Goddess Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity (both material and spiritual), as well as the embodiment of beauty. She is the wife and active energy of Lord Vishnu. Her four hands represent the four goals of human life considered important to the Hindu way of life – dharma, kama, artha, and moksha. Representations of Goddess Lakshmi are also found in Jain monuments. In Buddhist sects of Tibet, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, Goddess Vasudhara mirrors the characteristics and attributes of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi with minor iconography differences.
Goddess Lakshmi is also called Sri or Thirumagal because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities and also because she is the source of strength even to Lord Vishnu. When Lord Vishnu incarnated on the Earth as the avatars Lord Ram and Lord Krishna, Goddess Lakshmi incarnated as his respective consorts: Goddess Sita (Lord Ram’s wife), Goddess Radha (Lord Krishna’s lover) and Goddess Rukmini (Lord Krishna’s wife). In the ancient scriptures of India, all women are declared to be embodiment of Goddess Lakshmi.
In modern times, Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped as the goddess of wealth. She is also worshiped as the consort of Lord Vishnu in many temples.
Her mount is the elephant and owl and her mantra is “Om Hrim Shri Lakshmibhyo Namaha”.
The image, icons, and sculptures of Goddess Lakshmi are represented with symbolism. Her name is derived from Sanskrit root words for knowing the goal and understanding the objective. 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).
In Goddess 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 symbolically represents reality, consciousness, karma, knowledge and self-realization. The lotus, a flower that blossoms in clean or dirty water, also symbolizes purity and beauty regardless of the good or bad circumstances in which its grows. It is a reminder that good and prosperity can bloom and not be affected by evil in one’s surrounding. Below, behind, or on the sides, Goddess Lakshmi is sometimes shown with one or two elephants and occasionally with an owl. Elephants symbolize work, activity, and strength, as well as water, rain, and fertility for abundant prosperity. The owl, called Pechaka in eastern regions of India, signifies the patient striving to observe, see, and discover knowledge particularly when surrounded by darkness. The owl, a bird that becomes blind in daylight, is also a symbolic reminder to refrain from blindness and greed after knowledge and wealth has been acquired.
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 Goddess Lakshmi means both material as well as spiritual wealth. Her face and open hands are in a mudra that signify compassion, giving, or daana (charity).
Goddess Lakshmi typically wears a red dress embroidered with golden threads, symbolism for beauty and wealth. She, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is often represented with her husband Lord 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.
Goddess Lakshmi features prominently in the Puranas of Hinduism. Vishnu Purana, in particular, dedicates many sections to her and also refers to her as Sri. It is stated that Sri, loyal to Lord Vishnu, is the mother of the world. Lord Vishnu is the meaning, Sri is the speech. She is the conduct, he the behavior. He 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 is wish, he is the desire. She is the sky, He the Self of everything. He is the moon, she the beauty of moon. He is the ocean, she is the shore.
In eastern India, Goddess Lakshmi is seen as a form of one Goddess Devi, the Supreme power; Devi is also called Goddess Durga or Goddess Shakti. Goddess Lakshmi, Goddess Saraswati, and Goddess Parvati are typically conceptualized as distinct in most of India, but in states such as West Bengal and Odisha, they are regionally believed to be forms of Goddess Durga.
Goddess Lakshmi is seen in two forms, Goddess Bhudevi and Goddess Sridevi, both at the sides of Sri Venkateshwara or Lord Vishnu. Goddess Bhudevi is the representation and totality of the material world or energy, in which she is called Mother Earth. Goddess Sridevi is the spiritual world or energy. Goddess Lakshmi is the power of Lord Vishnu.
Inside temples, Goddess Lakshmi is often shown together with Lord Vishnu. In certain parts of India, Goddess Lakshmi plays a special role as the mediator between her husband Lord Vishnu and his worldly devotees. When asking Lord Vishnu for grace or forgiveness, the devotees often approach Him through the intermediary presence of Goddess Lakshmi. She is also the personification of the spiritual fulfillment. Goddess Lakshmi embodies the spiritual world, also known as Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu, or what would be considered heaven in Vaishnavism. Goddess Lakshmi is the embodiment of God’s superior spiritual feminine energy which purifies, empowers, and uplifts the individual.
She is also manifested as Ashta Lakshmi where it is known as a group of eight secondary manifestations of Goddess Lakshmi. The Ashta Lakshmis govern over eight sources of wealth and thus represent the eight powers of Goddess Lakshmi. Temples dedicated to Ashta Lakshmi are found in Tamil Nadu, such as the Ashta Lakshmi temple near Chennai and in many other states of India.
The eight Ashta Lakshmis are as follows:
- Adi Lakshmi, the first manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi.
- Dhanya Lakshmi, represents granary wealth.
- Veera Lakshmi, the Wealth of courage.
- Gaja Lakshmi, represents wealth of fertility, rains, and food.
- Santana Lakshmi, the Wealth of continuity, progeny.
- Vijaya Lakshmi, the Wealth of victory.
- Aishwarya Lakshmi, the Wealth of knowledge and education.
- Dhana Lakshmi, represents monetary wealth.
Other secondary representations of Goddess Lakshmi manifesting in three forms: Goddess Sri Devi, Goddess Bhoodevi, and Goddes Neeladevi.
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 the Ocean of Milk. The Devas and Asuras both sought immortality and decided to churn the ocean with Mount Mandhara. The churning commenced with the Devas on one side and the Asuras on the other. Lord Vishnu incarnated as Lord 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 the daughter of the sea god since she emerged from the sea.
In the Garuda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana she is said to have been born as the daughter of the divine sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyaati and was named “Bhargavi.” According to the Vishnu Purana, the universe was created when the Devas (good) and Asuras (evil) churn the cosmic ocean of milk. Goddess Lakshmi came out of the ocean bearing lotus, along with the divine cow Kamadhenu, Varuni, the tree Parijat, the Apsaras, Chandra the moon, and Dhanvantari with the Amrita (nectar of immortality). When she appeared, she had a choice to go to Devas or the Asuras. She chose Devas’ side and among thirty deities, she chose to be with Lord Vishnu. Thereafter, in all three worlds, the lotus-bearing Goddess was celebrated.