Women and Religion in the Indian Diaspora

Women and Religion in the Indian Diaspora

Annapurna Devi Pandey (University of California, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1955-3.ch012
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Abstract

In the United States, a multimillionaire businesswoman of Ukrainian descent credits the goddess Lakshmi for her wealth and prosperity. Another wealthy American woman displays a picture of the goddess in her Hollywood bathroom. The Odisha goddess has been incorporated into the lives of these Americans but women in the Odia diaspora are still trying to figure out how to honor the goddess. Through the creation of altars and the meditation of morning prayers, practitioners of new age religions have more leeway to incorporate goddess veneration into their lives without regard to Indian tradition. Women in the Odia diaspora realize that weekdays are to be devoted to the goddess, that special household activities should be completed, and that these are not easy to fit into a household where both parents work and children have to be taken all over town after school. In this paper, the author argues that for Odia American women in particular, the goddess Lakshmi represents not just wealth and prosperity, but also women's agency beyond their roles as wives and mothers. Odia women living in the United States maintain their traditions through community and religious groups. Many see the goddess Lakshmi as an ideal, recognize and honor the feminist powers of the goddess Lakshmi, but seldom do the elaborate rituals because of the constraint of time and space.
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Introduction

A friend in social media in Los Angeles shared with the author that when she visited an American millionaire friend’s house in Hollywood, the photograph of goddess Lakshmi was prominently displayed in their bathroom, the apparent place for meditation in American households. On inquiry, she learned that the successful entrepreneur gives credit to Lakshmi for all her wealth and prosperity. She observed that goddess Lakshmi is very popular among many affluent Americans in California, especially in the Hollywood circle. The goddess is given credit for all the name and fame of the celebrities.

Zhena Muzyka, of Ukrainian descent with a gypsy heritage, started a tea business from a capital of six dollars, bought a tea garden in Sri Lanka, and has become a very successful multimillionaire entrepreneur, author, and an inspirational speaker. Her book Life by the Cup (2014) credits Lakshmi for all her wealth and prosperity. In her blog, she recommends creating a sacred place in everybody’s life for Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. She observes in her blog:

Dear Sacred Reader, on one of my first trips to Asia, I woke up in a small hotel room in Bangkok and peered out my window into the alley way. What I saw changed my life. I saw little altars everywhere--sacred spaces carefully arranged in a traffic dense, dirty alley! It gave me a moment of mindfulness, which shifted my day from mundane to magical …

Today's sacred post is about making a space for the Goddess of Fortune in your life. Lakshmi is the symbol of prosperity, and her name actually means “goal” in Sanskrit. Lakshmi is synonymous with the goal of spiritual and physical prosperity. She has four arms symbolizing the four Hindu goals of human life: righteousness, genuineness, wealth and liberation from the cycle of life and death. I also happen to think the four arms of the Goddess are meant to remind us we have Divine powers beyond our two hands. Where in your home or office could you create a sacred space to remind yourself of the grace of prosperity? Perhaps a small table in your room, a corner of your desk, or a shelf in the dining room? The first sacred spaces I saw outside of my church were in the alleyways in Bangkok, reminding us that even an alleyway is sacred. Sending you sacred love and Lakshmi's blessings. (Zhena’s blog)1

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