While the great goddess as a cosmic
force may be a deity of compelling dynamism and
fearsome power, it is in the guise of the gentle
and beneficent giver of the devotees’ desires,
that the female divinities of India first appeared.
This role of the goddess as one who fulfills wishes
has remained one of enduring strength and consequence.
In the ancient collection of sacred hymns known
as the Veda, this aspect of the goddess already
becomes manifest. The two most shining examples
in this context are The Great Goddesses Lakshmi
Goddess Lakshmi, also known as
Shri, is personified not only as the goddess of
fortune and wealth but also as an embodiment of
loveliness, grace and charm. She is worshipped
as a goddess who grants both worldly prosperity
as well as liberation from the cycle of life and
Lore has it that Lakshmi arose
out of the sea of milk, the primordial cosmic
ocean, bearing a red lotus in her hand. Each member
of the divine triad- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
(creator, preserver and destroyer respectively)-
wanted to have her for himself. Shiva’s claim
was refused for he had already claimed the Moon,
Brahma had Saraswati, so Vishnu claimed her and
she was born and reborn as his consort during
all of his ten incarnations.
few texts say that Lakshmi is the wife of Dharma.
She and several other goddesses, all of whom are
personifications of certain auspicious qualities,
are said to have been given to Dharma in marriage.
This association seems primarily to represent
a thinly disguised “wedding” of Dharma (virtuous
conduct) with Lakshmi (prosperity and well-being).
The point of the association seems to be to teach
that by performing Dharma one obtains prosperity.
Tradition also associates Lakshmi
with Kubera, the ugly lord of the Yakshas. The
Yakshas were a race of supernatural creatures
who lived outside the pale of civilization. Their
connection with Lakshmi perhaps springs from the
fact that they were notable for a propensity for
collecting, guarding and distributing wealth.
Association with Kubera deepens the aura of mystery
and underworld connections that attaches itself
to Lakshmi. Yakshas are also symbolic of fertility.
The Yakshinis (female Yakshas) depicted often
in temple sculpture are full-breasted and big-hipped
women with wide generous mouths, leaning seductively
against trees. The identification of Shri, the
goddess who embodies the potent power of growth,
with the Yakshas is natural. She, like them, involves,
and reveals herself in the irrepressible fecundity
of plant life, as exemplified in the legend of
Shiva and the Bael fruit narrated above, and also
in her association with the lotus, to be described
An interesting and fully developed
association is between Lakshmi and the god Indra.
Indra is traditionally known as the king of the
gods, the foremost of the gods, and he is typically
described as a heavenly king. It is therefore
appropriate for Shri-Lakshmi to be associated
with him as his wife or consort. In these myths
she appears as the embodiment of royal authority,
as a being whose presence is essential for the
effective wielding of royal power and the creation
of royal prosperity.
Several myths of this genre describe
Shri-Lakshmi as leaving one ruler for another.
She is said, for example, to dwell even with a
demon named Bali. The concerned legend makes clear
the union between Lakshmi and victorious kings.
According to this legend Bali defeats Indra. Lakshmi
is attracted to Bali’s winning ways and bravery
and joins him along with her attendant auspicious
virtues. In association with the propitious goddess,
Bali rules the three worlds (earth, heavens and
the nether-worlds) with virtue, and under his
rule there is prosperity all around. Only when
the dethroned gods managed to trick Bali into
surrendering does Shri-Lakshmi depart from Bali,
leaving him lusterless and powerless. Along with
Lakshmi, the following qualities depart from Bali:
good conduct, virtuous behavior, truth, activity
Lakshmi’s association with so
many different male deities and with the notorious
fleetingness of good fortune earned her a reputation
for fickleness and inconstancy. In one text she
is said to be so unsteady that even in a picture
she moves and that if she sticks with Vishnu it
is only because she is attracted to his many different
forms (avataras)! She is thus also known as ‘Chanchala’,
or the restless one.
Her notorious fickleness has convinced
her devotees that she may desert them at the slightest
pretext. They have thus devised numerous ingenious
strategies to retain Lakshmi, and thus prosperity
in their establishments. One such sect is known
to offer only the worst netlike fabric as vastra
(clothing) to Lakshmi; for they say, ‘It is much
easier for Goddess Lakshmi to abandon our houses
clad in ample folds of cloth rather than scantily
dressed in the minimum fabric we offer to her
In a mythological sense her fickleness
and adventurous nature slowly begin to change
once she is identified totally with Vishnu, and
finally becomes still. She then becomes the steadfast,
obedient and loyal wife who vows to reunite with
her husband in all his next lives. As the cook
at the Jagannatha temple in Puri, she prepares
food for her lord and his devotees. In the famous
paintings on the walls of the Badami caves in
central India, she sits on the ground near where
her lord reclines upon a throne, leaning on him;
a model of social decorum and correctitude.
Physically Goddess Lakshmi is
described as a fair lady, with four arms, seated
on a lotus, dressed in fine garments and precious
jewels. She has a benign countenance, is in her
full youth and yet has a motherly appearance.
most striking feature of the iconography of Lakshmi
is her persistent association with the lotus.
The meaning of the lotus in relation to Shri-Lakshmi
refers to purity and spiritual power. Rooted in
the mud but blossoming above the water, completely
uncontaminated by the mud, the lotus represents
spiritual perfection and authority. Furthermore,
the lotus seat is a common motif in Hindu and
Buddhist iconography. The gods and goddesses,
the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, typically sit or
stand upon a lotus, which suggests their spiritual
authority. To be seated upon or to be otherwise
associated with the lotus suggests that the being
in question: God, Buddha, or human being-has transcended
the limitations of the finite world (the mud of
existence, as it were) and floats freely in a
sphere of purity and spirituality. Shri-Lakshmi
thus suggests more than the fertilizing powers
moist soil and the mysterious powers of growth.
She suggests a perfection or state of refinement
that transcends the material world. She is associated
not only with the royal authority but with also
spiritual authority, and she combines royal and
priestly powers in her presence. The lotus, and
the goddess Lakshmi by association, represents
the fully developed blossoming of organic life.
No description of Goddess Lakshmi
can be complete without a mention of her traditionally
accepted vehicle, the owl. Now, the owl (Ulooka
in Sanskrit), is a bird that sleeps through the
day and prowls through the night. In a humorous
vein it is said that owing to its lethargic and
dull nature the Goddess takes it for a ride! She
is the handmaiden of those who know how to control
it; how to make best use of her resources, like
the Lord Vishnu. But those who blindly worship
her are verily the owls or ‘Ulookas’. The choice
is ours: whether we wish to be Lord Vishnu or
the ‘Ulooka’ in our association with Lakshmi.
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