03 July 2011


A friend wrote today to ask about the way to write the name of the goddess of good fortune Lakṣmī. This is traditionally done in Tibet as a bīja or single stack of letters (ignoring the a in la) in both dbu-can and Lantsa scripts. My version of this are on the left in three scripts.

An interesting thing about Lakṣmī is that she is not a Vedic goddess, i.e. doesn't appear in the Ṛgveda. She does appear - under the name Sirimā or Śrī - in the Pāli Canon (Rhys Davids Buddhist India, p.216-9). So she seems to have been a local goddess in North-East India that was adopted into both Buddhism and Hinduism. She puts in an appearance as Lakṣmī in the Golden Light Sūtra. Note that Wikipedia doesn't mention either her origins or her Buddhist associations. I have written on my other blog about how the Buddha describes village people as maṅgalika or superstitious, i.e. concerned with omens and luck (see: Gesundheit! Making Accommodations with Custom).

One also sees this written in Lantsa with a long ā and short i - i.e. लाक्ष्मि - this is common, though I think it is certainly an error. For example there is this image of the corrupt version with two hanzi: 壽 & 福 (Shòu & fú) literally 'life' and 'blessing'. More calligraphy of this version can be found on the East Wind Gallery site.

One sees the problem of mixed up vowel lengths a lot in Chinese and Japanese Siddhaṃ - for example the bīja dhīḥ is routinely written as dhiḥ (with a short i) in Japan. John Stevens says, in regard to other spelling errors that: "rightly or wrongly they have become part of the tradition." (Sacred Calligraphy, p.33). Personally I'm inclined to correct them as I say here and here.

For another (and much better) image of Lakṣmī's bīja written correctly see George Fisher's Indian Scripts website (the link is to a pdf, scroll down, Lakṣmī is the last bīja). The main website is www.lantsha-vartu.org.

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