Gajalakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth and Beauty
This small article about Gajalakshmi was written by me over a decade ago. I found it just last night and decided to post it here.
There are eight forms of the Goddess ‘Shri’ Lakshmi popularly known as the Goddess of wealth and beauty. The honourable title ‘Shri’ connotes beauty, auspiciousness, glory and high rank for these qualities naturally belong to Shri Lakshmi. ‘Shri’ in the Vedic hymns also suggests power, superior skills and abundance.
One of the most ancient of the iconographic images of Shri Lakshmi is the Gajalakshmi. We see in photographs, the beautiful Goddess seated between two elephants. The Goddess and the the elephants both symbolise strength, prosperity and forbearance, all that is noble and good in life. Shri Lakshmi is exalted in this form and becomes abundance personified.
Sometimes the elephants are shown spouting water over Shri Lakshmi, this indicates that abhishek or ‘ritual bathing’ is necessary for all those who seek power and rank that first, they need to purify themselves in sacred water before taking high office, with all the privileges that accompany it.
When prayers are offered to Gajalakshmi, they align the devotee with Gajalakshmi gifts of abundance dignity, honour, and righteousness, and the power to rule over your own domain, be it spiritual or secular.
A Little About The Goddess Lakshmi
Lore has it that Lakshmi arose out of the sea of milk, the primordial cosmic ocean, bearing a red lotus in her hand. Each member of the divine triad- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (creator, preserver and destroyer respectively)- wanted to have her for himself. Shiva’s claim was refused for he had already claimed the Moon, Brahma had Saraswati, so Vishnu claimed her and she was born and reborn as his consort during all of his ten incarnations.
Though retained by Vishnu as his consort, Lakshmi remained an avid devotee of Lord Shiva. An interesting legend surrounds her devotion to this god:
Every day Lakshmi had a thousand flowers plucked by her handmaidens and she offered them to the idol of Shiva in the evening. One day, counting the flowers as she offered them, she found that there were two less than a thousand. It was too late to pluck any more for evening had come and the lotuses had closed their petals for the night.
Lakshmi thought it inauspicious to offer less than a thousand. Suddenly she remembered that Vishnu had once described her breasts as blooming lotuses. She decided to offer them as the two missing flowers.
Lakshmi cut off one breast and placed it with the flowers on the altar. Before she could cut off the other, Shiva, who was extremely moved by her devotion, appeared before her and asked her to stop. He then turned her cut breast into round, sacred Bael fruit (Aegle marmelos) and sent it to Earth with his blessings, to flourish near his temples.
A few texts say that Lakshmi is the wife of Dharma. She and several other goddesses, all of whom are personifications of certain auspicious qualities, are said to have been given to Dharma in marriage. This association seems primarily to represent a thinly disguised “wedding” of Dharma (virtuous conduct) with Lakshmi (prosperity and well-being). The point of the association seems to be to teach that by performing Dharma one obtains prosperity.
Tradition also associates Lakshmi with Kubera, the ugly lord of the Yakshas. The Yakshas were a race of supernatural creatures who lived outside the pale of civilization. Their connection with Lakshmi perhaps springs from the fact that they were notable 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 also symbolic of fertility. The Yakshinis (female Yakshas) depicted often in temple sculpture 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, like them, involves, and reveals herself in the irrepressible fecundity of plant life, as exemplified in the legend of Shiva and the Bael fruit narrated above, and also in her association with the lotus, to be described later.
An interesting and fully developed association is between Lakshmi and the god Indra. Indra is traditionally known as the king of the gods, the foremost of the gods, and he is typically described as a heavenly king. It is therefore 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.
The Eightfold Lakshmi By Swami Chidananda
When we come first of all to consider Maha Lakshmi in Her cosmic aspect as Avidya-Maya who has to preserve the world-process which has evolved out of the Supreme Being, we find that She is conceived of as all the various things that are necessary to have a prosperous and successful life upon this earthplane. We have the conception of Mahalakshmi in Her eightfold forms and the Hindus refer to Her as the Ashta-Lakshmi. For the sustenance of life upon this earth the most important thing is food. All beings live upon this physical plane through the nourishment derived from physical food and the chief source of food upon earth is corn that is cultivated. Grain is Dhaanya. Therefore, Mother is worshipped as Dhaanya-Lakshmi. It is a common sight to see upon a particular day in the year set apart for this specific purpose, the cultivator and all the people worshipping the freshly-cut sheaves of golden corn that has been gathered at harvest-time. It is a very joyous festival. The first crop of golden corn which has filled the field is cut, taken up with great ceremony, with music and rejoicing and it is brought to the house wherein all the ceremonial worship due to a deity is offered to it. Thus Mother in Her universal aspect as life-sustaining corn is regarded as the most important factor and in this form Lakshmi is manifest in this world of ours.
Secondly, for all human dealings, in society, both intra-national and international, money or wealth is of paramount importance. Without wealth man cannot live with happiness, prosperity and success. He cannot undertake any works; and therefore, Mother is also conceived of as Dhana. It means wealth in any form—in the form of coins, goods—all valuable things. Thus wealth also is revered and worshipped in society.
The Mother in these various forms is worshipped by different classes of people in India. The Hindu society is based upon the beautiful plan of Varnashrama. There is a general division of labour in the whole society as it is and different aspects of national life are entrusted to different sections of the community and in Her eightfold aspects as Dhaanya-Lakshmi, Dhana-Lakshmi, Dhairya-Lakshmi, Vidya-Lakshmi, Jaya-Lakshmi, Veerya-Lakshmi, Gaja-Lakshmi and Saubhagya-Lakshmi, Mother is worshipped in the form of life-giving corn, of wealth, of Apara-Vidya (knowledge of arts and sciences which is very essential if one must live a civilised and happy life—all knowledge pertaining to this material universe is Mother in the form of Vidya), of Dhairya (to utilise wealth and knowledge one must have enterprise), of Veerya (vitality or virility), of Gaja (royal power or the power of royalty), of Jaya (the power of victory over adverse circumstances, obstacles that stand in the way of a happy, prosperous and successful life) and of Saubhagya (prosperity in general). In these eight aspects, the power of the nourisher and sustainer Lakshmi is manifest in the world of human beings. The Kshatriya worships the Mother in the form of victory-giving weapons; to him the sword and all the other weapons are the victory-giving manifestations of Mahalakshmi. To the Vaishya who belongs to the third social order, who carries on commerce and business in human society, the great power is the power of money; therefore, a day is set apart to specially worship Goddess Lakshmi in this aspect of money, by them. It is a common sight on Deepavali and Lakshmi Puja, especially in wealthy cities like Bombay, when silver coins would be put into a heap and worshipped as any deity would be worshipped by the devout Hindu, as the visible manifestation of Divine Mother Lakshmi Herself. The fourth class, Sudras, worship Lakshmi as grain which they help to produce. By the Brahmin who is the trustee of knowledge and who is to impart knowledge to all people Mother is worshipped in the form of Vidya and as books. Implements of machinery, every sort of Ayudha that help to keep life going upon earth, are also worshipped on Ayudha Puja day. The conception of the Motherhood of God in its aspect as the preserving and life-sustaining form is thus practically demonstrated in the Hindu society in these various ways.
Goddess Lakshmi is often depicted with two white elephants pouring water. This form of Goddess Lakshmi is known as Gajalakshmi. In some images four elephants are shown pouring water on Goddess Mahalakshmi. The four elephants are symbols of Kama (desire), the water may be to cool the “passions.” I don’t know. I just love the photos of the Goddess.