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The Identity of "Hri" in the Purusha Sukta

(This article is a response to a few reader comments that asked to clarify who the "Hri" referred to in the Purusha Sukta is referring to -- bhUdevi or pArvati? Contributed by our Sri Vaishnava friend, Shri Narayanan)

The purusha sukta contains the mantra,

“hrIsca tE lakshmisca patnyou”

The simple meaning of this mantra is – Bhu Devi (Hri), Lakshmi Devi and Nila Devi (denoted by the second ca) are your wives.

Some ill-informed people interpret Hri as Parvati and Lakshmi as Ganga to derive their own biased interpretation. This interpretation is invalid because:

  1. Hri is not a name of pArvati as per conventional sAstra. Such an appellation is invoked in tantra and other margas which are not vedic and hence, one cannot foist such an interpretation on vedic sAstra.
  2. Ganga is not the wife of Shiva. She resides in his head and is the sister of his wife, pArvati. In mahAbhArata, it is mentioned she married Shantanu, so the idea of Shiva’s wife marrying someone else is quite unthinkable and culminates in an offence against this deva himself. 
  3. Note that there are two “ca” kArams in the mantra. The second “ca” actually denotes a third patni, who is so shy that even her name is not mentioned directly. It is only srI mahA Vishnu who has three patnis – SrI, bhU and nilA devi. This nilA devi is mentioned in harivamsha and even the saivite scholar appayya dikshitar quotes it in his commentary on swami vedAnta desikan’s yAdavAbhyUdayam, thus accepting the existence of nilA devi. 

Now, to the meaning of “Hri”. In general terms, “Hri” means modesty. But we know that all dharma patnis, be it Saraswati, Parvati etc are modest. If so, how can we specifically say Hri is Bhu Devi.
There are two pramAnAs. 

PramAnam number 1, modesty here refers not just to chastity, but to patience (kshama) and coyness. And the sAstra only refers to Bhu Devi in these terms exquisitely and particularly. The pramAnAs are:

mahAnArAyaNa Upanishad, Mantra 30 says – “Vasundara (a name of Bhu Devi), you bear the trampling of horses and chariots and the strides of MahAvishnu. I bear you with reverence on my head; protect me always.

The gunam of patience is in its extreme form only with Bhu Devi. She, despite being our mother bears our footsteps, chariots and horses. She bears all the burden of the asurAs on her. While we are unable to avoid our foot-steps, all we can do is salute this extreme act of patience, manifested as kshama, synonymous to Hri and salute you by bearing you on our heads.

In the case of Vishnu, he not only takes strides on you, which is a pleasure to you, but will lift you up in his arms as conveyed by the following mantra.

mahAnArAyaNa Upanishad, mantra 31 says – “You were lifted up by Krishna with his hundred arms, in the form of varAhA. You are well known as Bhoomi, Dhenu, Dharani and the supporter of the worlds.

The word “Krishna” means one who gives pleasure to Mother Earth. This is the gunam of modesty. SrI varAha purAnA reveals that when varAha lifted Bhumi Devi high up after vanquishing HiranyAksha, she hid her face because she was quite shy and overcome at being exposed to everyone from so high a position, after her recent captivity. 

This coyness is also referred to by the name “HrI”, which means modesty. In contrast, srI Lakshmi devi boldly chose her husband Vishnu from among the devas during the churning of the ocean. 

Note that this does not mean Bhu Devi is better than Lakshmi Devi. It only shows two different and equally admirable traits in two mothers, the spouses of Vishnu.

(One can look up the Sanskrit verses for these in the dravida paTa of the mahAnArAyaNopanishad. It is too cumbersome to paste the Sanskrit here).

Thus, Hri refers to Bhu Devi. Now, we come to pramAnam number two which seals this interpretation. We have two different paTas of the Purusha Sukta. One paTa says “HrIsca te lakshmIsca patnyou” and the other paTa says “srIsca te lakshmIsca patnyou”.

The venerable commentators from ancient times have accepted both versions as authentic and accordingly, they say that Hri and Sri are synonyms for the same person in that particular mantra. And we come across the following verse in vAlmiki rAmAyaNa – “rAmasya dakshinE pArshvE praDa shri: samvasthithA| savyE tu shri: vishAlAkshI” – Here, only Bhu Devi is referred to as shrI. Furthermore, in the vedic mantra, “tvAmihOpaghyE shrI:” is interpreted by commentators to refer to Bhu Devi.

Thus Bhu Devi is also known as SrI and in the mantra “srIsca tE lakshmisca patnyou” and consequently in “hrisca tE lakshmisca patnyou” where Hri and Sri are synonyms, both these terms denote Bhu Devi only, praising her modesty and patience.

This is as per the vishishtadvaita vyAkhyAna of srI ranga rAmAnuja muni.


  1. Who is Nila Mata? I have heard about Bhu and Lakshmi mata, but I do not know who Nila Mata is. Forgive my offences to Nila Mata, Lord Vishnu, and the Vaisnavas, but could you please inform me about Nila Mata? Also, Lakshmi mata and Lord Vishnu are eternally married, then why did Lakshmi mata marry Lord Vishnu after Samudra Manthan? Were they not married from the beginning of time?

    1. Neela Devi is another consort of Lord Vasudeva eternally in the Vaikunta Loka. She was born as a cowherd girl during Lord Krishna's leelas on this earth and was very favored by the Lord. In this avatAra, she is called "nappinnai" in Tamil by the AzhvArs, and is also mentioned in ancient secular Tamil literature (called "Sangam texts"). Some people confuse Radha with Neela Devi, but they are different.

      Neela Devi is described in the Vedas, in the Neela Suktam.

    2. Thank you sir! Could you also answer the 2nd part of my question "Also, Lakshmi mata and Lord Vishnu are eternally married, then why did Lakshmi mata marry Lord Vishnu after Samudra Manthan? Were they not married from the beginning of time?"
      This question has been bothering me for a while..hopefully you could enlighten me as you and your friend are very knowledgeable. HARIBOL

  2. In every avatara, Shri and Shripatni gets united. You have heard Rama and Sita/Krishna & Rukimini/ Nrusimha & Chenchu Lakshmi/Sri-Nivasa and Padmavathi (in our yuga)/ join again even though they are Divya Dhampathees (eternally married). Do not forget the mAhaLakshmi is always present as Srivatsam on the heart of mAha Vishnu (recall bhrigu muni episode). During the churning of the sea for Amruth, mAhAlakshmi amsam joins mAha Vishnu.

    1. Dear Krishna,

      Thank you for your comment.

      // In every avatara, Shri and Shripatni gets united. //

      You meant Shripati (Lord Vishnu), I believe.

  3. Excellent service to Sri Vaishnavam, Swami. Pallaandu to Devareer!!

  4. It is said that Neela Devi is Goodess Saraswati only. I saw Neela Devi and Neela Saraswati are the same. According to some stories Goddess Saraswati is also the wife of Lord Vishnu.

  5. I also read when Lord Vishnu was Krishna, Srilakshmi was Rukmini, Bhudevi was Satyabhama and Neeladevi was Radha.

  6. Dear Aditi Singh,

    I do not know what the source of your information is. Granted that Sarasvati is mentioned as one of the consorts of Vishnu in many scriptures. But this is a different person from Chaturmukha Brahma's consort who also bears the name Sarasvati.

    Neela Devi is not Saraswati. What story says so? Neela Devi is a separate consort mentioned. She is understood to be indigo-hued (Shridevi i.e. Lakshmi is described as reddish, Bhudevi as dusky/dark green)

    Radha is not Neeladevi. Neeladevi is mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam as the one whom Krishna wed after taming 7 bulls in svayamvara. In Bhagavatam/Harivamsa she is mentioned as "Nagnajiti" or "Sathya", and in Tamil scriptures as "Nappinnai".

    1. The "saraswati" who is a consort of vishNu is none other than srI mahAlakshmi who bears that name as the wife of hayagrIva and is the goddess of knowledge. Her namesake, the consort of Brahma, is a lesser deity who attained her knowledge from hayagrIva's aMSha. Hence the popular "saraswati pUja" is dedicated by sri vaishnavas to lakshmi-hayagrIva" only.

    2. Sri Aryamaa

      I know that in the Mahabharata Shanti parvan, Saraswati is associated with Narayana, but I dont remember that she was ever associated as a consort of Narayana. I also remember that she is mentioned as different from Lakshmi (by implication). Can you give some pramANas for your position that there are 2 Saraswatis and one of them is Lakshmi? Thanks.

    3. When it is common knowledge that all names belong to vishNu, is it not self evident that all female names belong to Lakshmi? Anyway, here is the direct pramANa from srI vishNu purANa where Indra composes a stuti of Lakshmi as follows:

      tvAm siddhis tvAm svadha svAha
      sudha tvAm loka pavani
      sandhya rAtriH prabha bhUtir
      medha sraddha sarasvati

      Meaning: You are siddhi, you are svadha, svaha and sudha. You are the purifier of the Universe, you are Sandhya, rAtri and prabhA. You are bhUti, medha, sraddha and sarasvati.

      Sacred texts link:

      This sloka indicates that the deity of the rAtri sUkta, sraddha sUkta, medha sUkta, etc is Lakshmi Devi only. Note that words like "rAtri", "siddhi", "svadha" etc do not mean "night", "superhuman powers", etc but have deeper etymology signifying the attributes of lakshmi.

      We do not even need a pramANa to come to this conclusion. The etymological meaning of sarasvati is linked with vedic speech. As hayagrIva, the lord is the embodiment of the vedas and his consort is thus the vedic speech itself.

      Lastly, the mahAbhArata sloka "jayaM nArAyaNam naraM caiva narOttamaM..." salutes Narayana, his amSha Nara who is the best among men (besides being bhagavad AvESha), Sarasvati and vyAsa. Here too, "sarasvati" denotes Lakshmi only on the basis of these pramANas and not the consort of Brahma.

    4. There is also another point of significance. We say that Sarasvati is the goddess of knowledge and Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. However, "wealth" does not simply mean ordinary wealth as assumed by many people nowadays, though it is also a part of it. knowledge itself is a form of wealth. Therefore, Lakshmi grants knowledge in addition to other wealth such as ordinary opulence, siddhis, or bhagavAn himself who is the supreme wealth. Whereas, the devi Sarasvati does not have this ability.

      Similarly, when we say "jnAnam icchet SankarAth, moksham icchet janArdhana", it means that if Janardhana can grant the great gift of moksha, he naturally has the power to bestow lesser gifts like jnAna, dhanaM, etc. However, Shankara can bestow jnAna, but not moksha.

      This difference is to be noted.

    5. Sri Aryamaa

      Thank you for the posts. Thanks for quoting the pramANas. I guess the concept is so new to me and hence my request for pramANas. I was also surprised by the association of Saraswati with Narayana in the Mahabharata Shanti parvan. Now I can see things better in context.

      Similarly, are there also 2 shrI-s? I am asking because Draupadi is described as an incarnation of shrI in the Mbh. Adi parvan 1.61.95 -

      shriyastu bhAgaH sa~njaj~ne ratyarthaM pRRithivItale |
      drupadasya kule kanyA vedimadhyAdaninditA || 95||

      (A part of shrI was born in the house of Drupada (as Draupadi))

    6. ShrI refers to Saci, the wife of Indra there. As Saci is the queen of svarga, she is also known as ShrI.

      Please understand that it is not right to say there are "two saraswatis, two shrIs" etc. It is just that these terms are common nouns and specify certain attributes. VishNu and Lakshmi possess all auspicious attributes and thus bear all names.

      Of course, bhagavAn being Brahman bears both male and female names by virtue of pervasion, but Lakshmi is a jIvAtma who is his consort and a nitya sUri and bears all female names that signify perfections.

    7. As an afterthought, you keep mentioning the shanti parva. If I'm correct in assuming which portion of the parva you are talking about, I think you are getting at the wrong idea. The section in Shanti parva where nArAyaNa commands Sarasvati to be present in the rishis' tongues and confer knowledge refers to the wife of Brahma only, who has that function. Not Lakshmi.

      Context is always important to decide who is being referred to. Narayana is the Supreme Brahman, so he can obviously command the devas and devis to perform such tasks.

      Point being, do not get mixed up. It is very strange you are "wondering" about the "association" between narayana and sarasvati when the supreme brahman has an association with everyone in the universe.

      Also, are you Lakshminarasimhan, the indology buff? Just curious.

    8. Sri Anonymous,

      In Vishnu purana , Parasara maharishi while describing the greatness of Goddess Sri in book1 chapter 2, translated into English by HH Wilson, says the following

      Śrí, the bride of Vishnu, the mother of the world, ieternal, imperishable; in like manner as he is all-pervading, so also is she, oh best of Brahmans, omnipresent.
      ( Verse 14)

      Lakshmí is the prayer of oblation (Swáhá); Vásudeva, the lord of the world, is the sacrificial fire. Saurí (Vishu) is Śankara (Śiva); and Śrí is the bride of Śiva (Gaurí). Keśava, oh Maitreya, is the sun; and his radiance is the lotus-seated goddess.
      (Verses 20-21)

      Govinda is the ocean; Lakshmí its shore. Lakshmí is the consort of Indra (Indrání); Madhusúdana is Devendra. (verse 24)

      Hari is all that is male ; Lakshmi is all that is termed female: there is nothing else than they
      ( Verse 32)

      So, in that sense Sachi or Indirani is a small speck or amsa of Goddess Sri (as all goddesses are merely just a small specks of Goodess Sri as described in Vishnu Purana)

      (Refer to the link

      Swami Vedanta Desikan in his Sri Sthuthi, sloka 12, says:

      AasamsAram vithathamakhilam vAngmayam yadhvibhUthi:

      kusumadhanusha: kimkarO MerudhanvA

      yasyAm nithyam nayana sathakai: yEkalakshyO MahEndhra:

      PadhmE thAsAm pariNathirasou bhAva lESai:Thvadheeyai:

      1. Oh MahA Lakshmi! The forms of all divine speech (Vaangmayam) and the swaryam (VibhUthi:) resulting from them -- starting from Creation (Aasamsaaram) and extending all over the entire universe (vithatham akhilam) -- are under the control of Saraswathy Devi (AasamsAram vithatham akhilam vaangmayam yadhvibhUthi:)

      2. MahEswara Rudra, who had the Meru mountain as His bow (Meru dhanvA) became the target and servant of Manmatha --- the one with the flowers as His arrows (Kusuma dhanusha:) --- as a reult of the narrowing of the brows of Parvathi, his wife (Meru dhanvA, Yadh bhrUbangAth Kusuma dhanusha: kinkara: bhabhUva).

      3. Indhra, the king of DevAs (MahEndhra:) is under the total control of IndhrANi, His SaamrAjya Lakshmi and is focusing his hundreds of eyes (nayana sathakai:) on her always (nithyam) as his single target (yEka lakshyam). He is under her total influence.

      (4) For all these three consorts of exalted DEvAs (Saraswathi, Parvathi and IndhrANi), the glories of their power over their husbands arises from the infinitesimal portion of Your anugraha sakthi. You are the reason behind their maturation and powers: “ThaasAm (For them) asou (this) pariNathi: (maturation and power)

      ( Refer the following link

      So, in that sense, i think, the amsha of Sri which is referred as born as Draupadi is actually Swarga Lakshmi i.e. Sachi or Indrani who is a micro amsha of Goddess Sri, the universal Mother.


    9. Sri Aryamaa

      //As an afterthought, you keep mentioning the shanti parva. If I'm correct in assuming which portion of the parva you are talking about, I think you are getting at the wrong idea.//

      No you are not correct. I am talking about those portions of Shanti parvan, where Saraswati is mentioned as being the mother of all vedas and her mention occurs APART from the mention of Lakshmi as being present in Narayana. The implication is that Lakshmi and Saraswati, who is the mother of all vedas are different, since they are separately mentioned. That is why I said that the Shanti parvan seems to be implying that Lakshmi and Saraswati are different. I am also talking about another part where Saraswati is considered as the speech of Narayana. If you are interested in the original quotations, I can provide them.

      //Also, are you Lakshminarasimhan, the indology buff? Just curious.//

      I have no idea who Lakshminarasimhan is.

    10. Sri VM

      Thanks for your clarification.

    11. //It is very strange you are "wondering" about the "association" between narayana and sarasvati when the supreme brahman has an association with everyone in the universe.//

      There is nothing strange about wondering about the association, when you are postulating that Saraswati is the consort of Narayana.

    12. //I am talking about those portions of Shanti parvan, where Saraswati is mentioned as being the mother of all vedas and her mention occurs APART from the mention of Lakshmi as being present in Narayana.//

      Then I assume that you are talking about this:

      "Behold also Sree and Lakshmi, and Kirti, and the Earth with her hump as also the goddess, Saraswati, that mother of the Vedas, dwelling in me."

      No contradiction here. ShrI, Lakshmi, Kriti, Sarasvati and others are various manifestations of Mahalakshmi only. Just as the Lord assumes vyUba-vibhava forms, Devi also has several such forms with specific attributes. Under the gIta slOka where krishNa talks about the qualities of women as his vibhUti-s, our acharyas write that these qualities are seen in different forms of Lakshmi.

      Bhu Devi (Earth) is a distinct consort, but even she has lakshmi amsha and is called the "shadow" of shrI by acharyas. Thus she is mentioned among the manifestations of lakshmi.

      //There is nothing strange about wondering about the association, when you are postulating that Saraswati is the consort of Narayana//

      It wouldnt be strange even if the texts state pArvati and saraswati are his consorts, since everybody from brahma down to the lowest species is his "wife" due to sharIra-sharIri bhAva!

    13. Sri Aryamaa

      Yes, I was talking about that reference. I appreciate your clarification. Thanks. If and when I get time, I will post all the references showing the association of Narayana and Saraswati in the Shanti parvan. I will also check the entire Mahabharata, if time permits. Thanks again.

  7. Here is what srI vedAnta desikan says in his "hayagrIva stotra" regarding hayagrIva as the "AdhAra" of all jnAna-mUrtIs:

    DhAkshiNya ramyA Girisasya Moorthy:
    dEvi SarOjAsana dharma Pathnee
    vyAsadhayOpi vyapadEsaya vaacha:
    spuranthi sarvE tava sakthilEsai: 7

    (meaning): The pretty-to-behold (ramyA) form of KailAsanAthan (GirIsan) known as DakshiNAmUrthy, the "Goddess of Learning " and the wife of Brahma Devan with the name of Sarasvathi having the white lotus as Her abode and even Sage VyAsA and others famous for their powers of divine Vaak --all of them derive their Saarasvatham (power of divine speech ) from a mere fragment of the power of the Adhi VidhyA Moorthy, Lord HayagrIvan. (Credit to sri sadagopan for the translation).

    Therefore, all the well-known deities/gurus capable of imparting knowledge are AvEshas of hayagrIva. In such a case, why resort to saraswati, DakshiNAmUrthy, etc when one can directly worship hayagrIva? That is what the AchArya is implying by this sloka.

    On account of this, it is proper that "saraswati pUja" is to be performed for lakshmi-nArAyaNa only, as the devi saraswati bears the name of hayagrIva's consort in gratitude of the latter. Performing the pUja for brahma-saraswati falls in the category of incorrect worship as stated by krishNa in the gIta.

    1. Additionally, the medha sUktam in the vedas is a praise of lakshmi as the goddess of knowledge.

  8. Not sure if Its appropriate to ask here, but is Tulasi-devi an amsha/avatara of Bhu-devi? And that Bhu-devi and Nila-devi are amshas of Sri?

  9. Bhu and Nila are distinct consorts, who serve ShrI and assist her in her function of purushakAratva. Hence, our AchAryAs often refer to them as "shadows" of Lakshmi.

    Tulasi-devi is a distinct goddess who is revered for her connection with bhagavAn. That's all I know about her.

    1. Thank you Prabhuji. What of the gopis and gopas of Krishna lila? Do they have any connection to Sri?

    2. They are jIvAs who were rishis in a previous birth, and took birth as gopIs by virtue of their merit. They (including Radha, the greatest of the gopIs according to shrI vedAnta desikan) performed prapatti and attained moksha.

      Nila devi was born among the gopIs as well. She was the daughter of Kumbhaka, the brother of Yashoda. KrishNa married her after subduing 7 bulls. The southern recensions of harivamSha contain this story.

      ShrI krishNa was the only avatAra to have married all 3 devis (shrI, bhU and nIla) thus.

      The AchAryAs have mentioned that one should surrender to shrI rAma by seeking the mediation of Sita (Lakshmi), shrI varAha by seeking the mediation of bhU devi and shrI krishNa by seeking the mediation of nIla devi.

    3. Many thanks for such a reply! What of Subhadra? Was she a jivatma? Or an amsha of Lakshmi/Sri?

    4. She was just a jIva. No idea as to who she was, most likely a puNyAtma who had the special favor of the Lord.

  10. Namaste

    If 3 wives are intended in the purusha sukta, why is it the dual patnyau is used? Can you please clarify?

    1. The explanation we gave was mentioned by shrI velukkudi swami in an upanyAsam, and we just communicated it. To be honest, even we are not sure how the Swami derives this meaning. This did cross our minds.

      He did say nIla devi is like the shadow of the other two devis, so perhaps the term "patnyau" is used due to this inseparability.

      Shri ranga rAmAnuja muni only mentions Shri and Bhu devi as well. No idea otherwise, you have to ask shri Velukkudi Swami for a clarification.

      One thing is for sure, the Lord has 3 wives, but is sometimes mentioned as having 2 only because nIla devi does not see herself as independent of Shri and Bhu devis.

  11. Hi,
    Sorry this question is not relevant to this blog.
    Isn't Shri Yantra is supposed to be Maha Laxmi and not Tripura Sundari. Because Shri is another name of Laxmi?
    Sorry for the silly question.
    Thank you

    1. To my knowledge Shri Yantra is not a valid vaidika practice and is tantrika. But there was an acharyan among Shri vaishnava gurus known as Kura Narayana Jeeyar who was adept in tantric practices due to his upAsaNa on Sudarshana.

      Maybe if done the right way and dedicated to the right god/goddess with the right conception, Shri Yantra can be accommodated into the vaidika marga. Or, it might be wholly unvedic. I confess ignorance on the subject.

    2. Tantra is just another word for Agama, although it has acquired connotations of Shaiva and Shakta Agamas. But as far as I know Kura Narayana Jeeyar only followed Pancharatra Agamas, not Shaiva or Shakta Agamas. Specifically, he practiced Pancharatrika meditation on Sudarshana in order to obtain Siddhis or magical powers. (Pancharatra Agamas describe how to achieve both material fruits and Moksha.)

      He was once asked by Kurathalwan why he was following such practices, when Sri Vaishnavas should be unconcerned with such material fruits. He responded that whatever Siddhis he obtained, it was all for the sake of helping Bhagavatas, not for his own sake. And indeed, he used his Siddhis to help Bhagavad and Bhagavatas on several occasions as detailed in the Koil Olugu.


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