Varalakshmi Vratam or Varalakshmi Nonbu marks the advent of the festive season in Tamilnadu, other parts of South India and Maharashtra. This puja is performed on the Friday before the full moon in the Tamil month of Aadi (mid-July to mid-August). The festival is observed to propitiate goddess Lakshmi in the form of Varalakshmi – the granter of boons (varas). This is equivalent to praying to the Ashtalakshmis for their various gifts.
It is said that when Goddess Parvati asked her Lord, Shiva, about a fast that women could observe to benefit them and their families, Lord Shiva explained the virtues of the Varalakshmi Vratam. This conversation is cited in the Skanda Purana.
The Nonbu is observed with strict guidelines and austerities. Women performing the puja are required to wake early on that day, and fast until the puja is completed. The kalasham – the main object of worship – consists of a small pot, usually silver, copper or brass, into which rice, a coin, a piece of turmerice, betel nuts, etc. are placed. The mouth of the pot is covered with mango leaves on which a coconut (rubbed with turmeric and kumkumam) is placed. The muham or the idol of Lakshmi is then placed on this kalasham. This is the main deity. The Devi is dressed in a silk pavadai and bedecked with jewels.
This Lakshmi with the kalasham is then formally invited into the house with full honours – an aarti, a song and the ringing of the puja bell. Once the idol is placed in the mandapam, the puja is performed, ending with the tying of the sharadu – the yellow thread – around the right wrist of all married and unmarried ladies and girls.
It is said that when Lakshmi has been invoked in this way, her bounteous blessings are with the family.