By Rachna Singh Chopra
The sprawling modern city of Chennai is steeped in rich and vibrant cultural heritage. It is home to magnificent ancient temples of Kapaleeshwarar, Parthasarathy, Marundeeswarar and Thyagraja.
The sprawling modern city of Chennai is steeped in rich and vibrant cultural heritage. It is home to magnificent ancient temples of Kapaleeshwarar, Parthasarathy, Marundeeswarar and Thyagraja. Among these grand temples stands a relatively recent, a mere 30-year-old Mahalakshmi temple by the Elliot Beach in Besant Nagar. It is one of the few temples dedicated exclusively to Goddess Mahalakshmi and the only Goddess Shrine in Asia where Ashtalakshmi or the eight forms of Lakshmi are manifested. I had to wait at the Chennai railway station for about four hours for my next connecting train, so I decided to pay the goddess a visit, whose small, delicate footprints at the thresholds of homes are said to invite fortune!
Mahalakshmi’s bountiful form is worshipped throughout India, on all occasions, and no prayer is complete without her invocation. Her name, appearing first in Rig Veda, denotes auspiciousness. Her personification has been linked with none less than Indra, the lord of rain and fertility, with Soma, the lord of vegetation, with Kubera, the lord of wealth, and with Dharma the lord of righteousness and truth. Mythology has it that she took birth as daughter to sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyati. She is inseparable from the Preserver Vishnu, and incarnated as Padma, Dharani, Sita and Rukmini each time Vishnu appeared as Vamana, Parasurama, Rama and Krishna. Seated on a lotus throne, her four hands holding the lotus shankha, amritha kalasha (pot of ambrosia) and bilva fruit, signify her power to grant the four ends of dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (desires), and moksha (liberation). In the image of Mahalakshmi, she has four more hands holding the bow, the arrow, the mace and discus.
On reaching the temple I learnt that the Goddess rests in the afternoon and the gates would open only at four in the evening. The temple looked different from the usual south Indian temples with its granite tier construction and beautiful off-white gopuram. Meanwhile, my conversation with locals revealed that in the main sanctum one meets Lakshmi with her consort Vishnu; while a winding staircase takes one to the doorstep of the eight manifestations of the Goddess—Aadi Lakshmi with her amrutha kalasa bestowing health, Dhanya Lakshmi who provides food and banishes famine, Dhairya Lakshmi instills courage, Gaja Lakshmi grants fortune and fertility, Santana Lakshmi ensures offsprings, Dhana Lakshmi, with her Theertha Kamandalam and Thambulam, offers wealth, Vijaya Lakshmi brings victory and Vidya Lakshmi gifts learning and rational thinking.
I could not believe that I would have to return without her darshan! But my joy knew no bounds as I discovered the gurgling ocean right across. Crossing a line of small shops selling Sri Yantras, offering garlands and bangles, I ensconced myself near its mighty tide.
Watching the rising and falling waves on one side; and the temple gopuram on the other, I felt a strange communication occurring between the two. I tuned in. The Ashtalakshmi temple overlooking the ocean strangely seemed to not only equal the ocean in force and stature; its imposing structure appeared to reflect it as well! After all, isn’t Mahalakshmi, the enchanting Goddess of wealth, fortune, and beauty, the power and consort of Vishnu, the cause of the ocean of samsara?
It seemed as though her each flicker of a smile created a wave of sense of longing; each wave mirroring her movement. I looked intently back at the ocean; and saw waves emerge from a quiet ocean bed, swell up, gurgle (like one’s desires gaining momentum) and move ferociously towards the shore (seeking completion). And then I noticed that all waves, no matter how high or mighty, crash at the shore (like desires subsiding on reaching the divine threshold). As soon as they reach the shore, they must go, surrender their fury. I became a mute witness to this rising and resigning, this swelling and surrendering. Seeing a trifle deeper with the inner eye, I sensed a presence, an immovable, unshakeable force beneath all this movement that of the ocean, forever still, forever a witness, without a beginning or an end as Mahalakshmi herself!
Having had such magnificent darshan from afar, I returned with some colourful shells in my fist, scooped out from the soft sand. Since I didn’t know hymns that invoked the Goddess, I invoked her with a prayer to be freed from such rising and falling that her smile creates. I asked to be rescued from the grip of the Great Illusion that Her alluring form creates, from the rise of joy and fall of misery. I bowed low with words of the Bhagavad Gita ringing in my ear: “Samaloshta Asma Kanchana” (O Mahamayi, mother of the universe, abode of fortune, remover of miseries, embodiment of power and prosperity. Let, to my heart, the pottery shards and gold be the same!) The waves gurgled loud. The Wheel of Samsara clinked ferociously but I smiled this once being on the side of the Goddess!
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