Goddess Lakshmi or Mahalakshmi is one of the significant goddesses in Hinduism. Firstly, she is the wife of Vishnu, who is one of the major Hindu gods, along with Shiva and Brahma. Secondly, she is the Goddess of good fortune and wealth. Since wealth is a prerequisite for a good life, Lakshmi is a goddess who enjoys a great cachet and popularity. She is often given pride of place in Hindu homes and shops, and poojas are done regularly to propitiate her for good luck and abundance.
Lakshmi is also considered to be fickle in temperament, as she seems to dispense her blessings in a random manner. She is also not known for staying put in one place. Haven’t we heard of rich people suddenly losing all their wealth overnight? And poor people suddenly becoming rich by a stroke of luck? Such things are the ‘leelas’ of Lakshmi or Lola, as she is also known.
Take, for instance, the case of Lord Indra, the ruler of the heavens. One fine day, he lost all his wealth, and the gods had to flee from heaven as the demons got the better of them. How did this happen? Let us find out.
Durvasa and Indra
One day, Sage Durvasa, who was notorious for his bad temper, was given a garland by a beautiful maiden. It so happened that Lord Indra was passing by, seated on his elephant, Airavata. On seeing Indra, the king of the gods, Durvasa offered him the garland. Indra took the garland and put it on his elephant. The elephant didn’t like the scent and hurled the garland to the ground. This angered Durvasa as the garland was the residence of Sri or good fortune and was like prasad. In a fit of rage, Durvasa Muni cursed Indra and all the gods saying that they would lose their energy, strength, and fortune.
Now, the demons were the arch enemies of the gods and were always trying to conquer them. After Durvasa cursed the gods, they lost all their strength and were easily defeated by the demons. Eventually, the asuras or demons led by Bali drove the gods from heaven and began to control the Universe. The gods went to Vishnu for help, and he told them not to antagonize the demons.
But to defeat the demons, the gods had to recoup their strength. For this, they needed Amrit, the elixir of immortality that was in the Milky Ocean. So Vishnu advised the gods to churn the Milky Ocean with the support of the demons and get their hands on the nectar so that they could drink it and become strong again.
Samudra Manthan/ Churning of the Ocean
For the Samudra Manthan or churning of the Milky Ocean, Mount Mandara was used as a churning rod while Vasuki, the king of serpents, became the churning rope. Soon after the churning began, Mandara started sinking. At that point, Vishnu assumed his Koorma (great tortoise) avatar and carried the mountain on his back. Many kinds of herbs were cast into the sea during the churning, and many extraordinary beings and objects emerged from the sea. Supposedly, the following things emerged from the ocean during the Samudra Manthan process.
- Chandra (Moon)
- Parijata (a tree in heaven)
- Sura or Varuni – Goddess and creator of wine
- Apsaras (Rambha, Menaka, Punjisthala etc)
- Dhanwantari, the divine physician
- Shankh or the conch of Lord Vishnu used for victory
- Kaustubha – a rare diamond that is the most valuable jewel in the world
- Uchhaishravas – Indra’s divine white horse
- Kalpavriksha – the wish-granting tree
- Kamadhenu – the wish-granting cow
- Lakshmi – the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth. Amrit, the divine elixir
During the Samudra Manthan, Halahala, a pot of poison, emerged from the sea. The poison could have destroyed everything in creation. But Lord Shiva drank the poison and saved the Universe from destruction. But Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, squeezed his neck to prevent the poison from reaching his stomach. Hence, it remained in his throat, and Shiva was unharmed. But it made Shiva’s neck turn blue. This is why Shiva is also called Neelakantha (the blue-throated one).
The gods were told to keep Shiva awake during the night. So they kept a vigil and also performed a song and dance routine to entertain him, to express their gratitude to him for protecting the Universe. The next day, a pleased Shiva blessed all of them. This occasion is commemorated in the festival of Shivaratri. During Shivaratri, Shiva devotees observe a fast, keep vigil all through the night. They also meditate and sing the glories of Shiva.
Dhanvantari Emerges with Nectar
Finally, Dhanvantari, the Physician of the gods, emerged with a pot of Amrit (nectar of immortality) in his hands. Though the original agreement was that the nectar would be shared with the demons, the gods had no intention of doing so. Enraged that they were not given the nectar for which they had equally toiled, the demons waged battle against the gods for the nectar. To protect the nectar from them, the gods hid the pot of nectar at four places on earth – Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. At all these spots, a drop of the nectar fell from the pot, and hence these spots supposedly gained mystical power. The famous Kumbh Mela is held at the four spots.
The Birth of Goddess Lakshmi
It was also during Samudra Manthan that Lakshmi arose from the Milky Ocean wearing white garments holding lotuses in her hands. For this reason, she is also known as Ksirabdhitanaya, which means 'daughter of the sea of milk'. Lakshmi sought Vishnu's protection and is believed to dwell on Vishnu's chest. Shrinivas, a name for Vishnu, means 'the dwelling place of Sri'. Sri means prosperity and is also a name for Lakshmi. The day Goddess Lakshmi/Mahalakshmi emerged from the Milky Ocean is celebrated as Mahalakshmi Jayanthi.