The ubiquitous tradition of lighting lamps in the evening in Hindu homes is as old and as fresh as the Sanatana civilization itself. Apart from practical reasons, this tradition has the power of divinity backing it, encapsulated in just two words: Dipam Lakshmikaram, or Light brings Prosperity. With most such simple, routine practices, a charming folk tale bolsters this divinity. This story was quite popular in south India even till the 1940s narrated by grandparents and village elders to kids both at home and in school.
Here’s the full story.
A merchant named Pasupati Setti lived in the town of Govindapatti. He had a son named Vinita (obedient, humble, etc) and a daughter named Garvi (proud, arrogant etc). As children, the brother and sister took a sacred vow: if the brother had a daughter and the sister had a son, these children would be married off to each other. And vice versa.
Garvi blossomed into a lovely young lady and married a wealthy businessman. She had three daughters from the marriage. Her last daughter was named Suguni (virtuous). Vinita had three sons from his marriage. As the children grew up, the hour drew closer to fulfill their sacred childhood vow.
And then, tragedy struck.
The father Pasupati Setti died and left behind a mountain of debt. To pay off the creditors, Vinita had to sell pretty much everything that had remained. The entire process took a month after which he had lost his ancestral home and had become a pauper. However, he was neither disheartened nor angry. He continued his father’s business and earned an honest living providing for his family.
When his sister Garvi witnessed his pitiable condition, she began to rethink that vow. After about a week, her decision solidified: it would be foolish to marry her daughters to the sons of this destitute. But before she could convey the decision to her brother, two fine young men, sons of a prosperous merchant, visited her house and offered to marry her daughters. She was elated and said yes. A grand wedding lasting a week followed. Her last daughter, Suguni alone, remained unmarried.
Needless, Vinita was shattered. More than the marriage itself, he was pained that his own sister would look down upon him because he was now poor and for that sole reason, break the sacred vow. Yet, his forbearance and unshakeable faith in the Divine helped him tide over this disappointment. He never uttered a harsh word to his sister. But then, news of Garvi’s betrayal became the talk of the town. People began to initially whisper and then, openly condemned that Garvi had committed a sin by breaking the word she had given. Her brother’s poverty was due to unforeseen circumstances. In spite of that, he continued to remain honest and virtuous.
These approbations reached the young Suguni’s ears. She knew her uncle’s innately noble nature and the respect and reverence he commanded in society. He had brought up his sons likewise, inculcating the same values. She also felt sorry that her own mother had chosen the temporal over the spiritual. Wealth was fleeting, values permanent. She decided to do something about the situation. She summoned up all her courage and addressed her mother:
“Amma, I know the sacred vow you and your brother had taken to marry all of us to his sons. But I am pained and ashamed to see that you have married my elder sisters by breaking that promise. I don’t know about you, but I can no longer bear that shame. I cannot marry anyone except one of my uncle’s sons. You must give your consent.”
Garvi was aghast when she heard this impertinence. It was completely unthinkable that a daughter in a traditional Sanatana family could even summon the audacity to choose a husband for herself. She roared:
“How dare you! What? You want to marry a beggar?”
“No. I want to marry a virtuous man.”
“In that case, let it be so. But we’ll never see your face again.”
But Suguni was firm and in the end, her parents gave in and began making preparations for the wedding. When Vinita learned of her determination, he was extremely pleased. His youngest son would be her match. After a few weeks, he found two girls from poor families for his other two sons and the three weddings were celebrated on the same day.
True to her name, Suguni soon endeared herself to everyone in the family. She had shed all traces of her wealthy upbringing and conducted herself nobly.
From being the son of a prosperous merchant, Vinita now earned his livelihood in this manner: early in the morning, he and his sons would go to the forest, gather piles of dried leaves and grass and bring them home. Then the entire family would sit together and stitch them into shapely plates. Later in the day, the male members of the family would go to the market and sell the leaf-plates for eight Annas each. On good days, the entire stock would be sold. On bad days, business would be dull but no one would complain or curse. The father-in-law would hand over the day’s earning to the women of the home for household expenses. Suguni soon distinguished herself for her extraordinary judiciousness in financial matters. Even with these frugal earnings, she would prepare elaborate and sumptuous meals for the entire family. Contentment made their home as its permanent abode. Suguni’s parents had kept their word: even after two years, they never visited her even once.
One day, the king of the town was taking an oil bath. He took off his ruby-studded ring and placed it in a niche in the open courtyard. An eagle (Garuda) which spotted it from its great height mistook it for a piece of flesh and in one giant swoop, carried it away. When it discovered the error, it dropped it inside Suguni’s courtyard and flew off. She soon spotted it, and secured it.
A proclamation went around town declaring that anybody who has found the king’s ring would be suitably rewarded upon its return. When Suguni heard this, she called her family members and said:
“I have that ring with me. The Lord Garuda dropped it in our courtyard this afternoon. We must all go to the king immediately. I will explain how I got the ring and return it to him. If His Majesty deigns to offer me a reward, I shall ask him to give me what is in my mind. I humbly beseech all of you not to contradict me.”
Her family agreed.
They reached the palace early in the evening and the king readily granted them audience. Suguni held up the ring, explained the circumstances of how she got it and returned it. He was very pleased at her demeanor, transparency and humility and asked her to name her reward. She said:
“Most Gracious Majesty! Your magnanimity is well-known. That is all the reward I seek. But I seek a favour. From now on, on every Friday night, all the lamps in this town—including the palace—must be extinguished and only the house of this humble servant must be lit up with such lamps as our family can afford.”
The king thought this was a strange request but agreed.
Suguni bowed to the king and returned home. She took out the meagre jewelry she had saved, pledged it and got some money.
That Friday, she fasted throughout the day and at twilight, gathered her family members around her and addressed them:
“All of you are my entire world. And today, the first auspicious Friday, I ask of you: I have made arrangements to light up the entire house with a thousand lamps that will shine throughout the night. One of you must watch the front door without ever closing your eyes. Another must watch the backdoor likewise. A woman of graceful bearing and feminine majesty will appear and ask you to allow her to enter our home. Before allowing her in, you must ask her to swear that she will never leave this home. After a while, another woman will stand before you and tell you to let her out. You must ask her to swear that she will never return.”
This was a thoroughly bizarre request but her family consented more out of curiosity and abiding affection for her.
That night, the whole of Govindapatti shut off its lights by the order of His Majesty. A couple of hours later, the Ashtalakshmi-s (Eight Prosperities) entered the town. They walked every street and stood outside every door. Finally, they spotted the only house that was lit up: Suguni’s. They knocked the door and tried to enter it but were stopped by Suguni’s brother-in-law. In a confident voice, he ordered them to take the aforementioned oath, which they did. And entered the home.
Almost immediately, a hideous female form emerged from somewhere in the house and stood before the same brother-in-law. She said to him, “Please let me go. I can no longer stay here.” The brother-in-law remembered Suguni’s other caution. He said, “I will let you go only if you swear never to return.” She swore accordingly and then revealed her true form: she was Moodevi or adversity, the elder sister of Lakshmi or prosperity. Before leaving, she said, “My sisters have come. And as long as they’re there, I can’t stay. I swear I’ll never come back!”
At a very mundane level, this is a simple story in which light is associated with prosperity and darkness with poverty and ruin. But when we examine it in the light of our civilizational and spiritual history, it reveals how the Sanatana consciousness profoundly transformed this Vaidika Purana of Moodevi (which we have narrated in this essay) was into an inseparable element of our daily life. Govindapatti can be any city or town or village anywhere in Bharatavarsha.
In other words, those who are unaware of or unable to travel to any Moodevi temple in south India can subconsciously realize her and her sisters every evening when they light lamps at home.
|| Satyam Shivam Sundaram ||
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