which is why people stay awake all night to welcome her. People believe that Goddess Lakshmi especially lookout for “Kojagrat”, literally meaning “who is awake in her honor”.
Another belief, the sixteenth form of the moon begins on this day onward that is why people worship sixteen Lakshmi on this day. The full moon is supposedly in its most beautiful form and is very special for Hindus of Nepal. People lit oil wick lamps called Akashdeep or Aalamat (meaning lantern in Newar Language) outside their homes.
Purpose of Akashdeep or Alamat
The oil wick lamps are suspended on long bamboo sticks after worshipping Maha Lakshmi, over the Tulasi Pot or in an open space outside. A protective paper placed around the lamp saves flame from the wind to extinguish it.
Akashdeep simply means donating light to trespassers. Although, this mini light might not serve the purpose during a full moon, but as moon phases out Akashdeep is the only light that helps travelers’ vision at night.
According to the Hindu epic Ramayana, when Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom Ayodhya, people lit lamps for three days all over the Kingdom to welcome Him after killing the demon King Ravana of Lanka. Akashdeep helped him on his way home with his wife Sita and brother Laxman.
Ravana abducted Sita and Rama with his Laxman and monkey troops battled epic fight killing Ravana and rescued Sita. That is why Akashdeep signifies the victory of good over evil. This was also the time when the three of them have returned home after their 14-year long exile.
Hindus worship their wealth as “Dhanalakshmi” for they believe it is one of many forms of Goddess Lakshmi. The same goes for Nepali Hindus too who worship only one form of Laxmi. This is why the rest of the Hindus worship Lakshmi only once a year on the night of Kartik Krishna Aunshi i.e the Tihar Festival. But the Newars, Kathmandu Valley locals like Indians, worship all the 16 forms of Lakshmi.
These sixteen days from full moon to no moon, they worship 16 Lakshmi forms each day/night, as the moon waxes. In the process, people pray for the sixteen blessings every day, viz.
- Courage and Strength
- Wise Children
- Precious metals and stones
- Bountiful Happiness
- Higher position
- High thinking
- Good health
These sixteen Goddesses have individual names and they are
- Yasho Lakshmi
- Vidya Lakshmi
- Dhairya Lakshmi
- Dhan Lakshmi
- Santana Lakshmi
- Gaj Lakshmi
- Vir Lakshmi
- Samrajya Lakshmi
- Moksha Lakshmi
- Soumya Lakshmi
- Siddha Lakshmi
- Sri Lakshmi
- Saubhagya Lakshmi
- Prasanna Lakshmi
- Jai Lakshmi
These names of the Goddess represent the name of the wish people ask Goddess on each day.
Goddess Lakshmi worshiped on the concluding day of the sixteen days by the Newars does not coincide with the Lakshmi worshiped by the rest of the Hindus. And they do not worship an idol of Goddess Lakshmi rather have their goddess painted on paper by their traditional painters.
Laxmi with four arms sits on Padmasana (legs folded in a lotus position). Her one foot rests on the tortoise’s back. This slow and tolerant creature is the vehicle of Goddess signifies the practice of slow spending habits that we must attain. For the Newars of the Valley, a tortoise is Her vehicle but for the rest of the Hindus it’s an owl.
Goddess is carrying Jwalanayaahak on her right hand and Sinhamu on her left on the painting. Both these elements are essentials in any Newari tradition. Her other two hands are in the posture of “Abhay” and “Var”. Kuber and Khyak standing and sitting on the Goddess’s right are the owner of wealth and the protector of wealth respectively.
The Newars worship Maharshi Mardini as Maha Lakshmi, who takes on a fierce form during the slaughter of Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. They offer eggs, buffalo meat, and alcohol while worshipping Goddess Laxmi to gratify this fierce form of Her.
Yet another festival called Swanti Nakha also begins with the Laxmi Puja during Tihar for the Newars. It is a three-day festival; hence the name Swanti. Newars don’t celebrate Yamapanchak like the rest of the Hindus as Fall Festival but Swanti Nakha. Lakshmi Puja for them Newars is the last day of the year hence the last day of business. The Newari New Year “Nhu: Daya: Bhintuna” begins the next day and is celebrated on “Kachalathwa Pratipada”.
On this day, they worship themselves and call it “Mha Puja”. Hours-long self-worship supposedly accumulates new enthusiasm and success for rest of the year. Then, sisters worship their brothers for brothers’ long life of calling it Kija Puja on the following day of Mha Puja.
That is how the Newars celebrate their Tihar festival.
- Sunil Ullak
- Feature Photo: Drawing of Laxmi, goddess of wealth, and a pair of khyahs in the foreground. Photo by Karratul