Lotus Lakshmi

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 6 11:16:18 EDT 2001

I don't know if this is of any relevance, but in SI iconography ViSNu
is generally portrayed with two wives, S'rI DevI (=LakSmI), the
senior, on his right and BhU DevI (Earth Goddess) on his left.  The
former holds a (red) lotus bud, the latter an open (blue) water-lily.
There's a similar arrangement with other Gods depicted with 2 wives,
e.g. Murugan (SubrahmaNya, KArttikeya). Perhaps the implication in the
poems you refer to is that the chieftain is putting the mistress ahead
of the wife?

Yes, the wife thru' arranged marriage is boring. She is bhUdevi,
"black" signifies earth, fertile, "passive", ... BhUdevi, the
"official" wife married to maintain family status and lineage, is
comparable to Devasena, the daughter of Indra, the king and wife of
Skanda. But Murukan is ever after VaLLi, the VeDDa girl from the
mountains just as Narayana is after zrI. Like vallI of Subrahmanya
from the mounatins, zrI is from the sea, in a sense, from the fringe
of the settled society.

The symbolism of the Wife (the chief one) with kuvaLai flowers and
parattai with lotues is amazing in sangam poems. I read in M.
Olender's book that "internal metaphors" like these were claimed to
be Aryan by 19th century philologists. When data from the sangam poems
come out and the implications fully grasped, it will be realized in
the future the basis for dhvani theory is Tamil. First formulated
succinctly as uLLuRai and uTa_nuRai (also called as "iRaicci"). As
you know, vellalas/vELir were the guys who controlled the land and
they are routinely said to be "kuvaLai mAlaiyar/kaNNiyar" in Tamil
poety for centuries. Naturally, bhUdevi has to have water-lily. She
is important no doubt, but not as attractive as zrI.

I was fortunate to discover the only lokaayata work in Tamil. A
beautiful poem with the identical etukai/prAsam of the letter "t"
after a long first syllable. In the entire world of Indian literature,
this prabandham of the 11th century by a Chola court poet is very
important, much more beautiful than JayarAsi. We have only bits and
small quotes on lokaayata by the system's polemical opponents. For a
full text on lokaayata, see the kArAn2ai vizupparaiyan2 maTal (in
tamil script):


(Many Tamilologists like this so much, someday I hope they will
translate this work. A gift from Tamils to the Indic philosophy).

Found out that the maTal employs stories lauding kAmam, many are
previously told by AzvaghoSa also. Wasn't azvaghoSa rebellious,
against caste? The maTal text ridicules, satirizes and chides all
religions: Naturally, the 1) Jainism takes the maximum hit. Next comes
2) Buddhism 3) Vedic ritualists 4) kApAlikas/pAsupatas and 5)
advaitins. "Religion is of 6 kinds" is an ancient theme, JayamkoNTAr
puts the sixth and the best religion as lokaayatam! What is
interesting is the fact that Vishnu-Narayana's religion is never put
down. In fact, the hero and his girl are said to be exactly like
Vishnu with Lakshmi. The chastity 'kaRpu' as understood now was very
different in sangam times as well as in this maTal.

The idea that zrI, personifying secular luck and prosperity, is fickle
(caNcalA, lolA) and ever prone to go from one man to the next can be
found throughout Sanskrit literature. It is a parallel to the
European concept of the fickleness of Fortuna (Greek Tyche). In
Indian mythology we find particularly tales about the precarious
relation between Indra and SrI. Thus one might expect to find her
compared with a gaNikA. On the other hand, epics and Puranas
emphasize that zrI/LakSmI follows virtue, and that makes the
difference in comparison with the gaNikA: The gaNikA follows money
whereas zrI gives success to and bestows riches on the worthy man -
this is at least her standard image. But there may be exceptions?

I should have been more clear: Lakshmi is more like "il-parattai"
(=parastrI in the house), and  kAmakkizatti of the sangam times. Among
Dravidians, the patriarchy is strong. Only exception is devadasis
where matriarchy rules. In the buddhist epic maNimEkalai, citrApati is
a gaNikA. Her daughter mAdhavi's patron was kOvalan. mAdhavi's
daughter is maNimEkalai. citrApati advises maNi. to accept
udayakumaran. She points out that maNi.'s lineage is not the standard
one. They do not commit satI after the patron dies. Just as a honey
bee leaves a flower, and like the lute of a bard changes hands to
another upon his demise, gaNikAs choose another rich connoisseur
(rasika, cuvaiJar in tamil). CitrApati concludes saying that they
are like Lakshmi who leave men without money.

     vin2ai ozikAlait tiruvin2 celvi
     an2aiyEm Aki ATavart tuRappEm  - maNi. 18:21-22

Of course, gaNikAs are maGgalamukhiis: They are nitya-sumangalI 'ever
auspicious'. Proverbs like vEzya darzanam pApa naazanam, they generate
wealth by being auspicious and their performing arts are supposed
to ward off evil eye/spirits and generate weath for their patrons.
The Indian custom was that gaNikAs were honest towards a (rich) patron
like zrI. In zrIvaishnava tirupatis, inscriptions call devadasis,
as kaliyuga lakshmis. Kaamikaagama tells that devadasis accept the
priests and the rich in the town, but not outsiders.

In that sense, both gaNikAs and zrI are auspicious (bestowing
wealth) and virtuous.

N. Ganesan

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