The Hindu festival going by the name 'Vara Lakshmi Vrata' is celebrated on the last Friday of the bright fortnight in the month of Ashadha, also called Adi, which corresponds to the English months of July-August. It is a festival to propitiate the goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, one of the Hindu Trinity.
The name Vishnu really means pervading everywhere, and Lakshmi, his consort, is symbolical of the forces found everywhere. 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 of the Hindus. Vishnu is also called Ashta Lakshmi Padhi which is equivalent to saying that he is the asylum for the eight-Lakshmis or forces. In fact, Vishnu representing the preservative aspect of the universe, radiates these forces from him. These forces are personified and worshipped as Lakshmis, since abstract force is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary people. As health, wealth and prosperity depend upon the rythmic play of these forces, the worship of Lakshmi is said to be to obtain these three. Only a woman can sympathise with women. Lakshmi is a woman. So she will more readily sympathise with women. Hence this festival is observed largely by women, invoking the blessings of Lakshmi on them, their husbands and their children.
There are myths relating to the importance of observing this festival on the Friday which immediately precedes or falls on the full moon day of the month Ashadha, and it is as sketched below:
On one occasion, Parvati and Parameswara were engaged in a game of chess. Parvati was winning game after game, but Parameswara is said to have claimed the victory at each games, wantonly, to her intense chagrin. So Parvati wanted to have an umpire and one Chitranemi, a creation of Parameswara, was chosen. As an underling of Parameswara, he sided with him most unjustly. This provoked Parvati's anger and she cursed Chitranemi that he should become a leper for discharging his duty in most unfair manner.
When Chitranemi begged Parvati's forgiveness and Parameswara added his entreaties to it, she is said to have relented and modified the curse by adding that he would be cured of his leprosy by observing the Vara Lakshmi Vrata. By doing this Chitranemi was, it is said, rid of the loathsome disease.
The history of the origin Of the Vara Lakshmi Vrata is rather interesting. Lakshmi is said to have visited a pious woman by name Sarmadi, living in the city of Kuntinapura in Magadha (Bihar), in in one of her dreams and expressed her satisfaction at her devotion to her children. When she woke UP from her sleep, she took a bath and worshipped Lakshmi to ensure her blessings. When the other ladies heard of her dream and her worship of Lakshmi, they too began to worship her, and the custom is then said to have spread everywhere throughout the land in course of time.
The leaves of certain plants and trees are supposed to be the favorite materials for use in worshipping certain deities. The leaves of the bael tree are considered to be specially acceptable to Siva while Vishnu is said to have a preference for sweet basil-Tulasi plant. Similarly a kind of grass called durva grass in Sanskrit, aruhu in Tamil, hariali grass in Canarese (Cynodon Dacrylon), is said to be specially acceptable to Lakshmi. So people gather this grass to worship her on this Vrata day. The ancient alchemists believed that a white variety of this grass was available which could be used to convert baser metals into gold! This fact, perhaps, was instrumental in creating the belief that the grass was acceptable to Lakshmi. At any rate there is no gainsaying the fact that a decoction of the root of this grass was considered a potent drink to allay the heat generated in the body by yoga practices.
As prosperity and adversity are antagonistic to each other, so Lakshmi has her contrast in goddess Ava Lakshmi who represents adversity. Ava Lakshmi is always spoken of as the elder sister of Lakshmi. It means that adversity is the elder sister of prosperity. Even in the Puranas it is said that when the ocean of milk was churned by the devas and the asuras, Ava Lakshmi or adversity was the first outcome and Lakshmi the next. Herein is illustrated a sublime philosophical dictum. In the absence of pain, pleasure will have no existence. Unless a man has felt the sun's intense heat, he cannot experience the pleasure of resting in the cool shade. In the absence of hunger, relish for food ceases to exist. Similarly a man feels the pleasures of prosperity because he has experienced adversity before, remembers it now and contrasts it with his present position. Hence, adversity is said to be the elder sister of prosperity.
It is said that people were once worshipping this elder sister adversity. Fearing that she might show her nature to them if propitiated with worship, they are said to have given it up.
This goddess Ava Lakshmi has another name 'Kapila Patni' which means 'the wife of Kapila, a sage who married her since no one else would wed her. She is said to reside in pipal trees and so people dare not touch them on days other than Saturdays, when Lakshmi is supposed to be present in those trees, visiting her elder sister and, consequently, no harm could come to them as long as she is there to protect them.
Special temples dedicated to Maha Lakshmi exist in Doddagaddavalli in Mysore as well as in Kolhapur in Maharashtra. Lakshmi is said to have worshipped Lord Siva in the temples of Tiruvadi near Tanjore, in Tiruninriyur near Vaithiswarankoil, in Tiruthengur near Tiruvarur and Tiruppathur in the Ramnad district, and consequently these places are considered to be specially important for the observance of Vara Lakshmi Vrata and other Vratas invoking the blessings of Lakshmi.