Lamp depicting Lakshmi
Welcome to the Ancient Religions Gallery, located on level two of the museum. The gallery has two sections. In the larger room, the second, if you walk from the front of the museum, you will find an intricately designed oil lamp located in a case in one corner of the gallery. This audio clip is about four minutes long.
(upbeat music plays in the background)
Standing at 20.2 centimetres, this lamp is about as tall as the shorter edge of a piece of A4 paper. The lamp is roughly L-shaped when seen from the side, like a seat or a throne. It is made of brass, and has a gold colour. In some parts, the gold surface has been worn away. The base of the lamp is a heart-shaped basin for holding the oil. To light it, a floating wick would be put into the oil.
(sounds of oil being poured into a lamp, the wick is lit with a match)
Small figures of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi appear at five places on the lamp. One at each side of the basin, two more on the rim of the basin on each side, and one at the centre of the back panel. The two on the rim each hold a large dish or basin in front of them – possibly meant to represent an oil lamp. Under each basin is a large face of a yali, lion-like mythical creatures commonly seen on temples in southern India. The central figure and the two at the base have four arms, with upper arms each holding a lotus.
The openwork back panel of the lamp is shaped like a lotus bud, with curving sections on each side narrowing to a point at the top. Lakshmi sits cross-legged in the middle atop a lotus throne. She holds her lower right hand chest-high and palm forward, with her fingertips pointing to the sky. This hand gesture is called “abhaya mudra”, and signals fearlessness, peace, and protection. Her left hand is in “varada mudra” – held forward just above her knee, palm up and fingers pointing downwards. This symbolises the granting of wishes or mercy.
Above her head is a naga serpent with a wide, flared hood like a cobra. The naga is framed by a horseshoe-shaped “prabhavali”, a flaming arch which symbolises the cosmos. The goddess is flanked by a peacock on each side, in mirror image. The peacock is symbolic of Lakshmi, and a popular motif in Hinduism as it represents good luck and prosperity. Below Lakshmi's throne is a row of diamond-shaped blocks, and under those, on the back rim of the oil bowl, four swans with intertwined necks.
(joyous dance beat plays)
Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and fortune. She is also the goddess of beauty. It is believed by many households that the light from a burning oil lamp chases away evil, symbolised by the darkness of night. Lighting an oil lamp thus signifies purity, good luck, and triumph over the dark.
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