Worship Lakshmi and she brings forth a rain of gold coin. Offend her and she retreats, leaving the fields parched. After the festival of Diwali, devoted to Lakshmi, the Hindu often gamble madly to receive her pecuniary blessing. Humans have always been at the mercy of inscrutable fortune: the rains and the lucky throw.
So, it is no surprise that Lakshmi is one of the oldest and most popular goddesses. As a concept, Lakshmi appears in the Atharvaveda, a collection of beliefs and rituals addressing everyday life of the Vedic society. Composed circa 1000 BCE in Sanskrit, these are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Images of her appear on coins dating to the first century BCE. At Pompeii, an ivory statute of Lakshmi survived Vesuvius. And now, the Lotus Goddess resides in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain pantheon, still actively worshiped.
Lakshmi is often called fickle – “Lola” – but one of the most common stories of the Lotus Goddess belies this charge. Indra, the warrior god, protected the world against demons. But when a sage offered Indra a garland of sacred flowers, he tossed them away. This offended Lakshmi who disappeared into the Milky Ocean. The world turned dark, the gods lost their powers, and the humans became greedy. The demons returned.
Indra sought the god Vishnu’s counsel. He, Lakshmi’s husband, advised Indra and the other gods to churn the Milky Ocean. Together, the gods churned the Ocean for one thousand years and at the end, Lakshmi rose from the waters as a beautiful woman atop a lotus flower. With her, Lakshmi carried immortality for the gods. Indra again could drive the demons away.
Lakshmi is all that is good and right in the world. She blesses women in childbirth and brings the rain to green the countryside. She loves and brings love. She is called the universal goddess, the female principal. Without her, the world withers. But prosperity does not come to the arrogant or the greedy. Like Indra, humans must work hard. With respect and humbleness, they must accept the gift of flowers. Only then will Lakshmi visit.
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“Lakshmi.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, http://www.ancient.eu/Lakshmi (visited September 29, 2017).
“Lakshmi.” BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religions/hinduism/deities/lakshmi.shtml (visited September 29, 2017).
Invoking Lakshmi: The Goddess of Wealth in Song and Ceremony. Constantina Rhodes. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.
Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. Mary Beard. London: Profile Books LTD, 2008.