the benevolent Divine Mother
“Om. I sing the praises of Lakshmi Devi,
Whose essence is the supreme prosperity,
And whose body is formed of golden light.
Her whole Being sparkles like pure gold.
She carries the golden lotus
And the golden pot full of seeds.
Sitting on the left side of Vishnu,
She is Shakti, the Mother of all creation.”
(Hymn dedicated to the Godess Lakshmi)
The minister exclaime: “Yes, but what are the crisis due to?” “To the fact that at any moment Lakshmi can abandon anyone”, said the swan king.
(Hitopadeśa, ed. Laksmi 2013)
In the Hindu tradition, Lakshmi is one of the most benevolent feminine divinities, associated to light, prosperity (both material and spiritual) and purity. Even as Vishnu’s consort, she has an autonomous cult widespread in all Hindu traditions. She is often called Shri (title often given to Deities in an honourary function) to highlight her characteristics of beauty, perfection and glory. Lakshmi is also associated to kings because in the ancient Hindu scriptures, kings were considered representatives of the Divine, almost an incarnation. The king, therefore, was obliged to keep watch that his wealth and privileges were used in the service of God. Another name given to Lakshmi is Chanchala, “unstable” indicating her tendency to not remain stable with anyone.
Iconography of Lakshmi
Lakshmi is represented as a very beautiful young girl standing on the petals of an opened lotus flower. From one of her hands – the right lower hand in the gesture of donation (varada mudra) – comes comes a shower of golden coins indicating the richness and prosperity associated with her, while her lower left hand is in the gesture of protection known as abhaya mudra. The other hands hold two lotus flowers particularly dear to the Hindu tradition. The 4 hands represent the 4 scopes of life (purushartha): justice (dharma), maintenance (artha), worldly pleasure (kama) e spiritual liberation (moksha).
The myth of the birth of Laksmi
The story of the birth of Lakshmi comes from and episode regarding the sage Durvasa and the God Indra.
One day, while the sage Durvasa was going to Amaravati, the city where the Gods dwell, Indra, the Lord of the Deva, sped past him in his vehicle, the elephant Aivarata. When he saw him, Durvasa offered him the garland he wore around his neck, with respect and as a form of blessing. The mighty Indra, however, hardly noticing the sage, who dressed only a worn-out robe, grabbed the garland and threw it on the elephant’s trunk. The elephant dropped it and trampled it. At such a sight, Durvasa’s eyes turned red like embers. He cursed Indra: “Fortune and wealth will abandon you because you are proud and arrogant!”
Indra turned and recognized the sage Durvasa, known for his power and irritable character, and immediately realized that he had made a terrible mistake. He therefore bowed at the feet of the sage who, being reassured, made his curse less harsh: “You will recover what you have lost when the God Vishnu is favourable to you”.
Later, Indra’s forces began to dissipate quickly and the demons, upon coming to know of the curse of Durvasa, immediately defeated Indra’s army and took over the skies. As a result, Svarga Lakshmi (“heavenly wealth”), Indra’s consort, disappeared.
Thus, the God Indra, together with an embassy of Deva, went to Visnu to ask for help. The God Visnu thus addressed them: “First, stipulate a truce with the demons and then, with their help, stir the ocean of milk. Then, after the nectar of immortality, amrita, has emerged, the Devi Lakshmi will also appear “. Following Vishnu’s directions, the Devas wrapped the serpent Vasuki around Mount Mandara and also convinced the demons to cooperate, with the promise that they would equally share with them what would emerge. To help them in the heroic enterprise came the God Vishnu himself who, embodied in the form of the turtle Kurma, served as a support for the mountain of gold.
The first thing that suddenly emerged was a deadly poison, halhala. Considering the disastrous effects of the poison, Shiva decided to swallow it to save the universe from destruction and was unharmed: however, his throat became blu.
From the stirring of the ocean, jewels and precious stones came up, but the Deva ignored them remembering Vishnu’s advice to pay attention to nothing else except the nectar. The greedy demons instead grabbed the fabulous objects that emerged from the waters.
At last, Lakshmi emerged from the stirring of the sparkling waters. She dazzled both devas and demons with her charming features. Both wanted her but Lakshmi, before choosing her consort, pondered: “Some who have undergone severe austerities, have acquired an immense spiritual power and yet are unable to dominate wrath; others have a deep knowledge and yet are unable to control their senses. Everyone depends on something else in this world. Only Lord Vishnu can protect all creatures: only in Him can beings find refuge. So, it is He I want to marry”.
Therefore, Lakshmi shyly approached Vishnu and placed a garland of lotus flowers around his neck. The gods were all delighted and blessed the couple.Then Lakshmi gazed compassionately at each one of them and all the Devas felt they had regained strength and vigour.
Dipavali: the festival dedicated to Lakshmi
Dipavali, the festival of lights, represents the divine union of Lakshmi and Vishnu. In this period every light and every lamp are lit in honour of the arrival of Lakshmi on earth to lighten her path and make every house, every village, every hut in the forest a welcoming place for the Divine Mother, who gives wealth and prosperity.
Lakshmi loves clean, tidy and beautiful environments. For this reason, on the occasion of the festival of Dipavali, devotees clean and tidy their homes to welcome the benevolent presence of the Goddess, and traditionally leave their doors open to help her come in. On the contrary, Lakshmi’s sister, the terrifying Jyeshta, loves dirty and miserable places: since the two sisters never reside in the same place at the same time, this explains the reason for the cleaning ritual, which serves to propitiate the presence of Lakshmi instead of Jyeshta.
In this period in South India, very early in the morning, at four o’clock, Hindus wash, smear their bodies with fragrant oils and wear new clothes. The more fortunate bathe in the Ganges as a form of purification. The custom of exchanging bright coloured clothes, saris and dotis is also common; even employers give dresses to their workers. Especially in the north, merchants start new accounting books and pray Lakshmi for the success and prosperity of their business.
The intense vibration that during Dipavali lingers in people’s souls is felt in the air and, with its power, transforms people’s hearts bringing them closer to divine love.