Lakshmi's origins are shrouded in controversy and mystery. In Garuda Purana, Linga Purana and Padma Purana, Lakshmi is said to have been born as daughter of the divine sage Bhrigu and his wife Khyati and was named Bhargavi. According to Vishnu Purana, the Universe was created when the Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) churn the cosmic Sea of Milks (Ksheera Sagara). Lakshmi came out of the ocean bearing the Lotus, along with the divine cow Kamadhenu, and the divine tree Parijat. She was accompanied by the Apsaras, the Moon, and Dhanvantari the Celestial Physician with his cauldron of Amrita, the Elixir of immortality. When she appeared, she had a choice to go to the Devas or the Asuras. She chose the Devas, and from among thirty of them, she chose to be with Vishnu. Thereafter, in all three worlds, the lotus-bearing goddess was celebrated with equal veneration.
Marriage to Vishnu
The story of the marriage of Lakshmi and Vishnu starts with Indra – the Lord of the Devas.
Now Indra was a very powerful God. He was the king of the Heaven and the ruler of the other Gods. However all this got into his head. He became arrogant and became disrespectful to others.
Indra had a four tusked, beautiful white elephant called Airavata. Whenever Indra felt like going out of the kingdom, he would occasionally travel on Airavata.
One such time when Indra was traveling on Airavata, he met Sage Durvasa coming from the other side.
Sage Durvasa was a powerful sage. As he was immersed in meditation most of the times, he had enormous yogic powers within him However he had one drawback. Sage Durvasa got angry exceptionally fast and also cursed people often.
Sage Durvasa while traveling the world had found a fragrant garland. The flowers of the garland never faded and remained fresh always. He was carrying the garland with him when he met Indra coming on Airavata.
Sage Durvasa felt that Indra being the King of Gods should be given the garland.
On seeing Sage Durvasa, Indra curtly greeted the Sage without saluting him. In those days, it was customary to salute the wise and learned sages, giving them due respect.
Sage Durvasa however did not get angry at this. He handed over the garland to Indra. "Take the garland Indra. It befits you well."
Indra carelessly took the garland and placed it on Airavatha’s head. The aroma from the garland was so strong that Airavatha took the garland from his head and flung it down.
Looking at the careless manner in which Indra had treated the garland, Sage Durvasa got enraged, "Have you forgotten how to greet people and how to behave when you receive a gift. You insolent…"
Indra had the fright of his life. He suddenly remembered the long list of people whom Sage Durvasa had cursed and reduced them to nothing. He swallowed...Lord of the Gods or not, Sage Durvasa was not someone to be taken lightly.
He hastily got down from Airavata and rushed forward fell on the sage’s feet to prevent the sage from saying anything further. Before the sage could complete his words, Indra cried, "Forgive me Sage. I behaved badly. I should have respected you and…"
Sage Durvasa if anything got more angry and snorted, "Hah!" He blazed, "Now that you know I am going to curse you, you say you are sorry…Am I supposed to believe that you have realized your folly?...'
Sage Durvasa wagged his fingers angrily, with his blood red eyes. His forehead twitched and he raised his hands ominously, 'You have to be taught a lesson. You have grown arrogant and disrespectful. I curse you that you and your Devas will all lose your power and your vigour. You will have no energy and be tired always…"
Indra shook his head, panic stricken and yelled, 'NO!...Please no....Have mercy on me...Please my Lord...Have mercy...'
However the sage's word were powerful. Indra could feel his power being drained. He imagined that the other Devas were also facing the same thing.
Indra knew that he had made a huge error and all his friends were paying for his mistake. He had to set things right. Indra still hugged the sage's feet and begged forgiveness from the sage, "Please Sage Durvasa. Forgive my mistake. Do not give all of us such a harsh punishment…Please..."
But all his pleas fell on deaf ears. Sage Durvasa looked at Indra with blood red eyes, "I will not forgive your mistake…" Sage Durvasa with a stiff upper lip pushed Indra away and walked away, without looking back.
Indra tried talking to the sage again, but he felt his energy ebb away. Try as he might, he could not match the speed of the great Rishi. Though Indra tried following the Sage, he fell unconscious. After some time, Indra woke up to find the sage gone. He was all alone. Indra returned home a dejected man
He called in the council of the other Gods only to find all the other Devas also tired and listless.
Haltingly, Indra explained to the Devas, his encounter with Sage Durvasa. The other Devas were also feeling the effects of the curse. When they came to hear Indra's explanations, the other Devas were panic stricken, wondering what to do.
All the Gods were sitting in the chamber in a subdued and a defeated manner, when a guard suddenly burst inside the room, "Devendra, Devendra… you are needed!" He ran inside breathless and was surprised to find all the Gods sitting listless.
The Gods were too tired to ask what was wrong.
The guard asked Agni what had happened. Agni explained haltingly about what happened. The guard's eyes looked wildly as he looked panic stricken. 'We are doomed...' He whispered softly.
Indra looked sharply at the guard, 'Explain yourself my man. What happened?'
The Guard still looked terrified when he whispered, 'It is the Asuras, sir... they are attacking us....'
The Guard looked at the floor, wondering whether any one would even survive the attack, forget defending themselves.
Indra and his council of Gods looked like they had been petrified. This was bad, very bad. The Devas and the Asuras were forever at war and more often than not, the Devas won because of their superior technology. However now with the Devas feeling so tired, they doubted whether they could even survive the fight let alone win it.
Indra knew it was suicide to even try to defend themselves. However he was left with no choice. In those days, when anyone was challenged to a fight, they had to fight back. It was a matter of honour.
Needless to say, the Devas were routed and most of them fled Devaloka. The Asuras laughed at the Devas calling them cowards and the chief of the Asuras – Bali crowned himself as the King of Devaloka.
The Devas thrown out of their home went to the Creator – Brahma's place – Satyaloka. Tired and unhappy with their defeat at the hands of the Asuras, the Devas were glad to finally reach Brahma's place. They saluted Brahma and told him everything and asked for a way out.
Brahma was flabbergasted. How could Indra behave so arrogantly towards a noble sage? Brahma yelled at Indra, 'How could you, Indra? I had asked you to be patient and wise like a leader. You do not behave like someone you is the King of Devas...' He said his eyes blazing looking at Indra.
Indra was downcast, unhappily, wishing that he had never met Sage Durvasa. He could see now that he had behaved very arrogantly and all the Devas were paying the price for his carelessness.
He fell on the feet of Brahma, 'Father... father, forgive me...I have behaved badly.' He pointed at the other Devas, 'They are also suffering because of my actions. Please father I will do anything to set this right...I will beg Sage Durvasa to take back his curse...' He said a tears coming to his eyes.
Brahma put his hands on Indra's head, realizing that Indra had learnt his lesson. 'Sage Durvasa is not an easy man to talk to. If you attempt to go and talk to him about the curse, he would get angry further...' Indra gulped. He could do without one more curse... Brahma shook his head and sighed, No that would not be the way... there would have to be another way.
Brahma realized that there was no use getting angry at Indra any further and decided to let it go at that. And besides he had other things to worry about.
Brahma was worried about the defeat of the Devas at the hands of the Asuras. The Devas were supposed to look after the natural elements of the world. Who knows what could happen when the Asuras were in charge? He needed to help the Devas and fast, otherwise the future of the entire universe was at stake.
But Brahma was a creator God. He did not know how he could set right his problem. But he knew who could set this right. He looked at the Devas. 'We need to go to Vaikunta, my sons. I am sure Lord Vishnu will solve this problem.'
Saying Brahma got ready to leave for Vaikunta – Lord Vishnu's place. At the mention of Vishnu's name, Indra's eyes sparkled. He knew well about the blue god. He always had a solution to any problem and would help them no matter what.
Much more happier now all the Devas went to Vaikunta and met Vishnu.
Vishnu saw the tired gods accompanied by Lord Brahma and narrowed his eyes, 'Well Indra, What have you done now?'
Indra sighed and fell on his knees, 'Lord, stop teasing me. You know everything that happens anywhere...Please do not shame me any more...' He said dejectedly looking downcast.
Vishnu turned his eyes on Brahma. 'Well, should I forgive him?' He asked pointing at Indra.
Brahma looked at Indra and nodded his head. 'My Lord I think he has learnt his lesson.'
'Ok' Vishnu said letting out a sigh. He had known the entire episode with Sage Durvasa.
Vishnu went to Indra and said with twinkling eyes. 'I cannot help you. Only the Asuras can help you now...'
Indra jerked his head up. The other Gods looked at each other and at Vishnu wondering whether they had heard right. Even Brahma looked a little confused.
'My Lord...' Agni began hesitantly sure that he had heard right.
Vishnu smiled his twinkling eyes again, 'Do you know the secrets that are hidden within our great Ocean...'
All the Gods shook their heads. In those times there was a single ocean running through the entire world. It was a very deep ocean, which had never been explored.
When none of the Gods answered, Vishnu answered the question himself, 'Well a lot of things...' Vishnu smiled blissfully, '...including something to help you...Amrita'
Vayu's eyes widened, 'My Lord, did you say Amrita...?' All the Gods exchanged awe-struck glances. Amrita was the ultimate drink. Anyone who drank Amrita would never die, or age and would become extraordinarily powerful...
Agni looked at Varuna, slowly a hope creeping into his tired eyes. However Indra frowned, 'However my Lord, how can we get the Amrita out of the ocean...And my Lord, why do we need the help of the Asuras...? Why....?'
Vishnu held up his hands, Indra was indeed a good leader, who thought through everything...'Patience my good Indra. The Amrita has to be churned out of the ocean. For that you need a churner. Mount Mandara will be your churner.'
Vayu's eyes grew round – Lifting Mount Mandara on the best of days was impossible. Lifting it in their present condition was going to be impossible.
Indra however understood. They needed the help of the Asuras to break the mountain and take it to the Ocean. However he had another question.
'My Lord,' Indra bowed, 'The rope for churning the ocean?'
Vishnu smiled, 'Ask Vasuki the snake God to be the rope. Promise his share in the nectar, I think he will agree.'
Indra bowed. There was one question which was burning him. He however had no doubt that the Dark God had thought about it.
Agni however asked the question for him, 'My lord, if the Asuras help us, we would have to share the nectar with them, how can we stop them?
Vishnu smiled and gave a mischievous smile. 'I will take care of that.' The finality with which he said it brooked no further arguments. The Gods had no doubt that Lord Vishnu would give them the Amrita.
Lord Vishnu looked at the tired faces of all the Gods and said, 'Henceforth you will not feel as tired as you are now. Though I cannot turn back the curse of the great sage Durvasa, I can make it go slow. You will lose your energy slowly. Make sure, you finish the job before you lose all your energy.'
The Gods bowed their heads and thanked Vishnu, their joy knowing no bounds. Already their visit to Lord Vishnu had revived them. Indra and the other Gods began to feel stronger...
'Take care of the other things.' Vishnu said. As the Gods were about to leave, Vishnu called them, ' Make sure you hold Vasuki's tail and not his head, while churning the ocean.' None of the Gods could make sense of the cryptic comment, but they knew that they had been dismissed. They left Vaikunta happier, knowing what had to be done..
Indra with Vayu and Agni first went to see the Asura King Bali.
On seeing Indra unarmed, the Asura king's ministers wanted to kill Indra. However Bali decided too hear them out.
Indra laid out the entire plans. 'We want to get the Amrita out of the ocean.' He began without any preamble. Indra watched Bali's eyes grow round. His minster blankly stared at Indra, as if he had gone mad. 'Amrita, you mean the Amrita. The one that...'
Bali looked at Indra and realized that he was speaking the truth. He silenced his minsters. 'How do you propose to do that?' He asked softly, wondering whether the Devas were trustworthy.
Indra told him about about Mount Mandara and Vasuki. 'This cannot be done by you or by us alone...'
One of Bali's minster interrupted harshly, 'We do not need your help, you coward...we can do this...'
'SILENCE!' Bali roared and the minster abruptly stopped talking. Bali angrily eyed the minister and then turned to Indra, 'We need each other. We do this together.' He nodded his head curtly and dismissed Indra. Indra left with Vayu and Agni happy that the first part of the plan went well.
Indra then alone went to the Vasuki – the king of snakes.
Indra saluted Vasuki and told him about the Devas and the Asuras planned to churn the ocean and that they needed a rope.
Vasuki realized immediately his role and said hissing, 'Well it is a tough job, but I agree. I assume, I will get part of the nectar when the churning is done?'
Indra nodded his head. Vasuki nodded his head satisfied. Being the king of snakes and a God, he could get away from all the stretching and pulling without getting hurt too much.
Soon the big day arrived, the Devas and the Asuras went to the Mount Mandara. They prayed to Mount Mandara and set about breaking the mountain, to carry it to the ocean. Mount Mandara was a heavy mountain and with every single Deva and Asura breaking the mountain, it was still a tough job.
Finally, the mountain was free, the Devas and the Asuras all of them together lifted the mountain. They carried the mountain for a few feet, when the Devas and the Asuras staggered. Mount Mandara was beyond even their combined capabilities. The mountain fell down and crushed many Devas and Asuras carrying the mountain.
Indra tired from his exertion and the death of so many of the other Gods, sat under a tree, cursing himself for the fate of the other Gods. Oh Lord, what are we to do now. We cannot even get the mountain to the ocean let alone churn it...Please help us...He thought drying his eyes
That was when he suddenly smelled a whiff of fresh air, so powerful and strong, Indra felt so strong that he could lift Mount Mandara all by himself. He had had this feeling once before. He turned and saw Lord Vishnu near him. Lord Vishnu smiled and pointed Indra to look at Mount Mandara once more.
Indra got up to his feet forgetting all his tiredness and saw Lord Vishnu single handed lift the mountain and place it on Garuda – Vishnu's vehicle. Garuda, the king of the birds, lifted the mountain as if it was no weight at all. Vishnu spelled out a mantra and sprinkled some water on the Devas and the Asuras lying under Mounta Mandara. The Devas and the Asuras woke up, as they had been asleep.
Indra overjoyed threw himself at his friend's arms, seeing them alive. 'Vayu!' he cried, almost sobbing, 'you are alive!'
Vayu looked strangely at Indra, 'What happened? I remember lifting Mount Mandara, and then nothing...'
Bali was meanwhile looking after his colleagues and making sure they were ok. He looked at Vishnu and thanked Vishnu.
Indra explained to Vayu and the other Gods about how they were crushed under the Mountain. All the Devas and the Asuras fell at Lord Vishnu's feet and thanked him. Vishnu smiled and he carried Mount Mandara on Garuda's back and placed it near the ocean and turned to Garuda, 'Friend, it is best you do not come to this place again. Vasuki the king of serpents would never come as long as you are here.' Garuda nodded. Birds and snakes were natural enemies... Garuda flew off. Lord Vishnu also vanished.
Both the Devas and the Asuras feeling happy now, went near the ocean to place Mount Mandara inside the ocean.
That was when they had another problem.
When the Devas and the Asuras placed the mountain inside the ocean, there was nothing to hold up the mountain, and it kept slipping down, inside the huge ocean.
The Devas and the Asuras were dejected once again. They could not find anything huge enough to give support to the mountain inside the ocean to prevent it from slipping deep inside.
Indra bitterly complained to Agni, 'How can we churn the ocean, Agni. The mountain keeps sinking inside the ocean. I do not think we can find anything big enough to support Mount Mandara...To come so close and no be able to to anything...' Indra said frustrated.
Agni gently touched Indra's shoulder. 'Lord Vishnu will help us,' he said. Indra nodded and prayed to the Lord once more. Oh Lord please help us. This can be solved only by you...
Lord Vishnu came in the form a giant tortoise [his second avatar – Kurma Avatar] and plunged into the ocean. He went under the ocean and picked the submerged Mount Mandara and put it on his back. The Mountain now stood firmly on the tortoise's back, inside the ocean.
Now the Devas and the Asuras dropped medicinal herbs into the ocean, so that their churning would lead to good results.
The Devas asked Vasuki to come and coil himself around the mountain and started the actual churning.
After Vasuki coiled himself, Lord Vishnu's warning flashed through Indra's head Make sure you hold Vasuki's tail and not his head. Indra now knew what he had to do.
He rushed forward and grabbed Vasuki's head, almost strangling Vasuki in the process. 'We are going to hold on the head, you can hold on to the other side.' He said to the Asura King contemptuously. Bali wondered what could have prompted Indra to act such, when his minster rushed forward. 'You weakling! You dare make such demands! Who are you to say anything? Don't forget you are weak and you are outnumbered. We...'
Bali tried to think wondering whether this was a trap, however his minister has grabbed Vasuki's head and pushed Indra back. Indra fell back and pretended to be dejected as he went over to the over side.
The other Gods winked at Indra knowing that his plan had worked well. The Asuras were feeling very happy that Indra had not got the upper hand. They laughed at Indra for being such a coward for not fighting...
However their happiness was short lived. After the churning started the Devas realized why Lord Vishnu had insisted on the Devas holding the tail.
Vasuki was the king of snakes and when he was pulled, he involuntarily spat out the venom in his mouth. The Asuras being near the mouth were badly burnt by the poison.
Bali seethed seeing the blisters and marks on the Asuras hands. But there was nothing he could do. They had accepted to take the mouth and they were stuck with the choice.
After hours of churning, the first thing to emerge from the ocean was the poison Halahal. The Devas and the Asuras alike were stung by the poison. The Halahal mushroomed into a huge cloud threatening to engulf the whole world. If the poison was not removed, the whole world would be suffocated.
Indra fell on his knees followed by the other Devas, 'Oh Shiva, please save us from this destruction. You are the only one who can save us.' Indra muttered a small prayer, his eyes and throat stinging.
Shiva heard the prayers and came to their rescue immediately. He realized that if something was not done the Halahal would destroy the entire universe. He grabbed the entire poison in his palm and swallowed it in a gulp. He realized that he had put himself in danger, but that was the only way to save the universe.
Parvati who was beside Shiva stared horror struck at what Shiva had done. 'NO! What have you...?'
Realizing that she had only a few minutes to act, she immediately grasped Shiva's throat and arrested the poison in his throat, so that the poison would neither come out nor affect Shiva in any way.
She breathed deeply, when she realized that Shiva was alright. However the poison's effect was so bad that Shiva's throat where the poison was stored, turned blue. Since that day, Shiva has been called as 'Nilkanta' which meant 'blue throat'.
The Devas and the Asuras thanked Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and with their blessings resumed the churning. Subsequently the Kamadhenu cow, Ucchashravas horse, Kalpavriksha tree etc. also came out of the ocean. These were shared by the Devas and the Asuras.
The next to come was the beautiful Goddess Lakshmi. She looked so beautiful that the Devas and the Asuras stopped churning and simply gazed at her.
Eager to get her attention, the Devas scrambled to get a chair for her to sit. The apsaras [dancing maidens] danced for the Goddess and in the end handed her a garland.
In those days, it was customary for a woman of marriageable age to choose her own husband. This was called as 'swayamwara'.
All the Devas, Asuras and Gods [Even Lord Vishnu had come in his human form] were waiting for the Goddess to choose. Every God wondered who would be the lucky one.
Goddess Lakshmi saw all the assembled Devas, Asuras and Gods. She studied Vishnu with his beautiful twinkling eyes and mischievous smile.
She smiled once and garlanded Lord Vishnu, choosing him above all the others.
The Gods cheered when they saw Goddess Lakshmi marry Lord Vishnu. She was the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity and he was the Preserving God. They all sensed that she was the Goddess Supreme, who had manifested herself as Lakshmi to become Lord Vishnu's wife – his power and his strength.
Thus with great pomp and show, Goddess Lakshmi married Lord Vishnu during the churning of the ocean.
Subsequently the ocean also yielded the amrita, and how Lord Vishnu gave the Amrita only to the Devas without giving any to the Asuras is another story.
Sita: Heroine of the Ramayana
The princess of Mithila, the daughter of the sage-king Janaka, Sita was the most sought-after princess in all India in Rama’s time. She was the best in terms of everything, be it beauty, qualities, courage, character, or kingly features. To marry her, the suitor had to string a mighty Bow, which her father Janaka had received as a gift from Shiva himself. The Bow was so mighty that no one could even lift it, let alone bend it or string it.
When Rama went to Mithila along with Lakshman, guided by Vishwamitra, a wise and powerful sage, he tried his hand at the feat. Rama approached the Bow, and lifted it with his mighty arm with great ease. Then he casually strung the Bow, and then with a breathtaking display of strength, he drew the string to taut that with a loud crack like thunder, the Bow broke into two!
Sita married Rama, and her three sisters married his three younger brothers.
There is a less known fact about Sita and the Bow. Every morning, when the princess used to tend the temple of Shiva herself, during cleaning the place she used to lift the Bow with one hand and clean the seat where it rested with the other. No king or prince who came to attempt the stringing feat knew about this little fact. If they did, no one would ever dare marry Sita. She was, in fact, an incarnation of Lakshmi.