Hindu Mythology: Lakshmi and the Clever Washerwoman

Updated on February 4, 2017
'Goddess Lakshmi', Raja Ravi Varma, 1896
'Goddess Lakshmi', Raja Ravi Varma, 1896 | Source

Diwali, or the autumn festival of lights, is a festival of particular importance to the Hindu faith. Although the details may very significantly, from one region of India to the next, in its most common from, the festival is a celebration held in honour of the Lakshmi, the benevolent goddess of good fortune, wealth, and prosperity. On the night of the festival, it is customary to light lamps outside of the home, in the hope of attracting the attention of the goddess.

As Diwali approached one year long ago, the King of a realm in the north of India gave his wife a fine necklace of pearls as a gift. The Queen was delighted with the gift, naturally. It was, after all, a particularly beautiful necklace. She vowed to wear it at all times, only removing it when she absolutely must.

The Queen also happened to enjoy regular trips to a nearby stream to swim in the cool water on hot days, and, of course, she could not swim while wearing something so lovely and precious. It was on once such visit, with the necklace place with her other belongings on the shore while she swam, that a passing crow was attracted by the sight of sunlight glinting off of its pearls. Before anyone even had time to notice, the crow had swooped down to investigate and, taking hold of the necklace, promptly took flight, once more.

The Queen was devastated by this loss, and she demanded that the necklace be recovered, and returned to her, as soon as possible. Her husband, in response, did the only thing he could truly do. He put out word of a generous reward offered to anyone who should recover the necklace, and return it to the palace.

It seemed hopeless After all, who could possibly say how far the crow would have flown with the stolen necklace? Or, where it would finally land? By a stroke of good fortune, though, the Queen's necklace had not actually travelled far, at all. While flying over the poorest part of the city, the crow had dropped the necklace, and there, it was found by a poor washerwoman, as she worked.

The woman had never seen anything as lovely as this necklace before and, at first, she was completely at a loss regarding what should actually be done with it. She could sell it, of course, but it was more beautiful than any other piece of jewelry she had ever seen before, let alone possessed for herself. She could keep it, but it also looked valuable, and the price she could fetch for selling it was also enticing. It was as she pondered these options that the washerwoman heard of the King's reward, offering an amount that proved to be much higher than even her highest expectations.

With the necklace in hand, the washerwoman was quick to make the journey to the palace where she proudly presented the recovered necklace to the King and Queen.

Both husband and wife were, naturally, delighted to see the necklace returned so soon, and they were also impressed by the honesty of the poor washerwoman. Both very eager to see the poor washerwoman rewarded, they immediately called forward a servant to present her with a large purse filled with coins.

The washerwoman surprised them both by refusing the purse, though. She also refused every other reward that either the King or the Queen could think to offer. Finally, in desperation, the King invited the washerwoman to name her own reward. What she asked for struck them both as very strange.

With Diwali approaching, the washerwoman asked that the King should order that no-one be permitted to light a lantern in Lakshmi's honour. The King was surprised by this, yet, at the same time, he had never taken the festival of lights very seriously, anyway. So, in the end, he proved to be perfectly willing to grant what he saw as a small, and inconsequential, request.

And so, with the King's order in place, the streets of the city remained dark as night approached during that year's festival of lights. And so, when the Goddess Lakshmi reached the city, she found nothing but darkness. Not a single resident had bothered to light a lantern in her honour.

This angered her, naturally. But, at the same time, Lakshmi was a goddess of mercy and compassion, as well as good fortune, so her anger soon passed. While another deity may have chosen to inflict some manner of divine retribution in return for this slight, Lakshmi chose to simply leave, and to deny the people of this city her blessings.

Lakshmi was just about to do so, when she noticed that there was, in fact, a single light shining in the distance. It was a small light that flickered feebly, one that the goddess never would have noticed, were it not for the darkness that surrounded it. But, with no other option, Lakshmi made her way toward it, picking her way carefully through the darkened streets.

As Lakshmi arrived at the small house, located in what was clearly the poorest district of the city, she knocked at the door. Lakshmi was met by a washerwoman, the same one, of course, who had returned the Queen's necklace only days earlier.

The washerwoman offered to invite Lakshmi into her home, but only on the condition that the benevolent goddess should offer a blessing that would last for several generations. As the only person in the city who had bothered to light a lantern in her honour, Lakshmi found herself moved by the washerwoman's devotion, and, so, the goddess proved quiet eager to grant what she saw as a small, and inconsequential, request.

Lakshmi, of course, was true to her word. As she left the washerwoman's home, she blessed both the woman and her family. Thanks to the washerwoman's cleverness, her family enjoyed a supply of good fortune that seemed endless, for the next seven generations.

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