Kuvera, or Kuber as he is commonly known, is the actual God of wealth in Indian mythology, though the common misperception is that Laxmi plays that role. Laxmi is the goddess of fortune, which usually and simplistically translates as wealth. But for over two thousand years of recorded history the actual God of wealth in the Indian ethos has been Kuvera. This was well known to the traditional trading and business communities of India who used to, and still continue to, worship him in their homes on the occasion of India's greatest festival, Diwali.
An interesting facet of Kubera is the fact that the three great classical religions of India, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism all claim him for their own. The temples of all the three religions have Kuvera prominently associated with them. It would seem therefore that Kuvera belonged to the ancient chthonic deities of India, the guardians and protectors of the very land itself, the Yakshas who were once mighty and powerful over the land. The very name Yaksha comes from the phrase they were supposed to have uttered when Brahma created them, "Yakshamam! - We shall protect!" It is therefore not surprising to realize that Kuvera is the guardian of the North Quadrant of the earth and has under him all other yakshas who did not make it to divine status. Those who did include Laxmi, Ganapati, Hanuman and Kali who all seem to have been local area Yaksha deities to begin with before assuming Pan-Indian importance. The fact that the Sapta-matrikas, the Seven Great Mother Goddesses are always represented in sculpture as being flanked (i.e. protected) by Kuvera on one side and Ganapati on the other is clear enough indication of their common origins.
Kuvera is usually described as being red in complexion or pinkish - another indication that he is a yaksha as that is the traditional color of all yakshas. Kuvera used to be depicted as a huge man with a massive belly in the early sculptures, representing an unusual concept called the Pregnant Male. This was a symbolic manner of saying that he was a dual concept god, possessing both male and female energies. In the yantra that represents him therefore, (see picture) the outer boundary is usually left open to the universe, a characteristic of dual deities. When the yakshas fell from their dominant position sometime in the first century AD their gigantic statues began to be replaced by dwarfish caryatids on all temples. The texts began to reflect the dwindling stature of the yakshas by describing Kubera as a potbellied dwarf. Indeed the very word 'Ku-vera' means 'vile body'. It is interesting that the Kuvera energy was so strong and dominant that even though the Big Three Religions assimilated the yaksha faith, he never lost his stature as the Lord of wealth. Nowadays there is a distinct upsurge in the worship and popularity of deities who began as yakshas and Kuvera is riding the wave too. There are no temples dedicated to Kuvera but his yantra, symbolic representation of the god, is fast becoming one of the most important religious artifacts in contemporary India as people realize its potent ability to bring energies of abundance into their lives.
In Hindu mythology Kuvera is represented as the son of Brahma. He is the ruler over a fabulous hidden city in the Himalayas called Alkapuri, which has all the stored up wealth of the Earth. This is close to the abode of Shiva, Kailasha and Kuvera is supposed to be a Shiva- worshipper as well as close friend of the great god hence his name Isa- sakha - which is just a naïve mythological acknowledgement of the process of assimilation. He happens to be immortal and as a good yaksha, one of the guardians of the Earth. His half brother was the famous Ravana, who caused him no end of trouble and took away his other kingdom, the fabled city-state of Lanka. His wife is called Yakshi, a generic term obviously, though in Buddhist mythology she was called Hariti - the stealer, as she had the distressing habit of spiriting away children until Buddha gave her a taste of her own medicine by concealing her child for a while and affecting a cure. Yakshi is also a matrika, who have peculiar ambivalent responsibilities - allowed to plague children till sixteen after which they have to protect them for life! This story was obviously su-generis for the entire concept, which became very popular in Hinduism.
Other stories are obviously later additions, inspired by the myth making proclivities of Indians. Hence Kuvera is supposed to have been inflamed with pride at his great wealth and gave a feast at which he proclaimed that nobody would go away unsatisfied with the gifts received. His fellow yaksha, the great Ganapati, decided such arrogance needed deflating and turned up professing immense hunger with no interest in gifts. Kuvera's cooks set up a magnificent repast but Ganapati, another Pregnant Male deity, polished it off in no time. He went through all the cooked food, then devoured the uncooked food, then ate up the utensils and was about to begin on Kuvera's palace when the god came to his senses and asked pardon for his prideful display. In another myth, Vishnu had to get married again to Laxmi who had been banished to earth by a curse in a complicated story. Since Laxmi, Good Fortune had been away in exile for a while Vishnu was broke! Vishnu had to borrow money from Kuvera to meet the marriage expenses and has entered into a bond to pay interest on the loan till the crack of Doomsday! At the famous Tirupati Balaji temple in India pilgrims are assured that their donations go to working off the Lord's loan and is therefore spiritually meritorious. This financial piety has made the temple into a billion dollar enterprise, an unusual indication of the prosperity that flows from association with Kubera. In the gigantic collection of stories called the Panchatantra, Kubera protects his realm from greedy explorers by scattering hoards of copper, silver and gold along that way. If they take that and turn back they are not molested in any way. But anybody who persists in his greed is transfixed and a wheel turns eternally on his head, keeping him in torment until the next greedy guts comes along upon which it flies to perch on the newcomers head!
Kubera is known as Dhanapati, 'Lord of wealth'; Icchha-vasu - ' who has wealth at will' ' Yaksha-raja 'king of the yakshas'; Ratna-garbha - ' womb of jewels'; and also Nara-rajaa - ' lord over men' for the obvious reasons of wealth.
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Photo taken in Dampier Nagar, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh 281001, India
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