Awaiting Mahalakshmi’s darshan

When my father was first transferred for work to Mumbai in 1975, my mother had a dream of Goddess Mahalakshmi. As the train was pulling into the then Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), my mother recounted seeing a seaside temple. This was none other than the landmark Mahalakshmi Temple, located on Bhulabahi Desai road along the Arabian Sea. 

This 18th century temple has historical and architectural significance.

 As the legend goes, the British made several attempts to bridge the breach between Malabar Hill and Worli, but without success. One night, the chief engineer of the project, Ramji Shivji Prabhu, dreamt of Goddess Mahalakshmi, who instructed him to retrieve three idols from the bottom of the sea. Ramji Shivaji is said to have found the idols. In 1831, a Hindu merchant Dhakji Dadaji built the temple with the three deities. The British were able to link Malabar Hill with Worli via Breach Candy.

So, after settling into our one-bedroom apartment in Chembur, we took the now-phased-out double decker BEST bus  to pay a visit to the Mahalakshmi temple. Inside the inner sanctum we bowed our heads to the central deity of Goddess Mahalakshmi holding two lotus flowers, with her sisters Mahakali and Mahasaraswati on either side. The deities were adorned with nose rings, gold bangles and pearl necklaces. It was a long time ago, but I can still close my eyes and have a darshan of the three celestial ladies. 

Our handmade Mahalakshmi

Painting of the Hindu Goddess Mahalakshmi.
Goddess Mahalakshmi painted by Monita Soni’s mother. (Photo courtesy: Monita Soni)

My parents were spiritual beings. A devoted couple, they led their lives with a sense of duty. In our home in erstwhile Bombay, mother had a small temple at home and offered prayers, flowers, deep and naivedyam to the Gods daily. The sound of her bell and aarti echoed joyously through the house. 

Inspired by her dream of the Goddess, my mother one day unscrolled a tapestry of Goddess Lakshmi that she had first painted herself in 1957 just before she married my father.  Over a decade later, my mother refreshed the painting. By then we had moved into a three-bedroom flat in Atur Park.

Every family member dipped a carefully assigned brush in a pot of Camlin premium poster colors and applied it to the form of the Goddess. My mother retouched the celestial face, the all-observing eyes, and the gentle curve of her lips. She embellished the pearl studded crown, the glowing halo, her garments, her necklace and bangles and the kalash of amrit. I was entrusted with the task of painting the ocean and the lotus. My little sister drew her brush gently on the half-open bud. My father added a few coins sprinkling from Mahalaksmi’s hands. My fingers still retain the memory of painting the gold coins cascading in different planes, flat, on edge, slanting… bringing glory and abundance. 

Over time, our family was blessed with success in every shape and form. We celebrated graduations, career achievements, marriages, children, a flourishing business and new properties. The home overflowed with friends and gaiety. We celebrated many glorious Diwalis in our home. Our environment reverberated with “Om Shreem Maha Lakshmiyei Namaha”.

Mahalaxmi comes home, from Mumbai to Alabama

A fortnight before last Diwali, my dear mother departed from her life on Earth. We performed an Arya Samaj havan for her soul, and offered prasad to the cow, crow, ants, dog, a mendicant, and the Arabian Sea. After that, we painted a colorful rangoli, and lit a lamp to usher in Goddess Lakshmi – my mother had given us enough time to wrap up her rituals before Diwali arrived.

Subsequently, I spent a year getting my mother’s house cleaned, aired, painted, and repaired to restore the vaastu. The house went to my sister’s estate, but the deities from my late mother’s temple and the painting of Goddess Lakshmi would come home with me.  

I carefully layered the 30X16 framed painting in bubble wrap and placed her securely in between new cotton sheets inside an over-sized new suitcase. I prayed for her safe transatlantic journey and marked the suitcase “fragile”, and checked our Lakshmi on my international flight from Bombay to Huntsville, Alabama. 

New Beginnings

When I unpacked the suitcase, I was delighted and relieved to see that the painting was unharmed. After I installed Lakshmi in my home, I felt a shift in my environment. My body and mind felt lighter, I thought with more clarity and vision. I wound up my laboratory work as a pathologist and cleared up my office. I would embark on a new career. 

I began decluttering my home. I hired a new cleaning crew  who swept away the dust and cobwebs. Every nook and cranny was squeaky clean. Dead trees were removed from the yard. Flowers bloomed. Grass was greener than ever. 

I shredded piles of paper. I gifted, donated or sold old books, clothes, toys, and personal effects. I woke up early, ate fresh food, exercised, and laughed more. I started singing. 

I installed the Goddess in the center of my home. Mother Lakshmi’s benevolent gaze was upon me,  guiding me, helping me, and transforming me. 

This Diwali, as we prepare for Lakshmi Puja in our  new seaside abode, I will keep the voice of my mother in my prayers to the Goddess: “I was not worthy of so much grace but the effulgent consort of Lord Vishnu, the daughter of Durga, Mahalakshmi, has showered me with so many blessings.”

I will tell my daughter about the elaborate Navaratri celebrations at Mahalakshmi temple, where devotees from all over the world waited patiently in long queues to seek blessings of the Goddess. Together, my daughter and I will do our abhishek and apply sindoor on our Lakshmi and offer deepmala to our family incarnation of the Goddess from the 300-year-old ancient shrine, always hopeful that one day Mahalakshmi will call us for darshan to her auspicious abode.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two...