I wish you all a very happy Deepavali / Deewali! May the Gods all enlighten us just as the fireworks light up the skies around the world!
Checking back on old posts, I see that I have celebrated the stories of the destruction of Narakasura by Krishna, and the return of Rama to Ayodhya. So this year, my homage is to Goddess Lakshmi who is worshipped during this festival in many parts of India. It is said that Deepavali is the day she was born from the oceans. I am sure all of you know the story, but allow me to tell it again.
It is the story of समुद्र मन्थन (Samudra Manthana) from the Bhagavata Purana (Canto 8, chapters 7-8-9) , Mahabharata (Astika Parva XVIII) and Vishnu Purana (Chapter IX). Due to a curse by sage Durvasa, the Devas led by Indra were defeated by the Asuras who then ruled the universe. The Devas approached Lord Vishnu for help. He advised them to churn the ocean of milk (क्षीर सागर) for Amrita which would make them strong enough to defeat the Asuras. The catch was that they needed the help of the Asuras to churn the ocean! Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod, and the great serpent Vasuki as the churning rope. Lord Vishnu, in his form as the tortoise of the Kurma Avatara supported the Mount Mandara on his back. This churning yielded many different things, some examples are
- Halahala / Kalakuta, the poison swallowed by Lord Shiva in order to protect the world
- Airavata, the elephant taken by Indra
- Kaustubha, the jewel worn by Lord Vishnu
- Parijata, the divine flower, taken by the Devas
- Apsaras, who went to the Deva loka, the land of the Devas
- Chandra, the moon, which adorns Shiva’s hair
- Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow, taken by Brahma and given to the sages
- Dhanavantri, the God of medicine who came with-
- Amrita, swallowed by the Devas
My list is very much incomplete. Here is a link to an illustrated account of the story. The point to the story for us today is that churning of the ocean also drew forth Goddess Lakshmi, who immediately chose Lord Vishnu as her consort. Deepavali is a celebration of this event.
Like so many mythological tales, there is deep significance to this story. Here is one interpretation. The Ocean of Milk represents human consciousness and Mount Mandara stands for a steady contemplation of God. The sum total of our senses is Vasuki the serpent, held by both our good impulses (Devas) and bad impulses (Asuras). Both pull at our senses, churning the ocean of our consciousness for their own desired outcomes. Wisdom says that we must hold steady the ‘mountain of contemplation’ on Lord Vishnu and allow all the ‘poison’ which emerges in the process to be destroyed by Lord Shiva. All kind of siddhis or powers may be realised by such contemplation. Be patient, say the wise, and wait for the emergence of Amrita to make us stronger in the battle with the demons within ourselves and finally be blessed by the appearance of Goddess Lakshmi. It is She who will facilitate our way to salvation (mukti) and to merge ourselves with God just as she seated herself in his vaksha sthala. Our celebration of Deepavali is the celebration of such an event.
I have chosen the beautiful composition Sri Varalakshmi Namastubhyam as a prayer song to the boon-giving Goddess Lakshmi so that she allows herself to appear within all of us one day. Set in the very appropriate raga Sri (one of Her names), it is a composition of Muthuswami Dikshithar. Note the Gopuccha Yati (Cow’s Tail Arrangement of syllables) in the pallavi starting from sArasa padE).
After a very long time, I am featuring Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna in memory of my mother, who loved his voice above all. It is an interesting presentation which I hope you will enjoy!
And for an instrumental version, here is Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh on the Veena. She is so good, isn’t she! It soothes me as I add finishing touches to this post. It was a busy week for me, a tiring one too. I had half-written this last weekend but did not find time to look at it until just now. It’s been a long day and it was past 9:30 pm when I sat down to complete this article. Well, I’m posting it now at almost 11 pm here, but well within the Deepavali day for the rest of the world 🙂
Footnote : Lyrics and Translation
Composer : Muthuswami Dikshithar
Raga : Sri
Language : Sanskrit
श्री वर लक्ष्मि नमस्तुभ्यं वसु प्रदे
श्री सारस पदे रस पदे सपदे पदे पदे
भावज जनक प्राण वल्लभे सुवर्णाभे
भानु कोटि समान प्रभे भक्त सुलभे
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
सेवक जन पालिन्यै श्रित पङ्कज मालिन्यै
केवल गुण शालिन्यै केशव हृत्खेलिन्यै
श्रावण पौर्णमी पूर्वस्थ शुक्रवारे –
चारुमती प्रभृतिभिः पूजिताकारे
देवादि गुरु गुह समर्पित मणिमय हारे
दीन जन संरक्षण निपुण कनक धारे
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
भावना भेद चतुरे भारती सन्नुत वरे
कैवल्य वितरण परे काङ्क्षित फल प्रद करे
shrI vara lakshmi namastubhyam vasu pradE
shrI sArasa padE rasa padE sapadE padE padE
bhAvaja janaka prANa vallabhE suvarNAbhE
bhAnu kOTi samAna prabhE bhakta sulabhE
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
sEvaka jana pAlinyai shrita pankaja mAlinyai
kEvala guNa shAlinyai kEshava hRtkhElinyai
shrAvaNa paurNamI pUrvastha shukravArE –
chArumatI prabhRtibhih pUjitAkArE
dEvAdi guru guha samarpita maNimaya hArE
dIna jana samrakshaNa nipuNa kanaka dhArE
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
bhAvanA bhEda chaturE bhAratI sannuta varE
kaivalya vitaraNa parE kA.ngkshita phala prada karE
I (implied) bow down to you (namastubhyam), O eminent (shrI) Goddess Lakshmi, the giver (implied) of boons (vara)! O bestower (prade) of fortunes (vasu)! O Sri (name of Lakshmi) with feet (padE) as soft (implied) as a lotus (sArasa), you (implied) are the bestower (pradE) of affection (rasa), be my companion (sa-pade) at every step (pade pade).
You are the one (implied) who is beloved (prANa vallabhE) to the father (janaka) of Bhavaja (=Manmatha, God of Love)! O Goddess (implied) with the golden (suvarNa) lustre (AbhE) and brilliance (prabhE) equivalent to (samAna) millions (kOTi) of suns (bhAnu)! O Goddess (implied) easily attained (sulabhE) by devotees (bhakta)! You are the one (implied) who protects (palinyai) your worshippers (sEvaka jana) who lean on you (shrita), who is garlanded (malinyai) with lotus flowers (pankaja), who is possessed of (shAlinyai) of only (kEvala) virtues (guNa), who sways (khelinyai) the heart (hRt) of Keshava.
You are the one (implied) with the form (AkArE) worshipped (pUjita) on the friday (shukravArE) prior (pUrvastha) to the full moon (paurNamI) in the month of ShrAvaNa, continuing from Charumathi (see legend of Varalakshmi Vratam). You are the one wearing (implied) a bejewelled (maNimaya) garland (hArE) given by (samarpita) Guruguha (=Kartikeya, also signature of composer), demi-Gods (dEva) and others (Adi). You are (implied) a shower (dhArA) of gold (kanaka) expert (nipuNa) in protecting (samrakshaNa) the wretched (dIna jana). You are (implied) clever (chaturE) at alterations (bhEda) of thoughts & attitudes (bhAvanA). You are the eminent one (varE) praised by (sannuta) Saraswati (bhAratI). You are the supreme one (parE) who bestows (vitaraNa) mukti/liberation/salvation (kaivalya). You bestow (prada karE) the longed for (kA.ngkshita) rewards (phala).