DEVI LAKSHMI (SAMYA MUKHERJEE)
Devi Lakshmi is one of the principal goddess in Hinduism. She is the goddess of wealth, fortune, power, beauty and prosperity; and associated with ‘Maya’ or ‘illusion’. Along with Parvati and Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi forms the ‘Tridevi’ of Hindu goddess. Goddess Laksmi is also named as ‘Sri’, ‘Narayani’, ‘Bhargavi’, ‘Bhagavati’, ‘Padma’, ‘Kamala’, ‘Vaishnavi’ etc. She is the abode of ‘Vaikuntha’ and ‘Manideepa’. The word Lakshmi is derived from two root words of Sanskrit – ‘Laks’ (to perceive, observe, know, understand) and ‘Laksha’ (goal, aim, objective); thus overall the term ‘Lakshmi’ indicates lucky mark or auspicious opportunity. Devi Lakshmi is known to be the daughter of mother-Goddess Durga and the wife of Lord Vishnu. ‘Jyestha’ or ‘Alakshmi’ is Her consort. Goddess Lakshmi is depicted in Indian art as an elegantly dressed, prosperity-showering, golden-coloured woman standing or sitting in ‘padmasana’ on a lotus throne, while holding a lotus in Her hand - symbolizing fortune, self-knowledge and spiritual liberation. Her iconography shows her with four hands, which represents the four aspects of human life, important to Hindu-culture : ‘Dharma’(pursuit of ethical and moral life), ‘Kama’(pursuit of love and emotional fulfilment), ‘Artha’(pursuit of wealth and means of life) and ‘Moksha’(pursuit of self-knowledge and liberation).
Within the Goddess-oriented Shaktism, Lakshmi is venerated as a principle aspect of Mother goddess. Lakshmi is both the wife and divine energy of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme-being of Vaishnavism; She is also the Supreme Goddess in the sect and assists Vishnu to create, protect and transform the universe. Whenever, Vishnu descended on the earth as an ‘avatar’; Lakshmi accompanied Him as a consort, for example, as Sita and Radha or Rukmini as consorts of the avatars of Lord Vishnu – Rama and Krishna respectively. The eight prominent manifestations of Lakshmi (the Ashtalakshmi) symbolize the eight sources of wealth. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, fortune, power, luxury, beauty, fertility and auspiciousness. Devi Lakshmi holds the promise of material-fulfilment and contentment. She is described as whimsical yet maternal, with Her arms raised to bless for grant. Devi Lakshmi is the household-goddess of mostly all Hindu families and is worshipped daily. Goddess Lakshmi may also be called as ‘Lokmata’ (Mother of the world) and ‘Lola’ (fickle), in reference to Her seemingly haphazard dispensation of good fortune. The incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi are ‘Sita’, ‘Radha’, ‘Gopis’, ‘Rukmini’, ‘Jambavati’, ‘Satyabhama’, ‘Kalindi’, ‘Nagnajiti’, Mitravinda’, ‘Lakshmana’, ‘Bhadra’, ‘Junior wives of Krishna’, ‘Revati’.
Birth-story of Goddess Lakshmi : The story begins with the meeting between sage Durvasa and Lord Indra. Sage Durvasa with a lot of respect, offers a garland of flowers to Lord Indra. Lord Indra takes the flowers and places it on the forehead of his elephant Airavat. The elephant takes the garland and throws it down to the earth. Sage Durvasa got angry at this disrespectful treatment of His gift and said to Devaraj Indra, “You have an inflated ego and in your arrogance, you have not respected the garland which was the dwelling of the Goddess of fortune. Sage Durvasa curses Lord Indra that his kingdom will also be ruined like he has thrown the garland on to the ground in his excessive pride since Lord Indra has not bowed in front of Him”. Sage Durvasa then walked away, Lord Indra returned to His capital Amaravati. The changes in Amaravati started to take place following the curse of sage Durvasa. The gods and people lost their vigour and energy, all the vegetable products and plants started dying, men stopped doing charity, their minds became corrupted, people started to make themselves engaged in ultimate sensory pleasures. Men and women started getting excited by the material-objects only. Everyone’s desire became uncontrollable.
With the gods getting weak in Amaravati, the demons invaded the kingdom of the gods, defeating them in war. This is the reason, for which the gods and demons reside within us simultaneously and are the representatives of good and evil within us. After being defeated, the gods went to Lord Vishnu who suggested the churning of the ocean to restore the power back to the gods by providing them with ‘Amrita’ (nectar), that would make them immortal. This is how the churning of ocean began. The churning is symbolized by a literal tug of war between the gods and demons in the story. A host of divine celestial objects came up during the churning of ocean. From this churning, Goddess Lakshmi rises out of the waves seated on a full-blown lotus. Devi Lakshmi chooses Lord Vishnu as Her Master and thus chooses the gods over the demons – thus in some versions, Goddess Lakshmi is depicted as the daughter of sea-god, since She emerged from the sea. The gods get their power back and fight the asuras again and prevail over them. Thus, Godess Lakshmi is said to have been born from the stirring of the primeval milky ocean by the gods and demons. Following the intervention of Brahma and Vishnu, Lakshmi miraculously appeared from the sea of clarified butter clothed in white and radiating youth and beauty. The first lesson in the entire story is that Lakshmi, the Goddess of fortune forsakes even the gods if they become arrogant. Lakshmi devi is not only about the material wealth. When the Goddess of Fortune gets angry, it leads to an inability to perform good work, lack of energy, hunger, poverty, lack of mental peace, lack of will-power and a meaningless life.
Again, in Garuda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana; Devi Lakshmi is said to have been born as the daughter of the divine sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyati – thus named as ‘Bhargavi’.
Manifestations and Aspects : Goddess Lakshmi is often shown together with Lord Vishnu. In certain parts of India, Lakshmi plays a role as the mediator between Her husband Vishnu and the worldly devotees. When asking Lord Vishnu for grace or forgiveness; the devotees often approach Him through intermediary presence of Devi Lakshmi. She is also the personification of spiritual fulfilment. Goddess Lakshmi embodies the spiritual world, also known as ‘Vaikuntha’, the abode of Lakshmi and Vishnu (collectively called Lakshmi-Narayana). Lakshmi is the embodiment of creative energy of Vishnu and primordial ‘Prakriti’ who creates the universe.
According to Garuda Purana, Goddess Lakshmi is identified with three forms – ‘Sri’, ‘Bhu’ and ‘Durga’. The three forms consists of ‘Satva’ (goodness), ‘Rajas’, ‘Tamas’ (darkness), ‘Gunas’; and assists Vishnu (Purusha) in creation, preservation and destruction of the entire universe.
In ‘Lakshmi Tantra’ and ‘Lakshmi Sahasranama’ of ‘Skanda Purana’, Devi Lakshmi is given the status of the primordial goddess. According to the text, Devi Durga and Her forms like ‘Mahakali’, ‘Mahalakshmi’ and ‘Mahasaraswati’ and all the Shaktis that came out of all gods such as ‘Matrikas’ and ‘Mahavidya’ are all various forms of Goddess Lakshmi. Devi Lakshmi said that She got the name Durga after killing an asura named Durgama. Indologists and authors Chitralekha Singh and Premnath says, “Narada Purana described the powerful foms of Lakshmi as Durga, Mahakali, Bhadrakali, Chandi, Maheshwari, Lakshmi, Vaishnavi and Andreye”.
Ashta Lakshmi : ‘Ashta Lakshmi’ is a group of eight secondary manifestations of Devi Lakshmi. The ‘Ashta Lakshmi’ presides over eight sources of wealth and thus represents the eight powers of Shri Lakshmi. Wealth in the context of ‘Ashta Lakshmi’ means prosperity, fertility, good- fortune or good luck, good health, knowledge, strength, progeny and power. The forms of ‘Ashta Lakshmi’ are as follows –
1) Adi Lakshmi : Goddess Adi Lakshmi is an avatar of the divine-mother Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. She is considered as the primordial form of Lakshmi and the origin of all existence. She is also the unquestionable force behind all creations in this universe and it would be inconceivable to even imagine the universe without her guiding hand. She is often referred to as ‘Mahalakshmi’ and resides in Vaikuntha with Lord Vishnu. Goddess Adi Lakshmi prefers cleanliness. She is an inseparable part of Lord Vishnu and both together are considered as one single entity. Adi Lakshmi is depicted with four hands and seated on a pink lotus with a calm and pleasing demeanor. She is extremely beautiful and attired in red clothes, with golden jewellery adorning her body. Two of Her hands portray the ‘Abhaya Mudra’ and ‘Varada Mudra’, while the other two are shown with a lotus and white flag respectively. She is thus portrayed as a symbol of pure knowledge, purity, cleanliness and clarity of thoughts. Goddess Adi Lakshmi is considered as ‘Moksha Pradayani’ (the one who bestows liberation). Devi Adi Lakshmi represents fertility and married women, hence, white coloured flowers should not be offered to Her. It is considered to offer her all types red coloured flowers which signify love and desire. Lighting of lamps is also considered to be favourable to propriate Adi Lakshmi, since they remove all evils and ignorance from one’s psychae.
2) Dhanya Lakshmi : Dhanya Lakshmi, one of the eight forms of Goddess Lakshmi is assumed to satisfy the necessities of human beings. In this avatar, she is responsible for the equitable distribution of grain or food and regarded as the provider of agricultural wealth. Farmers pray to Her for the proper reaping of bountiful crop and poor people invoke Her blessings to provide them with food to satisfy their hunger. Praying to Dhanya Lakshmi before partaking of food to others is considered a virtue, which greatly pleases the Goddess and She showers Her bounty on those who do so with selfless intentions. Dhanya Lakshmi is portrayed, being attired in green garments, symbolizing the greenery of agricultural land which results in a rich harvest. Green is also associated with growth, renewal and resurgence; replenishing the land with fresh new resources. Goddess Dhanya Lakshmi is depicted as an eight armed goddess, wielding various agricultural products in three of her hands, as shown holding lotuses, and one wields a mace. Her other two hands are in ‘Abhaya Mudra’ and ‘Varada Mudra’; signifying Her objective of providing grains and charity for the poor and hungry. Goddess Dhanya Lakshmi is the beloved mother who takes care of Her children and ensures that they never go hungry. She destroys evil and provides relief to all those who seek refuge in her. Devotees offer flowers and light lamps, praying to devi for keeping their granary full and provide nourishment to lead a healthy life.
3) Veera Lakshmi : Veera Lakshmi is said to be the epitome of bravery, strength and valor. Devi provides courage to face challenges and overcome the difficulties (both material and spiritual). Veera Lakshmi is depicted with eight arms, dressed in red clothing and draped in golden ornaments and flowers. She is seated on a lotus and wields several weapons in Her hands like a disc, bow, arrow and a trident or sword. Devi also holds a conch and several palm leaf scriptures. Two hands are portrayed in ‘Abhaya Mudra’ and ‘Varada Mudra’ posture which dispels fear while signifying safety, reassurance and generosity. Her charming and peaceful countenance evokes a feeling of love and compassion, which instills fortitude and determination in the hearts of Her devotees. Veera Lakshmi is easily appeased and offerings of flowers are said to please Her immensely; especially the gladiolus flowers that signify strength and character. Praying to Goddess Veera Lakshmi is said to destroy fear and provide absolution from the accumulated sins. Meditating on Her divine spirit clears the mind of confusion and chaos, while at the same time instilling wisdom and clarity of thought. The goddess blesses those who are in tune with the inner recesses of their spiritual being and able to control the demons of self-doubt and foreboding.
4) Gaja Lakshmi : Gaja Lakshmi means the Lakshmi with elephants, and that is one of the most significant Ashtalakshmi aspects of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi. In this aspect, the goddess is depicted being seated on a lotus, flanked on both sides by an elephant. The elephants flanking the goddess, are shown as lustering, pouring water from their trunks over the goddess. She is shown as seated in Padmasana yogic posture, and has four arms. In each of Her upper pair of arms, devi carries a lotus and the lower hands are generally shown in ‘Abhaya Mudra’ and ‘Varada Mudra’. Gaja Lakshmi motifs are very common in Hindu and Buddhist iconography. According to Mythology, Gaja Lakshmi once helped Devaraj Indra to regain his lost wealth from the depth of the ocean. This form of goddess Lakshmi is the bestower and protector of wealth, prosperity, grace and royalty. Devi assumes the form for fulfilling a specific purpose for the benefit of humanity. Her avatar as Gaja Lakshmi satisfies the needs of those who are dependent on rearing livestock to make ends meet. Praying to Gaja Lakshmi with deep sincierity, is said to dispel darkness and eradicate all afflictions. Devi grants the wishes of Her devotees and helps them to overcome the adversities in their pursuit of a peaceful and prosperous life.
5) Santana Lakshmi : Santana Lakshmi symbolizes fertility and blesses childless couples with progeny. Many look upon Her to fulfil their desire of a child and thus attain parenthood, which signifies the culmination of the sacred relationship between a man and a woman. She is also said to listen to the supplications of small children who wish for a sibling. Goddess Santana Lakshmi is depicted with eight arms and one arm is shown holding a baby, who by itself holds a lotus in its hands. Two of Her arms are portrayed with a shield and a sword, with two more holding a water-pitcher decorated with mango leaves and topped with a coconut. One hand is depicted in ‘Abhaya Mudra’, which signifies the dispelling of darkness and conferring the boon of a child. She is seated on a lotus attired in red or yellow garments, wearing a garland of flowers and draped in golden jewellery. Santana Lakshmi symbolizes fertility in all possible ways and assumed the form of Santana Lakshmi to ensure the propagation of all living beings. Couples pray to Santana Lakshmi not only to bestow them with a legal heir to carry forward the illustrious lineage, but also to keep the child healthy and free from disease. The Goddess also contributes to the all-round well-being of the child and helps to mold its character.
6) Vidya Lakshmi : Vidya Lakshmi is an incarnation of Mother-goddess Lakshmi, who took several forms to satisfy the necessities of living beings. She bestows wealth on humanity, though not in the tangible form of materialism. The goddess provides wealth in the form of knowledge which helps in the intellectual development of the individual. The guiding force of the goddess is essential to tap into the inner recesses of the human mind and realize the full potential of one’s talent and capability. Vidya Lakshmi is depicted in white garments and draped in jewellery with elaborate golden ornaments covering Her head. She is portrayed with four arms, with the upper two holding a lotus each, while the other two arms are shown in ‘Abhaya Mudra’ which signifies the fear dispelling gesture and the ‘Varada Mudra’, signifying the boon giving gesture. These attributes of the goddess help a person to acquire mental fortitude and resilience to overcome the fear of insecurity, ignorance and experience. Vidya Lakshmi showers wealth in the form of the inherent qualities which reside within the human intellect. She helps us to understand the potential locked deep within our psyche and bring it to the fore, which enables us to achieve material and spiritual growth. Vidya Lakshmi is mostly worshipped on Wednesdays and offering Her lotus flower is considered auspicious. Devi is easily appeased and showers her devotees with an abundance of wealth in the form of sagacity.
7) Vijaya Lakshmi : Vijaya Lakshmi is the goddess who is actually a giver of victory. – so She is called ‘Victorious Lakshmi’. Devi Vijaya Lakshmi is worshipped not only for conquering battles, but also for conquering hurdles in order to achieve success. The presence of devi in the inner-self of a human being acts as the guiding force behind successful people who are undeterred by many difficulties. Vijaya Lakshmi is depicted with a charming demeanor in red clothing and adorned with flowers. She is seated on a lotus flower and four of Her eight arms are shown wielding various weapons like a disc, sword, shield and noose. Two of her arms are depicted holding a lotus and a conch. The other two arms are portrayed in the ‘Abhaya Mudra’ and ‘Varada Mudra’, which signify Her intention to provide physical and mental support; and dispel fear from the minds of the devotees.
8) Aisharya Lakshmi : Devi Aisharya Lakshmi is the symbolism of the wealth of prosperity and fortune. Devi stows aisharya (opulence) in all her forms, shapes and sizes. Her luxuries and abundance are not only limited to material luxuries and abundance but the inner bliss too. Aisharya Lakshmi bestows opulence to Her worshipper unconditionally. This is actually the form of Goddess Lakshmi who showers wealth. In this form, the goddess is six-armed, dressed in red garments, carries chakra (discuss), sankha (conch), kalasha (water-pitcher with mango leaves and a coconut on it) or ‘Amrita kumbha’ (a pitcher containing Amrita – nectar i.e. the elixir of life), bow-arrow and a lotus and one-hand depicting ‘Abhaya Mudra’ with gold coins falling from it. ‘Aisharya’ means wealth, but as per Rig Veda’s Purusha Sukta, ‘Aisharya’ is not only the wealth in coins and currency. Wealth comes in many forms – Nature, Love, Peace, Health, Virtues, Family, Food, Land, Water, Will-power, Intellect and Character etc. With the grace of mother Aisharya Lakshmi, an ardent devotee can get all these in abundance.
Worship : Usually, Lakshmi puja takes place after the Durga puja on the auspicious period of ‘Kojagari Purnima’ or ‘Sharad Purnima’ – it is a harvesting festival marking the end of monsoon season, which belongs to the period of full-moon day in the month of Ashwin (October, according to Gregorian calendar). Many Hindus worship goddess Lakshmi on Diwali, the festival of lights. It is celebrated in Autumn, typically in the month of October or November every year. Worshipping of Goddess Lakshmi is a traditional celebration of moon, called the ‘Kaumundi celebration’ (‘Kaumundi’ meaning moon light). On the night of Sharad Purnima, goddess Lakshmi is thanked and worshipped for the harvests. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair. Many ardent devotees also observe the ‘Vaibhav Lakshmi Brata’ on every Friday.
List of temples in India where Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped : 1) In Maharashtra, as Ambabai or Mahalakshmi in Mahalakshmi Temple, Kolhapur (Shakti Peetha), Mahalakshmi Temple, Dahanu.
2) In Karnataka, as Mookambika in Mookambika Temple, Kollur.
3) In Kerala, as Bhagavati in Chottanikkara Temple.
4) In Andhra Pradesh, as Kanaka Mahalakshmi in Sri Kanaka Mahalakshmi
5) In Madhya Pradesh, as Lakshmi in Lakshmi Temple, Khajurao.
6) In Tamil Nadu, as Lakshmi Narayani in Golden Temple, Sripuram, as Ashtalakshmi in Ashtalakshmi Temple, Chennai. Other prominent temples include – Thirunarayur Nambi Temple, Andal Temple, Srivilliputhur, Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Temple, Pundarikakshan Perumal Temple.