Lakshmi, the goddes of wealth

When Lakshmi flows

Indian Mythology 11 Comments


Lakshmi, the goddes of wealth

Published in Time of India – Chennai, Oct 16, 2010

Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. One of her many names is, Chanchala, the restless and whimsical one, who does not like to stay in one place. She loves to move around and so people are advised not to keep images of her in the house where she is shown standing; she may feel unwelcome and she may leave. So in traditional images she is always shown seated comfortably on a lotus.

The whole point of this rather visual characterization is to inform people that wealth loves to move. The value of wealth emerges only when it exchanges hands. Lakshmi’s symbol is her foot print and it is always drawn pointing into the house. The idea being to align the restless and mobile nature of the goddess with our own desire to see fortune favor us.

Realizing the criticality of Lakshmi’s movement, rituals were created to encourage the flow of wealth in society. Typically, on festival days people were advised to wear new clothes. New clothes meant income for the weaver which in turn meant income for dyers, spinners and farmers who grew the cotton and silk. People were also encouraged to break old pots and buy new pots in festival time thereby boosting the income of potters and the economy. In festivals like Dhanteras, people are encouraged to buy metal, especially iron and gold which in turn helped metal smiths and miners.Another important ritual was the exchange of gifts, especially food items, either prepared at home or bought from the sweet shop and shared with friends and neighbors. During festival time, the arts were encouraged thereby providing livelihood to artists. Musicians, dancers, singers, street performers were invited by landlords to entertain the village.

Wealth moved in three ways – Bhiksha, Daksina and Daan. Bhiksha was the lowest form where someone had to ask for it. Daksina was a service fee, commonly associated with priests, but also given to other service-providers. From this has come the practice of Bakshish. The best way to allow wealth to move was Daan, to give away wealth freely, voluntarily and generously. During festival time, all three forms of exchange were encouraged: Bhiksha to beggars, Daksina to priests and tradesmen, and Daan to everyone around.

The ancient Vedic yagna could be seen an elaborate method to boost movement of Lakshmi. It was at this ceremony that wealth exchanged hands. The potters provided the bricks, the woodcutters provided the wood, the farmers provided the grain and the cotton, the herdsmen provided the milk and the ghee, the weavers provided the cloth, the carpenters provided the wooden implements. At the end of the ritual, everyone, including the Brahmin, got the gifts of the ceremony. And the patron ensured everyone left happy with grain and cloth and pots of ghee.

As society evolved, the place where Lakshmi exchanged hands was the market place and the fairs. The fair was a temporary market place that moved from place to place, establishing itself during festival time, catering to the needs of devotees and pilgrims. In fact, India’s biggest market places are also India’s biggest pilgrimages, and the peak sales season is invariably festival time, indicating the close association of economy and religious practices.

As one hears the story of Lakshmi and the importance given to new clothes and new vessels in rituals, one cannot help wonder if economy was in the minds of the Rishis when they designed the ceremonies. Lakshmi after all is the lifeblood of society.

  • Tridiv Sardesai

    Looking at the way how Indians are raised to live a life as frugally (not miserly) as possible. I had often come to wonder if the reasons for making people buy new items on festivals was to makes sure that they did not tend to become miserly. This article explains that and more!

  • Sanjay

    Bhiksha, Daksina and Daan.

    Is Bhiksha same as begging ? Beggers are not seen with respect in the modern world (influenced with western thoughts). But at the same time the sadhus and rishi (and even Ram and his brothers as students) in older times used to go for Bhiksha. And yet they are all respectable. Why ? What are we missing here ?


    • Pls see my reply below – Bhiksha is very diff to bakshish.

    • Pankaj

      Bhiksha was to be taken by princes and other students in gurukul as a lesson so that they would not hesitate to take help in time of crisis in later life.Another reason I see is astrological that is during a person’s sade-sati he/she almost becomes a beggar and needs to take help to humble himself,tho not all go thru this and a lot depends on their karmas.And this excercise would be helpful to them later in life when they go thru such periods.

  • Bhiksha is the right of rishis, sadhus and brahmacharis. These three were engaged in studies and spiritual activities, and hence could not work to sustain their lives. Their needs were few and so the house-holder was suppose to provide for them through Bhiksha.

    It was a responsibility though and never a compulsion. If the householder could not provide it, that was fine.

    Not to overburden the householder, there were limits placed on how many houses the bharamachari etc could go to for bhiksha and how long they should wait before moving on.

    Bhiksha is not the same as bakshish, which is more like a “tip” for services provided. You give bakshish to the tour guide or the show-keeper or hotel staff. Bakshish started during muslim rule of India – as evidenced by its middle-eastern origin. It was a payment to the eunuchs and court officials for moving requests up the chain to the ruler. Bakshshis was a kind of a bribe and later became entrenched as a semi-official payment that was required to move any official business through the system.

    During the british rule, this was reduced to being a Tip – and hence reduced from court payments to payment of services.

    • Saraswathi

      Very interesting!

      Amazing Devdutt Ji, very good forum to understand our history and heritage.

      keep up the good work.


  • manoj asnani

    Dear Sir
    Pls enlighten me about the 16 characteristics of Lord Krishna. Thank U n God Bless

  • Abhishek Goel

    Dear Sir,

    What is the reason that in Hindu dharm, touching some elders feet considered as very important and prosperous manner and custom.


    • Priti

      I am not exactly sure but I read soemwhere that since Hinduism is a very symbolic religion and feet are for walking

      1)It meant guide us on the right path as elders have seen the world before us and have experienced right and wron.

      2)Also bending your head and touching feet showed humility and respect for their age and experience and wisdom.

      3)When a wife touches husbands feet,it was symbolic of I will follow you at all circumstances -good ,bad and ugly.Later on this became a a sign of subjugation although initially it was a noble symbol.

      Corrent me anyone if I am wrong.

      • Hitesh

        Adding 1 more instance of kumbkaran….
        When you touch feet of your elders,we must follow them in all manner like sukh, dukh etc. but someone said that don’t take the wrong path to fullfill our dream n being selfish and advise to not follow the same. Kumbhkaran know that ravan is on the path of destory but his duty is to tell ravan about the fact and power of god. He knows time has came to destory Lanka. But in any circumstance he is the real follower of Karma and kartavya.He touches his feet before fight and indirectly show us to follow, love, respect to our elders which is nothing but SANSKAR.

        So please love your elders, Younger s, parents, kids and nature, learn ,opts in daily life.
        God bless every body.

        Dev ji, I think the concept of Wealth is incredible.

        Thanks a lot.
        Hitesh Sharma

        • Hitesh


          Your point are correct. I like that :)