Lakshmipujan is celebrated on Ashwin amavasya (new moon day) at the time of Diwali. Lakshmi is the Goddess of Prosperity, the objective being that she brings in prosperity to our homes n businesses. If we see Goddess Lakshmi today, she appears to be sitting atop a lotus, decked up with jewellery, and with four hands – the top two hands holding lotuses while the other two hands have coins pouring from them. On both her sides are elephants, holding lotuses or garlands in their trunks.
Ever wondered ‘how Lakshmi was represented in the ancient times?’ If you have ever wanted to know more about that, you may need to seek help from coins. Coins speak. You only need to know their language. Coins can help us trace the changing visual representations of Lakshmi, and know more about the period they were minted in. They also help us observe the changes over the years, for coins, once minted, cannot be changed; thus making for more trustworthy evidences of history than any other source.
Before we turn to talking about coins, it may be helpful to trace the forms of certain gods that were represented during the Mauryan era (324 BC to 187 BC) and the Shunga era (187 BC to 75 BC). On one of the terracotta discs discovered dating from the Mauryan period, a female form is seen, adorned with a decorative waistband [Mekhala]and wearing a headdress. She stands atop a lotus. Terracotta seals found in ancient north – western India (earlier known as Gandhar Pradhesh, this part is now a part of Pakistan) that date back to the Shunga era are also seen to bear the female form. These have also been accessorized with waistbands and headdresses.In addition, they seem to have ‘Ashtamangal Chinhe’ (eight auspicious symbols) imprinted upon their heads [the LOTUS, ‘TRIRATNA’, the CONCH and sometimes also an ‘ASTAMANGAL MALA’ (auspicious necklace). ]Coins are seen to be pouring down from her hands. This is the Goddesses of Prosperity.
The Bharuth stupa dating back to the Shunga period has the Gajalakshmi upon it. The Gajalakshmi stands atop the lotus which is placed over a ‘Kalash’ (urn). Two elephants also upon lotuses flank her and anoint her with water.
The sculpture on the TORANA (enterence) and the VEDIKA (surrounding wall of Stupa) on this stupa is significant in many respects.Artwork of these sculptures are excellent,but besides that content is more important. To feature important events in life of Gautam Budha without engraving his idol(as then norms did not allow engraving of Gautam Buddha ), was most difficult task.Artists took help of ancient symbolism and thus GAJLAXMI sculpture was created..
Each of these elements is an indicator . Goddess is earth..The elephant is the anointing of the cloud .Abhisheka is rain. When the rain falls on the earth, new creations emerge. The birth of the child of Maya Devi is the origin of the new creation. The lotus is also meaningful. Clean spontaneously after a rain. The birth of Gautama is the invention of a pure, clean and eternal essence.These symbols used for the birth of Buddha become symbols of prosperity on coins of the future. Symbols remain same ,but meanings change. There are ‘changes’ in the flow of time
The Indo – Scythian rulers’ era, dating back to around 55 BC, have silver coins that also feature the Gajalakshmi. This coin is minted by Indo Scythian ruler Azilizes .His coins have been minted as per the Indo – Greek patterns.But on front side they have King on Horse instead of King’s face.On back side featured ‘GAJLAXMI’. She stands amidst two lotuses with tall stems. Upon those lotuses are elephants, who flank her and anoint her with water. (On the Indo – Scythian’s coins, Greek goddesses are also seen.)
Out of the many ‘Janarajya’ (tribes) that arose in northern India after the Mauryan period, silver coins only from the Kunind region have been recovered. These coins have been minted as per the Indo – Greek patterns and weights. On one face of the coin, Goddess Lakshmi is seen standing in front of a deer, surrounding them are a lot of small symbols [SHRIVATSA etc.]and text in Brahmi script, that reads –
राज्ञ : कुणिदस्य अमोघभूतिस्य महाराजस्य
Coins from Kuninda can be found right from Kulu in Himachal Pradesh to the Almora -Kashipur region in Uttaranchal as well as in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.Tolemi says -‘Binas,Satlaj,Yamuna these rivers originated from Kuninda region.’
Ardoksho : This is an Iranian goddess, who is the daughter of Ahur Mazd. She is said to be the goddess of prosperity. The couple – Ardoksho and Pharaho – is found on a lot of artefacts. Ardoksho holds the cornucopia. This multi – seeded fruit is considered to be the symbol of creation. During the Krushan era (approximately the 1st and 2nd century AD), nine forms of the Ardoksho have been printed upon coins that were minted during the period of King Huvishaka. These coins were discovered at the Bodhgaya stupa.
The Gupta era (from 4th to 6th century AD) is considered to be the golden period of Indian history. Just like the Greek coins, the coins minted during the Gupta dynasty have been sculpted to be works of art. These gold coins weigh approximately 10 to 12 grams. On one face of the coins, the king was featured while the reverse of the coins bore the images of various Gods and Goddesses. The changing forms of Ardoksho and Lakshmi can be traced through these coins.
On the earlier Gupta coins, a representation of Ardoksho features on the reverse of the coin, holding the cornucopia. On the coins that followed, the reverse of the coin features either the Durga riding the lion, or the Lakshmi standing atop the lotus. Instead of the cornucopia, however, Lakshmi is seen to be holding the lotus. Sometimes, she is seen to be holding a noose in one hand and the lotus in the other. The ‘Dhanurdhar Chap Naani’ (archer seal coins) belonging to Kumar Gupta – I bear the image of Lakshmi upon the lotus, holding the noose in her right hand and the lotus in her left. On some coins, it is also seen that the Goddess is generously dispensing coins upon the ground, thus symbolizing that prosperity abounds.
Time flows. Cultures constantly influence and mix with each other. The same happens with symbolism. If the symbols are known, it is easy to apply them within context. Symbols like the lotus, sun, moon, elephant, etc. have been mentioned in the ‘Shri Sukta’. They represent prosperity. The cornucopia seen in the hands of Ardoksho symbolizes creation or conception.
According to researchers, the Gajalakshmi holds the following symbols :
- Hatthi – hasti (hands) = Arising from the hands of Lord Brahma
- Padmin (lotus) = Arising from the lotus
- The relationship of the “elephants from the skies” (Airavat) is with water
- Airavat (created from River Ira) = related to Lord Indra
- Lakshmi indicates the earth, and thus related to Vishnu
- Both Gods are concerned with the preservation of the earth
Symbols may keep on changing, but the core principles remain the same.
Author: Pratima Durugkar
Translated by: Shivani Kanetkar