Sri in Rig-Veda
1.1. The term Sri in Rig-Veda was used to portray the highly desirable virtues such as radiance, splendor, (divine) beauty, fortune, prosperity, abundance, bliss, happiness, welfare, possession of desired objects etc. Sri, in general (visva – sri), represented all the beautiful and resplendent aspects; happy conditions; and desirable possessions that one aspires for in life. Sri, however, was not, originally, the name of a goddess.
1.2. The attribute of Sri was often used to describe the glory and divine qualities of gods such as Agni, Pushan, Indra, Soma, Rudra and the goddess Ushas. For instance; while describing the radiance of Agni, it was said: your glory (sriyo) is like the lightening in rainy-clouds (tava sriyo varsha-asyeva vidyuth: RV .10.91.5). And, again, Agni displaying his glories (sriyamavah: RV: 2.10.1) ‘is the Lord among the gods, having all the glories (sriyo): ayam visva abhi sriyo Agnirdeveshu pratyate (RV: 8.102.9). Rudra is said to have been born as the chief- of – all by the virtue of his Sri (sreshto jatasya Rudra sriyasi: RV: 2.33.3). In Inrda, rests all the glories (yasmin visva adhi sriyah: RV: 8.92.20). And, as regards the splendor and radiance of Ushas the goddess of dawn, it was said ‘the radiant Ushas has risen up ushering in glory and brightness (ud u sriya Ushaso rochamana: RV: 6.64.1).
Sri in Brahmanas
2.1. Sri as the goddess perhaps first appears in Satapatha Brahmana (SB: 184.108.40.206-8; 220.127.116.11). Here, Sri is described the as resplendent (dipayamana) and shimmering (bhrajamana) goddess; daughter of Prajapathi. And, she was assigned a position of eminence among goddesses. The other gods take from Sri and gift back to her various powers and virtues, such as: anna, rajya, rastra, samrajya, kshatra, bala, brahmavarchas, bhaga, pusti and rupa. Since then, the presence Sri and her activities manifest in these spheres of beauty, prosperity, virtue and power.
2.2. And, Sri, as a goddess, is mentioned more regularly, thereafter, in Vedic texts; and is identified with earth, abundance of food, cattle- wealth, Viraj*, Soma and the gods.
[*Viraj as a female principle is closer to Sri than others (srir vai virat). Viraj is the wife of Purusha; so too is Sri. In the later mythologies when Purusha – Prajapathi – Narayana all merge into Vishnu, Sri is the consort of Vishnu (Vishnu patni).The term Vishnu patni was earlier used for Srinivali and Aditi.
Of the two consorts of Purusha – Sri and Lakshmi – the latter was, at times, replaced by Hri. In the Vedic texts, Hri represents the virtue of modesty.]
Sri and Lakshmi
3.1. However, Sri and Lakshmi are treated separate (not as one) in the Brahmanas.
3.2. The phrase ‘bhadra – lakshmi’ appears in the tenth mandala of Rig-Veda, to mean an auspicious imprint (nihita) upon the speech (Vac) of the wise (bhadraisham lakshmir-nihita-adhi vachi: RV: 10.71.2). But, Lakshmi is mentioned as a personified auspicious (punya) goddess in Atharva Veda (1.18) who drives away evil spirits (papi) of misfortune and wickedness (a-lakshmi); and ushers in security (fearless-ness- Abhaya) and prosperity (Abhi-vruddi). Thus, two distinct forms of Lakshmi are mentioned: the auspicious and the foul. But, over a time the fiendish aspects got erased; and the auspicious aspects gained ascendency; celebrating the victory of the glorious Lakshmi over evil natures.
3.3. Sri and Lakshmi appear as distinct goddesses, at the earliest, in Vajasaneyi Samhita of Shukla Yajurveda, where they are called the consorts of Purusha. But, not much is discussed about them.
3.4. In the Upanishads, Sri and Lakshmi who were earlier distinct, become synonyms, tend to merge and finally become one. Their worship together is formalized in the hymn Srisukta, which in fact, is an appendix or supplement (khila) to the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda. The Khila portions of Rig-Veda are considered as addendums or latter inclusions into the Vedic texts, when the gods and goddess tended to become personified.
3.5. Srisukta establishes the identity of Sri and Lakshmi as two names of a single divinity. She is the antithesis of Jyeshtha A-lakshmi representing hunger (a-samrddhi), thirst, impurity depravity, and decay (a-bhuti).
In this context, there is a mention of the six types of miseries or six waves of disturbances (shad-urmi) that afflict human life. They are: hunger (kshuda); thirst (pipasa); agony of grief (shoka – mano vyadha); delusion (moha); old age or decay (jara); and, death (marana).
These miseries are attributed to the evil influence of three types of A-lakshmis. Of these, the first two (hunger and thirst) are caused by Jyeshta, the elder A-Lakshmi. The next two (grief and delusion) are said to be caused by Madhyama, the middle or the second A-Lakshmi. And, the other two miseries (decay and death) are said to be caused by Kanishta the least or the third A-Lakshmi. All these A-Lakshmis hinder life and its progress.
The A-lakshmi , in whatever type or form, causing internal (antara) and external (bahya) misery should be driven away . The worshipper , therefore, takes refuge in the protection of the auspicious and gracious goddess Sri.
Sri in Srisukta
4.1. Sri in Srisukta is not portrayed in the limited sense of the consort of Vishnu (Vishnu patni) or the goddess of wealth. Sri, here, is the Supreme Mother Goddess (devim mataram sriyam), the supreme ruler of all creation (Ishvari sarvabhutanam), beyond any flaw (durdharsha) and revered by all gods (deva-jushta).
4.2. The Great Goddess Sri sustains all existence. She is jagad–dhatri (adhara-bhutah jagatah tva-me-va); the Shakthi that supports Agni, Surya and all the gods. She is Narayani and Trayambika too. Durga-saptashati adores the Great Goddess Devi as Sri who rules over the Universe (tvam Sri, tvam Eshwari).
4.3. Sri, indeed, is Agni the all-knowing Jata-vedasa who resides in the hearts of the Yogis as the blazing pillar (agni-sthambha) of consciousness. Sri is Atma-vidya, Maha-vidya and Guhya-vidya the summit of spiritual attainment.
4.4. Tantra regards Sri as a tattva the principle that is beyond any known identity (Brahmarupini). She is Purusha and Prakrti too (prakrti–purushatmakam–jagat). She is vishwa-matruka the origin of all existence (yoshith Purusha rupena sphurantee vishwa-matruka).
5.1. As said; Sri is Brahmarupini, and her glory is beyond description. And, yet, for worship-purposes, Sri is represented as a radiant goddess glowing like burnished gold (tapta kanchana sannibha), seated on a lotus in full bloom, holding lotus flowers and adorned with rich and sparkling ornaments.
Thus, Srisukta is revered as the approach to Saguna Brahman visualized as the auspicious Sri, the very epitome of beauty, grace, magnificence and prosperity manifest in all creation.
5.2. Srisukta describes Sri as the most glorious goddess, radiant as Agni, Chandra and the sun; lustrous as gold; richly ornamented; and, regal in bearing. She is generous, kind-hearted, having infinite patience and boundless love towards all. She drives away hunger, poverty and ignorance; and ushers in light, beauty, prosperity and all the precious virtues of life.
5.3. Her bodily form is described as shining brightly (jvalanthi), refulgent (prabhasa) like that of the gold (hiranya-varna), the lotus (padma-varna) or the sun (aditya-varna). She is golden (hiranyayi), decked with lotus – garland (padma-malini) and gold necklaces (hema-malini); and adorned with precious ornaments (suvarna-rajatha-srajam).
Lakshmi’s association with gold that shines signifies purity (pavitram vai hiranyam) and brilliance.
6.1. Sri is said to be radiant as the burnished gold .The phrase hiranya-prakara indicates her form as gold or encircled by gold. Sri’s special association with gold is expressed through several other phrases: hiranya-varna; hiranya-mayi; hiranya–prakara; hema-malini; svarna-rajatha–sraja; sauvarna. Among other things, she is requested to give gold.
6.2. Sri is also addressed as Chandra; bright (Chandrah chandate), mellow and the beauteous as the moon that delights the hearts of all (sakala jana-ahlada–karini).
6.3. Her tree is bilva (vanaspathi-stava-vriksho-tava-bilva) which effectively drives away A-lakshmi. Tantra regards Bilva vriksha as the form of Lakshmi (Lakshmi swarupa); and, its fruit as Sri-phala, the fruit of Sri. According to a narration in Kalika Purana, Sri performed penance amidst the Bilva trees; and, because of her grace (anugraha) the Bilva fruits acquired unique medicinal properties. There is a faith that Lakshmi resides in Bilva tree; and the worship with Bilva-leaves is dearer to her, and hence to Vishnu.
6.4. The primary symbol of Sri is lotus. In the Indian texts, lotus symbolizes several desirable virtues: purity, beauty, the very essence of life, spiritual power, fertility and growth. The Tantra regards lotus as a symbol of created universe. And, Sri is all of those auspicious signs (lakshana). Sri is Padmini (a variant of padmanemi, meaning holding a lotus) and pushkarini (pushkara meaning lotus) . Lotus, again, is her seat (padma-sthitha). And, her complexion glows like that of lotus (padma-varna).
6.5. It is said; goddess Sri delights in the sounds of trumpeting elephants (hasti-nada-pramodini). Her Gajalakshmi form is shown with pair of elephants pouring water over her head. The phrase ardram–pushkarnim–pusta suggests sprinkling of water through lotus flowers. In the Indian texts, elephants are symbols of royalty, majesty and power. They also suggest water-bearing clouds, pools of water and rain. Sri thus, aptly, is the goddess of abundance and fertility.
6.6. The goddess is called ardra, krishini; and staying in mire (kardama) and wet soil (chiklita). All these terms strengthen her association with food and water (apah srajanti snigdhani chilita).
Sri is the guardian deity of agriculturists; and is associated with agricultural prosperity. The goddess is called krishini, ardra; and, she is said to be staying in wet soil. The terms: ardra (moist), kardama (mud) and chiklita (fertile soil) are all indicative of her association with fertility, prosperity and growth. They also strengthen her association with food and water (apah srajanti snigdhani chilita).
6.7. The association of Sri with Cows and its products that are helpful in producing abundant harvest is mentioned in other texts too. For instance; Maitrayani Samhita mentions that the other name for cow-pen is Lakshmi (goshtho vai namaisha lakshmih: MS: 4.2.1). And, Satapatha Brahmana states that one who has attained Sri (prosperity) is known as purishya, having plenty of cow-manure (purishya iti vat tamahuryah sriyam gachchhati; SB: 2.1.7)
7.1. Jatavedasa Agni is repeatedly requested to cause the goddess come to the worshiper . The epithet anapa-gamini suggests her fleeting nature (chanchala).
7.2. The worshipper prays to Sri for stay in the house abounding with agricultural wealth. He prays to Sri to grant him with cows, food, wealth, prosperity, truthfulness in speech as also fame and fulfillment of all desires.
8.1. Sukta in the Vedic context is a bunch of hymns (riks). A collection of Suktas is a Mandala (a Book or a Chapter). The Rig-Veda is made of 10,522 riks, grouped into 1,028 Suktas, spread over ten Books (mandala).
8.2. The term Sukta is also understood as well–articulated statements (shustu-uktam). The Suktas, generally, are not given titles; but, at times, they are identified and known by the names of the deities which they address. For instance; the Sukta commencing with the words ‘aham rudrebhihi’ is celebrated as Devi-sukta (RV: 10.125); the one commencing with ‘ato deva avantu no’ as Vishnu–sukta (RV: 1.22.16) ; and the one commencing with ‘hiranya-varnam ‘ as Sri-Sukta .There also instances where a Sukta is known by its commencing words. For instance; the 52 riks appearing in the First Book of Rig-Veda and commencing with the words ‘ asya vamasya palitasya h0tuh’ , attributed to Sage Dirghatamas is known as Asya Vamiya Sukta.
8.3. The celebrated Srisukta that is recited with joy and reverence on all auspicious occasions, originally, occurs in the supplement (khila) appended to the fifth mandala of Rig-Veda . It is placed between the end of the fifth mandala and the beginning of the sixth mandala. There are a number of sets of mantras in this Khila : a set of five mantras commencing with words ‘athe garbho’; followed by a set of five mantras commencing with words ‘agnai-raithu’ and another set of fifteen mantras commencing with words ‘hiranya varnam harinim’.
9.1. The last mentioned set of fifteen mantras is renowned as ‘Srisukta’. The mantras are, in fact, addressed to Agni (jatha-vedasa). But , since the mantras pray for the glory (Sri) , the radiance, the wealth and the beautiful aspects of life , they have customarily come to be associated Lakshmi the Goddess of beauty and wealth.
9.2. The term Sri is derived from the root `Shriy‘ which suggests the refuge of all (sreeyate sarvai iti Sreehi). Sri is also Lakshmi the sign or the index (lanchana) of beauty, grace and wealth in all creation. Lakshmi is also a mark of energy (chaitanya) and excellence (vibhuti) that enriches life. The Devi dwells in the Universe as Lakshmi (ya Devi sarva bhooteshu lakshmi roopena samsthitaa).
9.3. The fifteen riks or mantras (pancha-dasharcha) of the Srisukta, when recited during worship-sequences are usually followed by another twelve (or thirteen) prayer-verses, three slokas of mythological nature; and concluded with the recitation of Lakshmi–Gayatri. But, it is only the first fifteen mantras from Rig-Veda that are regarded as riks; and, commentaries on Srisukta by various Acharyas are also confined to these riks.
10.1. Each of these fifteen riks is regarded a mantra in its own right. That is, in the sense, each mantra is associated with a Devata, the deity that resides in the mantra (thus, the mantra is Devata, and the Devata is its mantra); each mantra is ascribed to a Rishi who envisioned it; and, each mantra is composed in a particular Chhandas (metrical form).The fifteen riks together, in their integrated form , are also called Samasti-sukta.
10.2. The Devatas of the Samasti-sukta aretwo: Agni (Jatavedasa) and Sri (Lakshmi).The two are together addressed as ‘Srir-Agnir-Devata’. The composition of the fifteen riks is ascribed to four Rishis: Ananda, Chaklitha, Kardama and Sreeda (or Indira). As regards their Chhandas: The first three mantras are set in Anustub-chhandas; the fourth in Bruihati-chhandas; the fifth and sixth in Tristub-chhandas; and the last (fifteenth) in a prose-like rendering called Prasa-pankthi. And, the rest of the mantras (7th to 14th) are set in Anustub-chhandas.
11.1. Every mantra-structure is characterized by three components: Bija, Shakthi and Kilaka. It is said; these three components balance the power in mantra and the benefit (viniyoga) that one seeks from it.
:- Bija is the seed-phrase or significant series of words with which the mantra commences. It is the root-sound or the keynote which harmonizes the mantra. Sometimes, it is taken to express the essence of the mantra.
:- Shakthi is the power that carries within its womb the esoteric (adyathmika) import or the significance latent in the mantra. It is indeed is the ‘consciousness’ of the mantra that transports (trayate) the mind (mana) of the worshipper to its Devatha.
:- Kilaka is the pillar or the pin or the peg which supports and holds together the structure of the mantra. It is also said the worshipper should fasten his faith (sraddha) to this plug (Kilaka); and stay steadfast as he repeats (japa) the mantra.
As regards Srisukta (taken as Samasti : all the fifteen mantras taken together as a unit) , its opening line ‘Hiranya varnám ‘ is its Bija; the second mantra commencing with ‘Tám ma ávaha játavedo’ is its Shakthi ; and , the phrases occurring towards the later part of the seventh mantra ‘kírtim riddhim dadátu me‘ is its Kilaka. (Śrīm Beejam ; Hrīm Shakthih; Klīm kilakam)
[It is also said; each of the fifteen verses, which is a mantra, has its own Bija, Shakthi, Kilaka and Dhyana-sloka. And, each verse has its own Devatha/s. Let’s see those, later, as we come to each sloka.]
11.2 The Dhyana-sloka of Samasti-sukta is
Arunakamalastham tadrujah-punjavarna I Karakamaladhrute ashtabhitiyugmam ambujah
Manimakutavichitralamkritih padmamala I Bhavatu Bhuvanamata santatam Sreeh Sreeyai namah II
Sri , here , is personified as the goddess seated on a red lotus covered with the pollen of red-lotus and glowing with red-lotus complexion . In her either hands , she holds lotus flowers; and , with her other two hands , she bestows prosperity (varada-mudra) and gestures her protection(abhaya –mudra). She is adorned with radiant crown and garland of fragrant fresh lotus flowers. I submit (namah) to the Mother of Universe (Bhuvana mata) and the cause of abundance in prosperity in all existence (santatam sreeh sreehaih) .
Let’s briefly, talk about each of the fifteen mantras of Srisukta in the next two parts.
Reference and sources
Goddesses in Ancient India by PK Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)
Srisukta (in Kannada) by Prof SK Ramachanra Rao; Published by SAKSI (2209)
Pictures are from Internet and from paintings of Shri GLN Simha of Mysore
Continued in Part Two