The Birth of Lakshmi Creation Story
Lakshmi Made the World Come Back to Life
The birth story of the Goddess Lakshmi tells the tale of a divine female who emerged from the milky ocean fully formed and was declared a goddess the moment she arrived.
There is so much power and romance in her creation story. Known in Hinduism as Samudra Manthan, which means churning of the ocean, it also contains the kinds of classic fights between good and evil that are so familiar in Hindu stories. But it is also a bit of a romance book in that she met her true love the day she was born. She was desired by all the gods and some demons, but she picked her soul mate, Vishnu, to be hers for all time. Together, they would be for eternity. While Lakshmi stands as a powerful female in her own right, her relationships with Vishnu, and their relationship with other gods and goddesses, enhance their powers, which are then shared with the world in so many ways.
In the many years since I first "met" Lakshmi, I have come to see this story played out in the way she is worshipped today. She is honored with chants and prayers and bathed in milk and sacred waters in religious services. There are also many icons and images that depict her as an independent deity rising from the sea on her lotus, and Lakshmi and Vishnu are honored together in images, stories, and ceremonies.
Her birth story is one of the formal ways we come to know her special magic. It is said that the entire world came alive the day she was born. Her presence helped bring the world back from the brink of destruction. And her story also tells us how to honor Lakshmi in special ways and how to continue to invite her into our lives for more money, magic, and happiness of all kinds.
Lakshmi goes through an alchemical transformation. She was originally known as "Sri" and worshipped as a fertility of the land and the abundance of the earth. In her earliest evolution, she was viewed as the most cherished aspect of Mother Nature, and she came alive in grain and livestock. In her story, she is honored as a magical goddess with a beloved soul mate. She becomes the source of spiritual and material wealth. She is fortune and loveliness personified.
Searching for Sri
The birth of Lakshmi was inspired by the loss of Sri. And it was initiated by the god Indra. As the Vishnu Purana tells it, Indra had a disagreement with a sage named Durvasa. As a result, Durvasa cursed him with the loss of Sri in his abode. Indra's worlds, known as The Three Universes, turned dreary and dismal as the absence of Sri meant everything right and good had ceased:
- Plants were dying
- People became selfish
- Sages stopped performing religious rites.
- Sacrificial fires lost their heat.
- The sun and moon lost their brilliance and vigor.
- Perhaps most devastating was that the gods lost their strength and energy and became weak and vulnerable to the ever-present demons.
Indra and the gods assembled on the northern shore of the ocean and prayed to Lord Vishnu for help. Known as the Great Preserver, he incarnates when humanity is in deep trouble. Vishnu manifested on earth and made a suggestion that unbeknownst to him, would alter his life, and theirs, for eternity:
He suggested they churn the ocean to recover Sri. He also suggested that instead of fighting the demons, they call a truce and asked them to help. This churning of the ocean was expected to not only produce Sri but to produce amrita. Known as the "nectar of immortality," a drink that would instill great power and strength in those who imbibed.
For the good of mankind, Vishnu suggested the gods tell a little white lie; that the amrita would be shared by all, giving immortality to gods and demons alike. But Vishnu had no intention of sharing.
The Stirring of the Ocean
Herbs were prepared and hurled into the sea. The demons and the weakened gods worked side by side to stir and churn the ocean to release its treasures. Since both the dark and the light forces of the universe were at work, their efforts also released darker aspects of the sea—such as serpents and poisons. Yet both teams were awed by the goodness that arose.
- First to come out was the sacred cow Surabhi.
- Next the Goddess Varuna emerged.
- Followed by a fragrant tree known as Parijata.
- Out came the dancers of heaven known as asparsas.
- And the moon
- Then a god (Dhanvantari) came out with a pot of amrita in his hands.
At the sight of the amrita, the gods, sages, and demons were excited. But the best part was saved for last when a lotus flower arose and on it was seated the shining form of the goddess Lakshmi. She held another lotus in her hand.
All the celestials, demons, and humans were enamored by her grace and beauty and cherished her company. From various accounts, Lakshmi's welcome went like this:
- The sages chanted hymns to her and offer mantras from the Sri Sukta (Sutra).
- There was singing and dancing by heavenly beings.
- Sacred rivers, like the Ganga, began to flow so the goddess could have a bath.
- The earth brought her Ayurvedic medicines, and the cows offered five auspicious products (including yogurt and milk).
- The eight elephants that protect the eight directions took clear water from golden vessels and bathed her lovingly with their trunks.
- The spring gave her fruits.
- The ocean offered her a garland of lotus flowers that would never lose their bloom.
- The god Brahma decorated her with a lotus in full bloom.
- The architect of the gods (Vishwakarma) gave her jewels and decorated her body with heavenly ornaments and a beautiful dress.
The gods watched the process with reverence for the goddess. They all yearned for her to be by their side. It was her choice to select one among them. She immediately chose her consort. It was Lord Vishnu and no other.
Thus began their eternal marriage. But it is said she next turned her beautiful lotus eyes toward the other gods and, simply by gazing in their direction, helped them attain the highest state of bliss.
The demons were not pleased that the supreme goddess had selected the great preserver.
A fight for the amrita ensued.
Vishnu distracted them by turning into a ravishing woman.
Stronger and mightier, the gods fought the demons and scared them back to the underworld.
The gods had their amrita, and they had the goddess of fortune on their side. And Lakshmi removed the spell cast upon the gods and the three worlds. Everything was beautiful!
An Ancient Message for Modern Times
An important message in this story is that it tells us how important it is to honor her in order to keep the world beautiful. Indra and other gods said the foremost ways to keep the goddess of fortune near and dear was to pray to her, chant, sing her praises, and honor her with gifts.
The Vishnu Purana says, "Indra ascended his throne and ruled over the three worlds after having prayed to Lakshmi." Because she was pleased with his prayers, she granted him "boons," which is another word for favors. The first thing he requested was that Lakshmi never leave the three universes. The second boon was that Lakshmi would never desert or turn away from anyone who prayed to her with the same prayer he used. That prayer, the "Sri Suktam" or "Lakshmi Sukta," appears in the appendix of the holy text known as the Rig Veda. It was the first holy writing to introduce Sri and Lakshmi as one divine being, and it is the prayer still used in her worship regularly. Here is an excerpt:
I invoke Sri, the blissful goddess,
who is sweet-smiling,
who lives in a hall of gold,
who is full of compassion and drenched with it from the heart,
who is resplendent at the seat of the lotus,
is lotus-hued, and who bestows all pleasures to her devotees.
- From the Sri Sukta, from the Rig Veda
Lakshmi's birth story can give us a sense of hope that even in the darkest moments, there is still a chance to overcome the worst of times. It tells us that even when things are not going our way, that doesn't mean it will stay that way. It suggests that we can call on spiritual power in the form of a beautiful and gracious goddess who can bring blessings to our lives and to our world.
I have learned something so important. You do not have to be a scholar, a sage, a religious leader, or born in Lakshmi's tradition in order to create a close, personal relationship with her.