Mother Goddesses have existed in many cultures in ancient times. Core, the corn-goddess of Greeks, who was also known as Demeter in Rome, Isis of Egypt, Innana of Sumeria, Ishtar of Babylon, Anahita of Persia, and the Viking goddess, Freia, are all Mother Goddesses. In Hinduism, Shri-Lakshmi is the Mother Goddess who nourishes all forms of life.
Buddhists and Jains also worship Goddess Lakshmi. These two religions are monastic orders that turned their backs on Vedic rituals and Brahmanical dogmas 2,500 years ago. But they did not stop worshipping Lakshmi.
The Buddhist Jatakas contain stories about people who ask Lakshmi to drive away Kalakanni, the Goddess of misfortune. One can also find images of Kubera, the pot-bellied yaksha-king and divine treasurer in Hinduism, in many Buddhist shrines. Kubera has a close association with Lakshmi.
Sacred Jain texts say that when the birth of a noble soul like a Tirthankara is near, his mother may have dreams of several auspicious things and Goddess Shri. The symbols of wealth and royal power that are usually linked to Lakshmi are auspicious in both Buddhism and Jainism. Such symbols include a pile of gems, a throne, a pot, a flywhisk, a fish, a conch, a parasol, a footstool, nagas, yakshas, a horse, a cow, an elephant, and the wish-fulfilling tree.
Lakshmi in History
The first hymn on Lakshmi, the Shri Sukta, was added to the Rig Veda somewhere between 1000 and 500 BC. Rig Veda is the oldest and most sacred of the Hindu scriptures. It is even possible that her worship existed before Vedic culture.
Some verses in the Shatapatha Brahmana, written soon after the Vedas, talk of Lakshmi being born from Prajapati’s mouth to provide food, clothing, shelter, etc., to those who inhabited the cosmos. But that was not all. Wisdom, beauty, strength, good fortune, sovereignty, and splendor were also part of her bounty.
Another popular legend about her origin is related to Samudra Manthan, or the churning of the Milky Ocean. It holds that Lakshmi emerged from the ocean when the gods and the demons churned it for the nectar of immortality (Amrit).
Tales of the Goddess first appeared in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which appeared between 300 BC and 300 AD. During this period, the Vedic gods were declining in popularity. Around this time, Gods who offered Moksha, like Shiva and Vishnu, were coming into vogue.
Lakshmi’s mythology became complete in the Puranas, which chronicle the lives and exploits of gods, sages, and kings. These were compiled between 500 and 1500 AD. In the Puranas, the Goddess became one of the 3 primary manifestations of the supreme mother-goddess. The other two are Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge, and Durga, the Goddess of power.
Lakshmi is now seen as the consort of Vishnu. But previously, she has been associated with many other Gods. Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Puranas claim that she first lived with the Asuras or demons before the Gods acquired her. She graced asuras like Hiranayaksha, Hiranyakashipu, Prahlad, Virochana, and Bali, as well as rakshasas like Ravana and yakshas like Kubera before she became part of Indra’s court. Indra was the king of the Devas and a renowned Vedic deity. The cities ruled by the asuras (Hiranyapura), rakshasas (Lanka), yakshas (Alakapuri), and nagas (Bhogavati) are cities of gold, which is Lakshmi’s mineral manifestation.
Due to her association with other Gods, Lakshmi is regarded as restless, fickle, and independent. Her fickleness and independence have become a symbol of the impermanence of fortune. Fortune and misfortune descend on one without any rational explanation on many occasions. They come and go suddenly and without any warning.
When people worship Goddess Lakshmi at home, she is an independent deity and not Vishnu’s consort. Yantras, diagrams, and also a kalash or brass pot are used to worship her. Cleanliness is very important to Lakshmi. Supposedly, she does not grace houses that are dirty and untidy. It is also said that she does not enter houses where women are not treated well and where there are fights and arguments.
Lakshmi and Maha-Lakshmi
A new form of Vaishnavism called Shri-Vaishnavism appeared in the 12th century AD in South India. Though it acknowledged Vishnu as the embodiment of the supreme God, what made it unique was that it insisted on Lakshmi’s presence beside him.
Shri-Vaishnava scholars like Vedanta Deshika felt that Lakshmi was indispensable for those who wished to approach Vishnu. He signifies righteousness, and she signifies compassion. Lakshmi thus assumes a maternal role, intervening between God as the stern father figure and the devotee as the errant child.
In Tantrik texts, which appeared around the same time as the Puranas, Lakshmi had supreme importance. She became Maha-Lakshmi, the Supreme Goddess.
Lakshmi is different from Maha-Lakshmi. The former is Vishnu’s consort and the Goddess of wealth, while Goddess Maha-Lakshmi is an autonomous deity, the supreme embodiment of the Mother Goddess. Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful goddess who sits on a lotus, pot in hand, but Maha-Lakshmi is depicted as a virginal warrior-goddess who rides a lion and resembles Goddess Durga. This form of Lakshmi is quite popular in Maharashtra.
Ancient Pancharatra texts see her as the root of all creation. They claim that when the cosmic soul wanted to create the cosmos, he lacked resources and as he wondered how to go about his task, his dormant energy, or Shakti, burst forth as Maha-Lakshmi in a blinding light. She kept the seed of divine desire in her palm and unleashed the forces of creation. This was how the 3 worlds and all life forms were created.
Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth, auspiciousness, fortune, luxury, beauty, power, and fertility. But the wealth she bestows is not material wealth or money alone. It also comprises good values, mental and intellectual power, and moral and ethical wealth, which we need to achieve self-realization.The sacred symbol of Lakshmi is ‘Shri’, and it appears on account books and in front of shops, homes, and other businesses.
Goddess Lakshmi has two or four arms. She wears a red saree and many gold ornaments. She sits on a lotus or stands on it. She always has a lotus in one hand, and one hand shows Varada mudra (blessing form).
Temples of Lakshmi
Temples that are solely dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi are rare. She is mostly present along with Vishnu. Vishnu temples are, therefore, by association, Lakshmi temples, too.
Two major independent Mahalakshmi Temples can be found at Kolhapur and Mumbai.
Festivals Associated with Lakshmi
There are some important festivals and Poojas associated with Lakshmi. They are Varamahalakshmi Vrat, Mahalakshmi Vrat, Navaratri, Kojagari Lakshmi Pooja, Lakshmi Pooja during Diwali, and Manabasa Gurbar in Orissa.
Forms of Lakshmi
There are 8 forms of Lakshmi called Ashta-Lakshmi. They vary from region to region. The 8 forms are Adi Lakshmi, Dhana Lakshmi, Dhanya Lakshmi, Dhairya Lakshmi, Vijaya Lakshmi, Vidya Lakshmi, and Santhana Lakshmi. Lakshmi also incarnates in a human form whenever Vishnu incarnates, usually as his consort. For instance, Sita and Rukmini are two of her incarnations.