Who is Goddess Lakshmi?

In most Hindu houses and shops run by Hindus, a picture of Goddess Lakshmi is a must-have, for she is the Goddess of wealth and good fortune as well as youth and beauty. The consort of Lord Vishnu, both are often worshipped together as Lakshmi-Narayana. When Vishnu takes different avatars when he descends to earth, Lakshmi also assumes different forms. She was Sita, the wife of Rama, Dharani, the wife of Parashurama, Rukmini, the wife of Krishna, and Padma, the wife of Hari.

Lakshmi or Mahalakshmi is also called ‘Lokamata’, meaning ‘mother of the world’. Another name for her is Lola, which means ‘fickle’. It refers to her propensity not to stay in one place for too long, as well as her randomness in bestowing good fortune.

In the epic Mahabharata, one can find the story of Lakshmi’s birth from the churning of the Milky ocean in which both the gods and the demons took part. Lakshmi emerged from the Milky Ocean wearing white raiments and radiating youth and beauty. Hence, she is also called Ksirabdhitanaya, meaning ‘daughter of the sea of milk’. Lakshmi immediately surrendered herself to Vishnu’s protection, and hence she is believed to live on Vishnu’s chest. One of Vishnu’s many names is Shrinivas, which means ‘the dwelling place of Sri’. Sri denotes prosperity, and is another name for Lakshmi. The Harivamsa says that Lakshmi is the mother of Kama, the god of love. The day she emerged from the Milky Ocean is observed as Mahalakshmi Jayanthi.

Lakshmi is associated with the lotus flower. She features in the Buddhist pantheon as well. There are no temples solely for the Goddess, but she is particularly worshipped during Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights’, which usually comes in October/November.

The Story of Lakshmi’s Birth

Once, there was a sage called Bhrigu who was married to Khyaati. They had two two sons, Dhata and Vidhaata as well as a daughter, Lakshmi. Lakshmi married Lord Vishnu. This was actually the goddess’ first appearance. It was in her second appearance that she came as the daughter of the Milky Ocean. 

Durvaasa, a very acerbic and hot-tempered sage, once happened to see a beautiful girl holding a garland. She gave the garland to the sage out of respect, but at that moment, the sage spotted Indra, the king of the gods in heaven, riding on his elephant, Airaavat. The sage put the garland around Indra’s neck, but Indra took it off and put it on Airaavat’s head. However, the elephant took the garland with his trunk and threw it on the ground. This annoyed Durvaasa, and he cursed Indra, saying that he would lose all his wealth. In due course, Indra lost his wealth. And Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, too, didn’t stay in heaven. She took up residence in the depths of the ocean. Soon, the demons attacked the gods and evicted them from heaven. Indra and the other gods then approached Lord Vishnu. Vishnu told them that they needed to bring Lakshmi out of the sea by churning the Milky Ocean with the help of the demons. So, the gods reconciled with the demons and made them agree to take part in the churning of the sea. 

Churning of the Milky Ocean

They used the Mandaraachal Mountain for the purpose of churning the ocean. When the churning began, Mandaraachal started to sink. Vishnu then took the Koorma (great tortoise) avatar and bore the weight of the huge mountain on his back. Kamadhenu, the wish-granting cow, was the first to emerge from the sea during the churning. It was gifted to the sages to help them with their Yagyas. After the cow, came Vaaruni Devi, Kalpavriksha (the wishful tree), followed by beautiful apsaras. The Moon emerged after the apsaras and was used by Shiva to adorn his forehead. A lot of poison called Halahala also emerged. Shiva drank it to save the world, and the rest of the poison was absorbed by the serpents. 

Finally, Dhanvantari himself appeared carrying the urn of nectar which had the power to grant immortality. Lakshmi also came out during the churning with lotuses in her hands. All the sages worshipped her. After bathing in divine water, she took up residence in Vishnu’s heart. When the demons saw this, they were perplexed. They grabbed the urn from Dhanvantari and fled. Then they began fighting over the nectar. Each demon wanted to drink more of it. To get back the nectar, Vishnu took the form of Mohini, a lovely damsel. She agreed to serve the nectar and managed to get hold of the urn. But she served it only to the gods. The demons flew into a rage and attacked the gods. But since the gods had drunk the nectar, they had become stronger, and they defeated the demons easily. 

Afterward, the gods returned to heaven, and Indra regained all his wealth. He began to worship Lakshmi with respect and devotion. It is believed that those who read the story of Lakshmi’s birth with true devotion will never lack wealth in their life.

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