Lakshmi's Many Faces
Honoring All of Lakshmi's Roles and Names
Lakshmi is one of the most beloved goddesses in the Hindu tradition, and she is worshipped by Hindus in all corners of the globe. She is also worshipped by Jains, honored by Buddhists, and celebrated worldwide by adoring devotees and fans who take an interfaith or goddess-based approach to religion and spirituality. She is a universal goddess that can be called upon by anyone of any faith. She is an ancient goddess, at least three thousand years young. She represents and is seen as the personification of abundance, prosperity, wealth, well-being, and harmony. She is also a Divine Mother, filled with love and healing for the universe. Her presence brings the possibility for greater fortune, even in the darkest moments.
There are many facets to Lakshmi and the ways she is recognized and celebrated. It should be noted that her primary name is spelled differently depending on where you are reading it. These include Lakshmi, Laksmi, Laxmi, Sri, Shri, and Shree. This book uses Lakshmi and Sri unless her name is spelled in a different way in part of a direct quote.
Here are some of the key ways she is known in the world.
Lakshmi: In this familiar form, she is known as the Hindu goddess of fortune, and she is also worshipped in the Jain tradition, which is a tradition that grew from the Hindu culture thousands of years ago and observes many of the same Indian festivals. Seen in her sari-clad form, she is very feminine and looks like a human woman, except for the four arms. She sits or stands on her lotus throne. She usually holds two lotuses in her two hands at the back. Her front arms offer blessings, and she pours gold coins that represent wealth flowing out to worshipers. Though connected eternally to her beloved soul mate, Vishnu, she also stands in her own sovereignty.
Eight Forms of Lakshmi: Lakshmi is associated with eight particular qualities that are ascribed to different aspects of the goddess. They are illustrated as different images of Lakshmi. People actively pray to the aspect they most require in any given situation. For example, for good fortune, they pray to Gaja Lakshmi. For a child, they pray to Santhana Lakshmi. Lakshmi possesses a divine nature of such a full spectrum. These descriptions have been adapted from Astroved.com, which celebrates Lakshmi in all her forms.
- Aadi-Lakshmi: She is the primordial form of Lakshmi and the origin of all existence.
- Dhana-Lakshmi: She symbolizes prosperity and abundance with unlimited potential and eradicates poverty.
- Dhanya-Lakshmi: She is a guardian of the equitable distribution of grain or food and is regarded as the provider of agricultural wealth.
- Gaja-Lakshmi: She is surrounded by sacred elephants pouring blessings and signifies royalty and power.
- Santhana-Lakshmi: She is seen as the one who grants parenthood and blesses healthy children.
- Veera-Lakshmi: She is the epitome of bravery, strength, and valor and grants these things to others.
- Vidya-Lakshmi: She provides wealth in the form of knowledge and offers knowledge that helps with developing one's intellect and talents.
- Vijaya-Lakshmi: She represents victory in all aspects, in battlefields and life's hurdles, and imbues people with grit and determination.
Mahalakshmi: In her aspect of Mahalakshmi (which means "Mother Lakshmi"), she is considered the supreme goddess herself. She is the holy mother, worshipped as the ultimate aspect of the divine feminine. In this role, she steps beyond her responsibilities as the goddess of fortune and becomes the goddess from which all life originates. She represents the embodiment of the three qualities essential for the creation of all life: Sattvika (purity); Tamasa (that which is hidden in the dark); and Rajasa (spiritual activity).
Kamala: Kamala is Lakshmi in her tantric form. The name means "she of the lotus" or lotus. Kamala loves lotuses, has lotus eyes, and is always surrounded by lotuses. As one of the ten wisdom goddesses known as Mahavidyas—ten goddesses who represent the powerful metaphor of the goddess' power to destroy, regenerate and transform—she possesses the softest qualities affiliated with that particular group. The Mahavidyas let us know that we should embrace all aspects of ourselves—the dark, crazed, obsessive, and the beautiful—and that they will help us through the shadows of transformation. Lakshmi, as Kamala, the tenth form, is the light at the end of the tunnel.
Sri or Shri: This is one of the names that has been attributed to Lakshmi since ancient times. In Lakshmi's creation story, Sri arose from the churning of the milky sea and was personified as Lakshmi. The name sometimes is just used to express the term "goddess of prosperity." But you will notice that this name is also used as a title, such as Sri Lakshmi, and also used to honor other divine beings, as well as respected and admired humans. Author Devdutt Pattanaik says the word evokes grace, affluence, abundance, and auspiciousness. "When the word is spoken or written, and aura of holiness is established," he writes in Lakshmi: The Goddess of Wealth and Fortune. "Whatever follows the word is imbued with divine blessing."
Devi or Mahadevi: Lakshmi is also venerated as Devi, the Sanskrit word for goddess. She is actively worshipped as the Divine Mother goddess by followers of the Shakti sect of Hinduism. It is a form of worship that focuses on the divine feminine. In The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition, Tracy Pintchman says this all-powerful aspect is composed of Lakshmi in her three forms: Sri, Bhu, and Durga. Some texts say this aspect is also connected to three forms of the goddess: Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati, and Mahakali. Devi is the goddess with the greatest power in the Hindu tradition and is considered an absolute power in the universe.
Here's the Goddess's description of how to perform the Devi puja from The Devi Gita.
"Whoever in such manner worships the Goddess,
the auspicious, world charming beauty,
for that person nothing is difficult to attain, anytime, anywhere.
Such a person may be recognized as bearing the form of the Goddess herself.
The Gods constantly bow before that one.
Perform my worship. Thereby you will be wholly fulfilled."
Shakti: Shakti is the pure feminine energy embodied by all goddesses. It is also considered a force that energizes the males. In Hinduism, the gods are empowered by the Shakti of the goddess. As illustrated in the story of Lakshmi's birth, the gods cannot live without "Shakti." Her energy is what keeps the sun shining, the flowers growing, and the world turning. Just as the mother goddess, Mahalakshmi, is the Shakti that births and enlivens all that is. Lakshmi is the Shakti that energizes her consort Vishnu so their energies, together, are powerful complements. The goddess gives herself to him freely, and he, in turn, gives himself to her completely. This energy is available to us mortals here on Earth.
Lakshmi's 108 Names: Lakshmi is also known by 108 names that pay respect to different parts of her persona and powers in all her different forms. She is identified by some of these names in various holy books and stories, as well as in prayers. For example, one of her names is Padma, meaning lotus. She is also called Vidya and Buddhi, both meaning wisdom. She is also known as Ashoka, a dispeller of sorrows. It's an ancient custom to chant her 108 names during certain religious rites or when praying to her. People also use mala rosaries, chanting each of her 108 names as they touch each one of the 108 prayer beads. Chanting her names is said to dispel all sins and evil and to alleviate karma and sin. You can find a full list in English and Sanskrit, here.