Bhu Devi – The Earth Goddess
While Lakshmi, The Goddess of Abundance and Good Fortune, is Vishnu’s main consort, Bhu Devi, The Goddess of Mother Earth, as sustainer, enricher and provider, is an essential aspect of Vishnu’s role as Preserver (note 1).
Bhu Devi was created from the three petals which came from the navel of Vishnu after the creation of Brahma. In early Rig Vedas, Bhu Devi is Mother Earth and consort of Dyaus, Father Sky, though over time Dyaus morphed to reflect the growing importance of Vishnu.
The best-known legend involving Bhu Devi was after she was abducted by the demon Hiranyaksha, Vishnu took the form of his boar avatar, Varaha, and plunged into the depths of the cosmic ocean to save her. After lifting Bhu Devi above the waves on his tusks, Vishnu vanquished the demon with his discus (chakra), then spread out Bhu Devi as Mother Earth, creating the seven continents and the land required for humankind to exist.
As a Chola Bronze, Bhu Devi is often shown as part of a trinity, with Vishnu in the centre and Lakshmi and Bhu Devi either side. Both are of equal beauty and both will be holding a lotus. The pair are usually differentiated by Lakshmi wearing a kuchabandha, or breast band, while the Bhu Devi is bare-breasted. When depicted with either two or four arms, Bhu Devi’s right hand may be holding a blue, or night lotus (kumuda or utpala), while the left gestures either fear not (abhayamudra) or hanging freely in lolahasta, which symbolizes nothing – it just looks right. When depicted with four arms, she may be holding a water vessel, a pomegranate, a bowl containing healing herbs or another bowl containing vegetables. Her vehicle (vahana) is the cow.
Note 1 – Bhu Devi translates as Bhu (Earth) Devi (goddess). She is also known as Prthivi.