The Indian way is subjective and symbolic while the western way is logical, objective, mathematical and conclusive. If a woman sits next to a man’s feet, we automatically deduce something is wrong there and question. Why? Because we automatically consider “Feet” as “derogatory”.
This is the western lens which has taught you to be “tangible”. You have to be “logical”. You have to be “correct”. Things like “Equality” matter.
However, in the Indian context of “Darshan”, it is the process of seeing subjective reality (not the subject). What is subjective reality for you might not be subjective reality for me but as long as the subjective reality appeals to our moral code, we are both correct at the same time (this is considered a fallacy in western philosophy)
Lakshmi and Alakhsmi – Two sisters craving for Vishnu
Do you know that Lakshmi has an older sister, her name is Alakhsmi. She is the hindu goddess of misfortune and follows Lakshmi wherever she goes.
She is extremely jealous of Lakshmi because she does not have a husband. Her sole intention in life is to find a way to drive Lakshmi out of any household and capture the Vishnu living in that household. She has a dry shriveled up body, sunken cheeks, thick lips, and beady eyes and that she rides a donkey. She sometimes takes the form of an owl that is portrayed accompanying Lakshmi.
One day Lakshmi went enraged asked Alakhsmi –
“Why do you want my husband? Please leave me alone and let me enjoy his company”.
To this alakhsmi had said –
“I do not have a husband and I am not worshipped. I will follow you wherever you go”.
Lakshmi then said –
“Mrityu, god of death, decay, and degeneration will be your husband and she will dwell wherever there is dirt, ugliness, sloth, gluttony, envy, rage, hypocrisy, greed and lust.”
So it is Lakshmi who is sitting next to Vishnu’s dirty feet, because if it is dirty, Alakshmi will come and drive her out and claim her husband.
The symbolic representation
Like I said, Indian mythology is mostly symbolic and subjective. Here is the subjective truth.
Fortune and misfortune go hand in hand, just like Lakshmi and Alakshmi. When good fortune showers on you, misfortune sits quietly next to the entrance, waiting for an opportunity to come inside. That is Alakshmi, waiting for an opportunity to enter your house and drive out the Lakshmi.
Whenever your house is dirty, there is fight among parents, there is lust, hypocrisy among brothers, gluttony among women, greed between son and father, women are dressed in dirty clothes, it is a sign of misfortune (Alakshmi) entering the house and driving Lakshmi away.
Hence, the Lakshmi in the house must wake up and prevent Alakshmi from entering. This is why you see the house is cleaned every morning, water is poured next to the main door, Agarbatties are lighted, people wear fresh new clothes in festivals. This is done to prevent misfortune (Alakhsmi) from entering the house.
The picture is just a symbolic representation of preserving order and has nothing to do with the relationship of man/woman. Vishnu is the keeper or lord of the house and Lakshmi is the one who ensures that the keeper is guarded from misfortune (Alakshmi).