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Iconography of The Supernatural and Devine: Lakshmi

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Brittney Andrade Tuesday, March 20th, 2018. HUMA 1860 – The Nature of Religion: An Introduction TUTR 07 Iconography of the Supernatural and Devine: Lakshmi In the Hindu mythology, there are both gods and goddesses. Worshipping goddesses can be seen as a source of power and inspiration for women. I’ve decided to focus my research on Lakshmi as she is the goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. She is the wife of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. She provides not only material wealth, but also good health and a joyful family life. Lakshmi was born from the ocean seated on a lotus while holding a blossom in her hand. In Hindu art, she is full-breasted, broad-hipped and always seen brightly smiling. She wears a red sari with coins raining down from two out of her four hands.

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In her other two hands, she holds lotuses which is a flower that represents the spiritual gifts she grants to others. She is often shown seated on a lotus and being anointed by two elephants. During my research, I found that the role of being a good wife and a mother is described as the most important thing for people. In my opinion, this can be related to the most substantial result on what the understanding of gender equality is based on. This is the belief that men and women are born with different qualities. In contrast to the gender theory, the differences between men and women are understood as largely publically fabricated. For most Hindu families, Lakshmi is the household goddess, and she is a particular favorite of women. Although she is worshiped daily, the festive month of October is Lakshmi’s special month. Lakshmi is usually represented as a beautiful woman of golden complexion, with four hands, sitting or standing on a full-bloomed lotus and holding a lotus bud, which stands for beauty, purity, and fertility. Her four hands represent the four ends of human life: dharma or righteousness, kama or desires, artha or wealth, and moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Waterfalls of gold coins are always seen flowing from her hands, suggesting that those who worship her will gain wealth. She always wears gold embroidered red clothes. Red symbolizes activity, and the golden lining signifies prosperity. She is believed to be the daughter of the mother goddess Durga and the wife of Vishnu, Lakshmi symbolizes the active energy of Vishnu.

Two elephants are often shown standing next to the goddess and spraying water. This symbolizes that never-ending effort when practiced in accordance with one’s dharma and ruled by wisdom and purity, leads to both material and spiritual prosperity. To symbolize her many attributes, Lakshmi may appear in any of eight different forms, representing everything from knowledge to food grains. The importance attached to the presence of Lakshmi in every household makes her an essentially domestic deity. Householders worship Lakshmi as a symbol of providing for the well-being and prosperity of the family. Fridays are traditionally the day Lakshmi is worshipped. In this study, I have chosen a gender approach. This part describes research on a gender and Hinduism. The information I have selected to focus on is the relationship between Hinduism and feminism. Some Indian women refuse to call themselves feminists because the term itself comes from the west and not from the Indian women’s society. For that reason, the word feminist cannot be used in the Indian context. Those who willing choose to call themselves feminists prefer in some cases to exclude religion because they find it oppressive and refuse to mix the two. Femininity and masculinity are keywords when talking about a gender. In the Hindu context, the feminine is not exclusive to women. Hindu men have for example shown a lot of interest in Kali. Another example of that is taken from the colonial rule when both men and women saw Shakti (the feminine force) as a source of empowerment.

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The definition also refers to inequality. In the Hindu tradition equality is a complicated term. In the constitution, women have all kinds of legal rights but it is complicated in practice because the family and the society have a hierarchical structure. In the family, the woman’s relationship is based on a dharma (duty). The purpose of my research on goddesses and women is to find out if there are common features in the constructions of goddesses and women and what kind of qualities that are recognized to the female side. In Hindu texts the goddesses have two basic qualities; they are either Shakti (the creative or active) or Prakriti (the material condition). These qualities are understood as good ones if they are controlled by forces that are identified as masculine. The protective and creative goddesses’ qualities are controlled by male gods. Goddesses like Lakshmi, Sita or Pavarati respect and pay attention to their husbands. Goddesses like Kali and Shitala are considered dangerous and they are not controlled by male Gods. In conclusion, I feel that the relationship between gender and feminism should be sorted out in a way where people understand them to be looked at the same. In social sciences, gender is looked at from a social perspective rather than a biological perspective. The difference between sex and gender is defined in the following way by people where “sex” refers to the biological division into both male and female and “gender” is socially unequal into femininity and masculinity. To most, feminism, in general, assumes that women have less power than men and that there is inequality between men and women. This is why feminist cannot be used in the Indian context as they believe they are all equal.

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