In her Puranic transformation, Mahakali, as Kali, continued as multi-armed demon slayer, though she was reduced to a subordinate status ? just to a form of Durga created by her out of herself. The forms, personalities and roles of Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati were, however, widely changed. Saraswati continued with Mahasaraswati's four arms but she was no more now a demon slayer, but instead the goddess of learning, arts and music. Mahalakshmi as Lakshmi, too, did not operate against demons nor carried instruments of destruction. She represented instead riches, prosperity and fertility, as also the supreme beauty. Four arms weren't now her essentiality. Her votive images ? for sanctums or otherwise, continued to have four arms but in her aesthetic visualisations, as when attending on Vishnu or engaged in anything as his spouse, she had normal two arms.
This image of Lakshmi, also known as Shri, Padmavati, Kamala, Dharini, Vaishnavi and Narayani, with an elephant pair bathing her with milk, which they bring from Kshirasagara ? ocean of milk, in pots of gold, is popularly known as Gajalakshmi. In popular tradition this Gajalakshmi form is also called Mahalakshmi, though not in the sense in which the term was initially used. The artist, instead of creating any single aspect of the deity, has created a form of her uniting in it elements not only of initial Mahalakshmi iconography but also such as Puranas conceived and as have evolved in the tradition over a period of time. She has, like Mahalakshmi, four arms, though she is not carrying weapons in them all as carried Mahalakshmi. She has, however, in one of them a goad ? the symbolic presence of the instruments of destruction. Unlike Lakshmi, the spouse of Vishnu, she has close to her halo the crescent ? another attribute of Shiva who represented dissolution. The floral pendant, worn on forehead, looks much like Shiva's 'Trinetra' ? third eye, the mightiest instrument of destruction. These elements draw her close to the demon slayer Mahalakshmi form.
However, seated on a fully blown lotus, holding another in one of her hands, three other on her crown and a small one on her nose ring is essentially a form of Vishnu's consort Lakshmi. The goddess is holding in two of her hands her long beautiful hair, which significantly adds to her paramount beauty of which, as Lakshmi, she is the supreme model. This is certainly a new and perhaps the most dazzling element in the iconography of Lakshmi. The wings of the elephants are suggestive of their celestial links and the ocean they are seen fetching milk from is the mythical Ocean of Milk.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.