Manabasa Gurubara is a festival celebrated every Thursday in the month of Margashira in Odisha. In this festival, Devi Mahalaxmi is the presiding deity. It is believed that Maa Laxmi comes to every household and removes pain and sorrow by bringing happiness and prosperity. This festival is very unique for its origin and traditions. Manabasa Gurubara is celebrated as symbols of women empowerment and caste equality as well as social harmony.
This festival is also known as Margashira Laxmi Puja. The first Manabasa Gurubara of this month started on the first Thursday just right after Kartika Purnima. To celebrate the Manabasa Gurubara women clean up their houses and decorated it with jhoti chita. It’s believed that Mahalaxmi visits those households that are clean and decorated with jhoti chita.
Moreover, women plaster the front gate with cow-dung or red soil and put chita as decoration near the gate. The foot marks of Mahalaxmi and lotus are marked through the chita. Mana, a traditional bamboo measuring container, is filled to its brink with freshly harvested paddy and offered to Mahalaxmi and that’s how the festival has got its name Manabasa Gurubara.
The legend of this festival is based on the ancient scripture ‘Laxmi Puran’ written by Mahatma Balaram Das. Moreover, all women read this Laxmi Purana on Thursday throughout the year. According to the text, Devi Laxmi is thrown out of her house, Shri Jagannath Temple, by her husband Bhagwan Jagannath on the advice of his elder brother Balabhadra, as she had visited the house of Sriya Chandaluni, a dalit woman after being satisfied with her worship. After then Bhagwan Jagannath and Balabhadra started facing problems and had to go through immense suffering. Then they realised the importance of Devi Laxmi and brought her back home.
From this incident Bhagwan Jagannath and Balabhadra learned the concepts of caste equality. Food would satisfy without discrimination for the hunger of all, let it be a sweeper, a king, or a God. They realize soon enough, her importance, and Laxmi agrees to return to the temple on one condition that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed on earth. The Purana raised voice against the evil practice of the untouchability in society. It stressed on the importance of empowered the females to resist the male hegemony.
Laxmi Purana touches three very important issues of the society namely casteism, cleanliness and women empowerment. The Purana gives a message that the society should recognize that women have their choices and should not be tied down by patriarchal beliefs and authority of men.
This story of a woman’s will, her power and self-respect, the tale of equality and social harmony has been recited in every Odia household for centuries. Reciting the Laxmi Purana is a compulsory part of the ‘Manabasa Gurubara’ and the story has been depicted in movies, TV serials and devotional videos countless times.
The Puri Jagannath Temple does not discriminate anybody on the basis of caste and this legend has been teaching Odia people not just social harmony, but lessons of cleanliness, devotion, love and respect for generations.
During the earlier times, when people used to live in kutcha houses, the women cleaned their houses and smeared these walls with cow dung, as it is believed that Devi Laxmi never visits a house which is untidy. The practice is regarded as the ritual of purity though it has a scientific significance- by smearing cow dung, it keeps harmful and deadly insects, reptiles and germs away from houses. This is based on religious beliefs also.
Varieties of Odia delicious food items are prepared during Manabasa Gurubara. Some of them which are included in this are Kanika, Manda Pitha, Saga Bhaja, Chaula Kheeri, Chakuli Pitha, Chitau Pitha, Kakara Pitha and Dalma.
–By Anil Biswal