Lakshmi, The Goddess of
By Stephen Knapp
Goddess Lakshmi is the consort and shakti, or potency, of Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi, or Sri when she is especially known as the goddess of beauty (though sometimes considered to be separate entities), is the Goddess of fortune, wealth, power, and loveliness. Wealth means not only money, but also the higher values and qualities of life. The power of the mind and intellect is also a must if one wants to be truly wealthy, which includes spiritual wealth. These are prerequisites to attaining spiritual knowledge. This is why Lakshmi is worshiped in the second set of three days during the Navaratri festival before the worship of Sarasvati, which is explained later.
As the spouse of Lord Vishnu, she appears whenever He does in each of His appearances, such as Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, or Krishna. In each of these appearances, she appeared as Padma or Kamala, Dharani, Sita, and Rukmini respectively. They are inseparable.
Lakshmi is seen as exceptionally beautiful, standing on a lotus with four hands, two of which hold lotus flowers, and the lower right offering blessings of fortune, and the lower left held in the upright mudra or posture of benediction or blessings. The lotus she carries in her hands represents that the realization of the Self is the supreme goal of life. They also indicate the various worlds and living beings in different states of development or evolution. Sometimes she may be holding a potted coconut in one hand, which is another representation of Lakshmi. However, when she is in the company of Lord Vishnu, she can be seen with two or four hands. Her four hands indicate the four main blessings of human existence, namely dharma (acts of righteousness and duty), artha (wealth), kama (sensual pleasures), and moksha (final liberation). She always wears a lotus garland, and is often seen with elephants on either side of her offering items such as garlands or pouring pots of water over her, which in turn may be presented by celestial maidens. Her complexion is often dark, or white, pink, or golden yellow. When her complexion is dark, it represents her connection with Lord Vishnu. When she is seen as golden yellow, it represents her as the source of all fortune and wealth. When it is white, she is seen as the highest mode of nature from which the universe has sprung. And when seen as pinkish, it represents her mood of mercy or compassion toward all creatures since she is also the mother of all beings.
Occasionally you can see her in a temple of her own, rather than accompanying Lord Vishnu. When this is the case, she is seen sitting on a lotus throne with her four hands holding a padma (lotus), shankha (conch shell), amritakalasha (pot of nectar), and a bilva fruit. The pot of nectar indicates the blessings of immortality. The fruit that she holds represents the results of our labors or actions, which comes from her blessings. When such fruit is a coconut, it indicates that she is the source of the three levels of creation, namely the gross, subtle, and the imperceptible. If it is a pomegranate, it means that all the worlds are under her influence, which she is beyond. And if the fruit is the bilva, which is healthy but not very appetizing, then it means the blessings of moksha, liberation.
There are not many temples that are dedicated exclusively to Goddess Lakshmi. She is usually given a spot next to Lord Vishnu, or a small shrine in one of the temples. Yet, in some rare temples dedicated to Lakshmi you can see her on a central throne, and her eight other aspects or expansions as well, four on either side of her. These have different combinations of hands holding various objects representing her different powers. The most popular of these is Gajalakshmi, shown with four arms on an eight-petaled lotus. This aspect of her is most often seen when positioned above door frames of houses or temples. When seen with two hands, she is known as Samanyalakshmi and Indralakshmi.
Other names for Lakshmi include Hira (jewel), Indira (powerful one), Jaladhi-ja (ocean-born), and Lokamata (mother of the world). However, she is also called Chanchala, which means fickle or never in one place for long. This signifies that fortune or wealth often does not stay with anyone for extended lengths of time. Only with the greatest of respect for Lakshmi will she stay in one’s household. This means not only offering her worship, but also taking care of not letting her go too easily by spending money on unnecessary items or projects.
In some depictions of her, she is seen riding an owl, which in Sanskrit is uluka, another name for Indra, the king of heaven. Thus, she rides on the king of the gods, the holder of all the material wealth and power that a living being could want in this world, which is still not the spiritual world.
In her first incarnation, Lakshmi was the daughter of the sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyati. She was later born from the milk ocean when it had been churned by a cooperative effort of the Devas (demigods) and Asuras (demons). This can be read in the Bhagavata Purana in Canto Eight, Chapters Six, Seven and Eight. In summary, the demons and the demigods had been struggling with each other. Because the demigods had offended and been cursed by the sage Durvasa Muni, they had lost their heavenly kingdom when they were defeated by the demons. Thus, the demigods went to Lord Brahma to explain the situation. They all in turn went to offer prayers to Lord Vishnu, who, being pleased with them, advised them what they should do. Carrying out these instructions, the demigods made a truce with the demons so they would work together to churn the huge ocean of milk, by which the nectar of immortality would be produced, which they all naturally wanted. Many other things would also come from this churning, such as a powerful poison that Lord Shiva would ingest. Thereafter, among the other things, was Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. She was worshiped by the great sages and demigods, but she could find no one to be her husband, so she selected Lord Vishnu who gave her a place to always stay.