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Diamond Contact Lenses for Goddess

Controversy has erupted among devotees and media which has questioned the limits to which various temples and other religious places can go while accepting devotees' donations, however expensive they may be.

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The 5,000 year old statue of goddess Mahalaxmi in Kolhapur The 5,000 year old statue of goddess Mahalaxmi in Kolhapur

When thousands of devotees turned up for their regular 'darshan' of Goddess Mahalaxmi earlier this week, they noticed a strange glint in her eyes - glowing but very different from what they were accustomed to.

Their eyes popped out later when they learnt that Goddess Mahalaxmi was 'wearing' diamond-studded contact lenses, donated by an eye surgeon, Chandrashekhar Chavan, hailing from the erstwhile princely state of Kolhapur but now living in Mumbai.

The contact lenses, made of tiny glittering diamonds and worth around Rs.80,000, were donated to seek her blessings for a new eye technique developed by Chavan, which he is hoping to patent, said Padmaja Tivale, a member-trustee of the Shri Mahalaxmi Kolhapur Devasthan Management Committee.

"It was his (Chavan's) wish and desire to donate the diamond contact lenses and we cannot stop any devotee; so we respected his sentiments. However, on account of objections from some quarters, now we shall not display the contact lenses at regular darshans," Tivale said.

Considered to be over 5,000 years old, the 40-kg idol of Goddess Mahalaxmi here is made of gemstone and is studded with precious stones.

But controversy has erupted among devotees and media which has questioned the limits to which various temples and other religious places can go while accepting devotees' donations, however expensive they may be.

"When devotees visit a temple, they expect divine radiance from the eyes of the goddess, not the shine emanated by diamonds," fumed Jayshree Khadilkar-Pande, a prominent Marathi journalist who has strongly criticised Goddess Mahalaxmi's new 'look'.

Khadilkar-Pande said the diamond contact lenses actually block the goddess' divine energies believed to pass through her eyes on to the devotees.

However, temple priest Ajit Thanedar defended the move, saying it added to the beauty of Goddess Mahalaxmi's idol like the other jewels adorning her.

"Moreover, the diamond contact lenses are temporarily stuck to the eyes of the goddess and later easily removed without damaging it (the idol) in any manner," he claimed in a television statement.

He argued that just as the precious jewels and other holy articles of the idol are regularly changed, even the diamond contact lenses are a part of her belongings and the decision was taken unanimously by the temple managing committee.

Later, Thanedar conceded that following objections from some devotees, it has been decided to display the diamond contact lenses only in the presence of the donor and not on any other occasion.

The issue has triggered a debate among Goddess Mahalaxmi's devotees in the state, with many questioning the propriety of various temple trusts accepting whimsical donations simply to fill up their coffers.

"Tomorrow, if somebody offers sunglasses or a mobile phone, will the trusts accept it? Even if it is in the name of devotion or fulfilment of some wishes, the trusts must exercise wisdom before accepting any kind of donation which could hurt the sentiments of devotees," an angry Megha Patil of Thane, who happened to visit the Kolhapur temple last week, said.

Resting on a stone platform, and facing the west direction, the Mahalaxmi statue has four arms - the lower right hand displays a matulinga fruit, above that a large mace called kaumodak, and in the left lower hand is shown a bowl or panpatra and above that a shield or khetaka.

Goddess Mahalaxmi's crown comprises a cobra-hood with a Shiv ling and a Yoni around it, with a lion standing behind her - all evidence of her divine 'shakti.'

Listed among the 108 sites where 'shakti' is manifested, the Goddess Mahalaxmi Temple of Kolhapur is one of the Shakti Peetha in Maharashtra and one of the six sites of 'shakti.'

In what devotees consider a celestial phenomenon, a small window on the western wall allows the rays of the setting sun to fall on the face of the idol only thrice in a year - November, December and January - according to Tivale.

"This is the time when lakhs of devotees throng the temple for a glimpse of the beautiful image of Goddess Mahalaxmi bathing in the golden rays of the setting sun; it's a truly a magnificent spectacle," Tivale said.

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