The worship of Mahalakshmi, which is the theme of all these celebrations on this blessed occasion known as Dipavali, is actually the form religion gives to the adoration of the glory of God. The face of God is beautiful. Inasmuch as no one has beheld the face of God, religious prescriptions give us representations of the various types of glory manifest in the world. The glory of God as such cannot be conceived, of course, as everyone knows, but the features of that which gives satisfaction, which looks attractive, which is prosperity in its very nature, that which is magnificence and exuberance, which is robust and grand in every manner can be attributed only to the majesty of God.
Mortal, ephemeral things cannot have that beauty. Perishable objects have within them the sting of the perishable nature to which they are subject. Even when they are born, their death is inscribed in large bold letters on their face. Death always follows birth—not as a sequence in time, but as a manifestation of the process beginning with birth itself. Hence, nothing in the world can be regarded as comparable with the majesty of God's beauty.
But religion has applied every means to portray at least a modicum of this masterly majesty of God, which can be deciphered even in this world, because behind the wretchedness of apparently visible physical existence there is a grandeur at the core which has to be brought up to the surface of cognition and aesthetic appreciation. This is the function of religious worship and any kind of adoration that goes by the name of religious performance.
Mahalakshmi, who is adored on this auspicious occasion, is represented as the power and the glory of Bhagavan Sriman Narayana, the Supreme Being. As beaming, scintillating rays jet forth from the great glory of the orb of the sun, so the power of God, known as Shakti in religious parlance, manifests itself in this universe of creation He appears to have made. Though there is a distortion in all things in this world which passes understanding at every stage of our trying to grasp its meaning, there is, nevertheless, as we have to accept, the presence of God Himself in what He has created. God also has to be immanent in order that the creation can be sustained. The world cannot be sustained even for a moment if His presence is not there.
That immanence of God's glory is the beauty of things in the world, and to carry this perception of beauty to the highest point of religious exaltation would be to divinise this form of God and regard it as Brahma-shakti, Vishnu-shakti, Siva-shakti, and other such names—that is, the glory associated with every performance of God, generally known as creation, sustenance and transformation. The lifegiving, sustaining power of God is supposed to be manifest in the conception of religious worship and adoration of Mahalakshmi who is veritably, in her essential nature, God manifest in the world in its purest form.
Prosperity is Mahalakshmi. She is oftentimes also called Moksha Saubhagya Lakshmi—the prosperity which is Ultimate Liberation itself. That also is often associated with Mahalakshmi, who is not to be confused with the power of wealth—gold and silver—as many people think. Mahalakshmi is the inner connotation of anything that we can regard as excellent.
We have a verse in the Bhagavadgita where the Lord proclaims His presence in anything which has excellence in it. Yad yad vibhutimat sattvam srimad urjitam eva va, tat tad evavagaccha tvam mama tejo'msa-sambhavam (B.G. 10.41): Wherever you see prosperity of any kind in its exalted form, there you may see God's hand operating abundantly.
The worship of Mahalakshmi is not merely an external, ritual act. It is not just garlanding, and waving a holy light, though it can be that also. There is much more about it. Our heart has to adore the glory of God. Where the heart is not present, worship is also not there. The adoration of God in His aspect of beauty and magnificence is not a performance with hands and feet, but a deep recognition of our profundity of feeling, where we surrender the limitation of our own personality to the perfection which is God Almighty.
So, in a way, we worship God Himself when we worship Bhagavati Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati—principally Lakshmi on an occasion of this kind when we light up the atmosphere with a series of illuminating lamps. We call this beautiful occasion Dipavali—a line, a series of illuminations which represents the emergence of the goodness, brilliance and excellence we perceive in people, which is also present everywhere in spite of the ugliness characteristic of human nature, generally speaking, in order to bring forth the beauty in human nature above the surface of its ugliness and distortion, and see beauty, glory, health, vigor, perfection, completeness and inexpressible satisfaction. Such occasion of the rise of human nature from its deepest bottom, the soul rising in its majesty, we may say, is actually the act of worship of Mahalakshmi, who Herself is the exteriorised conceptualisation of the soul of God operating in things.
There are beautiful verses, stotras such as the Mahalakshmi Ashtaka, etc., which people recite every day to focus their attention on all success in life. Success is not merely material accumulation of physical comforts. It is, truly speaking, the adventure of the spirit within to expand its dimension towards its ultimate glory, which is direct perception of God in His supreme glory where Lakshmi is inseparable from Narayana, where God is one with His creation and His power. It is this deep significance that is behind this religious performance which people generally, in an ignorant and innocent manner, observe with firecrackers, lights, gifts, cards and many other things, making it merely an outer gesture. Rarely do they manifest this beauty that is within themselves, and rarely are they prepared to see the beauty present in the hearts of other people also.
So, briefly to say, this is the worship of the beauty present in all things and the prosperity that is at the core of all things, which gradually rises to the perfection of God-realisation. God bless you!