Tradition associates Lakshmi with Kubera, who was the ugly lord of the Yakshas, which was a race of supernatural creatures that lived outside the pale of civilization.
Their connection with Lakshmi springs from the fact that they were noted for a propensity for collecting, guarding, and distributing wealth. Association with Kubera deepens the aura of mystery and underworld connections that attaches itself to Lakshmi. Yakshas are symbolic of fertility. The female Yakshas depicted are full breasted and big hipped women with wide generous mouths, leaning seductively against trees.
The identification of Shri, the goddess who embodies the potent power of growth, with the Yakshas is natural. She involves and reveals herself in the irrepressible fecundity of plant life, as exemplified in the legend of Shiva and the Bael fruit, and in her association with the lotus. An interesting and fully developed association between Lakshmi and the god Indra, who was traditionally known as the king of the gods and the foremost of the gods, who is described as a heavenly king.
It is appropriate for Shri Lakshmi to be associated with him as his wife or consort. In these myths, she appears as the embodiment of royal authority, as a being whose presence is essential for the effective wielding of royal power, and the creation of royal prosperity. Several myths of this genre describe Shri-Lakshmi as leaving one ruler for another. She is said to dwell even with a demon named Bali. According to this legend, Bali defeats Indra.
Lakshmi is attracted to Bali’s winning ways and bravery as she joins him along with her attendant auspicious virtues. Bali rules the three worlds with virtue, and under his rule there is prosperity all around. Only when dethroned gods managed to trick Bali into surrendering does Lakshmi depart from Bali by leaving him lusterless and powerless. Lakshmi’s association with so many different male deities and with the notorious fleetingness of good fortune earned her a reputation for fickleness and inconstancy.
In one text she is said to be so unsteady that even in a picture she moves and that if she sticks with Vishnu it is only because she is attracted to his many different avataras. Her notorious fickleness has convinced her devotees that she may desert them at the slightest pretext. They have devised numerous ingenious strategies to retain Lakshmi, and prosperity in their establishments. One sect is known to offer only the worst net like fabric as clothing to Lakshmi.
In a mythological sense, her fickleness and adventurous nature slowly begin to change once she is identified totally with Vishnu, and finally becomes still. She becomes the steadfast, obedient, and loyal wife who vows to reunite with her husband in all his next lives. As the cook at the Jagannatha temple in Puri, she prepares food for her lord and his devotees. In the famous paintings on the walls of the Badami caves in central India, she sits on the ground near where her lord reclines upon a throne, leaning on him.
The most striking feature of the iconography of Lakshmi is her persistent association with the lotus. The meaning of the lotus in relation to Lakshmi refers to purity and spiritual power. The lotus seat is a common motif in Hindu and Buddhist iconography. The gods and goddesses sit or stand upon a lotus, which suggests their spiritual authority. To be seated upon the lotus suggests that the being in question has transcended the limitations of the finite world and floats freely in a sphere of purity and spirituality.
Lakshmi suggests more than the fertilizing powers of moist soil and the mysterious powers of growth. She suggests a perfection or state of refinement that transcends the material world and is associated not only with the royal authority, but with also spiritual authority, and she combines royal and priestly powers in her presence. The lotus and Lakshmi represents the fully developed blossoming of organic life.
Bali at Jimbaran Bay | Four Seasons Resort
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