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Lakshmi & Saraswati

'Holding the veena in your r right hand Y�u play the music of the Si Samveda. Y�ur white garments glowing against your skin With your swan beside you u 1 am your servant Brahmanonanda me see and worship you.

?poet Brahmaninanda, in praise of Saraswati


As the goddess of wealth, prosperity, good harvests, and of love, Lakshmi is one of the > most popular goddesses of the Hindus. Also called Sri, the b beautiful, she is the epitome of feminine beauty. Lakshmi is tl the gentle and generous provider 0f riches and s0 every Hinduiu home has its shrine to her, as do workpiaces The presence the of Lakshmi brings good fortune aad when she leaves she takes es fortune with her. So the radiant lakshmi who is easy to pleafease is propitiated with puja and flowers everyday.

Lakshmi the goddess does not appear in the Rigveda but the word is used to mean good fortune. We find her as the consort of Vishnu in the Vishnu Purana. She rose to the surface of the Sea of Milk during the great churning of the ocean (see: Kurma Avatar) and chose to sit Reside Vishnu. After that in all the following avatars of Vishnu, Lakshmi came down to earth with him. When his incarnation was the dwarf Vamana Avatar, she came as Padma. With the boar incarnate of Varaha Avatar she was Kamala. With Parashuram she was Dharani, with Rama she was Sita and with Krishna she was Rukmini.

Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman with soft, gentle features and golden skin. She has an air of calm and docility that is similar to the looks of Parvati or Gauri. She is clad in golden or red silk garments and wears a lot of gold jewellery including a tiara and an unfading garland of lotus blossoms. She is usually shown seated on an open lotus, with her pet owl beside her. She carries a bunch of lotus blossoms and also a pearl rosary and at times a jewel box. Two elephants flank her, pouring Ganga water over her from water vessels. She is ever youthful and like her consort Vishnu, is a compassionate, kind hearted goddess who is easy to please. Like Parvati, Lakshmi is considered the ideal wife.

Vishnu and Lakshmi are the parents of the god of love, Kama. One day when Surya's son Revanta was riding past Vishnu's heaven Vaikuntha on horseback, he caught Lakshmi's eyes. When she saw his horse she was reminded of the divine horse Uchhaishrava which also appeared during the churning of the Sea of Milk. Noticing his wife's distracted air, Vishnu asked her why she was staring at the handsome Revanta but Lakshmi did not reply. A jealous Vishnu then cursed Lakshmi that as she was so interested in a horse and its rider, she would descend to earth and be born as a mare.

Lakshmi protested at the injustice of the curse and wanted to know how she could be released from it. Realising his mistake, a remorseful Vishnu said that she would be freed from the curse when she gave birth to a son. Lakshmi then came down to earth as a mare and began the severest of austerities ^t the confluence of the Kalindi and Tamasa rivers. She prayed (o Shiva and Parvati and when the divine couple finally answered her prayers she told them of her predicament and pegged Shiva to give her a son. Instead, Shiva sent a messenger jo Vishnu with the request that he should come down to earth jis a horse and release Lakshmi from her predicament. Vishnu puld not refuse a request from Shiva and obeyed. A son was porn to Lakshmi and Vishnu who was named Kama or jvladana, the god of love and he is their only child. Free of (he curse Lakshmi could then return to Vaikuntha.

Lakshmi, when she resides in a king's palace is (tajyalakshmi; in a home she is Grihalakshmi. On the pattlefield she is the fickle Jayalakshmi who often changes ides. As the goddess of fame she is Yasholakshmi and as fhagyalakshmi she spreads good fortune. And the supreme ideal goddess is the great Mahalakshmi. In the north she is worshipped on Deepavali when many traditional businesses j,egin their new financial year. In Bengal she is worshipped (ti the first Purnima after Dussehra. The auspicious mark ,ften made on the walls of Hindu homes called the fasudhara symbolises her presence in that place.

In the South, images of Vishnu are often flanked by lakshmi as Sridevi and the earth goddess Bhudevi. In the east lakshmi and Saraswati are believed to be sisters, the diughters of Shiva and Parvati and some myths make them toth the wives of Vishnu. The Buddhist pantheon has four smilar goddesses of Sri, beauty; Shraddha, faith; Hri, modesty and Asha, hope. In ancient times the figure of lakshmi or her symbols of the lotus or elephants were often 'ascribed on coins. And many traditional fables when they tdk of the danger of imminent misfortune facing the characters, describe how a weeping Lakshmi leaves a home, palace or town and is replaced by Alakshmi, misfortune.

Lakshmi is called Haripriya, the beloved of Hari; Kamala and Padma, the lotus. She is also Padmalaya as she sits on a lotus; Jaladhija, ocean born and Chanchala, the fickle one. She is Jyeshtha, the elder one; Lokmata, mother of the world and Kumbhi, the goddess with the pitcher. She is Medha, the goddess of talent; Dhriti, patience and Kirti, fame.


Saraswati appears in the Rigveda, though as a minor goddess. In Vedic literature she is called Vak, the goddess of speech and eloquence and as Saraswati is also a sacred river. Gradually it is the first persona that evolved into the goddess of wisdom, learning, science, and music who wrote the Vedas and invented the Devanagari script that is used for Sanskrit. The Mahabharata calls her "the mother of the Vedas". However, her connection to the river remained and even today Saraswati is believed to be a legendary hidden river, one Which has to be imagined like at the Triveni at Allahabad.

As the goddess of rivers, streams, and pools Saraswati is watery and beautiful. She is depicted as a slim, graceful, fair skinned woman, dressed in white, seated on a lotus with her pet swan beside her. In her four hands she holds the stringed musical instrument, the veena, a book which is the Vedas, a rosary, and the water vessel called Kamandalu. She is a scholarly and wise goddess who prefers an austere life of asceticism and meditation. Her festival of Basant Panchami announces the arrival of spring and she is specially worshipped by students, writers, musicians, and artists.

The myths around Saraswati present rather a confusing picture of her birth and marriage. One creation myth says she was created by Brahma and as she was the result of his imagination she is called Manasa Kanya. Brahma later made her his consort and the two of them created the world {see: chapter on Brahma). However, some traditions make her a consort of Vishnu, two other wives, Lakshmi and Ganga.

Unlike the docile Lakshmi, Sarawati is a strong willed goddess with a quick temper and a mind of her own. Many myths like the one about Pushkar (see: chapter on Brahma) show her battling her creator-consort and even showering him with curses. At times Vishnu has had to intervene to save the hapless Brahma from the anger of his sharp tongued consort. And like the other independent goddesses, Chandika and Kali, she is also childless.

Once Saraswati as Vak, the goddess of speech, had an argument with Buddhi, the mind. The mind said that it was superior because unless it produced a thought and chose to express it, speech was powerless. Speech felt that even the noblest of thoughts would be lost unless she spoke them out aloud. They decided to make Brahma-Prajapati the arbiter and asked him to judge and he favourec^ed the mind At which Vak flew into a rage and cursed him t that from then on at sacrifices he would never be able to hea^ar his own mantras as she would not speak them. This is wh\hy during a yajna, the priest whispers the mantras dedicated to Brahma-Prajapati.

One Vaishnava myth says that in the ie beginning Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Ganga were all conso^orts Qf yishnu. Both Lakshmi and Saraswati were jealous or of Ganga because they believed that Vishnu preferred her to 0 them Lakshmi, the docile one accepted it and did not prot^3test but Saraswati was hardly the sort to keep quiet at such aj-an insult. One day she threatened Ganga and was about to sh^hower her with curses when Lakshmi tried to intervene and i> make peace. At which an irritated Saraswati cursed Lakshmi th^hat she would go down to earth as a plant. Finally, angered at t the injustice Lakshmi cursed Saraswati that she would becoi^me a river Not to be outdone, Saraswati then claimed that if ^ she had to become a river then so would Ganga.

Hearing the furore of the flying curarses Vishnu arrived to discover his three wives at war. An exasperated Vishnu then decided that three wives were just too 5 many to handle, even for a powerful god like him- So he s offered Saraswati to Brahma and Ganga to Shiva and onlyly kept Lakshmi by his side. Then as Saraswati's curse coulc^ not be reversed, he predicted that Lakshmi would be born ^ as tbe Tulasi plant and would be the most worshipped plant t on earth.

As the wife of Brahma, Sarasw^ati is aiso known as Brahmi. She is Vak, speech and Vagi$;lshWari, the goddess of speech. She is Sharada, who plays the e veena; Satarupa, with a hundred forms and Savitri, like the e sun.