The Goddess Complex: Laxmi | Pen & Ink

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In my last attempt at creating a "rendition" of the goddess, Durga, taught me many things. I... a) needed to go easy on the inkwash. b) need to focus more on the proportions for arms, especially the secondary ones. c) should plan my composition better. d) can go a little wilder with my ideas - after all, it is a rendition, as I keep saying again and again. e) am not half bad.

Turns out that Rumi thought so too and requested for a "rendition" of the goddess Laxmi. And before I bombard you with all the specifics, here she is. Hope you like it. Read on if you want to learn more about the process.


RESEARCH. I didn't know much about Laxmi and so, some research was in order, keeping in mind the above mentioned points. Wikipedia to the rescue! But, after going down the rabbit hole of reading about this enchanting goddess for several hours, I was left with either too many questions or too many elements to incorporate. I was teetering on the edge of indecision.

Do I continue to research more on the variations of this goddess who has been worshipped for thousands of years and even stamped in coins dated before one millenium BCE?! Just to give you some reference images, here's how she is typically shown:

   

DECISIONS. With tens of pages of sketches and notes, I decided it was time to regroup. After making some kickass chicken 65 muffins and consuming them soon after, it was time to pick what I wanted to include in the piece. And so, I went back to the first Wikipedia article and went from there.

Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. Lakshmi is depicted in Indian art as an elegantly dressed, prosperity showering golden-coloured woman with owl as her vehicle, signifying the importance of economic activity in maintenance of life, her ability to move, work and prevail in confusing darkness. 
  • Okay. I should have something golden. I comtemplated using glitter for the longest time. Even now, I am looking at it on my desk and itching to get my glitter box out. BUT, as much as I love glitzing everything, it doesn't hurt to keep it simple.
  • Owl!
  • Maybe give a dark background to indicate 'confusing darkness'? I debated for a long time whether or not I should inkwash the background or if I should just buy some black or grey colored watercolor paper, if that is even sold. I abandoned the idea. I'll tell you why in a bit.
  • Elegantly dressed. Now this for some reason really nagged at me. What do I think it means to be elegantly dressed? I know what you are thinking. How hard a question is that? But the way I look at it, elegance doesn't exactly from the clothes a person is wearing. It's more to do with the attitude or the way they carry themselves that bears a mark of elegance. You could be wearing a bikini and yet be elegant. You know what I mean? Which made me think of what expression does an elegant person have that make us feel that they are graceful and therefore, 'elegant'. Sketching time!
  • I shall spare you my terrible rough sketches but suffice to say even when after I thought I was done scribbling on my sketchpad, I was still struggling with her expression on my piece. I like how it finally turned out though.
She typically stands or sits like a yogin on a lotus pedestal and holds lotus in her hand, a symbolism for fortune, self-knowledge and spiritual liberation. Her iconography shows her with four hands, which represent the four goals of human life considered important to the Hindu way of life – dharma, kāma, artha, and moksha.
  • Stand or sit? I thought it would be easier to pull off elegance if she was sitting.
  • Lotus pedestal? How about a lotus...couch!
  • Symbolism of fortune probably goes hand in hand with symbols of artha. Self-knowledge with dharma and spiritual liberation with moksha. But, what about kāma? Ah, the public secret that even in this land of kāmasutra is something we are too shy to giggle about. Believe you me, I actually googled 'symbols of kama' and fat good that did me. I ended up spending a few more hours reading about hindu mythology that revolves around kāma and there's LOTS of it! Nothing I could use though.
  • I was this close to grumbling again about 'those doodles' that typically show up in men's restrooms seem more in line with kāma when I re-read this bit
In the ancient scriptures of India, all women are declared to be embodiments of Lakshmi. The marriage and relationship between Lakshmi and Vishnu as wife and husband, is the paradigm for rituals and ceremonies for the bride and groom in Hindu weddings.
Aha - that's where kāma was! Euphemism, much? But it finally came down to this pull quote from this well-written excerpt from Devdutt Pattanaik's book about Laxmi's story that made me realize that the symbols were all there! And they can mean more than one thing.
Beautiful goddess seated on a chariot, Delighted by songs on lustful elephants, Bedecked with lotuses, pearls and gems, Lustrous as fire, radiant as gold, Resplendent as the sun, calm as the moon, Mistress of cows and horses — Take away poverty and misfortune Bring joy, riches, harvest and children.
EXPERIMENTS.
  • I was still going to use ink but this time, I wanted to have some more color and reduce the implicit harshness that ink can bring. It somehow worked for Durga because she is the goddess of war but I wasn't confident about pulling it off with Laxmi. Restraint it is, then.
  • Which is why I abandoned the idea to have a dark background. It's possible that the contrast of the dark vignette-like background would add more softness to her character but I didn't want to risk having more ink on the paper, especially with my tendency to go overboard with inking everything.
  • Despite her serenity, she is believed to have a wild streak since she is unafraid to be born on earth as the fated wife of gods other than Vishnu. Of course, there are many variations based on which part of the world you want to read more about, but it's all very interesting nonetheless and adds another dimension to this already complex goddess. Bottomline, I wanted to somehow have her be the most loved wild-girl!
Fickle and independent Nowadays, Hindus accept Lakshmi as the eternal consort of Vishnu, the preserver of the world. In her long history, however, the goddess has been associated with many other deities. According to Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, the goddess Lakshmi first lived with the demons before the gods acquired her. She graced asuras such as Hiranayaksha, Hiranakashipu, Prahalad, Virochana and Bali, rakshasas such as Ravana and yakshas such as Kubera before she adorned the court of Indra, king of devas, the most renowned of Vedic gods. The association with many gods has led to Lakshmi being viewed as fickle, restless and independent. Sociologists view the mythology of Lakshmi’s fickleness as indicative of her cult’s resistance to being assimilated with mainstream Hinduism. Even today there is tension between the mythology of Lakshmi as an independent goddess and her mythology as Vishnu’s consort. Philosophers choose to 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.
FINALLY.
  • To make her wild side be intrinsic to her yet not rebellious, I gave golden streaks in her hair and tattoos too! 
  • Of course, since she is the goddess of wealth and fortune, she gets a golden dress and awesome jewelry too! 
  • The paddy and cow tattoos are to indicate fortune and the elephant on the bolster pillow is to signify fertility. 
  • All her 'four' hands are wearing wedding bands. Just cause. 
  • She wears glasses? Well, they are only when she has been at the computer for too long, gaining self-knowledge.
  • The tattoo of 'Shesha' is a hint at her devotion to her eternal consort, Vishnu, who rests on top of this primal being who according to mythology, coils and uncoils time. Not for any particular reason other than personal preference, I decided to add in the mace that the Shesha is surrounding.
And that's all the babbling I'm gonna do. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or email me!
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Ray out! Peace!
 Photo credit: me of course:)
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