Hindu Goddess Lakshmi: History, Facts & Names

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Have you ever wondered how the festival of Diwali started? Read this lesson to learn more about the origins of Diwali, which commemorates the goddess Lakshmi, as well as more about Lakshmi's history and incarnations.

''Daughter of the Sea of Milk''

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is one of the most famous Hindu festivals and is celebrated around the world. Diwali is observed as a celebration of the goddess Lakshmi, the beautiful goddess of wealth and fortune. Where did this goddess come from, and why is she so important to Hinduism?

According to the Hindu tradition, Lakshmi was in the world, bestowing favor and fortune on the other gods. But when the warrior god who was supposed to fight off demons to protect the world became arrogant, Lakshmi decided to leave the world and go into the Milky Ocean or ''Sea of Milk,'' one of the seven oceans of Hinduism.

Because Lakshmi left, the gods were overrun by demons. Vishnu, who eventually became Lakshmi's consort, told the gods to churn the Milk Ocean, like one would churn cream into butter, to bring Lakshmi and the potion of immortality out of it. After 1,000 years of this, Lakshmi finally rose out of the ocean, standing on a lotus flower, which she is often depicted standing upon or holding in Hindu art.

Depiction of Lakshmi standing on a lotus flower and holding lotuses
Depiction of Lakshmi standing on a lotus flower and holding lotuses

The Story of Diwali

Hindu gods battle demons frequently in the most famous stories about Lakshmi. In the epic Ramayana, Rama, one of Vishnu's incarnations, battles the demon king. The demon king kidnaps Sita, Lakshmi's incarnation who was married to Rama, in this story. When Rama defeats the demon king and rescues Sita, the people help guide them home in the dark by lighting candles. This practice has carried over to the festival of Diwali, during which Hindus light candles to commemorate the story of the Ramayana and help guide Lakshmi to bring them fortune.

Artistic representation of Diwali celebrations
Artistic representation of Diwali

Lakshmi's Other Names, Forms, and Attributes

Names and Forms

Lakshmi is featured in many Hindu stories with a variety of names, forms, and attributes. One of the most common names is Shri, which means prosperity, and references her ability to bring wealth and fortune. She is also Rukmini, the wife of Krishna, another of Vishnu's incarnations. Lakshmi has eight specific manifestations of her form beyond her various incarnations, like Shri and Rukmini. In her first manifestation as the ''Great Goddess,'' she is married to Vishnu. Her second manifestation is perhaps her most popular one: She is Dhana-Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, with ''Dhana'' literally meaning ''money.''

Another of her forms is associated with the ocean. This form, Gaja-Lakshmi, is the ''Elephant Goddess'' who is depicted with two elephants, perhaps because an elephant is the vehicle of the god Indra whose money she helped recover from the ocean. Lakshmi's other five forms are associated with various aspects of wealth, from monetary wealth to abundance of food, courage, victory, and even offspring.

Lakshmi and Vishnu's Marriage: Take Two

An alternate story of how Lakshmi and Vishnu marry is not much different from blind dating incidents you might hear about today. Brahma and Shiva, the other two gods who make up the trimurti (trinity) that Vishnu is a part of, decide Lakshmi and Vishnu should be together. In this story, Lakshmi is already married but is annoyed with her husband. She travels to southern India and renames herself Padmavati. Vishnu is also disguised and renamed and, when the two met each other, they end up falling in love. They eventually marry in an extravagant ceremony.

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