Beliefs and practices
Sri Sukta, also called Sri Suktam, is a Sanskrit devotional hymn (set of slokas) revering Sri or Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity and fertility. The hymns are found in the Rig Vedic khilanis, which are appendixes to the Rigveda that probably date to pre-Buddhist times.
Sri sukta is recited, with a strict adherence to the vedic meter, to invoke the goddess' blessings.
Source and versions
The Sri sukta forms part of the khilanis or appendixes to the Rigveda. These were late additions to the Rigveda, found only in the Bāṣkala shakha, and the hymn themselves exist in several strata that deffer both in content and period of composition. For instance, according to J. Scheftelowitz, strata 1 consists of verses 1-19 (with verses 3-12 addressed to the goddess Sri and 1-2 and 13-17 to Lakshmi), while the second strata has verses 16-29 (i.e., the second version deletes verses 16-19 of the first). The third strata, with verses beginning from number 23, similarly overlaps with the second version.
The first strata is the most commonly attested and is usually appended to the fifth manadala of Rigveda. Most of its verses were probably composed during the period of the Brahmanas, with a few added in the Upanishadic times. The second strata post-dates the first; while the third is attested in a single, more recent, text.
Text and symbolism
The goddess Sri appears in several earlier vedic hymns, and is the personification of auspicious and royal qualities. Sri sukta is perhaps the first text in which the homology between Sri and Lakshmi is drawn, and the goddesses are further associated with the goddess of fire, Agni. Since the later epic period (ca 400 CE), Sri-Lakshmi is particularly associated with Vishnu as his wife or consort.
The Sri sukta describes Sri as glorious, ornamented, royal, lustrous as gold, and radiant as fire, moon and the sun. She is addressed as the bestower of fame, bounty and abundance in the form of gold, cattle, horses and food; and entreated to banish her sister alakshmi (misfortune), who is associated with need, hunger, thirst and poverty. The hymn also associates Sri with (agrarian) fertility and she is described as the mother of Kardama (mud), moist, perceptible through odour, dwelling in cowdung and producing abundant harvest.
The Sri Sukta uses the motifs of lotus (padma or kamala) and elephant (gaja) - symbols that are consistently linked with the goddess Sri-Lakshmi in later references. The lotus is thought to be symbolic of purity, beauty, spiritual power, life, fertility, growth or, in Tantra, the entire created universe. It is a recurring motif in Hindu (as well as Buddhist and Jain) literature and a lotus growing from Vishnu's navel is said to mark the beginning of a new cosmic creation. The elephants are symbolic of royalty and, in Hindu mythology, are also related with cloud and rain; they thus reinforce Sri-Lakshmi's stature as the goddess of abundance and fertility.
The Sri Suktam assumes specific significance because of Sri Mahalakshmi's presence on Lord Sri Venkateswara (at Tirumala) or Vishnu's chest, at the Heart. Lakshmi is the embodiment of Love, from which devotion to God or Bhakti flows from. It is through Love/Bhakti or Lakshmi that the atma or soul is able to reach God or Vishnu.
Sri or Lakshmi is also the personification of the Spiritual energy within us and universe called Kundalini. Also, She embodies the Spiritual World or Vaikunta; the abode of Lakshmi-Narayana or Vishnu, or what would be considered Heaven in Hinduism. She is also the Divine qualities of God and the soul. Lakshmi is God's superior spiritual feminine energy or the Param Prakriti, which purifies, empowers and uplifts the individual. Hence, She is called the Goddess of Fortune.
Recital in Tirumala
The Sri Sukta is one of the Pancha Suktam (5 Suktams) recited during the 3-hour long Abhishek of Lord Sri Venkateswara, at the famed ancient Hill Shrine of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in Andhra Pradesh, India. The Abhishekam to the main deity is performed every Friday. Sri Suktam is also recited during the daily Arjitha Vasanthotsavam seva.
- Kinsley, David R. (1999), Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 8120803949
- Coburn, Thomas B. (1988), Devi Mahatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 8120805577
- Scheftelowitz, Isidor (1906), Die Apokryphen des Rgveda, Breslau, http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/texte/etcs/ind/aind/ved/rv/rvkh/rvkh.htm
- Scheftelowitz, Isidor (1921), "Sri Sukta", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft) 75: 37–50
- Singh, Om Prakash (1983), Iconography of Gaja-Lakshmī, Bharati Prakashan