On November 3rd of this year, the Hindu festival of Diwali will begin. The 3rd day of Diwali is devoted to the Goddess Lakshmi. She is the supreme Mother of Earth and the wife of Vishnu who is God’s aspect of continuity (of the three persons of God, Vishnu is the one who maintains our world).
Lakshmi rose from the ocean when the gods stirred its depths using a mountain spun by pulling on a snake wrapped around its base. Appearing from the foam, she was standing in the cup of a lotus and holding one in her hand. The most beautiful of all the goddesses, she is golden-skinned, dark haired and wears a red sari and a crown.
The red of Lakshmi's sari is an aspect of femininity. It is the color of the heart's river, pulsing through all creatures. Red is also the color of success in ancient cultures. Red's warmth and fire link it to the power of the Sun - the life force of the universe. Lakshmi is wearing the red of life, love, and light.
One of this goddess's many names is Padma, the Sanskrit for the lotus flower. This is a symbol of transformation. Growing from the pond or river's bottom, the plant sends a stem shooting up into the sunlight, and crowns it with a bowl of soft petals.The flower represents the soul's release from the earth's attachments. Lakshmi is the purity and release of life from the darkness of decay; she holds the gift of enlightenment.
Her iconography is reminiscent of Venus. Arising from the waves as splendid women is certainly appropriate, since their births are surrounded by the waters of Earth’s womb. Lakshmi and Venus are born as adult women, fully matured and ready to bring life to the world. As an expression of ultimate beauty, they assure us that men will surrender their hearts and increase their fertility with their ardor.
A woman’s power is not oppressive, but to suggest that the godess is not as powerful as a god is to miss the point. Her skills are nurturance, providence and intercession, but nothing is possible without her cooperation. Vishnu is impotent if Lakshmi does not provide a conduit for his life force. And this form of creativity is spiritual as much or more than it is physical. If we are tempted to view a woman’s role as the power behind a ruler’s throne, we are buying into an illusion. The true source of power is hers. The fact that a man can sit in a glorious place of authority is only because the goddess has created the room, made the chair, and invited the god to have a seat! And if she is not out front, it may be that she has no need for the adulation. Content with her place and the manifestation of all of life as a gift from her being, she can find her joy in Nature and the people she births and blesses. Why sit on a throne when she can float above it on a flower?
During her festival day in India, all houses are made scrupulously clean for purity is her abode. Lamps are lit all around the outside of the house, small lamps shine in the windows and halls; they beckon Lakshmi from her home in the heavens. When she visits, she brings good fortune and golden coins to her worshippers.
Knowing of Lakshmi’s holy day, some of my own traditions of fall now remind me of her festival. That extra deep cleaning is done before the cold settles in and the windows are sealed for the winter. Candles decorate the mantle and table, and warm-weather comfort foods are on the menu again. Comforters , sweaters and flannel shirts reappear from the back of the closet. And as I put my gardens to bed for the winter, I trim the dead stems so that the plant’s life force will be concentrated and unspent during the dark days to come. In my way, I am worshipping Lakshmi and preparing to ask her to bless and sustain the world.
On November 6, I will light my candles and put lanterns outside both doors. A new tradition will begin for me this year – welcoming Lakshmi to my home.
** The beliefs of different cultures and their female deities has become a source of inspiration to me. It is my own voyage of discovery, so this article is one of personal interpretation. My principal sources are:
Diwali - the festival of lights. Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India, www.diwalifestival.org
Patricia Monaghan’s The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines, 3rd ed. 2000.Print.