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Prithvi is the goddess of the earth in early Hinduism. Along with her husband, Dyaus Pita, who was the sky, she was the creator of everything. The early Vedic period featured a pantheon of personified powerful gods, who were later supplanted and diminished with the advent of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. Prithvi was the mother of Indra, who would later go on to become king of the gods, as well as of Agni, the god of fire.
After the advent of the Trimurti Prithvi became associated with Vishnu, the creator. In some systems she was viewed as his wife, in others simply as his companion or close friend. Prithvi’s role remained integral, even if she was no longer the central creator, as she was still said to be the mother of life on earth. She is usually represented as a beautiful woman with rich green skin and four arms. Her holy animal is the cow, and many myths have her take the form of the cow, often producing the milk that feeds all living beings.
There is a famous myth of Prithvi, which illustrates man’s continual mistreatment of the earth that sustains him. It is said that long ago the entire world was ruled over by King Vena, who through hubris became so enamored with his own power that he forbade people from sacrificing to the gods. The sages of the earth grew angry at this, and so killed Vena. Afterward, with no one to rule over the world, things descended into chaos, and the sages grew repentant that they had killed the king. So they dug up his body, and rubbed it once, at which a small demon, which embodied all of his evil, sprang forth and ran away. Then they rubbed it again and a prince, Prithu, who was the god Agni in the flesh, sprang forth.
Prithu took the role Vena had as master of the world, and the chaos subsided. But Prithvi, who was the earth, refused to offer up her bounty, so famine remained and people died in droves. Prithu attacked and chased Prithvi, who ran to the mighty god Brahma to ask for his protection, but Brahma refused. He noted that the people of the earth were represented in Prithu, and that by failing to produce crops for them, Prithvi was letting down all of creation. He suggested that instead, they wed. Prithvi, unwilling to go against the god, acquiesced, and she and Prithu were married. Their marriage was a tumultuous one, but it is said that in spite of Prithu beating Prithvi to make her produce more food, she never withheld her crops again.
Other myth cycles have Prithvi as the wife of Dyaus until he was killed by the god Indra, at which point she married Indra. Still other myths say she is one of the wives of the great god Vishnu, along with his other wife, Lakshmi. Some consider Prithvi to be the same as Lakshmi, and in this role she is often called Bhuma or Bhudevi.
Since Prithvi means earth and goddess of earth, are there goddesses of water, air, fire and sky too?
I heard that Prithvi is one of a kind because there are no incarnations of Prithvi like there are for other Hindu gods and goddesses. I think it's because there is only one earth. I wonder if this is the reason why India is often referred to as "Mother India."
There is a legend about Goddess Prithvi and how her name came to be. I was told about it at a function at my local temple.
The Earth Goddess' name was actually Boodevi and she fed all of humankind until one day when humans tried to steal from her and disrespected her. Boodevi was so furious that she stopped plants from growing and humans began to starve. When Vishnu heard about what was happening, he came to earth in the form of Prithu and tried to change Boodevi's mind.
Prithu promised Boodevi that humans would respect her and care for her from then on. Bhoodevi agreed and started to produce food for humans once again. She also changed
her name to Prithvi which means the beloved of Prithu because she was so happy about what Prithu did.
The legend also teaches us the lesson that if we exploit Mother Earth instead of taking care of her and respecting her, she will stop providing for us. I like this story very much.