Shree Laxmi has 108 names. She can be Shuchi (the embodiment of purity), Padmakshya (beautiful like the lotus), Kantha (the divine consort of Vishnu) or Surabhi (celestial being). A tangible embodiment of prosperity and beauty, Shree Lakshmi is described in scripture as the “very vision of affluence, abundance and auspiciousness”.
Found in bounties of rice, rice and Shree Lakshmi are interchangeable in the spiritual imaginations of some. She provides for us and, in so doing, we are fed physically and spiritually. Wealth is not limited to the material realm in Hinduism. Greed will not invoke the goddess.
As a goddess symbolising wealth, she is always pictured with coins. But this iconography seems to limit the goddess to the realm of material gain, or wealth and affluence.
But her hands, all four of them when they are in a peaceful state, speak of human psychic needs — dharma, desires, abundance and liberation.
Her red sari is threaded with the finest, softest gold and her skin is golden — like most Brahmic goddesses, she is light-skinned. Sitting atop a lotus, she is pure. The gaze, which over the years ossified into a patriarchal one, has forced Laxmi Ma into the domestic realm. Her feminine power is only recognised there now.
But what would happen if she escaped these constraints?
To the City of Gold. Gold Reef City. Where we pivot and move at money’s discretion.
iGolide. Your body supposedly vibrates at a higher frequency when its cells come into contact with it. We are golden. We are 0.2 milligrams worth of it.
Her gold jewellery sparkles garishly, signalling “this is a bitch you don’t mess with”. Hoops look fresh, golden too. It all jingles when she walks.
“I am shakti, shakti, shakti,” she repeats quietly.
“I am the accessory of God. She wears my smile like a bracelet. I am all gold, all gold. I am divine, all divine.” — Ijeoma Umebinyuo
She doesn’t understand how gold became so corrosive. Corrupted by greed and burdensome to carry. In generational trauma’s purse, gold is heavy. She feels your prayers. Laxmi doesn’t understand how a pure thing collapsed and collapses lives, dreams and what-ifs into the darkness of pain, mined deep. The gold veins stretch and wind underneath the land, connecting here to there — connecting the past to the now. From golden rhinos in Mapungubwe to the dirtier present, the yellow threads do not know boundaries or borders as we do.
The Goddess sits in the lotus. She is from the lotus, a divine reminder that the mud feeds the lotus. That the lotus will grow despite — and through — hardships.
As she looks through the entrails of the city, sprawled along its edges — dusty mine heaps, power lines, broken metal things — she sees the land change. She loses a gold tooth as her mouth hangs open in awe. The tooth falls at the entrance to the Chamber of Mines in Marshalltown.
“As Earth Mother, she is a reminder of the inherent ambiguities of life; that those same forces of nature that uphold the stability of life and the social order, also ultimately threaten its existence. There is no real separation between the sacred and the secular; all life is sacred, the entire natural world is infused with anima [spirit] and the divine encountered at every turn” — Alleyn Diesel.
The mundane is also encountered at every turn. Even for a goddess.
“Hey Ma. Maaaaaaaami.”
It is a slimy man calling out to Laxmi Ma. The day is dying and she must find her sister Saraswati. But with greedy eyes, he follows her. With the greed of wealth, no peace follows so Lakshmi wanders the city as Chanchala Laxmi, the restless one.
The restless one with no time for the slimy one. Mahalakshmi is manifested with 18, not four, arms. Maha is advanced, powerful and Mahalakshmi invokes the cosmic dance to display her fierceness.
Many arms hold weapons but the slimy one is unperturbed. He comes closer, leering at her. Mocking her fighter manifestation. A Johannesburg metro police van rolls by. He runs away.
Lakshmi, back to her usual form, is confused. How did she not triumph? Her ferocity was no match for that of the City’s henchmen, whose spectre strikes more fear in the hearts of people than the goddess does.
This takes from her again. This time, she loses a hoop. Dishevelled and confused, she finds some shade, watches the skaters in Joubert Park and collects herself, the hooting of taxis en route to Noord sounding musical.
“Her independence from male control is often described as ‘virgin’, although this does not mean sexually inexperienced but undominated. This combination of mother and virgin is powerful … the appellation ‘mother’ or Amman not interpreted to mean that birthing and nurturing their young is their only or most important function, but simply to act in a life-giving, creative function.” — Alleyn Diesel.
After walking from town, all the way down Albertina Sisulu Street towards the airport, Lakshmi walks further, to find a small slice of green in the city.
It’s a plant wall in Maboneng. She takes pictures with goras in Lord Ganesha T-shirts and box braids, then walks until she finds a patch of grass, which is not within sight or scent.
Taking off her hoop, her necklaces and her bangles, she systematically buries them in the soil. She looks down at the earth, where prosperity is derived and destroyed — maybe wealth cannot be secured without violence.