India or Bharat with its clarion call of Vasud- haiva Kutumbakam (One Planet, One Family, One Future) was powerfully showcased during the year-long pres- idency of G20.
Cloaked in magnificent crimson attire and adorned with exquisite gold jewellery, a goddess presents herself gracefully on the delicate petals of a blooming lotus.
Flanked by two majestic elephants and encircled by rows of radiant oil lamps, this four-armed goddess is an awe-inspiring sight. This is none other than Lakshmi, who comes riding on an owl.
She is an assemblage of visual images and symbols that lends itself to a narrative on an eco-spirituality that promotes ethical and sustainable economic development.
Lakshmi is believed to have come forth from the ocean milk during the ‘SamudraManthan’ (the epic churning of the cosmic ocean) by devas and asuras to obtain ‘amrita,’ the nectar of immortality. Only when we approach her through the theological kaleidoscope of Shaktism do we understand her cosmic significance. An important sect within Hinduism, Shaktism venerates ‘Shakti,’ the primordial divine feminine, as the origin of all energy, and the dynamic power propelling the phenomenal universe.
Conceived and depicted as the divine feminine, Shakti manifests herself as diverse goddesses, each representing a different aspect of her divine essence.
Therefore, Shaktism reveres Sarasvati as the divine creator, Lakshmi as the divine preserver, and Kali as the divine destroyer, collectively forming the divine feminine trinity. They are complemented and assisted by their respective divine male counterparts – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Apart from being the creator, Sarasvati is also the goddess of art, music, speech, eloquence, creativity, learning, and wisdom. Similarly, Kali is not only the goddess of destruction but also the goodness of time, change, death, rebirth, transformation, and liberation.
The preserver goddess, Lakshmi, holding a pot of gold coins, is also the goddess of wealth and prosperity – in other words, the goddess of economics, commerce and development.
Derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘lakshya,’ meaning, ‘goal’ or ‘aim,’ the name, Lakshmi, means ‘the one who has a clear understanding of her goal’ or ‘the one who is working towards the realization of her goal,’ which is the key to wealth and prosperity resulting in earthly happiness.
The significance of her name has made Lakshmi the embodiment of wealth and prosperity. Hence, she is the favourite deity of business people and entrepreneurs. Celebrating Lakshmi puja immediately after Durga puja has its own significance as well. Durga Puja celebrates the victory of good over evil, embodied in Durga’s victory over Mahishasura.
It is the defeat of evil and the reign of good that ushers in prosperity and happiness.
Therefore, these two celebrations could be seen as complementing each other, and in accordance with this logic, it is appropriate that Durga puja is succeeded immediately by Lakshmi puja. In the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, Lakshmi, as the divine energy (Shakti) and the spouse of Vishnu, the Supreme Being, plays a crucial role in augmenting the power and divinity of Vishnu.
Apart from being the giver of material wealth and good fortune, Vaishnavism acknowledges her also as the giver of spiritual wealth – purity, sanctity, and enlightenment. Hence, as per the Vaishnava tradition, she embodies the harmonious coexistence of the material and the spiritual. Therefore, the veneration of Lakshmi may be looked upon as a means to attaining the muchrequired balance and harmony between the material and the spiritual, the two important aspects of human life.
The lotus that begins its journey from the muddy depths towards the serene surface of a pond represents the transformative journey from the physical and the materialistic to the spiritual. Hence, the goddess manifesting herself upon a blooming lotus symbolically underscores the importance she assigns to spiritual wealth over material wealth, thereby underscoring the need for an ethical approach in business, commerce, and other developmental activities.
The refinement, elegance, and grace with which she conducts herself are reminiscent of her inner strength, which is further enhanced by the rows of lighted oil lamps often found around her symbolizing her purity and divinity. Her flowing hair, golden skin, radiant ornaments, and crimson attire are not only suggestive of her beauty, dignity, and opulence but also her spiritual magnetism. At the same time, crimson – known for its associations with energy, vigour, passion, sensuality, and fertility – is symbolic of her affirmation of the essence of life.
The presence of the gentle giants, the two elephants, on either side, apart from reaffirming her strength, enhances her regal aura and emphasizes her role as the bestower of wealth as well as fertility. Interestingly, it is the owl, the proverbial symbol of knowledge and wisdom that serves as her vehicle – a reminder that one should pursue wealth and prosperity prudently and wisely.
Known for their acute vision, heightened senses, and skill in navigating darkness, the owl serves as a poignant symbol, encouraging ethical considerations in the world of commerce and business. Regrettably, several owl species in India find themselves in the endangered category, calling our attention to the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect these magnificent birds and their natural habitats.
In India, owls are subjected to ruthless hunting for multiple purposes, including their consumption as food, their use in ritual sacrifices associated with black magic, and their inclusion in traditional medicines.
Due to their nocturnal habits, and the superstitions linking them to ill luck or death, they are sought after for use in black magic rituals.
Furthermore, their supposed medicinal properties make them a sought-after ingredient in various traditional remedies.
This unfortunate combination of factors poses an existential threat to owls. As carnivorous birds preying over various small animals, birds, and insects, owls play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance. Their predation over rats, a carrier of diseases from animals to humans and a ravager of crops helps human beings immensely.
Their survival is of paramount importance for our ecosystem and economy. What better way could the Indian eco-spiritual tradition conceive than by designating them as the sacred vehicle of Lakshmi? This symbolic association seems to underscore the importance of conserving these shy and vulnerable birds.
Simultaneously, it draws our attention to how Indian spirituality links ecological consciousness with economic activities for inclusive and sustainable development. The festivities associated with Lakshmi could indeed be interpreted as an invitation to foster a harmonious relationship between our quest for material and spiritual wealth and our efforts to conserve our ecosystem.