Lakshmi

Lakshmi (; Sanskrit: लक्ष्मी, IAST: Lakṣhmī; or Lakṣmī; (lit. 'goddess who leads to one's lakshya or goal'), also known as Sri (lit. 'Noble goddess')[10] and Akshara (lit. 'Imperishable'),[11][12][13] is one of the principle goddesses in Hinduism. She is the goddess of wealth, fortune, love, beauty, Māyā (Yogamaya,[14] Mahamaya,[15] Vishnumaya[16]), joy and prosperity. Lakshmi is considered as prakriti and Vishnu as purusha within Vaishnavism, one of the major traditions within contemporary Hinduism. She is the Mother goddess in Hinduism, and has many attributes and aspects.[17][18] Along with Parvati and Saraswati, she forms the trinity of Hindu goddesses (Tridevi).[19]

Lakshmi is both the wife and divine energy (shakti) of the Hindu god Vishnu, who according to Vaishnavism is the protector, the destroyer and regenerator of the universe and all life.[9] Lakshmi as prakriti (Mahalakshmi) is identified with three forms, Sri, Bhu and Durga and assist Lord Vishnu (purusha) during the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the entire universe.[20] There are eight prominent manifestations of Lakshmi which symbolizes the eight sources of wealth which governs the life of all human beings known as the Ashta Lakshmi. In each manifestation she fulfills certain necessities and desires of human beings.[21][22]

Whenever Vishnu descended on the earth as an avatar, Lakshmi accompanied him as wife, assuming forms appropriate to these avatars. Dashavatara are the ten primary avataras (incarnations) of Vishnu. Out of the ten, in his most important avatars Rama and Krishna, Lakshmi descended as Sita and Rukmini (according to Vishnu Purana).[23]

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.[24] She typically stands or sits like a yogini on a lotus pedestal, while holding a lotus in her hand, symbolizing fortune, self-knowledge, and spiritual liberation.[25][26] Her iconography shows her with four hands, which represent the four aspects of human life important to Hindu culture: dharma, kāma, artha, and moksha.[27][28]

Archaeological discoveries and ancient coins suggest the recognition and reverence for Lakshmi existing by the 1st millennium BCE.[29][30] 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.[31][32] The festivals of Diwali and Sharad Purnima (Kojagiri Purnima) are celebrated in her honor.[33]

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.[34] These roots give Lakshmi the symbolism: know and understand your goal.[35] A related term is lakṣaṇa, which means 'sign, target, aim, symbol, attribute, quality, lucky mark, auspicious opportunity'.[36]

Shri Lakshmi lustrated by elephants, Uttar Pradesh, Kausambi, 1st century B.C.

Lakshmi (Lakṣmī) is one of many Hindu deities whose meaning and significance evolved in ancient Sanskrit texts.[37] Lakshmi is mentioned once in Rigveda, in which the name is used to mean 'kindred mark, sign of auspicious fortune'.

In Atharva Veda, 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.[37] 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.[38] In some chapters of Atharva Veda, Lakshmi connotes the good, an auspicious sign, good luck, good fortune, prosperity, success and happiness.[3]

Later, Lakshmi is referred to as the goddess of fortune, identified with Sri and regarded as wife of Viṣṇu (Nārāyaṇa).[3] 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.[37] The gods are 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.[39] 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.[37] 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.[3][40]:103–12

In the Epics of Hinduism, such as in Mahabharata, Lakshmi personifies wealth, riches, happiness, loveliness, grace, charm and splendour.[3] In another Hindu legend, about the creation of universe as described in Ramayana,[41] 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.[3][40]:108–11

Lakshmi is a member of the Tridevi, the triad of great goddesses. She represents the Rajas guna, and the Iccha-shakti.[43]

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.[35] 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).[28][44]

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.[45] The lotus, a flower that blooms 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.[46][47] The Gupta period sculpture used to associated lion with Lakshmi but was later attributed to Durga or a combined form of both goddesses.[48][8]

Below, behind, or on the sides, Lakshmi is very often shown with one or two elephants, known as Gajalakshmi, and occasionally with an owl.[24] Elephants symbolise work, activity and strength, as well as water, rain and fertility for abundant prosperity.[49] 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.[50]

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.[45] Her face and open hands are in a mudra that signifies compassion, giving or dāna ('charity').[44]

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.[45]

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

Lakshmi has numerous names and numerous ancient Stotram and Sutras of Hinduism recite her various names:[51][52]

Her other names include:[51] Aishwarya, Akhila, Anagha, Anumati, Apara, Aruna, Atibha, Avashya, Bala, Bhargavi, Bhudevi, Chakrika, Chanchala, Devi, Haripriya, Indira, Jalaja, Jambhavati, Janamodini, Jyoti, Jyotsna, Kalyani, Kamalika, Ketki, Kriyalakshmi, Kuhu, Lalima, Madhavi, Madhu, Malti, Manushri, Nandika, Nandini, Nila Devi, Nimeshika, Parama, Prachi, Purnima, Ramaa, Rukmini, Samruddhi, Satyabhama, Shreeya, Sita, Smriti, Sridevi, Sujata, Swarna Kamala, Taruni, Tilottama, Tulasi, Vaishnavi, Vasuda, Vedavati, Vidya, and Viroopa.

Shakta Upanishads are dedicated to the Trinity (Tridevi) of goddesses—Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati. Saubhagyalakshmi Upanishad describes the qualities, characteristics and powers of Lakshmi.[53] 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.[54][55] Saubhagya-Lakshmi Upanishad synonymously uses Sri to describe Lakshmi.[53]

Numerous ancient Stotram and Sutras of Hinduism recite hymns dedicated to Lakshmi.[51] 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:[51]

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.

Ancient prayers dedicated to Lakshmi seek both material and spiritual wealth in prayers.[51]

Through illusion,
A person can become disconnected,
From his higher self,
Wandering about from place to place,
Bereft of clear thought,
Lost in destructive behaviour.
It matters not how much truth,
May shine forth in the world,
Illuminating the entire creation,
For one cannot acquire wisdom,
Unless it is experienced,
Through the opening on the heart....

Lakshmi features prominently in Puranas of Hinduism. Vishnu Purana, in particular, dedicates many sections to her and also refers to her as Sri.[56] J. A. B. van Buitenen translates passages describing Lakshmi in Vishnu Purana:[56]

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.

Lakshmi, along with Parvati and Saraswati, is a subject of extensive Subhashita, genomic and didactic literature of India.[57] 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.[57] An example Subhashita is Puranartha Samgraha, compiled by Vekataraya in South India, where Lakshmi and Vishnu discuss niti ('right, moral conduct') and rajaniti ('statesmanship' or 'right governance')—covering in 30 chapters and ethical and moral questions about personal, social and political life.[57]:22

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.[58]

In Vaishnava tradition, Lakshmi is considered as Prakriti (Mahalakshmi) and is identified with three form — Sri, Bhu and Durga. The three forms consists of Satva ('goodness'),[3] rajas, and tamas ('darkness') gunas,[59] and assists Vishnu (Purusha) in creation, preservation and destruction of the entire universe. In Vedas, the Śrī Sūkta, Bhu Sūkta and Ratri Sūkta are dedicated to these three forms of Lakshmi respectively.[21][60][61]

In South India, Lakshmi is seen in two forms, Sridevi and Bhudevi, both at the sides of Sri Venkateshwara or Vishnu. Bhudevi is the representation and totality of the material world or energy, called the Apara Prakriti, or Mother Earth; Sridevi is the spiritual world or energy called the Prakriti.[9][62] According to Lakshmi Tantra, Nila Devi, one of the manifestations or incarnations of Lakshmi is the third wife of Vishnu.[63][64]

In Durga form she represents the power to fight, conquer and punish the demons and anti-gods. According to Markandeya Purana,[65] Lakshmi killed Mahishasura in her incarnation form of durga and hence she is known by the name Mahishasura Mardhini.[66][67]

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.[68] She is also the personification of spiritual fulfillment.[69] 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,[70] and primordial Prakriti who creates the universe.[71]

In South India, she is also worshipped as Andal, an incarnation of Lakshmi.[72]

Ashta Lakshmi (Sanskrit: अष्टलक्ष्मी, Aṣṭalakṣmī, '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.[73]

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.[75]

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.)[76] In this representation, Mahalakshmi manifests as a kind, compassionate, tranquil deity sitting not on a lotus, but on a lion.[76]

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,[77] 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.[77] This commonality is reflected in the praise of Lakshmi found in the Jain text Kalpa Sūtra.[78]

A manuscript depicting Samudra Manthan, with Lakshmi emerging with the lotus in her hands.

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.[79]

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 and asuras churn the cosmic Kshirasagar. 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.[56]

Many Hindus worship Lakshmi on Diwali, the festival of lights.[82] It is celebrated in autumn, typically October or November every year.[83] The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.[84]

Before Diwali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and offices.[85] 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,[86] 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.[87] 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).[33] 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.[88] On Sharad Purnima night, goddess Lakshmi is thanked and worshipped for the harvests. Vaibhav Lakshmi Vrata is observed on Friday for prosperity.[89]

Countless hymns, prayers, shlokas, stotra, songs, and legends dedicated to Mahalakshmi are recited during the ritual worship of Lakshmi.[51] These include:[90]

Greek-influenced statue of Gaja Lakshmi, holding lotus and cornucopia, flanked by two elephants and two lions. From Kashmir, 6th century AD.

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.[29][30] An ancient sculpture of Gaja Lakshmi (from Sonkh site at Mathura) dates to the pre-Kushan Empire era.[29] 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.[30]

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.[91] Similarly, ancient Greco-Indian gems and seals with images of Lakshmi have been found, estimated to be from 1st millennium BCE.[92]

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.[93]

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.[94]

She is also an important deity in Jainism and found in Jain temples.[95][96] Additionally, in Buddhism, she has been viewed as a Goddess of abundance and fortune, and is represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism.[97][98] In Buddhist sects of Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, Lakshmi Goddess Vasudhara mirrors the characteristics and attributes of the Hindu Goddess, with minor iconographic differences.[99]

In China, Lakshmi's name is written as Lāhākxīmǐ (拉克希米; 'competed-gain hope rice').

The Japanese goddess of fortune and prosperity, Kishijoten (吉祥天, 'Auspicious Heavens'), corresponds to Lakshmi.[100] Kishijoten is considered the sister of Bishamon (毘沙門, also known as Tamon or Bishamon-ten), who 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.[100]

In Tibetan Buddhism, Lakshmi is an important deity, especially in the Gelug School. She has both peaceful and wrathful forms; the latter form is known as Palden Lhamo, 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.[99]

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