Phases of life – the last two phases of life
Unlike many other religions, Hinduism recognizes strongly the feminine aspects of divinity. One example is that each of the Trimurti-Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva -accompanies with a female goddess and the male God cannot function without her. In the following I would like to introduce Saraswati, who is the divine consort of Brahma.
History of Saraswati
The literal meaning of Saraswati is “the essence of the self” as sara means “essence” and swa means “self” in Sanskrit. She is perceived in three major rules: as river, as Vak (speech), and as goddess.
In early Hinduism, Saraswati is perceived as a river goddess associated with the Saraswati River. River Saraswati is considered to be the most scared river like Ganga present day as the river enrich the land and produce fertility. River Saraswati also represents purity due to the purifying power of running water. In Rig Veda, it states that the River Saraswati also blesses people with health and long life.
Later in the Vedic Period, she is associated with and even equated with Vak, the goddess of speech. The power of speech has been important in Hinduism. According to Vedas, Brahman, the divine reality at the heart of all things, is created by the short mantra OM, which is the sound of creation. As a result, speech is considered as the primary power and origin of creation. In Hinduism, speech is also important as for invoking the powers of deity. By reciting and repeating a mantra of a given deity is to make the deity present. The power of sound is embodied in Saraswati, thus the Goddess of speech.
Due to the embodiment of speech, then, Saraswati is present wherever speech exists. As speech or language is the origin of poetry, Saraswati’s role as the goodness associated with poetic inspiration, eloquence, learning and art become more popular and emphasized while her role as River Saraswati is lessened. Since speech is associated with the creative power, she later associated with Brahma, the God of creation as his divine consort. As Saraswati symbolizes the creative power of Brahma, she represents the shaktis (energies) of Brahma that the power of Brahma cannot function without her.
Today, Saraswati is mostly worshiped as the Goddess of knowledge because her creative power and her role as Vak, leading to her association with the Supreme reality thus the true knowledge. As Goddess Saraswati, she remains significance in present day and is much popularly worshiped then Brahma. People who interested in knowledge, especially students, scholars, and scientists, often worship her and many Indian academic institutions like universities have images of Saraswati in their buildings as an inspiration for students and scholars. Saraswati is especially celebrated at schools in Vasant Panchami on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of Magha of the Indian lunar calendar. It is believed to be the time when Saraswati was born. White, the main theme of Saraswati image plays a significant role on this day. Statues of Saraswati would be dressed in white clothes and be adorned by devotees with white garments. Children would be given their first lesson in reading and writing on this day. All Hindu educational institutions conduct Saraswati puja on this day.
Saraswati has played an important role in Hinduism and has influence in other regions as well. She is known and worshiped under the name of Benzaitan as a Goddess of wealth in Japan and China. The symbolic meaning behind image of Saraswati: Although Hinduism emphasizes the formless of the universe and divinity, it is important for people to worship and show devotion through physical manifestations of deities like paintings and music in order to experience the divinity.
The images of deities are usually symbolized and carried meanings representing teaching and power. The image of Saraswati is not an exception.
From this verse that often recited to invoke the blessings of Saraswati, we can have a general impression about Saraswati and her power. “May Goddess Saraswati, who is as white and bright as the jasmine flower, moon, dew, and a garland of pearls, who dresses in white clothes and whose hand is adorned with the finest Veena, who sits on a white lotus and is held in reverence by Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar, protect me from the worldly evils and a dull intellect by kindling the light of knowledge.”
Saraswati is mostly associated with the color white which signifies the purity of knowledge. In most of her images, she wears white sari and seats on a white Nelumbo nucifera lotus. White sari shows the she is the embodiment of pure knowledge. As lotus in Hinduism is a symbol of Supreme Reality, the white lotus denotes to Supreme Reality. Sitting on the white lotus, Saraswati is rooted in the Supreme Reality thus represents the Supreme Knowledge. Also, just like lotus that roots in mud but blooms with purity, Saraswati with her lotus seat suggests her transcendence of physical world. It inspires people to transcend physical limitations to receive true knowledge. Saraswati is often portrayed as a beautiful, modest woman with four arms.
The two front arms, holding a book and a mala in another, indicate her presence in the physical world and the two back arms, holding a lute called veena, signify Her presence in the spiritual world. The four hands also represent the four elements of the inner personality, which are mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), pure consciousness (citta) and ego (ahamkara).
The book in the rear left hand is Vedas, which is the earliest sacred book in Hinduism. It signifies pure and total knowledge as well as intellect that acquired to promote prosperity of mankind. By holding Vedas in her hand, it suggests that Saraswati holds all knowledge in her hands. The mala in Saraswati rear right hand signifies concentration, meditation, and contemplation that required for gaining union with god.
A mala is a string of Hindu prayer beads. It is commonly used to keep count of repetitions while chanting and reciting mantras or the name of deities so that the prayer could concentrate on the sound and power behind mantras.
In her front hands, Saraswati plays a musical instrument called Veena. Veena is a string instrument that requires great control and skillful manner with rhythmic mind. By playing Veena, it conveys that people should tune up the mind and intellect to live in harmony with the world and attain deeper understanding of life. As Veena represents music that requires control and skills, it also shows that Saraswati is the Goddess of arts, crafts and technology.
Saraswati usually uses a swan as her vehicle. It is said that the sacred swan has a sensitive beak that enables it to distinguish milk from a mixture of milk and water. Therefore swan symbolizes the power to discriminate between good and bad, right and wrong, the valuable and useless. Another notable feature of a swan is that it can stay and swim in water without getting affected by the waves. By using swan as her vehicle, it shows that Saraswati has a strong power of judgment, without getting attached to or influenced by the waves of the world or illusions (maya) on the path towards Divine Spirit. This teaches one to apply knowledge with discrimination and to swim across the waters of life to see the Divine Spirit without being influenced.
Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the Saraswati gazing at her. The peacock changes according to weather that symbolizes the fickleness of human mind. It also represents the arrogance and pride. By choosing swan over the peacock as her vehicle, it indicates the teaching of Saraswati that unlike peacock, one should remain undisturbed by external and changing factors as well as the self-ego in the pursuit of true knowledge and eternal truth. This teaching is also shown in her modest appearance that mostly only the ornament she wears is a garland of pearls as described in the verse.
Although the ultimate goal of Hinduism is the moksha, the complete release from the limitations of being an individual, Hinduism also encourages devotees to pursue life goals like Kama,(pleasure), artha (economic power) and dharma (social and religious duty). Arts, science and pure knowledge is important to both general life goals and the final spiritual deal as arts and science would help to achieve general life goal and divine knowledge would lead to moksha. Saraswati, originally considered as a river goddess but later worshiped as the Goddess of speech and Goddess of knowledge and arts, would bring devotees inspiration of artistic creation, knowledge leading to transcendence of the physical world.
1. “Saraswati.” Shakti: Realm of the Divine Mother. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2008. P208-215.
2. Kinsley, David R. “Saraswati.” Hindu Goddesses Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: U of California, 1988. P56-64.
3. Molloy, Michael. “Hinduism.” Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. Print.
Religion 100Q – 01J
24 November 2015
The Phases of Life (Third and fourth)
Hinduism has been shown to have a progressive tension between sacrificial religion to obtain a fortunate rebirth, and renunciation to secure liberation from rebirth. The ideals of renunciation to secure liberation from rebirth has been growing in popularity. This is a result of the Brahmin orthodoxy, which can be seen in the pursuit of the four goals of life.
The four goals of life that are deemed worthy of pursuit are (1) Dharma, (2) artha, (3) Kama, (4) moksha. The four stages of life, mainly for the men of the household are (1) sisya, or brahmacarya, (2) Grihastha, (3) vanaprastha, and (4) samnyasa. These categories complement each other, and link with the samskara system, giving a framework for the lives of an orthodox Hindu.
Very briefly, the first phase of life is the Brahmacharya, or the celibate student. This is the phase of formal education, and it lasts until a man’s mid-twenties. During this period, the student is supposed to prepare for his future profession, family, and other social and religious obligations. The second phase of life is the Grihastha, or the married family man. This phase is when the man is supposed to get married and earn a living supporting his family. At this stage of life, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth (artha), and the indulgence in sexual pleasures (kama). The second phase of life is supposed to last until the male is about fifty years old, or, according to the Laws of Manu, when a ma’s skin wrinkles and his hair turns gray. At that point, the man should move to the third phase of life. However, many men have trouble moving on past the second phase as they do not want to change their lifestyle to one of asceticism.
Vanaprastha is the third phase of life and is known as the retired life phase, or as the forest hermit phase. This phase of life occurs around the retirement age of 48 to 72 years old. Another way to determine when the householder has entered the third phase of life is when his children have children of their own, as tradition recommends the man to enter into his period of retirement. The man is “expected to retire from family and social life, give up his work, wealth and possessions, and retreat to the forest as a forest hermit to live a more spiritual life.
This phase of life is also known as the forest hermit because vanaprastha splits into residence (prastha) in the forest (vana). It is at this point of the man’s life that he is encouraged to relinquish his possessions and wealth to his wife and children. He has to bequeath his possessions to them because they have greater material needs as they are going through their first and second phases of life. The man is entering the third phase of life then moves out and proceeds to live in a hut in the forest. In the forest, the man is supposed to read scriptural texts and learn from sagely renouncers.
Granted the man’s wife may follow the husband into the third phase of life and follow him into his hermit life. The life of the hermit is supposed to be a celibate one. However, the wife could engage in some social and conjugal relationships with her husband. The physical relationship with the wife would only be transitional as the male in the hermit phase is supposed to “down one’s preoccupations with kama and artha, in the ultimate pursuit of moksha. The third phase is a transitional phase in the householder’s life – the transition from materialistic pursuits to spiritual liberation. If the man’s wife were to follow him into his hermit life, she would ultimately be limited to menial daily tasks such as preparing meals. Also, though the man is supposed to be completely cut off from this family, he can still seek advice from family members if it is necessary.
It is not common for the modern Hindu to enter this stage of life. Most elderly Hindus will continue to live in their family homes with their children. There are, however, quite a few who retire to the hermitage (asrama) of a well-regarded religious teacher, or to relocate to a town with some religious renown. Banaras, a place once known as the Forest of Bliss, is still a popular retirement site, although it is mostly urban now. Further, the modern retired Hindu men and women may go on occasional pilgrimages to different religious sites. They may visit these different religious sites, taking up abode in asramas in places such as Tiruvannamalai, or Pondicheri, or Haridvar or Rishikesh, for weeks at a time.
The fourth phase of life is Sannyasin. This phase is also known as the wandering ascetic or renouncer phase. This phase is traditionally seen as the last part of a man or woman’s life. However, to the modern practicing Hindus, a young person can choose to skip the householder and retirement stage to renounce straight away worldly and materialistic desires. That young person can then dedicate the rest of their lives to spiritual pursuits, particularly moksha. The fourth phase of life is not one that is regularly practiced anymore.
Traditionally, the Samnyasins are expected to leave their family and loved ones and perform their death rites. They are supposed to burn their sacred threads, abandon the household fire, and wander the world in search for the final and highest goal: Liberation or moksha. A renouncer must ignore his consciousness and impulses of “I” and “my,” and must cut himself loose from the limitations of individuality.
The man that just renounced all of his possessions is expect to wear rag robes, “traditionally dyed in a saffron hue to conceal stains.” There are no formal requirements for the lifestyle or spiritual discipline on the methods of the renouncer. The lack of requirement has led to a wide variety of practices for those that do go through the last stage of life. However, there are some common themes. The only possessions that the renouncer is allowed to carry is a staff for support of their old age, and a bowl into which they have different householders donate food and give offerings. Also, renouncers are expected to be constantly on the move. They are nomadic ascetics because they need to avoid remaining too long in one site so as to not develop any attachments to particular places or to take the generosity or companionship of particular persons. For some, the path of renunciation is a form of severe asceticism
The behavioral state of a person attempting the fourth phase of life can be found in the Bhagavad Gita. For example, in hymn 5.3, “One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, free from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.” The hymn is discussing the ultimate goal of liberation
Other characteristics of the person renouncing include non-violence, disarmament, chastity, non-desirous behaviors, poverty, self-restraint, truthfulness, kindness to all living beings, non-stealing, non-acceptance of gifts, non-possessiveness, and purity of speech and mind. These characteristics, however, are not exclusive to the fourth phase of life. They should be sought after throughout an individual’s entire lifetime.
The ultimate goal of the renouncer is to attain moksha or liberation. The definition of liberation, however, differs from traditions. For Yoga traditions, for example, liberation is experiencing the highest Samadhi, or deep awareness in this life. Being a renouncer is ultimately a means to decrease and ending ties of all kind. Granted some people see renouncers as people who abandon society and live a reclusive life. However, renouncers are rejecting the ritual mores of the social world and one’s attachment to materialistic desires. If the renouncer succeeds, the end is a liberated, free, and blissful existence.
Transitioning from the second phase of life to the third is an extremely challenging task. It is difficult to renounce all of one’s possessions and simply become a recluse, especially for the modern Hindus, after spending half a lifetime building one’s wealth. Further, leaving a family behind to pursue religious ambitions can be close to impossible if one is not fully committed to the religion. However, if one can successfully transition into the third phase of life, the transition into the fourth and final phase of life would be must smoother.
Further, transitioning from the third phase of life to the fourth is even more difficult. However, if the recluse is successful in that he can separate himself from all worldly possessions, he may find it easier coping with life as an ascetic. Also, if the renouncer can attain moksha or liberation, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs of living an ascetic life. After all, the final goal of having a liberated, free, and blissful existence is the reason people follow the religion in the first place.
- Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
- Fowler, Jeaneane D. Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic, 1997. Print.
- Stevenson, Sinclair. The Rites of the Twice-born. New Delhi: Oriental Reprint; Exclusively Distributed by Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1971. Print.
- Rodrigues, Hillary. Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Print.
- Morgan, Kenneth W. The Religion of the Hindus. New York: Ronald, 1953. Print.
- “Bhagavad Gita 5.3.” The Bhagavad Gita with Commentaries of Ramanuja Madhva Shankara and Others Bhagavad Gita 53 Comments. N.p., 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
21st November 2015
Hinduism is a religion to almost a billion people in this world. Majority of Hindus live in India and Nepal. It is the main religion of India and has been for thousands of years. The origin of the religion is thought to have started prior to 2000 B.C.E, which is when the Harappa Culture of the Indus Valley thrived. Today, Hinduism is generally known to be a polytheistic religion that unites the worship of many gods with a belief in a single divine reality (Molloy 78). A pivotal part of this great religion is puja, which is a form of worship that an individual addresses to the image of a deity or a pair of deities. This image or an icon of a Hindu deity is called a murti. Puja is a way of expressing love or devotion, which is “Bhakti” in Sanskrit – the ancient language of India and the Vedas – to a deity in some form and it has become the central religious practice of Hinduism (Flood 1996). Hinduism also emphasizes the importance of trying to find salvation through Bhakti Yoga, which is a method people utilize to show devotion.
The history of puja is elementary in the sense that there is not much information of its origin. There are no textual or archeological evidence that Aryans, people that lived in India during the Vedic period, worshiped gods in iconic forms. Scholars believe that puja became popular during the later puranic age of 300-750 C.E. (Cush, Robinson, and York 633). This period was known for theism and the popularity of temple building. Gradually, puja swapped places with vedic sacrifice yajna, which was the main ritual of the time. Unlike yajna, which had to be performed by priests and was meant to appease a deity, puja can be performed by anyone and it means to honor the deity. Puja soon became even more popular after the Bhagavadgita legitimized it as the core of Bhakti, loving devotion.
In contrast to animal sacrifice, puja is the offering of vegetarian food, flowers, and incense to a deity. While the offerings to a deity are usually the same, some deities accept other offerings as well, such as blood (Flood 208). Through puja, a devoted person seeks contact with the gods and he or she does so by offering gifts or prayers to the god. Apart from gods, Brahmans, teachers, virgins, children, cows and other animals, plants, books, the earth, a water jug, or stones can be the focus of a puja as well (Michaels 242).
Puja can be performed in one’s home or the temple. In homes, puja is usually performed before the icon of a deity placed in a separate or purest room of the house and the prayer is usually uttered by a layperson. The first thirteen years of my life were spent in Bangladesh, where the second biggest majority of people in the country were Hindus. Tenants on the ground floor of our building were Hindus. On my way to school every morning I passed by their window and I remember having all my senses aroused. I remember seeing and hearing the performing of the prayers in front of miniature deity statues. I also remember the strong but pleasant smell of incense and loud ringing of the bell from the puja. I have also seen the Hindu temples, or mandir, many times where the icons of deities – murtis – were much larger and a larger number of people perform the prayers together. If the puja is performed in the temple, the temple priest usually conducts it. During the puja in temple, the murti is also bathed and dressed. Next, varieties of foods are offered, along with the burning of incense, loud ringing of bells and banging of drums.
In temples, puja usually consists of a process of bathing the murti, during which various substances are rubbed on the deity’s body. Then the murti is dressed in sacred clothes, adorned with perfumes, and decorated with new jewels. The murti also often receives a dot of red turmeric on its forehead. Along with ringing bells, the deity is then offered boiled rice and fruits, which are later consumed by the priests. After the deity was served the meal, a curtain is drawn back and devotees are allowed to view or “darsan” the deity. Next is, “diparadhana,” of the puja, where the priest waves different camphor lamps in a circular motion before the murti. The puja is now almost complete, and might include loud drumming, pipes, and the blowing of conches at this time. A priest will then take a lamp, known as the arati lamp, to devotees who cup their hands over the flames and touch their eyes and faces, bringing the light and warmth of the deity to themselves (Flood 209). Finally, the devotees accept turmeric powder or white ash from the priest to mark their foreheads and the puja is over. Devotees will usually take away blessed food or “prasada,” which will be eaten later.
Puja tends to vary in rituals in different places. For example, in Minakhsi temple at Madurai, for important occasions a preparatory ritual precedes the puja and it ends with a fire ritual or “homa” (Flood 210). Another example is the famous Jagannath temple at Puri, which has devdasi dancers – temple’s prostitutes married to the deity – to perform sacred dances in front of the shrine. At the famous temple of Guruvayur on the Kerala coast, which attracts many thousands of pilgrims, five daily pujas are performed (Flood 210). They occur between dawn and sunset.
Many wonder, how a Hindu chooses to decide which deity shall be the object of his or her devotion. While there is no one simple answer to the question, some generalizations do exist. First of all, there are several kinds of deities. For most of these deities a devotee simply cannot decide. The decision is made by the circumstances of his or her birth. An example is the lineage deities, khula devam, often known as the “family deities,” which are worshipped by extended family and passed down from one generation to the next through the paternal line (Rinehart 104). Another example is the inheritance of the gama devam, the “village deity” (Rinehart 105). Devotion to other deities, such as the pan-Indian gods and goddesses Ganesha, Shiva, Murugan, Rama, Krishna, and Durga etc. are usually personal choice of the devotee (Rinehart 106).
Hindus also celebrate many festivals throughout the year. Some of these festivals are Mahasivaratri, Durga Puja, Sarasvati Puja, Ganesa Caturthi, Krsnajanmastami, and Ramanavmi. Most of these festivals include puja, darsana, and devotion shown toward the respective deity. But, some of these festivals are more prominent in certain areas than others. Puja for the goddesses Durga and Sarasvati are usually celebrated more and with particular fanfare and devotion in Bengal. On the other hand, birthday of the elephant-headed deity, Ganesa, is special to Hindus of Maharastra and Rajasthan region of India (Kumar 21). Having lived in Bangladesh, I have seen the importance of Durga Puja in the region. It is known to be one of the biggest holidays for Hindus in Bangladesh. For the celebration, the temples are decorated magnificently, murti’s are made larger and more alive than ever, and other glorious fanfares take place.
As previously mentioned, expressing bhakti, which means devotion, to a deity is what makes puja an integral part of Hinduism. Bhagavad-Gita, which is revered as one of the most important texts of Hinduism, recommends spiritual paths as well as quiet contemplation to achieve salvation. Yoga, which means union, is methods that can be used to live spiritually. Yoga allows people to perfect their union with the divine (Molloy 91). Out of the major forms of yoga, Bhakti Yoga is closely related to puja. It is known as the devotional yoga. During the early transitions of Hinduism, around 1300 C.E. the Sri Vaisnava community had split into sub-sects called the ‘northern culture’ or vatakalai and the ‘southern culture’ or tenkalai (Flood 137). While the vatakalai emphasized the Sanskrit scriptures and salvation through traditional bhakti-yoga, the tenkalai emphasized the Tamil scriptures and surrender to the lord by his grace.
According to Ramanuja, who was an early Hindu theologian, bhakti yoga entails both love and knowledge in a shape in which a person is completely submissive to god. This means that the self must take refuge or surrender at the feet of the deity. Ramanuja states that refuge provokes the deity’s saving grace and this grace opens the door to release, by illuminating the devotee’s heart (Olson 158). Bhakti yoga can involve various expressions of devotion. These devotions are mostly rituals performed in pujas, such as chants, songs, food offerings, and the anointing of the murtis. Bhakti yoga can extend also to acts of devotion shown toward one’s guru, parents, or spouse (Molloy 94).
The ultimate goal of a Hindu is to be released from the cycle of life, and achieve moksha – complete freedom (Molloy 92). By showing devotion one is a step closer to moksha, and that is why puja is such a fundamental part of a Hindu’s life. By performing or participating in puja, the person is able to worship and seek contact with the divine deity through its physical manifestations.
Cush, Denise, Catherine A. Robinson, and Michael York. Encyclopedia of Hinduism. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Flood, Gavin D. An Introduction to Hinduism. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.
Kumar, P. Pratap. Contemporary Hinduism. Durham: Acumen Limited, 2013. Print.
Michaels, Axel, and Barbara Harshav. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2004. Print.
Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. Print.
Olson, Carl. The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2007. Print.
Rinehart, Robin. Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.
24 November 2015
Just as the term “Hinduism” forms a Western blanket that covers and encompasses a variety of beliefs and practices that are different forms of the Sanatana Dharma, or eternal religion, the term “wedding” is a simplification of the week-long tradition of fulfilling the second stage of what the Vedas identified as the four stages of human life: grihasta ashrama, or householder (Molloy). While ages and specifics of rituals vary by region and, occasionally, village, the history that has led to some of the universal practices remain as the foundation for the vibrant, colorful ceremonies that occur today.
While evidence of pre-Aryan fertility rites suggest a cult of a mother goddess or matriarchal social structure, the lowering of the marrying age from fifteen to as young as five years old between the First Vedas (1500 BCE) and the conception of enforced law codes (Carmody) paired with the canonization of patriarchy by the Law of Manu in 2 BCE, reduced the women’s societal role to that of wife and mother (Molloy). Although women’s religious roles declined, their specific role remained of importance, as shaadi, or marriage, is the thirteenth of sixteen ceremonies in a Hindu’s life and a holy sacrament, or sansakara (Ravindra). Karma, the belief that everything that occurs is the consequence of past deeds and Dharma, or duty, fortifies the general belief that unhappy marriages, especially if attributed to the wife, are the result of bad actions they committed in a past life (Ravindra). Dharma fortifies the requirement to remain married regardless of hardships, as marriage is a part of one’s duty to one’s family is one of the most important facets of the religion (Ravindra). Family, in fact, is so important that the marriages are arranged, with varying requirements per region. While the marriages are typically intracaste, with intercaste marriages being more closely associated with “love marriage” (Hawley). In most areas, one cannot be wed to someone that is a part of her or her mother’s gotra, or patrilineal clan (Hawley), while in other areas, members of other clans are also ineligible, as are clans from which men of her own gotra have taken brides (Hawley). In most of Northern India, one should not marry someone from his or her own village, while in Central India, some marriages unite unrelated village “brothers” and “sisters” (Hawley).
Once a prospective bride or groom is found, both families are typically allowed to vet the family and prospective husband or wife before agreeing to the marriage. Some inspections are simple and fast, while others may be rigorous or extensive and the type may vary based on urban or rural location of the families involved. The practices of the inspection vary depending on area, as in the city finding and vetting a prospective bride or groom are typically combined, as ads are placed in newspapers, typically stressing beauty and education in a prospective bride, and education and earning capacity in a groom (Hawley). One public inspection performed in West Bengal included a test of the girl’s knowledge of reading, writing, sewing, and knitting, and her manner of laughing, worship, horoscope, cooking and appearance, as a girl with too dark complexion may be rejected (Hawley). Most urban brides are around the age of seventeen, as they usually wait until graduation from high school, and sometimes college, to get married. In rural areas, “child marriages” are a frequent reality, as the 1955 law that provides legal penalties for those responsible for the marriage of a girl under fifteen or a boy younger than 18 is widely ignored, as village marriages are not recorded with authorities (Hawley). Despite early marriage, most village marriages do not partake in the guana (consummation) ceremony until after the bride has reached puberty (Hawley). In Northern and Central India, monogamy is generally practiced, while some rural Hindu men may take multiple wives and the women of some Himalayan groups may have several husbands (Hawley).
After a bride and groom are vetted and chosen by both families, the pre-wedding rituals begin. Months before the wedding, a ceremony known as Mangni in Northern India or Nischitartham in South India is held (Gullapalli). In this ceremony, the two families meet to make the engagement official by choosing a muhurat, or auspicious date and time based on horoscopes, having the elders of both families bless the couple, and having the bride and groom receive gifts (Gullapalli). As the muhurat nears, the ceremonies continue, including the Haldi, a ritual holy bath during which turmeric, oil, and water is applied to both the bride and groom by married women, and the Mehendi, during which the bride’s hands and feet are decorated in henna in a ceremony that is somewhat like a bachelorette party in that only females attend (Gullapalli). In Northern India, the Sangeet (music), a ceremony in which the bride’s family hosts an evening of musical entertainment, and Tilak, a ceremony in which vermillion or kumkum is place on the forehead of the groom by all the male members of the bride’s family, take place (Gullapalli). In South India, the Janavasam is a tradition where the groom is paraded around the town on a chariot or open car the evening before the wedding (Gullapalli). During the pre-wedding period, the attire for the bride and groom are purchased, along with gifts that will be gifted to the newly married couple. Traditionally, the bride will wear a sari or lehenga, which is highly ornate with gold and silver embroidery (Gullapalli). The color is of great significance, while red is the most common for its symbolizing prosperity, fertility, and saubhagya, or marital bliss (Gullapalli). In Northern India, the bride also wears a ghunghat, or veil, draped over her hair as a sign of modesty and respect towards the deities worshipped and the elders present (Gullapalli). The groom will wear a dhoti or sherwani that is usually white, off-white, or beige, and in Northern India he may also wear a turban with white flowers tied in suspended strings called a Sehra (Gullapalli). In some South Indian traditions, the bride and groom may have a black mark on their cheek to avoid ill omen and ward off evil (Gullapalli).
The actual shaadi ceremony is around 3 hours long and is usually held at the bride’s home or a wedding hall (Gullapalli). The bride arrives first and waits for her husband’s arrival with a Jaimala/Varamala, or garland, while the groom and his family partake in the Baarat, a giant procession in which there is music, dance, and fireworks (Gullapalli). When the groom arrives, they exchange garlands and the mother of the bride performs the Aarti when he enters the house (Gullapalli). In South India, prior to the groom and bride exchanging garlands, the groom partakes in Kashi Yatra, a ceremony in which he pretends to throw a fit and renounce getting married to instead go to Varnasi and take up sainthood, just for the bride’s father to convince him otherwise (Gullapalli). In Northern India, a tradition called Baasi Jawari or Joothe Churana, or the stealing of the shoes, takes place, during which the bride’s sister’s hide his shoes and demand money for ransom (Gullapalli). The bride and groom are also responsible for performing many pujas, or prayers, two of which include the Gowri Puja for the bride, which worships the Indian Goddess Parvathi, and the Ganesh Puja for the groom to gain blessings so that the wedding runs smoothly (Gullapalli). The Kanyadaan, or giving away of the bride, is one of the most important parts of the main wedding ritual and involves the father giving his daughter to the bride and requesting that he accept her as his equal partner (Gullapalli). The bride and groom are considered wed when the groom ties three knots that symbolize the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara into a Mangalsutram/thali, which is a sacred thread that symbolizes his promise to take care of the bride as long as he lives (Gullapalli). The entire wedding is done around an Agni Homam, or sacred fire, as Agni, the fire god, is considered the main witness to the marriage (Gullapalli). The bride and groom then circle the fire seven times symbolizing the seven goals of married life: religious and moral duties, prosperity, spiritual salvation and liberation, and sensual gratification; an act called Saat Phere, which is led first by the wife and then by the husband to signify the equalities of the two partners and their determination to stand by one another (Gullapalli). The wedding ends with the groom applying vermillion or kumkum to the bride’s forehead, welcoming her as a partner for life (Gullapalli) and signifying her new social status as a Bahu, or a member of her husband’s lineage and a symbol of fertility, and a suhagin, or wife with a living husband, which emphasizes the concept that man and woman are only completed in their union (Hawley).
After the wedding, the post-ceremony rituals begin. In the Vidaai ceremony the family of the bride gives her a sobbing farewell and she throws back three handfuls of rice and coin over the shoulders towards her parental home to ensure wealth and prosperity remains in her home forever (“Hindu Wedding”). Afterwards, in the past, a bride would be carried to her husband’s home in a doli (palanquin); however some traditions remain (Hawley). Upon arrival, the newly-weds are greeted with Aarti to ward off bad spirits, the bride then topples a kalash (metal pot) of rice with her right leg, and then the couple can enter the house taking the first step with their right legs (Hawley). In some traditions, the bride steps into a plate of vermillion mixed in water, and walks down the prayer room and the bride and groom perform the Satyanarayana puja to show their gratitude to the Lord (Hawley). All this constitutes the grihapravesh, or house-entry, ceremony. Afterwards, a reception party is organized by the groom’s family in the evening (Hawley). The guana ceremony is scheduled by parents and the bride’s residence is determined by the parents, as some girls stay at home and slowly integrate into her husband’s home, while others stay at their husband’s home until they produce an heir (Hawley). Few girls can go home regularly, as they must be formally called on by their parents, given permission to go by their in-laws, and must be escorted by a responsible male from her natal household (Hawley).
For most women, their wedding will prove to be the highlight of their life, as it is a period of familial and religious fulfillment, as well as one of the few times in a bride’s life that she will be the center of attention and catered to. While, dowry payments, or payments made to the groom’s family by the bride’s family, have sometimes soured relations between a bride and her in-laws or even ended in death to free the son to marry again, the bride gains a new identity and family after her wedding (Molloy). A highly educated male may request a higher asking price for dowry, while the highly educated female may not have to offer as large of a dowry (Hawley). Widowed women are handled differently than widowed men, as Sati, the act of a widow immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, was expected by society, and still occurs even now even though it was abolished over a century ago (Hawley). While many people think of religion as pertaining solely to one’s beliefs about existence and the afterlife, a large part of religion is the way in which it shapes the behaviors and culture of those who practice and believe, and the way in which Hinduism has shaped the cultural practices of marriage can easily be identified and compared to all other religions. It is made very clear throughout the week long endeavor that the events occurring are meant to be one of the most important events in the participants’ lives and should usher in a new life stage for those involved. The marriage is fortified with the belief of dharma which exemplifies the way in which the religion institutes, solidifies, and reproduces specific social structures and beliefs in Hindu society.
“Hindu Wedding.” Rituals, Hindu Marriage Traditions, and Ceremony. Cultural India, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. <http://www.culturalindia.net/weddings/regional-weddings/hindu-wedding.html>.
Carmody, Denise L., and T. L. Brink. Ways to the Center: An Introduction to World Religions. 5th ed. N.p.: Wadsworth, 2002. Print.
Gullapalli, Sravani, and Aparna Raju Sagi. “Indian Wedding Traditions.” Valuable International Perspectives. Rice University, May 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <https://oiss.rice.edu/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=854>.
Hawley, John Stratton, and Vasudha Narayanan. The Life of Hinduism. Berkeley: U of California, 2006. Print.
Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2013. Print.
Ravindra, Geetha. Impact of Religion and Culture on Divorce in Indian Marriages. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The American Bar Association. The American Bar Association. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/dispute_resolution_magazine/Ravindra_Impact%20_of_Religion_and_Culture_on_Divorce.authcheckdam.pdf>.
November 23, 2015
Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi, a world-renowned peace activist, has affected the modern world through his teachings of non-violence and social equality. To this day, his legacy and what he has contributed can be found in all walks of life. The life of Mohandas Gandhi, his original name, spans from 1869 to 1948 to which he was a very prominent political activist in the Eastern Hemisphere (Molloy). From speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. to educational curriculums in higher institutions, elements from the teachings of Gandhi have integrated into almost every realm of society today. Out of all his teachings and legacies that are remembered, there is no doubt that his mentality towards civil disobedience through nonviolence means is the most prominent. The effects of what he has taught has sprouted many more movements and ideologies that have transgressed past his lifetime and into the lives of future generations.
Prior to discussing the effects of his teachings, nonviolence in its true essence, must be discussed. The concept of nonviolence can be captured in the meaning of ahisma, which is a philosophy of causing no injury or harm through means of words, thoughts, or deeds (Mayton 713). This word dates back to ancient Indian and Asian religious traditions that deem it as a way of life that one should uphold (Arapura 392). Although the existence of ahisma dates long before the time of Gandhi, he was the first to apply it on such a large scale during times of political upheaval in 20th Century India (Asirvatham). Molloy defines ahisma as, “nonharm” or “nonviolence” (Molloy). Walker claims that it is impossible for men to completely act in accordance with ahisma because men constantly engage in acts of violence with other men, animals, or even plants (Bajpai 148). Unintentional or not, because all men engage in acts of violence, man can only agree with it in principle while striving to achieve it in practice. Walker makes an interesting point when she claims that gunpowder, in its mere existence, totally defies everything that ahisma stands for because the primary utility of gunpowder is to engage in violence (150). Although man cannot practice ahisma fully, there are those who act in accordance with the principle more than others. In Gandhi’s weekly journal, the Harijan, he described non-violence as being, “the greatest force at the disposal of mankind” (Harijan 2). Gandhi added that it is the strongest weapon to utilize when change is desired; it is stronger than actual destruction of property or violent acts toward others (Harijan 1). In addition, man is defined as, “living freely by his willingness to die” (Harijan 2). This quote in the Harijan is especially important because it displays the type of mentality that a society must have in order for change to be enacted. Man must want something so much that he is willing to get hurt, go to prison, or to even die at the cost of his goals. Gandhi outlines the repercussions of violent acts and how they plant seeds of hatred in future generations when he says, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent” (Gandhi). In other words, violence is the wrong way to enact change because an infliction of violence on a person will cause a seed to hatred to be planted and an on-going chain of violence, stemming from vengeance, will ensue. Bose says that nonviolence requires courage whereas acts of violence are simply loud (Bose 161). He adds that nonviolence is very difficult to practice because it requires man to be forgiving; forgiving of the disservices committed to him and to relinquish any kind of animosity (161). Furthermore, Bose says that, “self suffering is the chosen substitute for violence to others” (161).
Gandhi and his teachings rooted from influences that dated back long before his birth. Influences such as Jesus, Thoreau, and Buddha played significant roles in shaping his teachings and they way he applied it during the Indian Independence Movement. Jesus in particular, played an enormous role in defining Gandhi’s morals as he was growing up. As a child, he would read the Christian Bible, specifically the New Testament, and found the content resonating (Bose 160). In his book, Gandhi on Christianity, Gandhi spoke on how the Sermon on the Mount message impacted him so heavily (Gandhi 34). What struck him the most in the Sermon on the Mount was Christ’s teaching on non-retaliation and how one should return good when evil is performed. This new mentality is something Gandhi had not been accustomed to, yet he found great value in the practice. Because Jesus was so successful in adopting new followers using this mentality, Gandhi was fixated on learning more about it and its applications toward the Indian Independence Movement. Ultimately, it was the passion and unconditional love of others by Jesus Christ that transformed Gandhi, so much so that elements of Christianity are found everywhere in the ideals shared by Gandhi.
Another vital influence that shaped Gandhi’s teachings would be his parents. Gandhi always spoke highly of his mother and how devoutly religious she was (Dalton 2). During his childhood, Gandhi’s mother would practice fasting whenever the sun was not shining; she would claim that “God did not want her to eat today” (Dalton 2). In return, Gandhi and his brother would always run outside to check if the sun was out that day so their mother could finally eat (Dalton 2). Although never said explicitly, Gandhi would learn principles such as loyalty, self-control, and self-deprivation by daily examples from his mother (Dalton). With any child, the values they hold when they are adults are largely dependent on the values that are instilled in them as child by the parents. It is thanks to an accumulation of multiple influences that has allowed Gandhi to be the influential political and social activist that he is today.
Gandhi is most known for being a political reformer and activist through his actions during the Indian Independence Movement. A common misconception that arises from Gandhi’s actions in India is that he wanted independence for India. This is wrong; Gandhi wanted something known as swaraj, which translates into self-rule (Dalton 2). The concept of swaraj exists on two plains, the first being a political realm while the second being on a spiritual realm. Independence was freedom to do anything, which carries a negative connotation whereas swaraj means disciplined rule from within which carries a positive connotation (Dalton 2). In a political sense, having swaraj for India would mean India would be free from British imperialism and have complete sovereignty over itself. In a spiritual sense, the idea of swaraj can be found in The Bagavad-Gita where it teaches people to regain control of the ‘self’ (Dalton 4).
Specifically in his active role during the Independence movement for India, Gandhi taught people the correct way to fight injustice. Instead of retaliating with acts of violence, Gandhi implored his followers to only oppose an unfair act and never a person (Gerry 1). An element from Christianity that runs strong with Gandhi’s ideals is the principle of unconditional love. That is, to love your neighbor despite any injustices that he may have caused you. During his time in South Africa and from teachings by Thoreau, Gandhi learned of the power of strikes and protest marches, two powerful weapons that he utilized during the independence movement (Gerry 1). The power of nonviolent forces the opposition to look at themselves and the problems between the oppressed and the suppressors in a different light (Gerry). A principle that Gandhi instilled and emphasized to his followers was the fact that only love could drive out hate and stop the chain of animosity (Gerry 3). A specific instance of Gandhi’s practice can be seen during the Salt Protest in India in 1930 where salt was heavily taxed so Gandhi and his followers marched peacefully to the beach to pick up salt (Gerry 4). In doing so, Gandhi was arrested and put into prison. As a result, over 60,000 people, abiding by Gandhian principles, ‘turned the other cheek’ while the British attempted to stop their march (Gerry 4). This prime example of how 60,000 people followed the footsteps and practices of one man is a testament to amount of people Gandhi touched with his teachings.
Mahatma Gandhi is the cultivation of past iconic influences and will be seed of future leaders that will come and enact change in all realms of society. Through his teachings of nonviolent protest and unconditional love, Gandhi has touched the lives of many and because of this, society today and societies to come will still reap the benefits of the change he has enacted and the process by which one should combat injustice. His teachings have not only freed India from the British, but African-Americans have more civil rights because of Martin Luther King Jr., South Africans have been liberated from apartheid because of Nelson Mandela, along with many more leaders to come.
Bose, Anima. “A Gandhian Perspective on Peace”. Journal of Peace Research 18.2 (1981): 159–164. Web…
Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, New York: Dover Publications, 1983, p. 2
Ghandi, Mohandas K., “Ahimsa, or the Way of Nonviolence.” A Peace Reader. Ed. Joseph J. Fahey and Richard Armstrong. New York: Paulist Press, 1992. 171-174.
Dalton, Dennis. “Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action”. Columbia University Press (2012). 2-20.
Walker, Claire. “What Do We Mean by Non-Violence?”. The Journal of Religions and Psychical Research. Volume 17, Number 3. EBSCO Publishing, 2002. 146-149.
Parker, Clifton. “Gandhi’s nonviolent approach offers lessons for peace movements, Stanford scholar says”. Stanford Report, 2004. 1-3.
Asirvatham, Eddy. Political Theory. S.chand.
Mayton, D. M., & Burrows, C. A. (2012), Psychology of Nonviolence, The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology, Vol. 1, pages 713-716 and 720-723, Wiley-Blackwell.
Bajpai, Shiva (2011). The History of India – From Ancient to Modern Times, Himalayan Academy Publications (Hawaii, USA), ISBN 978-1-934145-38-8; see pages 8, 98
Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW. “Mahatma Gandhi”. AGNT, 2002. 1-4.
Molloy, Michael. “Chapter 3: Hinduism.” Experiencing the World’s Religions. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 75+. Print.
Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and fortune, (Dimmit) among many other virtues, is the loyal wife of Vishnu. The earliest Vedic literature calls her Sri, and she later developed under the name Lakshmi (Kinsley 18). Her name developed from early Sanskrit and means “goal,” and it “represents the goal of life which includes worldly and spiritual prosperity” (Pandit). Lakshmi, or Sri, is credited as being the “mother of the world” (Dimmit). While Lakshmi is prominent throughout countless facets Hinduism, for this project, I will focus on three key aspects of Lakshmi: her relation to Vishnu, stories of Lakshmi, and her associated symbols.
Lakshmi in relation to Vishnu
Vishnu “represents the force of preservation in the universe,” and he is the “most important object of devotion in India” (Molloy 97). It is common for each male deity have an associated female counterpart. “They are so much a part of the male god, that the god cannot be active without them, and thus are called “shaktis” (“energies”) because they allow the male gods to be effective in the human world” (Molloy 102). Lakshmi is the shakti of Vishnu, and as his consort, she “dispenses good luck and protection” (Molloy 103). The two deities are each other’s counterparts in numerous ways. For example, Vishnu is meaning and Lakshmi is speech, Vishnu is knowledge and Lakshmi is insight, Vishnu is behavior and Lakshmi is conduct (Dimmit) and so on. These are just a few examples of the many ways that Lakshmi and Vishnu compliment each other. Overall, Vishnu “is all that is known as male, and Sri all that is known as female. There is nothing more beyond these two!” (Dimmit).
Vishnu and Lakshmi sometimes appear as a single divinity. Prior to around A.D. 400 when Lakshmi is almost exclusively associated to Vishnu, Sri is also connected to may other male deities (Kinsley 26). Numerous tales exist of her relation to these Gods, but it is said that Sri is attracted to the many forms that Vishnu takes on, and so she ultimately devotes herself to him in matrimony. Because Vishnu and Lakshmi are so interconnected, she often serves as his subdued counterpart when dealing with his devout followers. “While Vishnu is often conceived of as a stern, easily-perturbed patriarch, Lakshmi represents a more soothing, warm and approachable mother figure who willingly intervenes in the lives of devotees on his behalf” (New World Encyclopedia). She serves as the advocate for mortals on his behalf and as is his rational partner.
The rebirth of Lakshmi and the festival of Diwali
The first story necessary to know in order to study Lakshmi is the churning of the ocean of milk. This is when Lakshmi was reborn. I will provide a very abbreviated version of the story to highlight its relation to Lakshmi, but for the full story, reference the citations at the end of this page. One day, Lakshmi became annoyed with Indra’s arrogance, and so she left into the ocean (BBC). The world became a dark, and without her, there was no good fortune or prosperity. In the story, the gods want to retrieve Lakshmi and the amrita (the nectar of immortality) from the depths of the cosmic ocean (Encyclopedia Britannica). After the Indra consulted Vishnu, who was in his tortoise form of Kurma, they began to work together to fight the demons to obtain the amrita from the sea. The gods and the demons stirred the ocean of milk with a naga (half man, half serpent) by wrapping it around Mount Mandara. The gods pulled from one side and the demons pulled from another. Eventually, after 1000 years, the churning amounted to many treasures. Several deities, including Lakshmi on her lotus flower, emerged from the whirlpool along with many other treasures often associated with Vishnu, and this marks the rebirth of Lakshmi (Encyclopedia Britannica). After retrieving the treasures and Lakshmi, the Gods chased the demons from the world (BBC).
Diwali, which was celebrated on November 11th this year, is known as the “Festival of Lights.” On the third day of Diwali festival, the night of Amavasya, is the most important for the celebration of Lakshmi. On this day, “strains of joyous sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Laxmi in a wondrous holy “pouring-in” of her heart” (Lakshmi Puja on Diwali). Diwali is celebrated by Hindu’s all over the world, and is often recognized for its colorful displays, a multitude of lights, and hymns honoring Lakshmi on her day. It is said that on this joyous day, Sri “showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity” (Lakshmi Puja on Diwali). A puja is a ceremony that is carried out at in order to worship a deity, and specifically on this day during Diwali, Lakshmi is honored with a Puja. While Diwali is also concentrated around other stories, in North and West India, Lakshmi is a central figure for worship. In tandem with the theme of the festival of lights, many Hindu’s light the lamps in their home to serve as a light to guide Sri’s path. People also extensively clean their houses for Lakshmi because it is said she will visit the cleanest houses first (Lakshmi Puja on Diwali).
Lakshmi and her associated symbols
As noted earlier, Lakshmi is a very maternal figure in Hinduism. In later Hinduism history, her fertility is connected to rich agricultural production. Her son is named Kardama, meaning mud, which pairs with her description as being like fertile soil in a harvest (Kinsley 20). Early villagers, particularly women, worshipped Lakshmi in the form of cow dung in certain instances, because of her relation to abundant harvests (Kinsley 19).
In almost all of the pictures of Sri, she is sitting on top of a lotus flower. Lakshmi is often related to fertility, and the lotus is a symbol that is most commonly used to represent that. The lotus flower symbolizes fertility and life in how it is rooted into primordial waters (Kinsley 21). It is representative of the entire created world (Kinsley 21). The lotus grows from the naval of Vishnu, which represents the beginning of cosmic creation, and Lakshmi “is the nectar (the rasa) of creation which lends to creation its distinctive flavor and beauty” (Kinsley 21). Also in pictures of Lakshmi, she is almost always seen wearing a red dress and possesses gold coins, “which denotes prosperity” (Pundit).
The lotus also has a second symbolic meaning. The flower is rooted in mud, but blossoms above the water, and this image symbolizes the purity and spiritual power of Lakshmi (Kinsley 21). Just as Lakshmi sits atop the lotus, other gods and goddesses in Hinduism do that same to mark their spiritual authority (Kinsley 21). The mud from which the lotus grows is representative of the material world, and it is said that figures, such as Sri, who sit above the mud on the lotus exist in a “state of refinement that transcends the material world” (Kinsley 21).
In addition to the lotus flower, Lakshmi is commonly associated with elephants. Elephants, quite often seen in images of Lakshmi, also have many associated meanings. Ancient Hinduism tradition says that elephants once had wings and flew amongst the clouds and showered the earth with rain from their trunks (Kinsley 22). These so called “sky elephants” were, “cursed by a sage when they landed on a tree under which he was meditating and broke his concentration” (Kinsley 22). From this story, elephants thus lost their wings and remained on earth, but are still known for providing water from their trunks. This abundance of water goes in tandem with the symbol of Lakshmi’s fertility, and thus they are often depicted as showering her with their trunks in pictures (Kinsley 22). Another meaning of the elephants relate to their royal authority. Because many kings in ancient India kept many elephants, they were used for military campaigns as well as for ceremonial processions (Kinsley 22). Because of their strong connection to royalty, Sri also became associated with royal authority. In keeping with Hinduism in total, the symbolism of the elephants is widespread and varied. Other accounts that say the elephants represent the prestige associated with wealth. The elephants exist to serve as a reminder “to not earn wealth merely to acquire name and fame or only to satisfy his own material desires, but should share it with others in order to bring happiness to others in addition to himself” (Pundit). Additionally, some say that the elephants represent the four ends of human life as well. Regardless, elephants are almost always associated with and are present in pictures of Lakshmi.
Another common aspects of her physical appearance that is often present in pictures of Lakshmi are her multiple arms. “The four arms represent the four directions in space and thus symbolize omnipresence and omnipotence of the goddess” (Pandit). In addition, the four hand “represent the four ends of human life: dharma (righteousness) karma (genuine desires), artha (wealth) and moksha (liberation from birth and death)” (Pandit). These stages of life are a central theme in Hinduism and guide the lives of many Hindu’s
Overall, Lakshmi is a deity worth knowing in Hinduism. She is the primary symbol of wealth and prosperity, and her association with the Supreme Being Vishnu is highly relevant to her image as the “mother of the world.”
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Dimmitt, Cornelia. Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Purāṇas. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1978. Print.
Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: U of California, 1988. Print.
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