Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, seems to be more sought after than Saraswati, the goddess of learning. As the power and consort of Vishnu, the preserver, she is the power of multiplicity and the goddess of fortune, both of which are necessary for preservation. Sri or Lakshmi, depicted in the vedas, is the goddess of wealth and fortune, power and beauty. One may suppose that Sri and Lakshmi are two separate deities. Since their descriptions are so similar, one may conclude that the two represent the same deity. Some scholars believe that Sri was a pre-vedic deity connected with fertility, water and agriculture. She was later fused with Lakshmi, the vedic goddess of beauty. Goddess Lakshmi

According to the puranas, she was incarnated as the daughter of the sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyati. She was later born out of Ksheer Sagar (ocean of milk) while being churned. Hence, her appellation, Ksheera Samudra Raja Kanya. As consort of Vishnu, she is born as his spouse whenever he incarnates. When Vishnu appeared as Vamana, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, she appeared as Padma or Kamala, Dharani, Sita and Rukmini, respectively. She is as inseparable from Vishnu as speech from meaning or knowledge from intellect, or good deeds from righteousness.

Vishnu represents all that is male and Lakshmi, all that is female. Lakshmi is enchantingly beautiful, and is standing on a lotus holding lotuses one in each of her hands and is called Padma, or Kamala. She is also adorned with a lotus garland. Often, elephants are shown on each side, emptying pitchers of water over her, the pitchers being presented by celestial maidens. She is variously described as dark, pink, golden, yellow or white. We attempt an explanation that is behind this highly symbolical picture. If Lakshmi is pictured as dark in complexion, it is to show that she is the consort of Vishnu, the dark god. If golden yellow, that shows her as the source of all wealth. If white, she represents the purest form of prakriti (nature) from which the universe developed. As she is the mother of all, the pinkish complexion reflects her compassion for creatures.

Lakshmi Worship and Depiction

Goddess Lakshmi In the company of Vishnu, she is shown with two hands only. When worshipped in a temple, she is shown seated on a lotus throne, with four hands holding padma, shankha, amritha kalasha (pot of ambrosia) and bilva fruit. Amritha kalasha also signifies immortality. Sometimes, another kind of fruit, the mahalunga (citron) is shown instead of bilva. Her four hands signify her power to grant the (chatur vidha) four type of purusharthas (ends of human life), dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (bodily pleasures), moksha (beatitude).

The lotuses in various stages of blooming, represent the worlds and beings in various stages of evolution. Mahalakshmi, an aspect of Durga, is shown with eight hands. The bow and arrow, mace and discus are added. The fruit denotes the fruits of our labor. Without the grace of Lakshmi, out toil is of no avail. The coconut with the shell, kernel and water connotes that she is the origin of the three levels of creation, the gross, the subtle and the extremely subtle. When the fruit is a pomegranate or a citron, it signifies that the various created worlds are under her control and she transcends them all. A bilva fruit, incidentally, not tasty or attractive, but good for health, represents moksha - the pinnacle of spiritual life.

Some sculptures depict Lakshmi with an owl as her vaahana (carrier). This oddity can be appreciated when the symbology is unravelled. In Sanskrit, Uluka stands for an owl. Uluka is also one of the names of Indra, the king of gods, personifying wealth, power and glory. Thus, Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, could not have found a better person to ride on, than the king of gods. This comparison of Indra's glory to a partially blind and uncouth bird warns the seekers of secular instead of spiritual wealth. When the owl is compared to the sthitha prajna, the enlightened person described in Bhagavadgita (Ch.2.69), the symbol means that Lakshmi is the mistress of spiritual wisdom. Another interpretation is "Shut not thy eyes to the light of wisdom from the Sun of knowledge". Out of consideration for mankind, the all compassionate mother has kept this personification of ignorance under her control.

Lakshmi pooja or worship is performed differently in the different parts of India. In the North of India, Lakshmi is worshipped on the occasion of Diwali (festival of lights) while in the South of India, she is worshipped on Vara Maha Lakshmi vratham day, the first Friday of the month of Shravan.

Ref: Hindu Gods and Goddesses by Swami Harshananda, Published by Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore 570020, 2nd edn. 1982.

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