Lakshmi

In HinduismLakshmi (लक्ष्मी, lakṣhmī) is the Goddess who leads to one’s goal (lakshya in Sanskrit), hence her name Lakshmi. For mankind, 8 types of goals are necessary – Spiritual enlightenment, food, knowledge, resources, progeny, abundance, patience and success, hence there are 8 or Ashta Lakshmis – Aadi Lakshmi, Dhaanya Lakshmi, Vidya Lakshmi, Dhana Lakshmi, Santaana Lakshmi, Gaja Lakshmi, Dhairya Lakshmi and Vijaya Lakshmi. First mentioned in the Śrī Sūkta of the Rigveda.

Sri, a honorific term for Lakshmi, represents the material world of the earthly realm as the mother goddess, referred to as Prithvi Mata, and known by her twin identities as Bhu Devi, and sridevi (She is having another form along with these two called as Nila Devi). She is the wife of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism and the Supreme Being in the Vaishnavism Tradition. With Parvati and Saraswati, she forms Tridevi, the holy trinity.Lakshmi is also an important deity in Jainism and found in Jain temples. Lakshmi has also been a Goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, and was represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism. In Buddhist sects of Tibet, Nepal and Southeast Asia, Lakshmi Goddess Vasudhara mirrors the characteristics and attributes of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi with minor iconographic differences.

A painting of Lakshmi on the inner walls of the Tanjore Big temple.

A painting of Lakshmi on the inner walls of the Tanjore Big temple.

Lakshmi is also called Sri or Thirumagal because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities, or gunas, and is the divine energy/Shakti of Vishnu. In Hindu religion, she was pleased and churned out from the churning of the primordial ocean (Samudra manthan) and she chose Vishnu as her eternal consort. As mentioned in Vishnu Purana, when Vishnu descended on the Earth as the avatars Rama and Krishna, Lakshmi descended as Sita and Rukmini, Satyabama.

Diwali is celebrated in the honour of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

A female goddess such as Lakshmi

Lakshmi is depicted in Indian art as an elegantly dressed, prosperity-showering golden-coloured woman with an owl as her vehicle, signifying the importance of economic activity in maintenance of life, her ability to move, work and prevail in confusing darkness. She typically stands or sits like a yogin on a lotus pedestal and holds a lotus in her hand, symbolizing fortune, self-knowledge and spiritual liberation. Her iconography shows her with four hands, which represent the four goals of human life considered important to the Hindu way of life: dharma, kāma, artha and moksha. She is often depicted as part of the trinity (Tridevi) consisting of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. She is also considered as the daughter of Durga in Bengali Hindu culture.

Archaeological discoveries and ancient coins suggest the recognition and reverence for Lakshmi by the 1st millennium BCE. Lakshmi’s iconography and statues have also been found in Hindu temples throughout Southeast Asia, estimated to be from the second half of the 1st millennium CE. The festivals of Diwali and Sharad Purnima (Kojagiri Purnima) are celebrated in her honor.

Etymology

Main article: Hindu Gods And Goddesses

Lakshmi (Lakṣmī) is one of many Hindu deities whose meaning and significance evolved in ancient Sanskrit texts.

Lakshmi is mentioned once in Rigveda, where it means kindred mark or sign of auspicious fortune.

भद्रैषां लक्ष्मीर्निहिताधि वाचि
bhadraiṣāṁ lakṣmīrnihitādhi vāci
“an auspicious fortune is attached to their words”

— Rig Veda, x.71.2, Translated by John Muir

In Atharvaveda, transcribed about 1000 BCE, Lakshmi evolves into a complex concept with plural manifestations. Book 7, Chapter 115 of Atharva Veda describes the plurality, asserting that a hundred Lakshmis are born with the body of a mortal at birth, some good, punya (virtuous) and auspicious, while others bad, paapi (evil) and unfortunate. The good are welcomed, while the bad urged to leave. The concept and spirit of Lakshmi and her association with fortune and the good is significant enough that Atharva Veda mentions it in multiple books: for example, in Book 12, Chapter 5 as punya Lakshmi. In some chapters of Atharva Veda, Lakshmi connotes the good, an auspicious sign, good luck, good fortune, prosperity, success and happiness.

Later, Lakshmi is referred to as the goddess of fortune, identified with Sri and regarded as wife of Viṣṇu (Nārāyaṇa). For example, in Shatapatha Brahmana, variously estimated to be composed between 800 BCE and 300 BCE, Sri (Lakshmi) is part of one of many theories, in ancient India, about the creation of universe. In Book 9 of Shatapatha Brahmana, Sri emerges from Prajapati, after his intense meditation on creation of life and nature of universe. Sri is described as a resplendent and trembling woman at her birth with immense energy and powers. The gods were bewitched, desire her and immediately become covetous of her. The gods approach Prajapati and request permission to kill her and then take her powers, talents and gifts. Prajapati refuses, tells the gods that males should not kill females and that they can seek her gifts without violence. The gods then approach Lakshmi, deity Agni gets food, Soma gets kingly authority, Varuna gets imperial authority, Mitra acquires martial energy, Indra gets force, Brihaspati gets priestly authority, Savitri acquires dominion, Pushan gets splendour, Saraswati takes nourishment and Tvashtri gets forms. The hymns of Shatapatha Brahmana thus describe Sri as a goddess born with and personifying a diverse range of talents and powers.

According to another legend, she emerges during the creation of universe, floating over the water on the expanded petals of a lotus flower; she is also variously regarded as wife of Dharma, mother of Kāma, sister or mother of Dhātṛ and Vidhātṛ, wife of Dattatreya, one of the nine Shaktis of Viṣṇu, a manifestation of Prakṛti as identified with Dākshāyaṇī in Bharatasrama and as Sita, wife of Rama.

In the Epics of Hinduism, such as in Mahabharata, Lakshmi personifies wealth, riches, happiness, loveliness, grace, charm and splendour. In another Hindu legend, about the creation of universe as described in Ramayana, Lakshmi springs with other precious things from the foam of the ocean of milk when it is churned by the gods and demons for the recovery of Amṛta. She appeared with a lotus in her hand and so she is also called Padmā.

Root of the word

Lakshmi in Sanskrit is derived from the root word lakṣ (लक्ष्) and lakṣa (लक्ष), meaning to perceive, observe, know, understand and goal, aim, objective respectively. These roots give Lakshmi the symbolism: know and understand your goal. A related term is lakṣaṇa, which means sign, target, aim, symbol, attribute, quality, lucky mark, auspicious opportunity.

Symbolism and iconography

Lakshmi is a member of the Tridevi, the triad of great Goddesses. She represents the Rajas Guna, and the Iccha-shakti.

The image, icons, and sculptures of Lakshmi are represented with symbolism. Her name is derived from Sanskrit root words for knowing the goal and understanding the objective. Her four arms are symbolic of the four goals of humanity that are considered good in Hinduism – dharma (pursuit of ethical, moral life), artha (pursuit of wealth, means of life), kama (pursuit of love, emotional fulfillment) and moksha (pursuit of self-knowledge, liberation).

In Lakshmi’s iconography, she is either sitting or standing on a lotus and typically carrying a lotus in one or two hands. The lotus carries symbolic meanings in Hinduism and other Indian traditions. It symbolises knowledge, self-realisation, and liberation in Vedic context, and represents reality, consciousness and karma (work, deed) in the Tantra (Sahasrara) context. The lotus, a flower that blossoms in clean or dirty water, also symbolises purity regardless of the good or bad circumstances in which it grows. It is a reminder that good and prosperity can bloom and not be affected by evil in one’s surrounding.

Below, behind or on the sides, Lakshmi is very often shown with one or two elephants, known as Gajalakshmi, and occasionally with an owl. Elephants symbolise work, activity and strength, as well as water, rain and fertility for abundant prosperity. The owl signifies the patient striving to observe, see and discover knowledge particularly when surrounded by darkness. As a bird reputedly blinded by daylight, the owl also serves as a symbolic reminder to refrain from blindness and greed after knowledge and wealth has been acquired.

In some representations, wealth either symbolically pours out from one of her hands or she simply holds a jar of money. This symbolism has a dual meaning: wealth manifested through Lakshmi means both materials as well as spiritual wealth. Her face and open hands are in a mudra that signifies compassion, giving or daana (charity).

Lakshmi typically wears a red dress embroidered with golden threads, symbolizes fortune and wealth. She, goddess of wealth and prosperity, is often represented with her husband Vishnu, the god who maintains human life filled with justice and peace. This symbolism implies wealth and prosperity is coupled with maintenance of life, justice, and peace.

In Japan, where Lakshmi is known as Kisshōten, she is commonly depicted with the Nyoihōju gem (如意宝珠) in her hand.

Names

Lakshmi has numerous names and numerous ancient Stotram and Sutras of Hinduism recite her various names:

  • Padmā: She of the lotus (she who is mounted upon or dwelling in a lotus)
  • Kamalā: She of the lotus
  • Padmapriyā: Lotus-lover
  • Padmamālādhāra Devī: Goddess bearing a garland of lotuses
  • Padmamukhī: Lotus-faced (she whose face is as like as a lotus)
  • Padmākṣī: Lotus-eyed (she whose eyes are as beautiful as a lotus)
  • Padmahasta: Lotus-hand (she whose hand is holding (a) lotus(es))
  • Padmasundarī: She who is as beautiful as a lotus
  • Sri: Radiance, eminence, splendor, wealth
  • Śrījā: Jatika of Sri
  • Viṣṇupriyā: Lover of Vishnu (she who is the beloved of Vishnu)
  • Ulūkavāhinī: Owl-mounted (she who is riding an owl)
  • Nandika : The one who gives pleasure, vessel made up of clay and Vishnupriya (she who is the beloved of Vishnu)

Her other names include: Manushri, Chakrika, Kamalika, Aishwarya, Lalima, Indira, Kalyani, Nandika, Nandini, Vaishnavi, Samruddhi, Bhargavi, Sridevi, Bhudevi, Nila Devi, Chanchala, Jalaja, Madhavi, Sujata, Shreeya, Prachi, Haripriya, Madhu, Parama, Janamodini, Ketki, Malti, Vidya, Vasuda, Vedavati, Tilottama, Devi, Kriyalakshmi, Viroopa, Apara, Aruna, Akhila, Bala, Kuhu, Purnima, Anumati, Anagha, Avashya, Sita, Radha, Satyabhama, Rukmini, Jambhavati, Tulasi, Ramaa, Taruni, Jyotsna, Jyoti, Nimeshika, Atibha, Swarna Kamala, Smriti.

Ancient literature on Lakshmi

Upanishads

Shakta Upanishads are dedicated to the Trinity (Tridevi) of goddesses – Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati. Saubhagyalakshmi Upanishad, describes the qualities, characteristics and powers of Lakshmi. In the second part of the Upanishad, the emphasis shifts to the use of yoga and transcendence from material craving in order to achieve spiritual knowledge and self-realisation, the true wealth. Saubhagya-Lakshmi Upanishad synonymously uses Sri to describe Lakshmi.

Stotrams and sutras

Numerous ancient Stotram and Sutras of Hinduism recite hymns dedicated to Lakshmi. She is a major goddess in Puranas and Itihasa of Hinduism. In ancient scriptures of India, all women are declared to be embodiments of Lakshmi.

For example,

Every woman is an embodiment of you.
You exist as little girls in their childhood,
As young women in their youth
And as elderly women in their old age.

— Sri Kamala Stotram

Every woman is an emanation of you.

— Sri Daivakrta Laksmi Stotram

Ancient prayers dedicated to Lakshmi seek both material and spiritual wealth in prayers.

Puranas

Lakshmi features prominently in Puranas of Hinduism. Vishnu Purana, in particular, dedicates many sections to her and also refers to her as Sri. J. A. B. van Buitenen translates passages describing Lakshmi in Vishnu Purana as, “Sri, loyal to Vishnu, is the mother of the world. Vishnu is the meaning, Sri is the speech. She is the conduct, he the behavior. Vishnu is knowledge, she the insight. He is dharma, she the virtuous action. She is the earth, he earth’s upholder. She is contentment, he the satisfaction. She wishes, he is the desire. Sri is the sky, Vishnu the Self of everything. He is the moon, she the light of moon. He is the ocean, she is the shore”.

Subhasita, Genomic and Didactic Literature

Lakshmi, along with Parvati and Saraswati, is a subject of extensive Subhashita, genomic and didactic literature of India. Composed in the 1st millennium BC through the 16th century AD, they are short poems, proverbs, couplets, or aphorisms in Sanskrit written in a precise meter. They sometimes take the form of dialogue between Lakshmi and Vishnu or highlight the spiritual message in Vedas and ethical maxims from Hindu Epics through Lakshmi. An example Subhashita is Puranartha Samgraha, compiled by Vekataraya in South India, where Lakshmi and Vishnu discuss niti (right, moral conduct) and rajaniti (statesmanship, right governance) – covering in 30 chapters and ethical and moral questions about personal, social and political life.

Manifestations and aspects

Devi Lakshmi is worshipped as Ambabai in the Kolhapur Shakti peetha, Mookambika in Kollur (Karnataka), Bhagavathi in Chottanikkara Temple (Kerala) and as Sri Kanaka Maha Lakshmi in Vishakhapatnam.

In eastern India, Lakshmi is seen as a Devi. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Parvati are typically conceptualised as distinct in most of India, but in states such as West Bengal and Odisha, they are regionally believed to be forms of Durga.

Lakshmi is seen in two forms, Bhudevi and Sridevi, both at the sides of Sri Venkateshwara or Vishnu. Bhudevi is the representation and totality of the material world or energy, called the aparam Prakriti, in which she is called Mother Earth. Sridevi is the spiritual world or energy called the Prakriti. Lakshmi is the power of Vishnu.

Inside temples, Lakshmi is often shown together with Krishna. In certain parts of India, Lakshmi plays a special role as the mediator between her husband Vishnu and his worldly devotees. When asking Vishnu for grace or forgiveness, the devotees often approach Him through the intermediary presence of Lakshmi. She is also the personification of spiritual fulfillment. Lakshmi embodies the spiritual world, also known as Vaikunta, the abode of Lakshmi-Narayana or what would be considered heaven in Vaishnavism. Lakshmi is the embodiment of the creative energy of Vishnu, and primordial Prakriti who creates the universe.

In South India, she is also worshipped as Andal, an incarnation of Lakshmi.

Secondary manifestations

Main article: Ashta Lakshmi

Ashta Lakshmi (अष्टलक्ष्मी, Aṣṭalakṣmī, lit. eight Lakshmis) is a group of eight secondary manifestations of Lakshmi. The Ashta Lakshmi preside over eight sources of wealth and thus represent the eight powers of Shri Lakshmi. Temples dedicated to Ashta Lakshmi are found in Tamil Nadu, such as Ashtalakshmi Kovil near Chennai and in many other states of India.

The Ashta Lakshmis are as follows:

Ashta Lakshmi
Adi Lakshmi The First manifestation of Lakshmi
Dhanya Lakshmi Granary Wealth
Veera Lakshmi Wealth of Courage
Gaja Lakshmi Elephants spraying water, wealth of fertility, rains and food.
Santana Lakshmi Wealth of Continuity, Progeny
Vidya Lakshmi Wealth of Knowledge and Wisdom
Vijaya Lakshmi Wealth of Victory
Dhana / Aishwarya Lakshmi Wealth of prosperity and fortune

Other secondary representations of the goddess include Lakshmi manifesting in three forms: Sri Devi, Bhudevi and Nila Devi. This threefold goddess can be found, for example, in Sri Bhu Neela Sahita Temple near Dwaraka Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh, and in Adinath Swami Temple in Tamil Nadu.

In Nepal, Mahalakshmi is shown with 18 hands, each holding a sacred emblem, expressing a sacred gesture, or forming a mudra (lotus, pot, mudra of blessing, book, rosary, bell, shield, bow, arrow, sword, trident, mudra of admonition, noose, skull cap and kettledrum.) In this representation, Mahalakshmi manifests as a kind, compassionate, tranquil deity sitting not on a lotus, but on a lion.

Jain tradition

Some Jain temples also depict Sri Lakshmi as a goddess of artha (wealth) and kama (pleasure). For example, she is exhibited with Vishnu in Parshvanatha Jain Temple at the Khajuraho Monuments of Madhya Pradesh, where she is shown pressed against Vishnu’s chest, while Vishnu cups a breast in his palm. The presence of Vishnu-Lakshmi iconography in a Jain temple built near the Hindu temples of Khajuraho, suggests the sharing and acceptance of Lakshmi across a spectrum of Indian religions. This commonality is reflected in the praise of Lakshmi found in the Jain text Kalpa Sūtra.

Creation and legends

Devas (gods) and asuras (demons) were both mortal at one time in Hinduism. Amrita, the divine nectar that grants immortality, could only be obtained by churning Kshirasagar (Ocean of Milk). The devas and asuras both sought immortality and decided to churn the Kshirasagar with Mount Mandhara. The samudra manthan commenced with the devas on one side and the asuras on the other. Vishnu incarnated as Kurma, the tortoise and a mountain was placed on the tortoise as a churning pole. Vasuki, the great venom-spewing serpent-god, was wrapped around the mountain and used to churn the ocean. A host of divine celestial objects came up during the churning. Along with them emerged the goddess Lakshmi. In some versions, she is said to be daughter of the sea god since she emerged from the sea.

In Garuda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana, Lakshmi is said to have been born as daughter of the divine sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyati and was named Bhargavi. According to Vishnu Purana, the universe was created when the Devas (god) and Asuras(evil) churn the cosmic ocean of milk(Ksheera Sagara). Lakshmi came out of the ocean bearing lotus, along with divine cow Kamadhenu, Varuni, Parijat tree, Apsaras, Chandra(the moon) and Dhanvantari with Amrita(nectar of immortality). When she appeared, she had a choice to go to Devas or Asuras. She chose Devas’ side and among thirty deities, she chose to be with Vishnu. Thereafter, in all three worlds, the lotus-bearing goddess was celebrated.

Celebration in Hindu society

Rangoli decorations, made using coloured fine powder or sand, are popular during Diwali.

Rangoli decorations, made using coloured fine powder or sand, are popular during Diwali.

Many Hindus worship Lakshmi on Diwali, the festival of lights. It is celebrated in autumn, typically October or November every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.

Before Diwali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and offices. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfits, light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, and participate in family puja (prayers) typically to Lakshmi. After puja, fireworks follow, then a family feast including mithai (sweets), and an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends. Diwali also marks a major shopping period, since Lakshmi connotes auspiciousness, wealth and prosperity. This festival dedicated to Lakshmi is considered by Hindus to be one of the most important and joyous festivals of the year.

Gaja Lakshmi Puja is another autumn festival celebrated on Sharad Purnima in many parts of India on the full-moon day in the month of Ashvin (October). Sharad Purnima, also called Kojaagari Purnima or Kuanr Purnima, is a harvest festival marking the end of monsoon season. There is a traditional celebration of the moon called the Kaumudi celebration, Kaumudi meaning moonlight. On Sharad Purnima night, goddess Lakshmi is thanked and worshipped for the harvests. Vaibhav Lakshmi Vrata is observed on Friday for prosperity.

Hymns

Countless hymns, prayers, shlokas, stotra, songs and legends dedicated to Mahalakshmi are recited during the ritual worship of Lakshmi.

These include Sri Lalitha Sahasranamam, Sri Mahalakshmi Ashtakam, Sri Lakshmi Sahasaranama Stotra(by Sanathkumara), Sri Stuti(by Sri Vedantha Desikar), Sri Lakshmi Stuti By Indra, Sri Kanakadhara Stotra(by Sri Adi Shankara), Sri Chatussloki (by Sri Yamunacharya), Narayani Stuti, Devi Mahatmyam Middle episode, Argala Stotra, Sri Lakshmi Sloka (by Bhagavan Sri Hari Swamiji) and Sri Sukta, which is contained in the Vedas. Sri Sukta contains Lakshmi Gayatri Mantra (Om Shree Mahalakshmyai ca vidmahe Vishnu patnyai ca dheemahi tanno Lakshmi prachodayat Om).

Archaeology

A representation of the goddess as Gaja Lakshmi or Lakshmi flanked by two elephants spraying her with water, is one of the most frequently found in archaeological sites. An ancient sculpture of Gaja Lakshmi (from Sonkh site at Mathura) dates to the pre-Kushan Empire era. Atranjikhera site in modern Uttar Pradesh has yielded terracotta plaque with images of Lakshmi dating to 2nd century BCE. Other archaeological sites with ancient Lakshmi terracotta figurines from the 1st millennium BCE include Vaisali, Sravasti, Kausambi, Campa, and Candraketugadh.

The goddess Lakshmi is frequently found in ancient coins of various Hindu kingdoms from Afghanistan to India. Gaja Lakshmi has been found on coins of Scytho-Parthian kings Azes II and Azilises; she also appears on Shunga Empire king Jyesthamitra era coins, both dating to 1st millennium BCE. Coins from 1st through 4th century CE found in various locations in India such as Ayodhya, Mathura, Ujjain, Sanchi, Bodh Gaya, Kanauj, all feature Lakshmi. Similarly, ancient Greco-Indian gems and seals with images of Lakshmi have been found, estimated to be from 1st millennium BCE.

A 1400-year-old rare granite sculpture of Lakshmi has been recovered at the Waghama village along Jehlum in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pompeii Lakshmi, a statuette supposedly thought to be of Lakshmi found in Pompeii, Italy, dates to before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Related goddesses

China

In China, Lakshmi’s name is written as 拉克希米; “Lāhākxīmǐ”, lit. “competed-gain hope rice”.

Japan

The Goddess, Kishijoten (吉祥天, lit. “Auspicious Heavens”), of Japan corresponds to Lakshmi. Kishijoten is the goddess of fortune and prosperity. Kishijoten is considered the sister of the deity Bishamon (毘沙門, also known as Tamon or Bishamon-ten); Bishamon protects human life, fights evil, and brings good fortune. In ancient and medieval Japan, Kishijoten was the goddess worshiped for luck and prosperity, particularly on behalf of children. Kishijoten was also the guardian goddess of Geishas. While Bishamon and Kishijoten are found in ancient Chinese and Japanese Buddhist literature, their roots have been traced to deities in Hinduism.

Tibet and Nepal

In Tibetan Buddhism she is an important deity, especially in the Gelug School. She has both peaceful and wrathful forms. Her wrathful form is known as Palden Lhamo or Shri Devi Dudsol Dokam or Kamadhatvishvari, and is the principal female protector of (Gelug) Tibetan Buddhism and of Lhasa, Tibet.

Goddess Vasudhara in Tibetan and Nepalese culture is closely analogous to goddess Lakshmi as well.

Bali (Indonesia)

Goddess Lakshmi is closely linked to a goddess worshipped in Bali, i.e. Dewi Sri, as the goddess of fertility and agriculture.

Further reading

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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