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Kamala (“she of the lotus”), is the last in the list of the Ten Mahavidyas (great revelations or manifestations), who are a group of Tantric goddesses. Kamala’s place as the last of the Mahavidyas is not addressed in the literature. Although it may be taken as signifying a lesser importance than the others, Kamala is one of the most widely worshipped outside of her relationship with the Mahavidyas.


The Ten Mahavidyas with Yantras

She is portrayed as auspicious and beautiful, with a lovely golden complexion. She is seated in a lotus posture upon a lotus flower. She has four hands—two holding lotuses and two held in signs of granting blessings and giving assurance. Iconography of Kamala illustrates her being bathed in nectar by two (sometimes four) large elephants. Kamala is represented in a similar manner to the very popular goddess Sri-Lakshmi, as Kamala and Sri Lakshmi are considered to be the same goddess.


Goddess Lakshmi as Kamala Seated on Throne with Prabhavali

For the uninitiated, like any deity, there are many fables and legends about her, but the most notable is the story of her rebirth and how the gods got their immortality, known as The Churning of the Milky Ocean. The story goes that the warrior god Indra was tasked with protecting the world from demons that had long sought to destroy it and with Lakshmi’s help he did so successfully for many years. One day, he was gifted a garland of sacred flowers by a wise sage, displeased by the gift Indra threw the flowers away in a show of arrogance. Lakshmi who had been observing this interaction was angered by his arrogance and rudeness and decided to leave the world of the god and enter into the Milky Ocean as punishment. Without her power as the goddess of success and fortune, the gods were no longer blessed and demon started seeping into the world, everything grew darker, people greedier and the gods were ignored. As time went on the gods began to lose their power. Indra came to Vishnu and begged for his help. Vishnu instructed Indra that he and the other gods must churn the Milky Ocean to return Lakshmi to the surface and gain her favour again. In the Ocean’s depth also lay many treasures, such as the elixir of life and a potion to bestow immortality. These would all help them to rid the world of demons and restore balance. For over 1,000 years the gods worked together to churn the ocean for Lakshmi and the treasure with little luck. Finally, Lakshmi arose to the surface as a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower along with all the treasure they had sought. With her help and power, the gods were able to finally defeated the demons that had infested our world and push them back into darkness.


Vishnu-Lakshmi In The Glory Of Their Togetherness

The image of Lakshmi is heavy in divine symbolism she is typically depicted either sitting or standing on a lotus flower and holds two lotus flowers in two of her four hands. The lotus is a symbol of purity and self-realisation and is often seen throughout Hindu art. They are known to be able to grow in both clean and dirty water, in many cultures they symbolise how good can flourish in evil and not be tainted. Like many Hindu Gods and Goddesses, she is shown as having multiple arms, these arms represent the four traits in humanity that Hinduism strives to achieve. Dharma (the pursuit of an ethical and moral life), Kama (emotional fulfilment and love), Moksha (the quest for self-knowledge and freedom) and Artha (achievement of wealth and prosperity).

In early literature, Kamala is referred to as Sri (Glory). She is associated with positive and auspicious qualities such as royal power, wealth, beauty, and fertility. Sri is associated with the lotus and the elephant, important aspects of her character throughout the literature. The elephants are thought to be symbolic of fertility and royal authority. The significance of the lotus is twofold. First, the lotus symbolizes life, fertility, and the entire created order of the cosmos. Secondly, the lotus symbolizes spiritual purity, power, and authority. Lotus flowers are rooted in mud, yet bloom uncontaminated above the water. Thus, Sri is seen as a pure life force, which transcends the material world, while remaining rooted inside it.


16" Brass Goddess Lakshmi with Inlay Work | Handmade

Although Sri may have at one point been an independent personality, she became more consistently known as Lakshmi (Grace) fairly early in her history. Sri-Lakshmi is associated with several male figures throughout the literature. Some texts refer to her as the wife of Dharma, who is responsible for the maintenance of social order (dharma). Other texts emphasize her relationship with Indra, signifying royal authority, fertility, and prosperity. Indra’s kingly power, dominance, and success are said to be dependent on Sri-Lakshmi, and in her absence, the king cannot flourish. In some texts, Sri-Laksmi accompanies the god Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, who is associated with growth and fertility.

Most importantly, Sri-Lakshmi is thought to be the wife of the god Vishnu. Vishnu is often depicted as a divine king, associated with the promotion of dharma. Followers of Vishnu seek to maintain social order. Hindu myths suggest that Lakshmi is revealed, among other desirable objects and beings, when the gods and demons, seeking the elixir of immortality, churn the milky sea. She is thereby granted to Vishnu, the leader of the gods (in this myth). Lakshmi’s presence with Vishnu allows for the security of royal authority; in her absence, royal authority weakens and deteriorates. When illustrated with Vishnu, Lakshmi is typically shown with two hands, rather than four. In association with Vishnu, iconography of Lakshmi also depicts her partaking in domestic chores, such as cooking and cleaning. She is often pictured massaging the feet of Vishnu, and is shown to be much smaller than him. In this sense, she is portrayed as submissive to her husband, as his modest, passive, and loving wife.


In Exact Adherence to Goddess Lakshmi’s Classical Iconography (Large Size)

The view of Sri-Lakshmi’s passivity differs between schools of thought in Hinduism (Kinsley 1998). In the Pancaratra school of thought, Lakshmi plays an active role alongside Vishnu in maintaining the balance of the cosmos. She takes over many of Vishnu’s roles as creator of the universe and regulator of dharma. In the Sri-Vaishnava school of thought, Sri-Lakshmi has a less significant cosmological role, but plays the role of indulgent and forgiving mediator between Vishnu and his devotees. Lakshmi has a large following of worshippers, and she is well-known throughout Hindu culture (Kinsley 1998). There are several annual festivals in the Hindu tradition that are dedicated to the worship of Lakshmi. She is worshipped by those seeking wealth, prosperity, good luck, and fertility. Merchants worship their account books to encourage Lakshmi to reside within them. Farmers worship their crops to promote Lakshmi’s presence. Cow dung is also worshipped as a symbol of Lakshmi’s powers of fecundity. Worship of Lakshmi is thought to drive away bad luck and misfortune, associated with her inauspicious counterpart, Lakshmi.


Methods of Worshipping Goddess Lakshmi

Less significant to Sri-Lakshmi’s following is her role as Kamala among the Ten Mahavidyas. The Ten Mahavidyas include an eclectic array of characters, ranging from fierce goddesses like Kali and Tara, who are associated with images of severed heads and corpses, to goddesses with more benign and desirable qualities, such as Kamala. The Mahavidyas are portrayed both individually and as a group in many goddess temples across Northern India. There are many myths regarding the significance and origins of the Mahavidyas. The most common understanding is that the Mahavidyas are distinct manifestations of the same goddess. Oral and literary accounts describe the story of the goddess Sati. The king Daksa, Sati’s father, does not invite Sati’s husband, Shiva, to his Vedic ritual. Shiva forbids Sati from attending the ritual, and Sati, furious with her husband, becomes the ten Mahavidyas to show Shiva her power. The Mahavidyas, surrounding Shiva, frighten him so that Sati may get her way. The fear-inspiring Mahavidyas cause Shiva to flee, allowing Sati to attend her father’s ritual.

Despite the lack of definite consensus on the origins of the Mahavidyas, many descriptions of their characteristics are consistent across origin myths. The Mahavidyas are frightening, they possess magical powers, and they are dominant to male characters. It has also been suggested that the Mahavidyas serve to maintain dharma, or the cosmological order of the world. Many interrelationships between the Mahavidyas have been suggested, including their representation as sisters; forms of great goddesses; stages of life, consciousness, creation and destruction; and the lunar phases.

The Mahavidyas are worshipped in temples, or in Tantric fashion. During temple worship, rituals are performed by priests, and people may join in public worship of the goddesses. Many of the more inauspicious Mahavidyas accept blood offerings, given in the form of animal sacrifice, in addition to offerings of flowers, incense, and fruit. Worship of the Mahavidyas in temples involves conceptualization of these goddesses as existing outside, above, or beyond the worshipper, similar to the worship of other Hindu deities. During Tantric worship, the mantra of an individual goddess is recited repeatedly, in combination with specific hand gestures, offerings, and other details. Kamala is among the few Mahavidyas to have several temples across India dedicated to her as an individual goddess, as she is most often worshipped as Sri-Lakshmi. In the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is recognizable as Sri-Lakshmi; however, there are significant differences in her character. In many ways, Lakshmi’s qualities appear to be altered in order to make her a better fit for the Mahavidyas. As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala remains a symbol of beauty and prosperity. She is generally still flanked by elephants, who symbolize sovereignty and fertility, maintaining Lakshmi’s association with these qualities. Similarly, her consistent association with the lotus maintains her representation of creative consciousness and ritual purity.


Mahavidya Kamala with Her Yantra

Differing from her portrayal as Sri-Lakshmi, in the context of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is notably independent from Vishnu and other male characters. She is often depicted as seated on a lotus alone, with neither Vishnu nor elephants by her side. This greatly contrasts with the way Lakshmi is depicted with Vishnu, emphasizing the role of the Mahavidyas as independent goddesses, separate from (or dominant to) male characters. As a part of the Mahavidyas, Kamala is separated completely from marital and domestic contexts. In addition to her auspicious and desirable qualities, Kamala is also given more fear-inspiring qualities when she is associated with the Mahavidyas. For example, Kamala’s role as a demon slayer is not portrayed outside of the context of the Mahavidyas. Lakshmi is associated with others who slay demons; however, it is only in association with the Mahavidyas that she herself performs any slaying. Kamala’s association with more fierce qualities illustrates the tailoring of Lakshmi’s character to meet the fearfulness of the Mahavidyas.

Kamala can be termed as the most benign and benevolent form of the Goddess. She is none other than Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. As Kamala, she remains one of the manifestations of Kali, the fierce form of divine Shakti, who is also known in many other names such as ParvatiDurga and Bhagavathi.

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