Myths and Facts about Lakshmi – the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, Beauty and Hard Work
Why is the goddess Lakshmi so important and popular in Hindu mythology? What are some of the beliefs and story surrounding Lakshmi, who is by the way the consort of the god Vishnu?
In this article, Worldhistoryedu.com presents everything that you need to know about Lakshmi, including her portrayals, symbols and power.
Fast facts about Lakshmi
Mythology – Hindu Mythology
Goddess of – Wealth, beauty, hard work, and purity
Mother – Durga
Sibling – Alakshmi (goddess of misfortune)
Consort – Vishnu
Offspring – Mahabharta, Narakasura
Other names – Shri, Shri-Lakshmi, Lakṣmī, Thirumagal, Shakti (the boundless and bountiful), Maya (happy delusion), Bhudevi, Sridevi, Nila Devi, Sita, Radha
Symbols – Lotus flower, gold coins, owl, elephant
Epithets – “Bringer of Good Luck”, “Bestower of Riches and Power”, “The Wonderful Energy of Lord Vishnu”, “Compassionate Mother”, and “The Fortune transforming Deity”,
Association – Shiva, Vishnu, Indra (the rain god), Varuna (the sea god), Soma (the moon god), Ganesha (the elephant headed god) and Sarawasti (goddess of learning and music)
Festivals – Diwali, Sharad Purnima, Deepavali
Meaning of Lakshmi
The word comes from the Sanskrit word “Laksya”, which means “goal” or “pursuit”. In Hindu mythology, the goddess is the direct manifestation of material wealth and power. In most cases however, her name, “Lakshmi”, is synonymous with good luck and power.
She represents all that is good and sweet in the cosmos. Her name also implies the actualization of spiritual goals.
Her sacred name, Shri, is regarded as one of the holiest words in Hinduism. Not only does the name present a feeling of fulfillment and contentment, but it also bestows enormous reverence on the word that comes after it. As a result, the word Shri can be used before mention a god’s name. It has also been placed before say a teacher’s or holy man’s name. Due to its ability to transfer divine grace and abundance, the word shri has been used for married men (Shriman) and women (Shrimati).
Many accounts of her story state that the goddess Durga is her mother.
She is also famous for being the consort of the god Vishnu. In different versions and manifestations of Vishnu, Lakshmi was often by his side. For example, Lakshmi is believed to have appeared in different forms in order to be by the side of Vishnu. She came in the form of Padma when Vishnu was Vamana, the dwarf. However, when Vishnu was the affluent and wise King Rama, she was his queen consort, Sita.
In Hinduism, it is quite common for the goddess Lakshmi to be worshipped as a member of the trinity (i.e. the Tridevi). The two other members of the trinity are deities Parvati (the Universal Mother) and Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge and artwork).
A quick perusal of her the ancient texts reveals that she is believed to be the mother of a host of different deities. The most famous of her offspring has got to be the deity Narakasura, the founder of the Bhauma dynasty of Pragjyotisha. In the story of Mahabharta, the god of love and fertility, Mahabharta, is seen as Lakshmi’s son.
Did you know that in Lakshmi’s avatar states of Rama and Krishna, she was seen as Sita and Radha?
She is the one who helps people accomplish their goals. The Hindus believe that there are 8 forms of goals – Spiritual (Adi Lakshmi), food (Gaja Lakshmi), resources (Dhanya Lakshmi), progeny (Santana Lakshmi), patience and courage (Veera Lakshmi), abundance (Dhana Lakshmi), success (Vijaya Lakshmi) and knowledge (Vidya Lakshmi). Every one of those goals has its own Lakshmi so to speak.
Laksmi is also believed to be the provider of food, water, shelter and clothing to the entire cosmos. She is the goddess who makes everything in the cosmos comfortable.
In some texts, she is seen as the embodiment of all women, making feminine traits such as nurturing, steadfastness and auspiciousness very important among women.
Depiction and Symbols of Lakshmi
Lakshmi is often depicted as an extremely beautiful woman dressed in red dress (saree) and golden ornaments. The goddess is most famous for her four hands, which many believers reason that they represent the four goals of human life – dharma (right way of living), kama (desires), artha (material wealth) and moksha (self-actualization).
To accentuate her feminine quality, she is sculpted and painted with slightly broad hips. Being the deity of prosperity and love, Lakshmi is almost always portrayed smiling.
The commonest symbol of the goddess is the lotus flower. She always pictured with the lotus flower/bud in her hand. The lotus symbolizes beauty, motherhood and purity. Another common symbol of Lakshmi is the owl. According to the myth, she used the owl as her medium of transportation.
In the background of many paintings of Lakshmi are also two elephants that are shown pouring streams of water in an effortless manner on the goddess. The manner in which the water pours symbolizes the unimpeded manner in which she freely grants wealth and power to her devotees.
Regarding the goddess’ red saree dress, Hindus believe that the color red symbolizes activity and hard work.
As maternal deity, she is regarded as one of the earliest deities to emerge. She also has the power to provide and enrich the lives of her children across the world.
Her association with nourishment, prosperity and wealth has made her an ever present figure in many homes and businesses of Hindus. Worshipers of her believe that she rides seated on chariot and goes about blessing her followers.
Rebirth of Lakshmi
It is believed that Lakshmi was on the side of the Hindu god of war Indra when the gods fought against demons. The story goes on to say that, Lakshmi departed the world and headed for the Milky Ocean after Lord Indra sacrilegiously discarded sacred flowers.
In Lakshmi’s absence, the Hindu gods were plunged into a series of one failure after the other. The world went dark because it was without the goddess of success and wealth. The world became overrun by demons and dark spirits (Asuras).
In order to bring back Lakshmi, the gods followed the advice of Vishnu; they churned the Milky Ocean in a bid to make contact with Lakshmi. Present in the Milky Ocean were unimaginable treasures, including a potion that granted the drinker immortality (elixir of life). After churning the Milky Ocean for several thousands of years, those treasures emerged to surface. Floating on the ocean was also the goddess Lakshmi, dressed in a beautiful red dress.
The return/rebirth of Lakshmi helped turn the tides in favor of the gods. They ultimately went on to defeat the demons that roamed the earth.
The moral of Lakshmi story is indicative of the boundless riches, fortune and heath that one could accrue by working very hard. One must remember that the churning of the Milky Ocean by the gods was no simple task. It required determination and hard work.
Another point worth mentioning about the story of Lakshmi (i.e. success) is that it warns believers not to get too comfortable in their success. Had Indra not callously thrown away the sacred flower, the gods would not have gone through those bad spells. The goddess Lakshmi can therefore be seen as one who despises complacency, laziness and pride.
Did you know that the goddess Lakshmi is amply represented in some Buddhist and Jain sects?
How is Lakshmi worshiped?
The commonest festival for the worship of Lakshmi is the Festival of Diwali (i.e. the Festival of Light). It is used to commemorate the story of Ramayana, which appeared between 300 BCE and 300 CE.
The story explains how Lord Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) and his wife Sita (incarnation of Lakshmi) battled and defeated Ravana, a demon. The fight came after Ravana had driven Rama away from his kingdom and then subsequently kidnapped Sita. Ultimately, Rama with the help of Sita defeats Ravana; the two then return to their rightful positions in the kingdom. On their return, candles were lit to light up their path.
Up to this day, participants of the festival of Diwali light candles on the second day of the festival. It is meant to guide Lakshmi to their homes so that she can bless them. Some people have even taken to gambling right after the festival. They believe that the goddess will bring them luck.
Other Interesting Facts about Lakshmi and her worship
- Due to her motherly traits, she has been called “mata”, which means “mother”. For example, during her festive month, which is October, it is believed that Lakshmi goes around offering blessings and prosperity to her followers.
- She is revered as one of the three main elements of the mother goddess. The other two elements are Saraswati (goddess of wisdom/knowledge) and Kali (goddess of power).
- Scholars over the years have described her as fickle and restless. This is perhaps an allegory to the transient and independent nature of wealth and power, i.e. fortune and good life go to whoever works hard for it.
- The ancient Greek, Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, and Persian equivalents of Lakshmi are Demeter, Isis, Inanna, Ishtar, and Anahita respectively. In Norse mythology, she can be considered as the goddess Freia.
- Friday is usually considered her sacred day.
- A common of Lakshmi sees her depiction – beside her husband, Vishnu. Typically, she sits at his feet, massaging his feet.