Monologues of Mahalakshmi By Nihar Satpathy
publication: BirdNest, Bhubaneswar 2020 Rs150
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In Odisha’s consecrated texts and cultural tradition, Lakshmi Purana has a pre-eminent place. As sanctified writing and composed by the 15th-century poet Balarama Das – a foremost figure of the Panchasakha age of Odia literature – Lakshmi Purana is important mythical work. But from the point of view of its social code, the text has a great deal of relevance even today.
Legend has it that once the Goddess Lakshmi visited Shriya, a scavenger low caste woman, for which Balarama, the elder brother of Jagannatha got annoyed with Lakshmi, and she was driven out from the temple of Puri. Lakshmi left the temple, but she avenged the insult by cursing her husband and elder brother-in-law to go through a prolonged ordeal without food, water or shelter.
Lakshmi Purana unequivocally raises voice against the evil practice of “untouchability.” It also stresses the importance of feminism, and empowers female folk to fight against male domination.
An extension of the temple legend is Manabasa Gurubara (the weekly observance of the propitiating Goddess Laxmi). It is a key ritual in Odia households on all Thursdays of a particular month. In addition to Odisha, Lakshmi Purana is considered sacramental in the neighboring regions of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Women perform a special one-month-long Lakshmi Puja in the Hindu month of Agrahayana or Margasira corresponding to December based on the original text.
For its standing as a hallowed observance, it has been added to the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of India. Lakshmi Purana is possibly the first literary work in India against caste and the prominence of women in society.
‘Monologues of Mahalakshmi’ by Nihar Satpthay is a retelling of the great story in the form of fiction. The short novel of about a hundred pages exhibits the moral belief that was prevalent in medieval times. The folklore associated with Goddess Mahalakshmi finds resonance in the book. The narrative has been recapitulated, keeping in mind contemporary readers.
A former banker and person with varied interests, Nihar Satpathy has been in the media as well. He edits an online Odia literary magazine and has published two books earlier.
Monologues of Mahalakshmi’s descriptive style is enjoyable. What is significant is that the author has brought to the forefront a legend that has been part of the Odia culture for centuries. Undoubtedly, the book will regenerate interest about the exceptional nature of divine relationship between Lord Jagannath and Goddess Mahalakshmi.
Profusely illustrated by ace artist Baladeva Maharatha and with a cover design by SushilPohan, the fable makes for a decent read. The author’s endeavor to bring to non-Odia readers a unique tradition associated with the Puri Jagannath temple deserves appreciation.