Lakshmi, or very commonly Sri, is the wife of Vishnu, and under various names appears in this relation in his various incarnations. As the lord of the worlds, the god of gods, Janarddana descends among mankind in various shapes, so does his coadjutor Sri. Thus when Hari was born a dwarf, the son of Aditi, Lakshmi appeared from the lotus as Padma, or Kamala; when he was born as Rama (Parasurama) of the race of Bhrigu, she was Dharani; when he was Raghava (Rama), she was Sita; and when he was Krishna, she was Rukmini. In the other descents of Vishnu she was his associate. If he takes a celestial form, she appears as divine; if a mortal, she becomes a mortal too, transforming her own person agreeably to whatever character it pleases Vishnu to assume.
Vishnu's consort Lakshmi has a number of well-known incarnations that are the center of cults in their own right. In the Ramayana , for example, female characters are responsible for most of the important events, and the dutiful Sita, who resists the advances of lustful Ravana, is a much beloved figure of devotion. Lakshmi receives direct worship along with Ram during the big national festival of Dipavali (Diwali), celebrated with massive fireworks demonstrations, when people pray for success and wealth during the coming year. The Mahabharata is equally packed with tales of male and female relationships in which women hold their own, and the beautiful Draupadi, wife of the five Pandava heroes, has her own cult in scattered locations throughout India.
There are two somewhat contradictory accounts of her origin; the 'Vishnu Parana' explains this.f "The divinities Dhata and Vidhata were born to Bhrigu by Khyati, as was a daughter Sri, the wife of Narayana, the god of gods." The question is asked, " It is commonly said the Sri was born from the sea of milk, when it was churned for ambrosia; how then can you say that she was the daughter of Bhrigu and Khyati?" In answer to this question, a most elaborate account of her virtues is given: "Sri, the bride of Vishnu, the mother of the world, is eternal, imperishable; as he is all-pervading, so she is omnipresent. Vishnu is meaning, she is speech; Hari is polity, she is prudence; Vishnu is understanding, she is intellect; he is righteousness, she is devotion; Sri is the earth, Hari is its support. In a word, of gods, animals, and men, Hari is all that is called male; Lakshmi is all that is termed female; there is nothing else than they." Later on it is written, "Her first birth was as the daughter of Bhrigu and Khyati; it was at a subsequent period that she was produced from the sea, at the churning of the ocean by the demons and the gods."
On Sri's appearance the sages were enraptured, the heavenlychoristers sang her praises, and the celestial nymphs danced before her. Ganga and the other sacred streams followed her, and the heavenly elephants took up their pure waters in golden vessels and poured them upon her. The sea of milk presented her with a wreath of unfading flowers; and the artist of the gods decorated her with lovely ornaments. Thus bathed, attired, and adorned, the goddess, in the presence of the gods, cast herself upon the breast of Hari, and, reclining there, gazed upon the gods, who were enraptured with her' Siva was most violent and wished to possess himself of her. From the demons she turned away; hence they were miserable. Seeing the cup of nectar, they tried to seize it, when Vishnu, assuming the appearance of a beautiful woman, attracted their attention, whilst the gods quaffed the divine cup. The result was that in the conflict which followed the gods were successful.
Lakshmi, or Sri, is regarded as the goddess of Love, Beauty, and Prosperity. When a man is growing rich, it is said that Lakshmi has come to dwell with him; while those in adversity are spoken of as "forsaken of Lakshmi." In pictures she is painted as a lady of a bright golden colour, seated on a lotus, with two arms. The name of Lakshmi as that of a goddess does not occur in the Rig-Veda, though the word itself is found in its signification" as "prosperity."
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