Book Reviews - The goddess unveiled
by Purnima Yogi
The span of Indian scriptures beginning with the four Vedas and their Upanishads, 18 Puranas,
epics and sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita is rich, vast and varied. A lifetime is not
sufficient to scan the lot or go deep into even one of them. The scriptures say that there are
33 thousand crore gods. The prominent ones are extolled in the above mentioned scriptures
in a variety of ways – often with contrary, conflicting and confusing accounts. To harness the
details of one form of divinity from all possible sacred and literary texts, sculptures and everyday
customs and prayers, and putting them together in a cohesive, logical and interesting manner
is a daunting task to say the least. But R Mahalakshmi has achieved the seemingly impossible in her book on Goddess Lakshmi.
The author describes and explains in detail each representation of this goddess of wealth as she is commonly worshipped. In her exploration of the deity, she explains the iconographic significance of Lakshmi with her physical form, attire, adornment, weapons, animals and flowers. She also explains the origin of some of the other common names with which the goddess is addressed and extolled in shlokas. The obvious and subtle differences in the characters and symbolism of other revered female deities are explored. The common festivals and modes of worshipping this goddess are delineated. The author then goes beyond the physical and mythical symbolism of Lakshmi and draws meanings to ideas and relationships at the temporal level. Lakshmi is not only the goddess of good fortune, beauty, happiness, fertility and grains, she says. The deity represents the good woman who strives to be an obedient daughter, dutiful wife and sacrificing mother, typifying the ancient lawmakers’ view that it is such women who contribute to social stability. The author traces mythology and history to explore how this popular and most sought-after goddess came to represent these qualities.
As byproducts of this delightful exploration, readers are treated to tantalising glimpses into Indian mythology with its fascinating stories and their subplots, and mind-boggling explanation of universal phenomena. Reading this small handy Lakshmi-ready-reckoner is a thoroughly revealing and gratifying experience. Surely, the way I look at the goddess will never be the same again, thanks to the deity’s namesake who packs so much power in such a little book.
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