Śrī Sūkta, also called Śrī Sūktam, is evidently the earliest Sanskrit devotional hymn (set of shlokas Śloka-s), revering Śrī as Lakṣmī, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity and fertility Śrī Sūkta is recited, with a strict adherence to the Chandas, to receive the goddess’ blessings. This hymn is found in the Rig Vedic khilanis, which are appendices to the Ṛkveda that date to pre-Buddhist times.
The Śrī Sūkta forms part of the khilanis or appendices to the Ṛkveda. These were late additions to the Ṛkveda, found only in the Bāṣkala śākhā, and the hymn exists in several strata that differ both in content and period of composition. For instance, according to J. Scheftelowitz, stratum 1 consists of verses 1–19 (with verses 3–12 addressed to the goddess Śri and 1–2 and 13–17 to Lakṣmī), while the second stratum has verses 16–29 (i.e., the second version deletes verses 16–19 of the first). The third stratum, with verses beginning from number 23, similarly overlaps with the second version.
The first stratum is the most commonly attested and is usually appended to the Fifth Mandala of Ṛkveda (Rigveda). Most of its verses were probably composed during the period of the Brāhmaṇa, with a few added in the Upaniṣadic times. The second stratum post-dates the first; while the third is attested in a single, more recent, text.
The goddess Śrī appears in several earlier vedic hymns, and is the personification of auspicious and royal qualities.Śrī Sūkta is perhaps the first text in which the homology between Śrī and Lakṣmī is drawn, and the goddesses are further associated with the god of fire, Agni.Since the later epic period (ca 400 CE), Śrī-Lakṣmī is particularly associated with Viṣṇu as his wife or consort.
The Śrī Sūkta describes Śrī 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 is entreated to banish her sister alakṣmī (misfortune), who is associated with need, hunger, thirst and poverty. The hymn also associates Śrī with (agrarian) fertility and she is described as the mother of Kārdama (mud), moist, perceptible through odour, dwelling in cow dung and producing abundant harvest.
The Śrī Sūkta uses the motifs of lotus (padma or kamala) and elephant (gaja) – symbols that are consistently linked with the goddess Śrī-Lakṣmī 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 Viṣṇu’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 Śrī-Lakṣmī’s stature as the goddess of abundance and fertility.
Later Hindu iconography often represents Śrī-Lakṣmī in the form of Gaea-Lak, standing on a lotus, flanked by two elephants that are shown showering her with water with their trunks.
The Śrī Sūktam assumes specific significance because of Śrī Mahālakṣmī’s presence on Lord Śrī Venkaṭeśvara, at Tirumala, or Viṣṇu’s chest, at the Heart. Lakṣmi is the embodiment of Love, from which devotion to God or Bhakti flows. It is through Love/Bhakti or Lakṣmī that the Ātmā or soul is able to reach God or Viṣṇu.
Śrī or Lakṣmī is also the personification of the spiritual energy within us and universe called kuṇḍalinī. Also, She embodies the Spiritual World or Vaikuṇtha; the abode of Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa or Viṣṇu, not to be confused with Heaven, as The Heavenly Planets are still part of the Material Universe. Vaikuṇtha-Dham is purely spiritual, eternal and self illuminating. She is also supposed to have the Divine qualities of God and the soul. Lakshmi is God’s superior spiritual feminine energy or the Param Prākṛti, which purifies, empowers and uplifts the individual. Hence, She is called the Goddess of Fortune.