Varalakshmi Vratam is a festival to propitiate the Goddess Lakshmi. Varalakshmi is one who grants boons (Varam). It is an important pooja performed mainly by Tambrahm women in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and other parts of India
The festival is celebrated on the Friday preceding Yajur Upakarma, commonly known as Avaniavittam. Varalakshmi Vratam is performed by married women for the well being of all the family members, It is believed that worshiping Goddess Varalakshmi on this day is equivalent to worshiping Ashtalaksmi – the eight goddesses of Wealth, Earth, Learning, Love, Fame, Peace, Pleasure, and Strength.
Eight forces or energies are recognised and they are known as Sri (Wealth), Bhu (Earth), Sarasvati (learning), Priti (love), Kirti (Fame), Santi (Peace), Tushti (Pleasure) and Pushti (Strength).
Each one of these forces is called a Lakshmi and all the eight forces are called the Ashta Lakshmis or the eight Lakshmis. These forces are personified and worshiped as Lakshmis, since abstract force is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary people.
As health, wealth and prosperity depend upon the rhythmic play of these forces, the worship of Lakshmi is said to be to obtain these three. Only a woman can empathise with women. Lakshmi is a woman. So she will more readily empathise with women. Hence this festival is observed largely by women, invoking the blessings of Lakshmi.
On this joyous day, women clean their homes and decorate their front yards with kolams After a ritual bath and bedecking themselves with finery, they then begin preparations for the pooja.
Generally a water-laden kalash adorned with flowers and with a whole coconut atop is mounted on a rice laden tray on a pedestal bedecked with flowers and with four banana saplings. Most families traditionally affix on the coconut, a silver or metal mask (mukham) representing Lakshmi. In fact the mukham forms part of the auspicious gifts that a bride takes with her to her marital home. A ceremonial five wick lamp is lit and lit incense sticks and incense lend an aura of blissful divinity.
The ritual begins with invoking Lord Ganesha who is believed to drive away all obstacles and evil forces. Later, Goddess Mahalakshmi is invoked into the kalasha.
Toranas or a bunch of nine threads with nine knots) are sanctified While one torana is tied around the kalasha the other one is tied around the right hand wrist of the woman performing the pooja.
Following this, with devotion in their heart, they recite the Lakshmi Ashtottara Shatanamam. This concluded, the Goddess is offered naivedyam. This comprises nine varieties of delicacies, both sweet and savory.
Arati is performed and hymns are sung. A Sumangali is invited and honoured with flowers and sweets. Inviting a sumangali represents the arrival of Lakshmi in person. Later in the evening, at lamp lighting time. neighborhood sumangalis are invited and gifted tamboolam, turmeric and vermillins (kumkumam) coconuts, fruits, garments and dakshina in the form of cash.