Diwali and the Nature of Miracles

lak-doll.jpgDiwali is a five day festival occurring during the Hindu month of Kartik, which generally corresponds to the western months of October or November. Diyas, or oil-filled clay lamps, are lit to chase away the darkness of the darkest night of the moon cycle, simultaneously celebrating the coronation of Lord Rama and his return to rule Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.

The third day of Diwala belongs to the four-armed goddess Lakshmi who is invoked by the clamor and chanting of humans and descends to earth on this day. According to this Diwali website,

[A] sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and this self enlightenment is expressed through the twinkling lamps that illuminate the palaces of the wealthy as well as the lowly abodes of the poor. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity.

laks.jpgTwo years ago, in Arhariya, in the northern Indian state of Bihar, a baby was born during the festival of Diwali who appeared to be an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. The daughter of Poonam Tatma and her husband Shambhu appeared to have four extra limbs; unsurprisingly her parents named her Lakshmi.

“First when we saw her we were really scared. She was born during Diwali so everyone in the village said our child was Goddess Lakshmi incarnate because she had eight limbs. Everyone started worshipping her. We also worshipped her,” says Lakshmi’s father, Shambhu. (IBNLive)

fam-before.jpgScience has a straightforward explanation for little Lakshmi’s physical state. She is one of a set of conjoined twins; her sister twin failed to develop, and her body fused with Lakshmi’s in utero. Lakshmi was born with the partial twin attached to her body at the pelvis and lower abdomen.

Her parents said they had been offered money to sell her. “We took her to a hospital in Delhi but circus owners heard about her, wanted to turn her into a freak show and offered us money,” her father told an Indian newspaper. (UK Independent)

Instead, Lakshmi’s parents, poor laborers who reportedly earn approximately $1.00 (USD) per day, persisted in their search to find doctors who would treat their vibrant little daughter. Reports vary, but at least one hospital refused treatment based on its projected cost; several doctors are said to have turned the family away because they felt the surgery was too risky. But a little more than a week ago, at Sparsh Hospital, on the outskirts of Bangalore, Lakshmi’s extraneous limbs were removed in an operation that took more than 24 hours.

pre-xr.jpgFor a month surgeons evaluated Lakshmi’s situation to determine, among other things, which legs would be saved. Of four kidneys, one had to be repositioned into Lakshmi’s body; the spine of Lakshmi’s conjoined twin had to be separated from Lakshmi’s own without causing damage; pelvic reconstruction was an issue. The puzzle’s schemata is clear, even to untrained eyes, in this x-ray.

Surgeons began operating on November 6, 2007; a week later, Lakshmi is out of intensive care; she’s eating solid foods; her digestive tract is working as it should; she is interacting with her family appropriately. Still, she’s not out of the woods yet. There are still concerns about wound healing and infections, and she will, at a minimum, require surgery on her feet, which are clubbed, in order to walk.

lak-post.jpgThat’s her post-operative x-ray at the right; Lakshmi is wearing a cast over her lower body, with supports along her legs. The cast is partially to restrict Lakshmi’s movements so that her wounds can mend properly, but also to position her legs and hips as they heal.

The technology of saving Lakshmi seems wondrous enough on its own, but what strikes me most about this particular story is the idea that this child was born to these particular parents — parents of theoretically limited means who gave wings to their dream for their daughter.

post-fam2.jpgThese are parents — impoverished and living without electricity in a remote village of fewer than 200 people — who proved unstoppable until they had found the help their child needed to have a chance to live as full a life as possible. Science is mere technology; that kind of love is a miracle. Goddess or not, this child was born blessed.

The picture (above, left) of Lakshmi and her family was taken post-surgery. Lakshmi’s six-year-old brother Mithilesh is partly shown (yellow shirt); he appears in the pre-op family photo above. Poonam Tatma is six months pregnant; ultrasound has shown that the baby is healthy.

Shambhu, Lakshmi’s father, has said that ” [All] this expenditure has happened to make her normal.” (UK Independent), but the contrasts between Lakshmi’s extraordinary medical intervention and her rural origins will always be with her, one way or another. In her home village, CNN reports, “[M]any villagers . . . remained opposed to surgery and [are] planning to erect a temple to Lakshmi, whom they still revere as sacred”.

The glowing photo of Lakshmi (above right) was taken before her surgery.

Picture of Lakshmi figure from Flickr; interesting notes at this link as well

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