O Lakshmi, the one who has lotus-like eyes,
Who has lotus in hand,
Who is the most-dazzling white in complexion,
Who has a garland full of fragrance of various plants,
Who is the Goddess, Who is dear to Hari, Who is beautiful,
Who provides wealth to all the three worlds!
Please shower happiness on me.
Known since pre-Buddhist times, Lakshmi is one of the more popular Goddesses found within the Hindu pantheon. Since last epic period (c.400 CE) she has been associated with Vishu as his consort, and plays the role of the model Hindu wife, obediently serving her husband.
With her name being derived from the Sanskrit word Laksya (meaning “aim” or “goal”), Lakshmi was also known as Shri, was the Goddess associated with prosperity, wellbeing, royal power and illustriousness. As she was the embodiment of all these qualities it was believed that when these qualities were evident, the Goddess was present or would soon reveal herself. Lakshmi was further considered to be the embodiment of loveliness, grace and charm, and was also worshipped as a Goddess who granted liberation from the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth.
According to Hindu mythology, Lakshmi appeared in one of the most compelling stories, that of the “Churning of the Milky Ocean” (the primordial cosmic ocean). In this story, the Hindu Gods were at war against various Asuras (demons) in order to gain their immortality. One day a wise sage offered Indra, the Hindu Warrior God, a garland of sacred flowers. In his arrogance, Indra threw the flowers to the floor. This action upset Lakshmi, who left the realm of the Gods and entered into the Milky Ocean. Without her, the Gods were no longer blessed with success or fortune, and as the world became darker, the people on earth became greedy and no longer made offerings to the Gods. This caused the Gods to lose their power and as they did, the Asuras began to take control.
Indra instructed that the Gods needed to churn the Milky Ocean in order to regain Lakshmi and her blessings, one of which included the elixir of life. This potion would bestow immortality upon the Gods which, in turn, would enable them to defeat the demons.
The churning of the Milky Ocean took a thousand years before anything rose to the surface. However, amongst the treasures that did rise was a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower. This was Lakshmi returning to the world.
So beautiful was Lakshmi that each member of the divine triad (Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer) wanted to have her for his consort. Shiva’s claim was refused as he had already claimed the moon, and Brahma had Saraswati. This left Vishnu and Lakshmi continued to be his consort during each of his ten incarnations.
Lakshmi is depicted as being fair skinned, and having four arms. She is usually finely dressed, and is surrounded with precious jewels, coins and other symbols of wealth and prosperity, which she offers to her followers. To signify her royal status, she is often flanked by elephants as well as her Vanaha (sacred animal), a great white owl.
It is said that during the Autumn full moon (believed to be the brightest of the year in India), Lakshmi descends to earth to take away the darkness of poverty, stagnation, and anger. Her owl guides her into the darker area of people’s lives so that they can be enlightened.
In Bengal, northern India, one of the most holy festivals (pujas) of Hindu calendar, that of Diwali, is specifically sacred to Lakshmi. Taking place during the new moon, which usually occurs towards either the end of October or beginning of November, lamps are filled with coconut oil and are lit to signify victory of good over the evil within an individual. It is also during this time that Lakshmi is believed to bring peace and prosperity. Being a festival of wealth, special gold coins and utensils are purchased, as well as new clothing and jewellery. For business people, this time of the year is also very auspicious for opening up new accounts.
The above information has been taken from In Her Sacred Name: Writings on the Divine Feminine which can be purchased here.