हिरण्यवर्णां हरिणीं सुवर्णरजतस्रजाम्।
चन्द्रां हिरण्मयीं लक्ष्मीं जातवेदो म आवह॥
Hiranyavarnam harinim suvarnarajatasrajam,
Chandram hiranmayim lakshmim jatavedo ma avaha.
Hey knower of Vedas, you invoke for me that Lakshmi, who is of golden color, who is beautiful, and adorned with golden and silver garlands, who is like moon, who has golden aura.
The goddess Lakshmi is one of the most popular and widely venerated goddesses, today. It is said that she gives money and wealth. Another name of Lakshmi is Shri.
In the Vedas Shri is depicted as goddess of wealth, fortune, power and beauty. It is said that initially Shri and Lakshmi were different goddesses but later on they merged and became identical. According to some scholars Shri was a pre-Vedic deity connected with fertility, water and agriculture. She was later fused with Lakshmi, the Vedic goddess of beauty.
Origin of Lakshmi
According to the Puranas, Lakshmi existed first as the daughter of the sage Bhrigu. She took refuge in the ocean of milk during a period when the gods were exiled from their kingdom as a result of a sage’s curse. She reappeared during the churning of the milk ocean as Lakshmi, one of the fourteen precious objects. She emerged from the ocean fully grown and radiant, bearing a lotus in her hand. As soon as the gods saw her each of them wanted her as his wife. Shiva was the first to claim her, but as he had already seized the moon, Lakshmi’s hand was accorded to Vishnu, whom Lakshmi herself preferred.
Thereafter Lakshmi was reborn as Vishnu’s consort in each of his incarnations. For his incarnation of the dwarf, Vamana, she was born from the waters, floating on the flower of a lotus. For this reason she was called Padma or Kamala. When Vishnu was born as Parashuram, Lakshmi was Dharani, the earth. When he became Rama, she was faithful Sita, born from a furrow in the ploughed field. When he incarnated as Krishna, she entered both the phases of his life: as the cowgirl Radha and as his wife Rukmini. As Rukmini she was the mother of Pradyumna, Kama’s incarnation.
Appearance of Lakshmi
Lakshmi is usually described as enchantingly beautiful and standing on a lotus and holding lotuses in each of her two hands. It is because of this she is known as Padma or Kamala. She is also adorned with a lotus garland. Very often elephants are shown on either side, emptying pitchers of water over her, the pitchers being presented by celestial maidens. Her color is variously described as dark, pink, golden yellow or white. While in the company of Vishnu, she is shown with two hands only. In a temple, she is shown as seated on a lotus throne, with four hands holding the lotus, conch shell, pot of ambrosia and Bilva fruit respectively. When shown with eight hands, a bow and arrow, mace and discus are added. Sometimes gold coins are shown to be flowing from her hands. The carrier vehicle of Lakshmi is owl.
Interpretation of the appearance
If Lakshmi is portrayed in a dark hue, it is to show that she is the consort of Vishnu. A golden yellow appearance signifies that she is the source of all wealth. In white, she represents the purest form of nature from which the universe has developed. A pinkish complexion, which is more common, reflects her compassion for creatures, since she is the mother of all.
Her four hands signify her power to grant the four Purusharthas (goals of human life) viz. Dharma (righteousness), Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure of flesh) and Moksha (final emancipation).
The lotuses in various stages of bloom represent the worlds and the beings in various stages of evolution. The fruits stand for the fruits of human labour. If the fruit depicted is coconut it means that from her originate the three levels of creation, the gross, the subtle and the extremely subtle. If it is a pomegranate or citron, it signifies that the various created worlds are under her control and that she transcends them all. If it is a Bilva fruit, which is not very tasty and attractive but is extremely good for health then it represents Moksha, the highest fruit of spiritual life. The pot of ambrosia stands for the bliss of immortality.
Stories related to Lakshmi
In her previous birth as a Brahmin maiden, Subhadra had slept on Vishnu’s bed and was consequently cursed by Lakshmi to have her face transformed into that of a mare. Enraged the girls’ father cursed Lakshmi in turn to have her head transformed into that of an elephant.
शापेन तस्य विप्रस्य तत्क्षणादेव सा द्विजा।
गजवक्त्रा समुत्पन्ना महाविस्मयकरिणी॥
shapena tasya viprasya tatkshanadeva sa dvija,
Gajavaktra samutpanna mahavismayakarini.
Vishnu consoled her and told her to be in the same form and propitiate Brahma.
सा प्रोक्ता हरिणा तिष्ठ किञ्चित्कालान्तरं शुभे।
अनेनैव तु रूपेण यावत्स्याद्द्वापारक्षय:।
शुभास्यत्वकृते तेपे तपस्तीव्रं सुहर्षिता॥
sa prokta harina tishtha kinchitkalantaram shubhe,
Anenaiva tu rupena yavatsyaddvaparakshaya,
Shubhasyatvakrute tepe tapastivram suharshita.
She propitiated Brahma and got her former face back. Pleased with her devotion Brahma blessed her to be known as Maha Lakshmi from then on.
भविष्यति शुभं वक्त्रं मत्प्रसादादसंशयम्।
तव भद्रे विशेषेण तस्मात्त्वं स्वगृहं व्रज॥
महत्त्वं ते मया दत्तमद्यप्रभृति शोने।
महालक्ष्मीति ते नाम तस्मादत्र भविष्यति॥
Bhavishyati shubhm vaktram matprasadadasamshayam,
Tava bhadre visheshena tasmattvam svagruham vraja,
Mahattvam te maya dattamadyaprabhruti shone,
Mahalakshmiti te nama tasmadatra bhavishyati.
According to another account Lakshmi took on the form of a cow, on being requested by Parvati, signifying that the cow should be looked upon as Lakshmi, which gives butter and other things for sacrifice
या लक्ष्मीर्लोकपालनां धेनुरूपेण संस्थिता।
घृतं वहति यज्ञार्थे मम पापं व्यपोहतु॥
ya lakshmirlokapalanam dhenurupena samsthita,
Ghrutam vahati yadnyarthe mama papam vyapohatu.
The Champak tree is said to be her place of residence. A Purana says that when Vishnu took the form of Buddha, Lakshmi became the female mendicant.
श्री: परिव्राजिका जाता नितरां सुभगाकृति:।
यामालोक्य जगत्सर्वं चित्रन्यस्तमिवास्थितम्॥
shri parivrajika jata nitaram subhagakruti,
Yamalokya jagatsarvam chitranyastamivasthitam.
Yet another legend narrates that Lakshmi tried to settle a quarrel between Ganga and Saraswati; but Saraswati cursed her saying that she would be turned into a tree and a river. Vishnu consoled her and said that she would be born as the daughter of Dharmadhvaja, but not from her mother’s womb like a mortal. There she would become a tree, the wife of Shankhachuda, who would be the aspect of Vishnu. Thereafter she would be his wife called Tulasi. In the form of a river, she would be called Padmavati.
Worship of Lakshmi
Lakshmi is worshipped daily for wealth. She is also worshipped throughout the year through a variety of festivals. The most important festival is Diwali, which is held in late autumn. On the auspicious night of Diwali, Hindus worship Lakshmi ceremonially at home, pray for her blessings. It is believed that on this night the goddess herself visits the homes and replenishes the inhabitants with wealth. In this festival three important and interrelated themes are seen as follows:
1. Lakshmi’s association with wealth and prosperity: The most obvious indication that Lakshmi is identified with prosperity is her popularity among the merchants. During this festival it is customary for people, especially businessmen, to worship their account books.
2. Lakshmi’s association with abundant crops and fertility: At the time of this festival, crops are harvested. So the farmers worship Lakshmi for abundant crops.
3. Lakshmi’s association with good fortune: During this festival ghosts of the dead are said to return. Bali, a demon, is said to emerge from the underworld to rule for three days. Throughout these three days Lakshmi is invoked to ward off the dangerous effects of the visiting dead spirits and the emergent demon king.
Aspects of Lakshmi
Eight forms of Lakshmi, known as Ashtamahalakshmi, are recognized in iconographical works. She is usually figured on the lintels of the door frames. She is seated on an eight-petalled lotus, has four hands and is carrying a lotus, a pot of nectar, a Bilva fruit and a conch. Behind her two elephants are shown pouring water over her from pots held in their trunks.
When the same goddess has two hands, she is called Samanyalakshmi or Indralakshmi.
If she is depicted with two lotuses in two hands, and the other two hands display the Abhaya-protection giving and Varada-boon giving poses, she is designed as Varadalakshmi.
As Mahalakshmi she is depicted as goddess in her universal form as Shakti. The manifestation of Lakshmi to kill Mahishasura is by the effulgence of all the gods. The Goddess is described as eighteen-armed, bearing a string of beads, battle axe, mace, arrow, thunderbolt, lotus, bow, water pot, cudgel, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine cup, trident, noose and the discus Sudarshana. She has a coral complexion and is seated on a lotus. She is known as Ashtadasha-bhuja-Mahalakshmi, the great Lakshmi having eighteen hands.
She is also seen in two more forms, Bhudevi and Shridevi. Bhudevi is the representation and totality of the material world or energy, in which she is called Mother Earth. Shridevi is the representation of the spiritual world or energy.
Lakshmi is always regarded as Chanchala, having fickle mind. She never resides at one place for long time. Folklores have it that she never stays with a knowledgeable person. The reason is as the goddess of knowledge Saraswati is a rival of Lakshmi they cannot stay together at one place.
Lakshmi’s grace is sought by all devotees as she bestows the two most necessary things that is wealth and fortune and in today’s competitive world these two things are essentially important.