Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Chanchala Lakshmi - The Restless One!

In this write-up of mine, I wish to decipher one very interesting "personality puzzle" in Hindu Mythology - Why is Lakshmi 'Chanchala' - The Restless One..?

Having understood the nature of wealth, Ancient Gurus in the Hindu Mythology prescribed the following route to richness: Do not obstruct the flow of wealth, do not hoard, do not plunder, simply ensure wealth flows continuously in the desired direction. Since wealth has to flow, our Hindu Goddess of Fortune and Prosperity - Lakshmi Ji, is given the rather Unflattering Title of 'Chanchala' - The Restless One.

Goddess Lakshmi has no favorites. She does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, gender or social status. The same bowl of rice can satisfy the hunger of a king or a beggar, the same blanket will provide warmth to a man or a eunuch, the same roof will shelter equally the judge and the criminal. Lakshmi will go to anyone who seeks her and makes himself worthy of her. She even makes no moral judgments. Wealth and Power are essentially Impersonal. They come with a position and not with the person. People bow not to the 'Man' under the crown but to the 'King' wearing the crown and sitting on the throne.

For instance, Ravana and Duryodhana - Villains of the Hindu Epics - Ramayana and Mahabharata - were affluent Monarchs. Ravana lived in a City of Gold (Lanka) while the Hero-God Rama lived like a hermit in the forest for 14 years. The unrighteous Duryodhana always lived as a King in Hastinapur while the righteous Yudhishthira was born in a forest and spent much of his life in exile or in hiding.

Symbols of Kingship, Crown and Throne remind us that our wealth and our power are not dependent on us. We need wealth and power, wealth and power do not need us. When the rich man dies, his wealth outlives him sustaining all those who are left behind. When the powerful man dies, the power he wielded goes to someone as worthy or gets distributed amongst many.

The Spiritual Man therefore doesn't get carried away by the bounty of Lakshmi. He knows that she will stay with him only as long as he makes himself worthy of her. If he fails to keep her, she will leave him. She stays so long as she is treated with reverence and her value is realized. She turns her back on those who are unworthy of affection. Legend has it that even the King of Gods - Lord Indra lost his wealth, when he over-indulged in wine and women, ignored his Dharma, thereby incurring the wrath of sages who cursed him with poverty and misfortune.

According to Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, Goddess Lakshmi first lived with the demons like Hiranayaksha, Hiranakashipu, Virochana, Bali and Ravana before the Gods acquired her. Cities of the demons like Hiranyapura, Alakapuri, Lanka and Bhogavati have all been described as Cities of Gold - the mineral manifestation of Lakshmi. In Vedic Times, Lakshmi was associated with many Gods esp. the Elephant-Riding Rain-God Indra (bestower of fresh water), The Crocodile-Riding Sea-God Varuna (source of all water), and the Antelope-Riding Moon-God Soma (waxer and waner of tides). Yet Lakshmi neither stayed long with the demons nor with these Gods. The association with numerous demons and deities also including Ganesha, Kubera and even with the world-renouncing Hermit-God Shiva, has led to Lakshmi being viewed as Fickle, Restless and Independent.

Her fickleness is shown by the speed with which she abandons a God or a King in favor of another God or King. She is like the throne or crown of a King, belonging to anyone who sits on the throne and claims the crown. She is attached not to the man but to the position. Philosophers view the fickleness and independence of Lakshmi as an allegory for the restlessness of fortune. More often than not, there are no rational explanations for fortune and misfortune. Good times come without warning and leave as suddenly without any reason.

Just as water must flow or it will stagnate and breed diseases and food will rot if not consumed or distributed. In the same way, wealth must flow so that it can nourish society. For the economy to thrive, wealth needs to be constantly created and distributed. Lakshmi enriches and empowers only when she is in motion. Hence, She is known as The Restless One, 'Chanchala'. She needs to be always on the move. Any attempt to pin her down and hoard her, earns her wrath.

The only God with whom Lakshmi has formed a long-lasting relationship is the world-affirming Warrior-God Vishnu-Narayana, the ultimate refuge of man, the preserver of the world. She remains the eternal, faithful consort of Lord Vishnu probably because He is the embodiment of Dharma, and He keeps re-incarnating himself into various Avatars (like Rama for Sita, Krishna for Radha), thus satisfying her ever restless re-birth spirit. As by nature, Lakshmi is said to be possessive, jealous, demanding and easily displeased, Vishnu has to constantly work towards keeping her happy. In the process, he also domesticates her, a form that is very beneficial to all devotees. No longer fleet-footed, She sits demurely by his side, on his lap or at his feet. Lakshmi's long-term association with Vishnu has confirmed her exalted status in Hinduism.  

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