In the beginning, there was water everywhere. There was nothing to eat and nowhere to live.
Prajapati, the divine patriarch, father of the gods and demons saw the plight of his children and invoked Devi.
whispered into his ear, “The earth lies trapped under the water. Raise it up.”
Prajapati took the form of a mighty boar
called Emusha, plunged into the sea and found the earth-goddess Bhoodevi on the ocean floor. Placing her on his snout,
he gently raised her to the surface.
then turned into Akupara, a giant turtle and offered Bhoodevi a seat on his back.
Seated on the
celestial turtle, the earth-goddess nurtured life in her bountiful arms. She offered food and shelter to all.
The devas, gods,
admired her beauty; the asuras, demons, craved her wealth. They fought many a battle over her. Finally, under
the leadership of Bali, the asuras emerged triumphant.
Impressed by Bali’s strength, the
goddess came to him as Shreedevi and crowned him king of the earth. She offered him a throne, a footstool and held a
parasol over his head.
sacred white elephants turned into clouds and sprinkled life-bestowing rain upon the earth, watering fields and pastures so
that crops grew abundantly and cows gave plenty of milk. Everyone was happy with Bali as their king.
Power made Bali
arrogant. He declared, “The earth belongs to me; I can give anyone anything he desires.”
greatly disturbed the earth-goddess. She belonged to no one and certainly not a commodity to be given to away as a gift.
Indra, leader of the devas, meanwhile,
bereft of Shreedevi’s grace had been reduced to poverty. He approached Bali and begged for some land. To
mock him, Bali pointed to Vamana the dwarf and said, “I shall give you as much land as this little one can cover in
three strides.” Vamana was no ordinary dwarf but rather an incarnation of Vishnu the Preserver.
soon as Bali said this, Vishnu began to grow in size, he turned into a giant who strode across and claimed all of Bali’s
Kingdom in two steps. With his third step Vishnu shoved Bali into the nether region.
Vishnu thus wrested control of the earth for the gods.
may lack strength, but they are intelligent. I shall go to them.” So saying, Shreedevi turned away from
Bali and went to the gods. She blessed the gods with ruling majesty, material prosperity, physical health, bodily beauty
and divine fortune.
Angry and bitter in defeat, the demons
rasped, “Shreedevi is Chanchala, the fickle one. Once she favored Bali, now she favors Indra. She is faithful
“That is not true,” said the goddess, “I am eternally faithful to he who does not abuse
had conquered the earth for the gods, let Indra become king. “Don’t you want to be lord of the universe
and enjoy the splendors of the cosmos?” asked Shreedevi.
“I desire nothing. By defeating
the demon Bali, I have done my duty. I seek no reward for it.”
These words of Vishnu pleased
said, “He who takes good care of the earth-goddess Bhoodevi, wins the affection of Shreedevi, goddess of fortune and
becomes king of the cosmos.”
But Indra did
not heed her words. Soon after being crowned king, the leader of the devas, he retired to the pleasure gardens.
There, he drank wine, enjoyed song and dance and neglected his royal duties.
The earth, left ungoverned was plundered.
Bhoodevi’s lamentation fell on deaf ears. This made Shreedevi very angry. She turned
away from Indra.
“Wealth and power corrupted the
demon-king. Now, pleasure and comfort has weakened the god-king. Neither holds on to dharma for long. Neither
deserves my grace.” So saying, the goddess dissolved herself in the ocean of milk.
a gloom descended upon the world: it no longer reverberated with song and dance. Weapons lost their power, gems their
luster, men their vigor. Cows did not give milk, fields became barren, and trees bore neither flower nor fruit.
The cosmos became a desolate place bereft of joy and laughter.
disappearance caused panic in the three worlds.
bring her back,” said the gods.
wondered the demons.
“By churning the ocean of milk,”
With Mandara, king of mountains, as the spindle and Akupara, king of turtles as the base, the devas and
the asuras created the cosmic churn. Using Vasuki, the king of the serpents as the churning rope, they began churning
the ocean of milk.
The churn twisted
and turned, the ocean frothed and fumed, waves roared and spewed foam in every direction. Eons passed. Nothing
emerged. But the gods and demons were determined to bring the goddess back and continued to churn the great ocean.
Pleased by their
efforts, the goddess finally emerged as a Lakshmi, the desirable one, in all her splendor.
Seated on a
dew drenched Lotus, dressed in red silk, bedecked in gold, she was the very embodiment of affluence, abundance and auspiciousness.
As she rose,
rasa, life giving sap, began flowing in every direction. The earth palpated with life. Joy filled the air.
The gods saluted her; the demons sang
songs to her glory.
Sacred elephants who hold up the sky came from the eight quarters of the universe raised their trunks
and consecrated her with life sustaining water.
Along with Lakshmi
rose Alakshmi, the goddess of barrenness and misfortune from the churning of the ocean milk. She was ugly with matted
hair, sunken cheeks, shriveled breasts and coarse limbs.
Said the goddess, “Lakshmi will
dwell where there is nobility and righteousness, cleanliness and beauty, virtue and compassion. Alakshmi will dwell
elsewhere, attracted by sloth, envy greed, lust and pride.”
And so it is that people who wish to keep Alakshmi away keep their houses clean, their
bodies beautiful and their minds pure. With
Lakshmi came a cow called Kamadhenu with enough milk to feed the world for all eternity, a wish fulfilling gem called Chantamani
and a tree called Kalpataru that bore every flower and fruit desirable. In her hand she held the basket of bounty: the
Akshaya Patra overflowing with grain and gold.
appearance from the ocean of milk came Kama the delightful god of pleasure. Riding his parrot surrounded by bees and
butterflies, this handsome god raised his sugarcane bow and shot arrows dripping with desire into the heart of every being.
He roused the senses, excited the mind and inspired the heart.
With Kama came Priti and Rati, goddess
of love and longing and Vasantathe lord of the spring. Wherever they went flowers bloomed bees buzzed to welcome them
with offerings of nectar and pollen.
Behind Lakshmi stood Rambha, the beautiful nymph who knew 64 ways to pleasure the senses and Sura, the
goddess of intoxicants who could soothe tired nerves and enchant the mind with dreams.
Along with Lakshmi
came the six tusked, white skinned elephant, Airavata and the seven-headed flying horse, Ucchaishrava. The gods claimed
the elephant, the demons claimed the horse.
also brought forth a throne, a crown, a footstool, a parasol, a fly-whisk, a cushion, a fan, a bow and a conch. “These
symbols of kingship,” she said, “will go to a worthy being, one who will use power to preserve and protect life.”
them to me,” said Indra the king of gods.
are too obsessed with pleasure,” said Lakshmi.
them to me,” said Bali King of demons.
corrupts you and makes you arrogant.”
someone who would not succumb to the allure of power, pleasure and prosperity; someone strong, wise and virtuous, capable
of using force, charm and guile with discretion to uphold the laws of life.
She chose Vishnu.