In a recent post, I described Vishnu’s descent into the material world as Prithu. According to this myth, the Earth had gone barren and Prithu was going to destroy it, possibly to start over. But the Earth turned into a milk cow and led Prithu on a chase across the universe. Eventually Prithu agreed to protect the Earth rather than destroy it. In exchange for the Lord’s benevolence, the cow agreed to give her milk to feed to world.
I want to expand on this, to conclude the Lakshmi-centric segment of Navratri.
Prithu was not a female avatar. But because the cow provided for the entire world, Earth itself is called Prithvi, and what we in the West might call Mother Nature is called Prithvi Devi (Earth Goddess) in the Rig Veda, Hinduism’s, and likely the world’s most ancient scripture. As the Earth Goddess, She is also called Bhumi Devi, or Dhrithri, which translates to “that which contains everything.” Prithvi Devi stands with Lakshmi as a consort of Lord Vishnu, the aspect of God which is concerned with preservation and protection. More specifically, She is known as the consort of Varaha, the boar avatar of Vishnu.
Prithvi is the mother of Agni, the Deity which represents fire. But enough mythology. The earth being nothing but molten lava near its core, its womb, shall we say, I thought this a relevant bit which shows Ancient Vedic understanding of the composition of the world.
I thought it appropriate to feature Prithvi Devi in this post as Earth Day is imminent. I don’t know that the sentiment of “make every day Earth Day” really hits home for some. I don’t think that as Hindus, we have a special respect for the Earth that others necessarily are missing. Some an equal and very sincere concern for the Earth from different sources. And every ancient religion had an earth goddess of some type. But for Hindus, as every aspect of the perceivable universe is sacred, one becomes much more apt to treat Mother Earth with the respect She deserves. Certainly the possibility of the destruction of our one and only home planet is enough of a motivation to keep it clean. But for many that threat is not real enough, as “surely the hole in the ozone layer will not open up wide enough to fry us all during my lifetime.” For some, it’s “The rapture is coming anyroad, so use it up!”
But I digress.
As I have said in other places on this blog, Vaisnavism is closely related to nature at its core, as the worship of the preservative aspect of God. The one Vaisnav “Face of God” Which demonstrates this best is Prithvi Devi.