When and how the form of Deep-Lakshmi evolved in the tradition – literary, theological, sculptural, popular, or any, is not known, for neither the early texts talk of her nor temple-carvings or independent sculptural panels portray an image corresponding to a Deep-Lakshmi form. Deep-Lakshmi is largely a recent innovation though in all likeliness born of an ages’ long condition of mind that had always worshipped a woman and had always celebrated the birth of light. This reverence for woman and exuberance for light seem to synthesize in the form of Deep-Lakshmi, a woman with divine appearance and with a lamp carried in her hands, and in associating it with Diwali, the festival of light, abundance and happiness.
The actual tradition of Deep-Lakshmi icons, as becomes known from various records, goes back to the later half of the sixteenth century. While celebrating Diwali by illuminating houses with lights, to which were subsequently added also crackers, the custom of exchanging gifts – lighted lamps being in greater favour, came in prevalence. It gave birth to designer lamps, and every person began looking for the kind of lamp suiting to his rank in the society. This encouraged a kind of professionalism, especially at centres of art and culture like Vijayanagara and Madurai, and there emerged a massive variety of specially designed lamps. Female icons, conceived like divine figures, gracious, young, endowed with lustrous beauty, and well costumed and bejeweled, carrying in their hands lamps, from a single one to any number, were cast in various mediums, metals and clay. Irrespective of when these lamps-carrying females came to be known as ‘Deep-Lakshmi’, the name ‘Deep-Lakshmi’ was certainly derived from Lakshmi, the presiding deity of Diwali.
Minute details, sharp features, angular chin, rounded cheeks, cute lips, deep thoughtful eyes, blissful composure, an expressive face, a well defined neck, sensuously moulded breasts, subdued belly, broad shoulders and a proportionate tall figure adorned with elegant jewellery and gems, characterise this Deep-Lakshmi image. Her hair floats beautifully on her shoulders and her lips seem to cradle a gentle smile. A more richly adorned Deep-Lakshmi statue is believed to assure a more prosperous coming year. Accordingly, this Deep-Lakshmi statue has been clad in an expensive ‘antariya’ – lower garment, artistically folded and secured with ornamental cords rounding all along her legs from waist down to feet. It has been secured with a multi-laced elaborate rich girdle with a beautiful buckle, bells and frills. An ornamental stan-pata – breast-band, covering the apexes of her breasts, is the only other wear on her figure. She has been represented as wearing a lavish crown. Characteristic to a Deep-Lakshmi icon, the resplendent divinity is carrying in her hands a large lamp. Another auspicious icon, a pair of peacocks, perch on her shoulders giving her form universality.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.