Thursday, November 30, 2023

How this Kojagori purnima Lakshmi and Saraswati buried the hatchet


This Kojagori Purnima Lakshmi and Saraswati buried the hatchet.

A woman clad in red was wandering the streets in the dead of night, calling out to those who could hear her:
ko jagartiti…
Tasmai vityang pradishchhami (Which of you is  awake to receive my blessings?)

At the end of the lane, there was a house where the lights were still on. The door of the house opened, and a bespectacled young woman clad in white peeped out, holding a pen in one hand and a book in the other. The moment both these women clapped their eyes on each other, a smile of recognition and happiness could be seen on their faces. They ran towards each other with open arms, and the white autumn full moon saw the two sisters laughing together in each other’s arms.

This is the story I would like to pass on to my daughter, along with a gold Guinea embossed with the image of Lakshmi on one side and Saraswati on the other that my grandmother had blessed me with when she first saw me. The day was epiphanic for me when I realised what a cryptic message had been handed down to me.

Most of us have often heard that Lakshmi and Saraswati, the goddesses of wealth and knowledge, respectively, are twins, yet, they have sworn enemies who do not see eye to eye. This story shouts out in our ears that those who acquire knowledge, or the seekers or Saraswati, almost always are shunned by Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth.

I have come to believe that this little tale had been propagated to keep women away from pursuing vidya or studies or acquiring skills, particularly academic, for Knowledge or information is power. Therefore an informed woman is equal to an empowered woman. The best way to keep the woman tethered to the kitchen and birthing room was to ban her from acquiring knowledge and the sly method of keeping Her away from the power circle.

Lakshmi was then equated to wealth and also to a happy, contented married woman or what we may call marital bliss, while Saraswati was the celibate goddess of knowledge. Marriage in most human societies is sanctified as the be-all and end-all of human existence. That being so, in almost every Bengali home, every Thursday, which we call Lokkhibaar, is the day of the goddess Lakshmi; Bengali ladies worship the Goddess of wealth, but our Saraswati is yet to get such a weekly oblation.


Stories and tales are a very good medium for propagating ideas. But at times, the deep structure of these tales rarely percolates and thus leaches out just as the cryptic message gold Guinea had intended to give for many generations. Coming back to the hidden message that gold Guinea wanted to pass down. Many, many moons ago, I was at Leela Maani’s place.

Maani, one of my Mashis, was a raconteur who could give any storyteller a run for his or her money. Saraswati puja was knocking at the door. A few imps of the neighbourhood who almost always played truant came to Maani asking for Chanda or a contributory amount for Saraswati puja. My nimble-witted Maani immediately threw a challenge to them:

“Aage Saraswatir baanaan likhe dekha tobei Chaanda debo” (If you can spell Saraswati correctly, only then will you get the contribution from my end)

The imps disappeared into thin air. Maani Chuckled. It is then that I most humbly asked her what Saraswati meant. She, in turn, asked if I knew the difference between a pond and a river. I told her that a pond is a stagnant body of water while a river is a water that continuously flows. Maani said:

“ Ja bohomaan tahai Saraswati”
(That which flows is Saraswati)
“Ja obiraam boye chole tai Saraswati”
(That which flows incessantly is Saraswati)

“But Maani Saraswati Is a goddess… what has a river got to do with her?” I asked. I could see a twinkle in her eyes as she said: “Yes… but she is the goddess of knowledge, and knowledge is never stagnant or still as a millpond. Therefore Saraswati is the river of knowledge flowing eternally…  she flows inside anyone ready to flow and learn and learn and flow and learn.”

Therefore what transpired to me is that Saraswati is never stagnant and also that knowledge is never constant; it evolves.

Now coming to Lakshmi. Our Puranas describe Lakshmi as being fickle and restless. There goes a story that when the Kshirasagar was churned, many treasures came out of the ocean along with Lakshmi, and among them was Uchchaisravas, the king of horses who gave Lakshmi his “gati” or speed as a souvenir. Therefore Lakshmi is said to be restless and moves very quickly from one place to another earning herself the name Chanchala. So both the above stories boil down to the fact that Lakshmi and Saraswati are always on the move; they are never constant, never stagnant; they are forever on the wing.

In Bengal, we believe that on the moonlit night of Kojagiri Purnima, the Goddess Lakshmi roams about the streets looking for those who are awake and ready to receive her; she says:
ko jagartiti …
Tasmai vityang pradishchhami (Which of you is  awake to receive my blessings?)

The word awake used here can have more than one meaning. I believe that it does not just mean to be physically awake but an awakening in every possible meaning of the term. If one digs deep into the etymology of the word Lakshmi, one finds that it derives from the root word Laksha, which means to know, to perceive or to understand; it also means to aim. But to achieve one’s aim, one has to have a clear understanding or knowledge of one’s aim.

Here one must remember that understanding is a synonym for vidya. Lakshmi blesses only those who stay awake in the dead of night; the word night here is also very symbolic, for night can also be interpreted as darkness, and darkness can be of many kinds. Those who can kindle the light of knowledge even when surrounded by the darkness of ignorance, only the knowledgeable, the skilled and the ones with a clear understanding can receive Laxmi or achieve their aim.

These days when I look at Guinea, both sides seem identical to me. To my mind, Lakshmi and Saraswati are indeed the same. They are two sides of the same coin; only Saraswati can receive Lakshmi, for Lakshmi is Saraswati and Saraswati Lakshmi.

Kojagarti? ( Are you awake?)…

Also Read: In hope of meeting Saraswati

(Nilambara Banerjee is a former professor of St. Xaviers College Ranchi.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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